Ensuring parents have support key to healthy children
Acknowledging that most parents love their children and want the best for them is essential in developing child welfare in Australia, according to renowned US paediatrician Jack Shonkoff.
Dr Shonkoff, who was in Western Australia to talk to more than 900 early childhood policy makers and practitioners recently, said countries needed to ensure adults were stable and healthy and had the resources to raise their children.
The Harvard University Centre on the Developing Child director said all parents, even those with economic security and stability, faced the challenges of parenting.
Dr Shonkoff presented research as a guest of Goodstart Early Learning and CoLab, which was recently established as a partnership between Telethon Kids Institute and Minderoo Foundation.
Dr Shonkoff presented research that revealed the most important time for the development of executive funding was between the ages of three and five years old. Executive functioning is like the air traffic control within a child's brain.
His work has shown that children facing toxic stress, or significant or prolonged activation of the stress response systems, have lifelong damaging effects on learning, behaviour and health.
Stress becomes toxic when it is prolonged and when parents do not interact with their child in ways that make the child feel safe and secure.
Dr Shonkoff said this research showed that families that were struggling and couldn’t meet their children’s needs weren’t “fixed” by taking away the children.
In fact, he said the best way to help those children was to help their families do a better job.
Almost one in five Western Australian children live below the poverty line, with single parent families experiencing a poverty rate of more than 40 per cent. Across Australia, the number of children reported as experiencing trauma and domestic violence has increased.