How We Do IT

As researchers working on the NSW Child Development Study (NSW-CDS), we aim to provide comprehensive information about the way that early experiences in life influence later adolescent and adult health, education, social, and life outcomes. We work closely with our government partners to provide information that can be used to develop new policies and community-based programs that support the healthy development of all Australian children, to improve the mental health and wellbeing of children in the immediate term, and further as they grow into adolescents and adults.

Our projects within the NSW-CDS thus seek to develop the best possible evidence for childhood risk and resilience, for a range of mental health and other health issues, using data from all children in NSW who started school during 2009.

There are two key components to the NSW-CDS:

1)  Successive waves of  “Record Linkage” study spanning across the child’s life span

Record linkage in the NSW-CDS brings together information on physical and mental health, education, child protection and justice contacts for children in the cohort, as well as their parents; these linked data are made available to the researchers without any identifying information (i.e., there are no names or identity details provided to the researchers, so that none of the participants in the study can be identified by the research team under any circumstances).

The first record linkage (wave 1) for the NSW-CDS provides information about the children’s EARLY years of development, up to age 5-6 years.

The second record linkage (wave 2) for the NSW-CDS combines information obtained from the MCS with information about the children’s EARLY and MIDDLE years of development, up to age 12-13 years. The data will be used to determine factors associated with vulnerability and resilience for a variety of health and educational outcomes in MIDDLE childhood.

A third record linkage (wave 3) was conducted in 2021, bringing information about the children’s development up to the age of 17-18 years, and combining Commonwealth health and social welfare data with state government records for the first time for this cohort.

The data in these linkage projects will be used to determine factors associated with vulnerability and resilience for a variety of health and educational outcomes in early and middle childhood, and early adolescence. More detailed information about each record linkage project is available at the following link: Record Linkage in the NSW-CDS.

In the future, we aim to conduct further record linkages throughout adolescence and adulthood. This will allow us to determine childhood factors that contribute to specific outcomes associated with the transition to adulthood (e.g., medical accidents, mental ill-health, justice system involvement), as well as factors contributing to protection against those outcomes. These future record linkages would likely bring together the same types of data in children and parents from available records on health, education, child protection, and criminal justice system contacts that have been used in the first two record linkages, with appropriate ethical approvals for each individual linkage project.

Linkage processes are governed by privacy laws to protect anonymity and adhere to the following State and Federal legislations: Commonwealth Privacy Act 1988; Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1998 (NSW); Health Records and Information Privacy Act 2002 (NSW); and National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research (2007).

2) A “Middle Childhood Survey”

In 2015, all Year 6 students at participating schools in NSW were invited to provide information about their thoughts, feelings, actions, and experiences in a survey to be completed in class time. Over one third of NSW Year 6 students participated in this online survey. Anonymous results from the study are being examined at the community level across the state, so that we can understand different population patterns of child mental health and wellbeing, and encourage local community and government participation in the development and delivery of services that support healthy child development. More information is available here (please see: Information about the MCS).