Multicultural kids more likely to struggle at school

Migrant and refugee children are accessing early-childhood education at lower rates than their peers, putting them at greater risk of development issues.

Multicultural children are more likely to be developmentally vulnerable when starting school, affecting their education, with repercussions that could carry into adulthood, a joint University of South Australia and Settlement Services International study has found.

"The higher rates of developmental vulnerability among multicultural children in the early years risks perpetuating a cycle where those who start school behind, often stay behind with significant impacts for the rest of their lives," SSI general manager Yamamah Agha said.

Australian Early Development Census data shows 82 per cent of children from culturally diverse backgrounds attended some form of early-childhood education in 2021 compared with 90 per cent of other children, according to the Stronger Starts, Brighter Futures II report.

The gap was mirrored in census data from 2009 to 2021.

UniSA social epidemiologist Sally Brinkman said early childhood education was a powerful investment.

"It doesn't just benefit the children and their families, but it also creates a chain reaction bringing real and important advantages to Australia's economy and society," she said.

The research also found children from culturally diverse backgrounds were half as likely to access early-intervention support, such as speech therapy, occupational therapy or disability support, compared with other children.

Ms Agha said children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds needed to be able to access appropriate early-childhood education and early-intervention support tailored to their needs.

Attendance can be improved through a mix of universal, targeted and place-based measures to address barriers to participation in early learning.

These approaches involve governments, policymakers, early-education providers and providers of settlement services.

An online event to discuss the issue is scheduled for Tuesday.