Does neighbourhood design make a difference to early childhood development (ECD)? This project connects urban design and planning disciplines with ECD to explore the impacts of where we live on young children and families.

  • Project dates: 2022–2024

RMIT University in collaboration with the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Telethon Kids’ Institute, University of Montreal, and our policy partners, are working toward developing neighbourhood built environment indicators for optimising early childhood development and reducing inequities. Neighbourhoods provide important exposures and resources that shape the way parents raise their children and child outcomes. Yet there is limited evidence-based guidance and metrics for how best to design neighbourhoods that promote ‘child-friendliness’ for young children, largely due to the lack of studies investigating neighbourhood design relationships with early childhood development outcomes.

Funding from the Australian Federal Government Department of Social Services and the Bernard van Leer Foundation (Netherlands) enabled us to assemble a dataset of spatial built environment measures linked to the 2015 Australian Early Development Census (AEDC), a population progress measure of early childhood development. The linked AEDC-BE dataset is a world-first national dataset linking early childhood developmental outcomes with numerous conceptually informed neighbourhood built environment indicators (e.g. traffic measures, walkability, family-friendly locations and services) calculated for unique neighbourhoods for every 2015 AEDC child participant living in Australia’s largest 21 urban and regional cities.

In 2019, further funding from the Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment enabled us to continue pilot testing the AEDC-BE and examine whether built environment features contribute to associations between neighbourhood disadvantage and early childhood development. We found that neighbourhood disadvantage remained significantly associated with child developmental vulnerability after adjustment for child/family variables and built environment characteristics. Our preliminary findings show that in major cities (a mixture of urban and large regional cities), children with access to more early childhood education and care services and preschool services exceeding Australian standards and healthier food outlets locally had lower odds of child developmental vulnerability, controlling for socioeconomic factors and neighbourhood disadvantage.

In 2022, we received VicHealth Impact Grant funding to further examine how neighbourhood features contribute to equitable early childhood development and health and wellbeing outcomes across different geographic contexts- such as established neighbourhoods or urban growth corridors. Using participatory methods, the project collects in-depth insights from families with young children to identify essential infrastructure and services required for optimising early childhood development and equitably supporting children’s health and wellbeing. We will use this information and our existing AEDC-BE dataset to develop indicators in collaboration with our policy partners. The indicators will inform national and local government health and wellbeing promotion strategies and practices..

Investigators: Prof Hannah Badland (RMIT University), A/Prof Melanie Davern (RMIT University), Prof Sharon Goldfeld (Royal Children’s Hospital), Prof Sally Brinkman (Telethon Kids Institute), Dr Karen Villanueva (RMIT University, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute), Prof Lise Gauvin (University of Montreal)

Policy partners: Dr Susie Moloney (Jesuit Social Services), Ms Tracey Parker (Cardinia Shire Council), Ms Mary Agostino (Mitchell Shire Council), Ms Felicity Leahy (City of Port Phillip)

Recommendations include exploring differences by geographic location. The end goal is to develop robust indicators as tools for identifying and monitoring built environments that optimise ECD and reduce related inequities.

Key People

Lead researchers

Dr Karen Villanueva

Dr Karen Villanueva

Research Fellow

Data to Decisions: Using big data and participatory methods for designing neighbourhoods that support equitable early childhood development

Prof Sharon Goldfeld

Lead Investigator of KiCS; University of Melbourne and Centre for Community Child Health, Melbourne Royal Children’s Hospital

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Dr Amanda Alderton

Dr Amanda Alderton

Vice Chancellor's Postdoctoral Research Fellow

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New project examines neighbourhood influence on early childhood development

08 July 2022

A new project led by the Centre’s Deputy Director Hannah Badland has just been awarded a VicHealth Impact Research Grant