The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) & Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children (LSIC) Research Conference 2013 was held in Melbourne 13-14 November with additional Data Workshops held on the days before and after the conference. The two day conference and one of the Data User Workshops were attended by Barbara Beard from WESTIR Ltd. The conference focused on the ways researchers have used the data generated by the studies and the papers produced by both individual, university and government researchers covering topics which included education, parenting, health, mental health, work, methodology and social policy. Another aim of the conference was to promote the contents of the data set and encourage researchers from Australia and overseas to use it in their own research projects and add to the growing pool of research findings. A wealth of information about all facets of the study can be found on the “Growing up in Australia” website at

LSAC comprises two cohorts of children born in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The first (B cohort) includes children aged 0-1 year in 20003 – 2004 and the second (K cohort) includes children aged 4-5 years in 2003-2004. This means the study will follow B cohort or the baby cohort, from birth to adulthood and K cohort, or the kindergarten cohort, from kindergarten through to adulthood. The sample is representative with children from urban and rural areas from all states and territories in Australia with respondents recruited through Medicare details with a response rate of more than fifty percent. The retention rate through all waves has also been very good with more than 80% of respondents still in the study at Wave 4 and other respondents who may drop out and in of successive waves. Many strategies are used to maintain contact and interest such as birthday cards and newsletters highlighting findings.

Information is gathered each two years, in ‘waves,’ from the study child (when of appropriate age), parents (resident & non-resident), carers and teachers using a range of methods such as surveys, interviews, diaries and interviewer observation. Additional ‘between wave’ studies are conducted but are less comprehensive than the 2 year studies. The study also links with administrative data bases such a Medicare, childcare, census and Naplan. The data is available in either General Release or In confidence sets with the latter requiring the applicant to demonstrate need, the data is not available in the General release and that they can provide the additional security requirements for storing the data. The ‘Life at - ’ television series uses the LSAC and LSIC data sets. Links to this series which is now up to ‘Life at 7’ can be found at

LSAC Data Workshop This workshop was held the day prior to the conference and dealt with the LSAC data set, only briefly mentioning the LSIC data which is much smaller, started later and is not representative. A second workshop covering LSIC data was held the day after the conference concluded. Attending the LSAC workshop provided a good background prior to the conference and enabled a much better understanding of the contents of the papers presented and how the researchers had extracted and used the data. Wave 6 commenced mid 2013. Wave 7 is currently under development and scheduled for 2016 when the older children are will be aged 16-17 years of age. Data up to Wave 4 is currently available to researchers upon application. In addition to the keynote speakers, concurrent sessions were held with conference attendees able to choose which presentations were most relevant to their research interests.

The first keynote speaker was Captain Steven Hirschfield MD, the Director of the National Children’s Study (USA). This study promises to be a huge undertaking with plans to recruit approximately 100,000 children aged from birth to 21 years and follow them through their lives into adulthood. The study will intersect human biology and the environment. Once the project actually commences it will study the effects of environmental influences on the health and development of children.

The second keynote speaker was Associate Professor Susan Morton the Director of Growing Up in New Zealand. Susan spoke about the New Zealand study results and the differences and commonalities of the Australian and New Zealand data. One interesting point was the number of children who commenced the study and were born in New Zealand but are now living in Australia, not one, two or ten but a few hundred.

The Third keynote speaker was Dr Maggie Walter an Associate Professor School of Social Sciences, University of Tasmania. Dr Walter gave an interesting history of the development and commencement of the LSIC data set and the necessary differences between the LSAC and LSIC data sets. The major difference is that LSAC is a representative sample whereas LSIC is not representative but rather a probability study based on locations, both remote and urban. One interesting point of the LSIC data is that one of the locations is Western Sydney which may be useful to WESTIR.

A total of sixteen of the concurrent sessions were attended by Barbara and a brief summary of these follows. Generally there was one speaker presenting each paper but representing multiple authors.

