Research signals potential new directions for school readiness policy

kids at school eating lunch

Research finds that children born to teen mothers are less ready for school, but identifies protective factors that could combat the impact of childhood adversities on readiness for school. 

Two new research reports using Growing Up in New Zealand data has found that children born to teen mothers are less ready for school, but identify potential protective factors which could combat the impact of childhood adversities on a child's readiness for school. 

AUT's Centre for Social Data Analytics (CSDA) carried out the research which found that children born to teen mothers in New Zealand have lower baseline school readiness levels than other children and should be prioritised for support. 

The research, funded through the Ministry of Social Development's Children and Families Research Fund, also makes preliminary findings about potential protective factors that could guard against the detrimental effects of experiencing childhood adversities, on children’s school readiness.

The two studies from researchers at CSDA, AUT and Oranga Tamariki are:  Adversities of Childhood Experience and School Readiness – Focus on children born to teen and non-teen mothers in the Growing Up in New Zealand Data and School Readiness, Adversities in Childhood Experience and Access to Government Services:  A Scoping Study on Potential Protective Factors

The two studies build on previous work led by CSDA that found exposure to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) was associated with poor school readiness; school readiness decreased as more childhood adversities were experienced.

School readiness of children of teen mothers 

The researchers found that, for all levels of exposure to adversity, children of teen mothers had lower levels of school readiness than other children. And in keeping with findings from the original study, school readiness for children in this group decreased as the children experienced more adversities.

The finding that school readiness is lower at all levels of adversity confirms that exposure to adversities is not the only factor associated with poor school readiness for children of teen mothers. Therefore, the researchers suggest that children born to teen mothers should be prioritised for support designed to improve school readiness, even if their observed adversity exposure levels are low.

Protective factors against the detrimental effects of childhood adversities

In the second study, researchers searched for existing government services that could potentially mitigate the negative effects of exposure to childhood adversities on school readiness. Their preliminary findings suggest that such protective factors may be relatively rare (372 potential factors were explored, but most did not have a significant protective association). 

For children who had experienced multiple adversities, the four factors that had the largest potential effects on school readiness all related to access to a general practitioner, suggesting that improving healthcare access could potentially improve school readiness. Factors relating to the access to, and quality of, early childhood education (ECE) also showed potentially significant effects.

For children who had experienced the specific adversity of childhood physical abuse, contact with social support agencies when needed and the use of paid ECE were the two factors that had the largest potential effects on school readiness.

These preliminary findings offer a valuable indication of where further research on protective factors could be focused. While the findings observe associations between potential protective factors and school readiness outcomes, further work is required to validate the results and establish any causal links between the factors and outcomes. This line of research also has the potential to make significant contributions in the space of care and protection interventions that can potentially help to mitigate the effects of adversities on school readiness.

This research was funded by the Children and Families Research Fund (2018/2019 round), which supports projects that explore and analyse data gathered from the Growing Up in New Zealand longitudinal study.

You can read Adversities of Childhood Experience and School Readiness – Focus on children born to teen and non-teen mothers in the Growing Up in New Zealand Data here and School Readiness, Adversities in Childhood Experience and Access to Government Services:  A Scoping Study on Potential Protective Factors here