This week’s book review is Children of the Lucky Country: How Australian society has turned its back on children and why children matter by Fiona Stanley, Sue Richardson and Margot Prior. Fiona Stanley was the Australian of the Year in 2003, and made children the topic of the platform she was given by being Australian of the Year. The book is an expansion of the concerns Fiona Stanley raised during that year.
The book starts with the preamble that although many if not most children are doing better than they ever have before, particularly having a better chance of living to adulthood, there have been worsening rates of diseases like asthma and diabetes, and worsening incidences of depression, juvenile crime and behavioural problems. The other main issue raised in the preamble is that there is a much greater difference in outcomes between the most and least affluent than there used to be.
What follows are excellent surveys in all the trends of ways of measuring children’s outcomes. Reported on are things like prematurity and low birth weight (no change in the last 30 years), childhood disabilities (gradually increasing), child abuse (increasing, possibly because of reporting changes), suicides (four fold increase for men aged 15-24 since the sixties, two fold for women that age), substance abuse (increase in harmful use of alcohol, although overall rates of drinking remain similar). Also in this section are various statistics showing that more disadvantaged children are more likely to be affected by all of the above.
There is also a great chapter on how we are running out of children. If Australian women had continued to have children as much as they did in the 1980s then we would have a million more children aged under 15 now. It doesn’t have any major comments on why this matters, other than this tending to reduce our level of long term children; rightly or wrongly, you care more about the long term future when you are closely invested in it via your children. As an aside, see Bitch PhD for a great post about why children do matter to society.
At the end of a whole lot of detailed recommendations about how to make children’s lives better. The top five are:
- change the workplace to be more committed to workers as parents;
- shift more towards prevention in all of our services;
- reduce violence around children in all of society;
- enhance the publicly funded school system; and
- provide excellent child-care (early) at a reasonable cost to all families.
The authors are particularly concerned that the public sector and its systems have been ‘kidnapped’ into providing more for the needs of the well-off than of the poor.
The strength of this book is that in one place it gathers a huge amount of information about children today. I found it hard to get worked up about the recommendations, though. Not because I didn’t think they were a good idea. More because none of them seemed particularly likely to be implemented. To be fair, some of the smaller, more detailed “what can you do” recommendations seemed more likely (for example for parents a suggestion is to use some of the resources in the book to get together and lobby your local council for improvements). But some seemed a bit pie in the sky (for example no worker to work more than 40 hours a week).
Nicholas Gruen in Club Troppo has a review here. His main quarrel with the book is its focus on social disadvantage (the implication being lack of money) rather than general social breakdown:
“I don’t think more money will do much at all if it isn’t coupled with insistence on individual and community responsibility, and strenuous attempts to do everything possible to resist anti-social behaviour. “
This book is a great resource, and a passionate plea on behalf of members of our community who don’t get as much lobbying on their behalf as they used to. I hope its existence helps people understand the issues more. But so far, sadly, I think I’ve heard more about the various children’s issues raised from Fiona Stanley when she was Australian of the Year than from this excellent book.