Fiona Mensah - “Family and Neighbourhood socioeconomic inequalities in developmental trajectories of overweight during childhood – Results from LSAC”. It has been documented that overweight and obesity in children is related to coming from a low SES household but this study using the LSAC data places children into 4 groups, normal, persistent overweight, late onset overweight and resolving overweight. Children from Low SES households tended to fall into the middle two categories. This study hopes to find some answers to why and provide how to help overcome the obesity epidemic.

Deborah Kikkawa – “The impact of multiple major life events on children’s social and emotional wellbeing”. This study looked at major life events in the parent’s lives and how this impacts on the wellbeing of their children. It is known that some children thrive in spite of adversity and other children do not and using the LSAC & LSIC data to follow children through multiple events the researchers hope to identify the factors that lead to coping or not coping in children. Evidence from the LSIC data showed more difficulties with events rather than low socioeconomic status. LSIC children also had more ‘life events’ occur in their lives than the LSAC children.

Rasheda Khana – “Family income and child cognitive and non-cognitive development: The possible pathways”. This research looks at links between family

income in a child’s development but also looks at how this may be mitigated by parenting. They found that parental mental health and parenting practice are particularly important for children's' behavioural and emotional development. In short, money helps but it certainly isn’t everything.

Margaret Rolfe – “Using LSAC data: Bayesian network modelling for factors influencing Australian breastfeeding rates”. Bayesian network modelling could be a

very useful methodology and this session certainly produced a lot of interest with many people expressing a desire to include this method in their current or future studies. “A Bayesian network is a graphical model that encodes probabilistic relationships among variables of interest”. ( It appeared to be an excellent way of graphically representing causal relationships.

Amanda Christian, Jenny Renda, Joanne Corey – “Protocol for the collection of sensitive data from adolescents in Wave 6 of the Longitudinal Study of

Australian Children”. This was one of the most interesting presentations attended due to the many factors which had to be taken into account when interviewing adolescents. It was recognised that the way this was handled could be the key to retaining or losing participants due to lack of trust and other issues. One strategy was to provide parents with a list of questions their adolescents would be asked and they then had the option to request further information and justification for asking the question and if the parent was still not happy there was an option to block the question from the child’s interview. The pilot study resulted in one parent requesting more information but allowing the question and another two parents requesting blocks. An example of why this may be necessary was when a particular event may have recently occurred within the family or extended family and friends. Certain questions relating to issues such as suicide, self harm, drugs etc may have an adverse effect on the child and family if there had been a recent event close to the child. Some parents also expressed the need to know about the questions in order to discuss the issues raised with their own children. The answers children give in their surveys are confidential and never shown to parents.

Jack Chen – “The trajectories of overweight/obese among Indigenous, Non- English speaking and English speaking Australian Children”. Using the K Cohort data the researcher examined whether ethnicity, mother’s marital status, mother’s age and the family’s socio economic status to identify any links between these factors and overweight/obesity among children. The finding found that the proportion of obese children increased from 20.6% in the first study to 28.3% in the second study but the increase was more pronounced in the population of NESB children than Indigenous children or English Background children.

Walter Forrest – “The intergenerational transmission of Indigenous languages within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island families”. This was another very

interesting presentation which explained how Indigenous languages are being lost and the conditions that assist with retaining Indigenous languages. Indigenous languages could disappear in 20-30 years time with 75% of Indigenous languages currently severely or critically endangered. Two in five Indigenous children are not learning a language. Being bilingual has benefits such as improved attention and memory and can be a key aspect of culture. Speaking an Indigenous language may help with belonging. Indigenous languages make up 2% of the 7000 worldwide languages and may be the oldest surviving languages. Isolated communities retain their languages better than urban communities and creoles (mixed languages) could displace Indigenous languages. Parents should be the focus of programs to improve and maintain language transmission.

Richard O’Kearney – “The role of early language impairments in the development pathways of emotional problems from ages 4 to 12: Evidence from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children”. Children with early language problems are more at risk of developing ADHD and a range of other behavioural/emotional problems. One part of the research focuses on whether early language impairment contributes to the course of emotional problems as a unique factor or in interactions with other children, family and environmental influences.

