Children negatively impacted by early intervention restrictions

8 December 2017

As the government extends its income management program, new research indicates the original rollout in the Northern Territory did not improve school attendance and birth outcomes, and had negative short-term effects.

Analysis reveals the federal government's initial income management scheme - first introduced in 2007 during the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER) or 'intervention', and now commonly known as Cashless Debit Card - coincided with significant negative outcomes for children in the short term, and no noticeable improvements in the long run. Income management restricts a large portion of welfare payments to being spent only on essentials such as food, housing and clothing.

The research team, from the School of Economics at the University of Sydney and the Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin, examined daily attendance records of children attending NT government schools in the 73 Aboriginal communities and 10 town camps affected by the policy. As income management was introduced to communities in stages between September 2007 and October 2008, the researchers used this as a 'natural experiment' and compared the pre- and post- attendance outcomes for children in each of these communities. The researchers found school attendance declined by four percent on average in the first five months, after which attendance rates eventually returned to their initial levels.

In a second study, the research team compared the birth weights of babies born in communities affected by income management with babies born in communities not yet affected by the policy. The study showed the average birthweight of babies who were in utero when income management was introduced to their community was over 100 grams lighter, and that the babies were at slightly higher risk of low birthweight (less than 2500 grams).

Read the full story.