ACU (Australian Catholic University)

ACU Alum

Issue 5, Spring 2013

ACU Research

It's all about Ben 10 

Devoted pre-schoolers and primary school children see a particular shade of green as “Ben 10 green”, a new ACU collaborative research study has found.\ According to the study, TV characters from programs such as Ben 10, Batman and Dora the Explorer are influencing how preschoolers eat, dress, behave, and play.

The research team, led by ACU’s Professor Susan Edwards, and Deakin University’s Professor Helen Skouteris, interviewed kindergarten and prep teachers, children and their parents about the influence such TV characters are having on children.

The so called “Ben 10 effect” means children engage in less creative play, wear character branded clothes and pester parents for unhealthy snack food. Children are not only watching their favourite characters on TV shows or DVDs, but are also exposed to them across a wide range of media, including the internet, magazines, sponsorship and product placement.

The research, published in the Early Childhood Development and Care journal, reveals a strong relationship between children’s media viewing and their associated clothing choices, their food selections and the sustainability consequences of such behaviour. New research centre launched Better contact for children and parents independent education sectors.

"The launch represents a big step forward for early childhood education research at ACU,” Professor Nuttall said.

“It’s the impact of 360-degree marketing, they watch Spiderman then they want the Spiderman yoghurt. A lot of the food is highly packaged and very high in sugar, which is a real concern,” Professor Edwards said. Rather than just ban these characters, the study is encouraging teachers to create new learning opportunities about the environment, digital median and healthy eating.

“In today’s fast-food, fast-paced consumer society, too few questions are asked about the influence of digital media on young children’s health and sustainability choices, and indeed how such choices are expressed in children’s play and early childhood classrooms,” said Professor Edwards.

“By interviewing children and parents, and using such data to prompt teacher discussion, we have started to develop an understanding of the interconnectedness of these issues in the early childhood environment.”

Heartache for homeless refugees

On any given night in Australia, an average of 105,000 Australians identify as being homeless and young people under the age of 25 comprise the majority of this population.

Senior lecturer, Dr Jen Couch’s research looks at homelessness experienced by young people of refugee background. The research found that homelessness among young refugee people is under-recognised, often hidden and does not match commonly held beliefs about homeless young people.

The study indicates that young people of refugee background often feel unable to access homelessness agencies. Despite limited data and information, it has been estimated that between 500 and 800 refugee young people are homeless Australiawide, making the risk of homelessness for refugee young people six to 10 times higher than that of Australian youth in general.

The available literature recognises that the experiences of homeless refugee young people are similar to those of the broader population of homeless youth, but refugee young people experience additional significant disadvantage.

“Their lives are further disrupted by issues relating to their refugee experience, resettlement, and lack of education, as well as serious challenges to their adolescent development,” said Dr Couch.

“Additional disadvantages that exacerbate refugee young people’s vulnerability to homelessness include social isolation, economic hardship, racism and discrimination by real estate agents and employers, language barriers and cultural ignorance, family breakdown, and poor mental health due to traumatic refugee experiences,” she said.

The study involved interviews with refugee young people, consultations with service providers and a review of the available research and literature relating to refugee youth homelessness. The young people interviewed were refugees from Sudan, Ethiopia, the Congo, Liberia, Burma and Afghanistan and, at the time of interviews, were couch surfing, in emergency accommodation and “sleeping rough”.

The results indicate that homelessness is an outcome of a process whereby young people increasingly become disconnected from the support systems around them, such as family, school and community and confirmed that refugee young people face numerous barriers in their attempts to leave homelessness including lack of adequate income, education, job opportunities and language.

Better contact for children and parents

The Australian Research Council (ARC) has awarded ACU’s Institute of Child Protection Studies a three year Linkage grant to develop and trial an intervention to improve contact between children in out-of-home care (OOHC) and their birth parents.

Contact between children in OOHC and their birth parents is one of the most contentious, distressing and costly issues, and one that can have impacts beyond the child protection system. Of the nearly 40,000 children in OOHC nationally, most have some ongoing contact with their parents and much of this contact is under the direct supervision of a nominated person at specified times and places.

It has been claimed that regular and supported family contact has three key beneficial outcomes:

  1. It increases the prospects of reunification with birth parents;
  2. It makes OOHC placements less vulnerable to disruption; and
  3. It enhances children’s emotional, behavioural and intellectual development.

However there is a dearth of research evidence on the impacts of ongoing contact with birth parents for children in care, largely because of a lack of methodologically sound research.

ACU researchers Professor Morag McArthur and Dr Stephanie Taplin, along with Professor Cathy Humphreys from the University of Melbourne, will work with partners in the ACT and in Victoria over three years.

“Currently, there is little guidance to tell us for which children contact with their birth parents is beneficial, in which circumstances, and how to best supportit. Children in care already experience significantly poorer mental health outcomes than children who have never been in care, so it is important to ensure we are not contributing to additional adverse outcomes,” said Dr Taplin. “

Contact can be an opportunity to improve relationships, reduce child distress arising from the separation from their parents, and may increase the number of families reunified]

New research centre launched

ACU recently launched its new Centre for Early Childhood Futures. The research centre is part of the University’s growing commitment to research and teacher training in early childhood education.

“This is an important step forward for ACU’s Faculty of Education,” said ACU’s Executive Dean of Education, Professor Marie Emmitt.

“Effective early childhood education is essential to social inclusion and community wellbeing, and this Centre will enhance policy, research and practice in this key area of the education sector.

“The emphasis on ‘futures’ is deliberate,” said Professor Emmitt.

“The Centre’s programs are at the cutting edge of work being done internationally in emerging areas of early childhood education research, particularly the way digital technologies are shaping young children’s play and learning.” Centre Director, ACU Associate Professor Joce Nuttall, acknowledged the commitment of ACU to growing research capacity in early childhood education.

“We started two years ago with two research fellows and one PhD student. We now have a team of almost 20 staff and postgraduate students, and collaborations across the government, Catholic and independent education sectors. The launch represents a big step forward for early childhood education research at ACU,” Professor Nuttall said.

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