Anna Zhu – “Delaying school entry – differential impacts for disadvantaged and relatively advantaged children?”. This research still had a way to go and questions

from the audience were taken on board by the speaker to enrich the study. One finding from the data showed that 2 in 5 children in the poorest homes were read to compared to 4 in 5 children from the best off homes. It seems intuitive that children from disadvantaged homes would start school at a disadvantage but the existence of the LSAC and LSIC datasets makes it possible to say there is a relationship between certain factors. Although delayed school entry may be advantageous for children from homes with better parenting and access to a range of resources, the reverse may be true for disadvantaged children where school may provide a more stable, nurturing and educational environment than home.

Jeanine Willson – “Reading and television viewing examined through the time use diaries of the first 3 waves of the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children

(LSAC) K- cohort”. I had a bit of a problem with this presentation and judging by other questions, so did other people but this mainly centred around the factors that are necessary to consider but were not available in the data set and therefore were not included in the study. Jeanine mainly focused on the time spent viewing TV and the time spent reading or being read to, in particular the half hour before bed but it did not show whether a child was watching TV with a parent or what they were watching. Jeanine admitted that the research at this point is not really proving anything but she will still be looking at her hypothesis relating to reading and TV. It may be hard to get any real substance as the factors of when and why children read are so varied.

Sue Walker – Does speaking a language other than English a 4 – 5 years old impact literacy, numeracy, and social-emotional outcomes at primary school?”.

The research used LSAC and Census data but due to the content focused on just the speaking a language other than English Census question and appeared to exclude English proficiency and country of birth which I felt were important variables that would enrich the findings. Although speaking a language other than English may have impacted on school readiness, by ages 6/7 and 8/9 years was not a predictor of academic or social-emotional difficulties. There were however other factors at play such a parenting and speech problems but not language in isolation.

Sarah McDonagh – “Following the path of Australian children with disabilities as they progress through school”. This paper examined the practice of integrating children with disabilities into mainstream schools rather than into a special school. There is very little research that has examined the success of this practice and the researcher by using longitudinal data from LSAC hope to shed light on the outcomes of integration.

Sandie Wong – “Identifying the cumulative effects of disadvantage in children’s utilisation of ECEC through the application of a Disadvantage Index”. The

researchers examined the cumulative effects of disadvantage on a child’s utilisation of Early childhood education and care (ECEC) The researchers have developed a Disadvantage Index made up of child level and family level indicators to measure disadvantage. In their abstract, the researchers state “Results showed that children with multiple indicators of disadvantage (3 or more) were more likely to be in exclusive parental care, less likely to be using preschool, and to attend fewer hours of ECEC than their more advantaged peers. However, there was no effect of disadvantage on children's use of long day care. These findings suggest that there may be barriers to utilisation of preschool services for children and families for whom ECEC potentially has the most benefit”.

John Haisken-DeNew – “PanelWhiz: A Graphical User Interface in STATA for extracting data from the LSAC and LSIC”. This was a presentation from a man who creates useful programs and then rather than making a fortune for himself just asks people to donate money to one of his favourite charities. STATA is one of three main programs used to analyse LSAC and LSIC data and this add on program simplifies the process of searching and extracting the data. Unfortunately it is not compatible with SPSS which is the program used at WESTIR.

Fiona Mensah – “Redressing child health disparities: what should be our outcome measure?”. This was another presentation where the audience questions could

enhance the research on this topic. Rather than have intervention only in areas identified as having disparities, the findings suggest that using early intervention in the entire population but more intensively in areas of disadvantage would be most useful in redressing disparities.

Walter Forrest – “Assessing the analytical properties of group based trajectory models for longitudinal count data: A simulation study”. There is not much to say

about this presentation as I think I was out of my depth, particularly when the audience started asking questions and it moved onto complicated statistical calculations and theories. One thing that did come through was the methodology worked best in predicting outcomes when samples were not too small but also not too big. Possibly not the best presentation to attend at the end of the final session on day two.

Overall the conference was extremely interesting and provided some interesting avenues for research. The LSAC data may be a useful addition to the data we already use, although it would not be available in the full range of geographical areas that are available with census data. However, it could be a source of some additional information to enrich the work we do on community profiles.