Children with special health care needs : social and learning competence in the early years

Whiteford, Chrystal Michelle (2010) Children with special health care needs : social and learning competence in the early years. Masters by Research thesis, Queensland University of Technology.

Abstract

The number of children with special health care needs surviving infancy and attending school has been increasing. Due to their health status, these children may be at risk of low social-emotional and learning competencies (e.g., Lightfoot, Mukherjee, & Sloper, 2000; Zehnder, Landolt, Prchal, & Vollrath, 2006). Early social problems have been linked to low levels of academic achievement (Ladd, 2005), inappropriate behaviours at school (Shiu, 2001) and strained teacher-child relationships (Blumberg, Carle, O‘Connor, Moore, & Lippmann, 2008). Early learning difficulties have been associated with mental health problems (Maughan, Rowe, Loeber, & Stouthamer-Loeber, 2003), increased behaviour issues (Arnold, 1997), delinquency (Loeber & Dishion, 1983) and later academic failure (Epstein, 2008). Considering the importance of these areas, the limited research on special health care needs in social-emotional and learning domains is a factor driving this research. The purpose of the current research is to investigate social-emotional and learning competence in the early years for Australian children who have special health care needs. The data which informed this thesis was from Growing up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. This is a national, longitudinal study being conducted by the Commonwealth Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. The study has a national representative sample, with data collection occurring biennially, in 2004 (Wave 1), 2006 (Wave 2) and 2008 (Wave 3). Growing up in Australia uses a cross-sequential research design involving two cohorts, an Infant Cohort (0-1 at recruitment) and a Kindergarten Cohort (4-5 at recruitment). This study uses the Kindergarten Cohort, for which there were 4,983 children at recruitment. Three studies were conducted to address the objectives of this thesis. Study 1 used Wave 1 data to identify and describe Australian children with special health care needs. Children who identified as having special health care needs through the special health care needs screener were selected. From this, descriptive analyses were run. The results indicate that boys, children with low birth weight and children from families with low levels of maternal education are likely to be in the population of children with special health care needs. Further, these children are likely to be using prescription medications, have poor general health and are likely to have specific condition diagnoses. Study 2 used Wave 1 data to examine differences between children with special health care needs and their peers in social-emotional competence and learning competence prior to school. Children identified by the special health care needs screener were chosen for the case group (n = 650). A matched case control group of peers (n = 650), matched on sex, cultural and linguistic diversity, family socioeconomic position and age, were the comparison group. Social-emotional competence was measured through Social/Emotional Domain scores taken from the Growing up in Australia Outcome Index, with learning competence measured through Learning Domain scores. Results suggest statistically significant differences in scores between the two groups. Children with special health care needs have lower levels of social-emotional and learning competence prior to school compared to their peers. Study 3 used Wave 1 and Wave 2 data to examine the relationship between special health care needs at Wave 1 and social-emotional competence and learning competence at Wave 2, as children started school. The sample for this study consisted of children in the Kindergarten Cohort who had teacher data at Wave 2. Results from multiple regression models indicate that special health care needs prior to school (Wave 1) significantly predicts social-emotional competence and learning competence in the early years of school (Wave 2). These results indicate that having special health care needs prior to school is a risk factor for the social-emotional and learning domains in the early years of school. The results from these studies give valuable insight into Australian children with special health care needs and their social-emotional and learning competence in the early years. The Australia population of children with special health care needs were primarily male children, from families with low maternal education, were likely to be of poor health and taking prescription medications. It was found that children with special health care needs were likely to have lower social-emotional competence and learning competence prior to school compared to their peers. Results indicate that special health care needs prior to school were predictive of lower social-emotional and learning competencies in the early years of school. More research is required into this unique population and their competencies over time. However, the current research provides valuable insight into an under researched 'at risk' population.

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ID Code: 43336
Item Type: QUT Thesis (Masters by Research)
Supervisor: Walker, Sue & Berthelsen, Donna C.
Keywords: special health care needs, children, learning competence, social problems, early childhood
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Office of Education Research
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Education
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 15 Jul 2011 06:11
Last Modified: 15 Jul 2011 06:11

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