Wellbeing of children and families focus of new Australian research centre

By Melissa Coade

March 3, 2022

Disadvantage has devastating community impact. (JackF/Adobe)

A new Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence will investigate how to shift social and economic disadvantage to support vulnerable children and families.

The Centre of Excellence for Children and Families over the Life Course (Life Course Centre) will receive $32 million over seven years to research ways of breaking the cycle of persistent poverty in Australia. 

The research will support understanding of ‘life course contexts’ for families and children and will inform policy design to deliver better, personalised responses to disadvantages.

The centre was launched on Tuesday and will be led by Professor Janeen Baxter from the University of Queensland’s Institute for Social Science Research. 

Baxter’s goal will be to deliver evidence, infrastructure, capacity and partnerships to reduce disadvantage and better equip Australian children and families for emerging challenges.

“[Disadvantage has] devastating community impacts in areas such as unemployment, suicide, mental health, and large social and economic costs in lost productivity and opportunities,” Baxter said.

“If we fail to innovate and disrupt the cycle of disadvantage for Australian children and families, it will only get worse.”

The exacerbating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on disadvantage in Australia will also be a focus of the centre’s multidisciplinary research team. 

Professor Baxter said while the long-term impacts were still to be determined, disruptions to education, employment consequences and social isolation were key concerns. 

Research on these issues will also help governments improve their response to other comparable disruptions during times of disaster, she said.

“The pandemic has been driving wider gaps between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ in many areas and also opening new divides.

“We will continue to expose these inequalities and identify opportunities to work with our partners and communities to offer new solutions,” Baxter said. 

Academics from the University of Sydney, the University of Melbourne, the University of Western Australia, and other international experts will join in the work of the centre.

ARC acting CEO Judi Zielke said valuable new knowledge on key institutions such as families, education, and employment would come from the work of the Life Course Centre.

“This is transformative research and research translation to break the cycle of deep and persistent disadvantage for Australians and reimagining how we live and work to build a better, more equal society for all,” Zielke said.

“Centre researchers will bring together innovative new data sources to track trajectories and pathways across the whole life course journey.”


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