Housing and child development: key dimensions, knowledge gaps and issues for future research in Australia
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This paper begins by reviewing the existing international literature on the links between housing and child development. The housing environment can significantly improve or hinder a child’s physical, social, emotional, behavioural and cognitive development directly and via its impacts on the child’s parenting methods. The review of international literature is drawn from a range of disciplines including sociology, epidemiology, economics, housing policy, social welfare, health, medicine, child development and psychology. It highlights key dimensions of children’s housing circumstances that are associated with their health and development. These include housing tenure, neighbourhood conditions, housing affordability, homelessness, frequency of residential moves, extent of crowding, housing disrepair, environmental allergens and toxicants used in the home. The paper also raises some important conceptual and methodological issues that need to be addressed in examining the causal pathways through which housing factors influence child developmental outcomes. In particular, there is a need to isolate housing factors from confounding influences such as parental socio-economic status and identify mediating factors such as parenting behaviour, and the inter-relationships between different housing factors that need to be accounted for.There is currently a dearth of empirical studies that analyse the links between housing and child development in Australia, despite the plethora of studies examining these links in other developed countries such as the United States and United Kingdom. Hence, the third part of this paper utilises officially published statistics and the limited pool of Australian studies to highlight key policy issues requiring urgent empirical research in Australia in the near future. These issues include the disparity in housing conditions between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children, the impact of homelessness on children and measuring the impacts of housing affordability stress on child development.
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