The Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) is the Australian Government's main source of advice on social policy and manages about one-fifth of the federal budget.
FaHCSIA works in partnership with other government and non-government organisations managing a diverse range of programs and services designed to support and improve the lives of Australians by creating opportunities for economic and social participation by individuals, families and communities.
FaHCSIA operates under key pieces of legislation and Administrative Arrangement Orders. Details of this legal framework can be found at: Policies & Legislation page . Examples of legislation include the Social Security Act 1991 and the Family Assistance Act 1999.
One of FaHCSIA's key objectives as outlined in its Strategic Framework 2008-2010 is to close the gap in life circumstances between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children (known as Footprints in Time) aims to provide high quality quantitative and qualitative data that can be used to provide a better insight into how a child's early years affect their development and subsequent social and educational outcomes. Key research questions for the study are provided at Footprints in Time - The Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children (LSIC) report.
Footprints in Time is funded by the Australian Government and managed by FaHCSIA. The Footprints in Time Steering Committee oversees the design, development and implementation of the study. Its members are drawn from academic and community backgrounds, covering a wide range of disciplines such as health, early learning and child development. The Steering Committee chairperson is Professor Mick Dodson, 2009 Australian of the Year and current Director of the National Centre for Indigenous Studies at the Australian National University.
FaHCSIA conducted extensive consultations with Indigenous peoples and communities prior to the study. During 2006 and 2007, the Australian Bureau of Statistics was engaged to assist with the first pilot study. Currently Indigenous Research Administration Officers are employed to manage community engagement activities and collect data through face-to-face interviews.
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Footprints in Time will provide a range of longitudinal information on Indigenous children and their families covering areas such as family relationships, maternal health, child health and hospitalisation, language and cultural activities, early education, neighbourhood and housing, financial stress, social and emotional well-being and child care. Although data in these areas have been collected elsewhere, for example the ABS National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social and Health surveys (NATSIHS and NATSISS), such information tends to be cross-sectional, lacks a longitudinal perspective and is not specifically focused on children, (although NATSISS did collect information about children in 2008). Footprints in Time collects data each year on nearly 1,700 Indigenous children in two cohorts, starting with infants (mainly aged between six and 18 months) and children (mainly aged between three and a half to four and a half years). These children live in a total of 11 sites across urban, regional and remote regions (see Footprints in Time - The Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children (LSIC) report for more information).
Data from the first wave of Footprints in Time was collected between April 2008 and February 2009. A report containing key summary findings from the first wave was publicly released in October 2009, approximately eight months after the conclusion of the data collection. The Key Summary Report was accompanied by a Community Feedback booklet, a set of 11 fact sheets containing specific site feedback information and a DVD containing an audio-visual presentation of the findings. Confidentialised unit record files (CURFs) are released to data users upon receipt of a licence application and signed Deed of Confidentiality. LSIC Wave 1 CURFs were released to licence holders in early 2010.
Accuracy and representation
Data collected in the study are subject to sample and non-sample error.
Non-sampling error can occur in any collection, whether the estimates are derived from a sample or from a complete collection such as a census. Sources of non-sampling error include non-response, errors in reporting by respondents or recording of answers by interviewers and errors in coding and processing the data. Every effort is made to reduce non-sampling error to a minimum by careful design and testing of the questionnaire, training of interviewers and data entry staff and editing and quality control procedures at all stages of data processing.
One of the main sources of non-sampling error is non-response by persons selected in the survey. Non-response occurs when people cannot or will not cooperate or cannot be contacted. Non-response can affect the reliability of results and can introduce a bias. The magnitude of any bias depends upon the level of non-response and the extent of the difference between the characteristics of those people who responded to the survey and those who did not.
The LSIC wave one results are based on a non-representative sample. The estimates may therefore differ from the figures that would have been produced if information had been collected for all households or a representative sample. The 11 study sites form a non-representative sample of the target population. The sites were selected on the basis that they had a substantial number of Indigenous people, were spread across states and territories except Tasmania and the ACT, and represented communities from major cities, regional centres and remote areas. Results from the study should not be generalised as they are not representative of the national Indigenous child population. The Study results can, most importantly, be used to examine over time the profile, experiences and views of a large sample of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents and children. The Study design focuses on the developmental pathways for these children and aims to identify early indicators of risk and protective factors that influence child outcomes. This information will inform early intervention programs and services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents and children.
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A data dictionary and data user guide accompanied the release of Version 1.0 of Footprints in Time data. These documents provide details on the relationships between survey variables and the steps undertaken to ensure the integrity and validity of the data. These documents are provided at the same time as the LSIC are released to licensed data users.
The Key Summary Report from Wave 1 of the study provides an overview of results according to the following four themes:
- Family life: household, culture and language
- Growing up strong: health, nutrition and development
- Learning and doing: activities and early education
- Strong souls, safe communities: wellbeing, resilience and support.
The analysis in the Report provides a guide on how data from the study should be interpreted. A data rationale document will also be available to provide background information on the measurement tools used in the study. Queries about the data should be directed to LSIC@fahcsia.gov.au.
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Printed copies of Footprints in Time reports can be requested from FaHCSIA by emailing the LSIC mailbox: LSIC@fahcsia.gov.au or telephoning 1800 106 235. Enquiries regarding an application for a data user license should be directed to: Longitudinalsurveys@fahcsia.gov.au. The licence application includes information about the specific requirements to access LSIC CURFs.
There are three key interrelated protocols that LSIC data users need to follow when working with the data, in addition to the formal requirements set out in the Manual and the relevant licence deeds.
The first protocol requires applicants and licensed users to openly acknowledge their standpoint in their application and in the reporting of data outputs in reports or publications. This is a declaration of the context in which the data analysis is being generated, for example, their institutional context and whether in a university, government department, community organisation or cross-sector partnership. This will also require declaring one's personal context, such as cultural background, work background, depth of experience liaising with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and prior research/publications in the area.
The second protocol is a demonstration of cultural competency. Cultural competency refers to the need to respect, understand and acknowledge the benefits, values and realities of Indigenous people and communities. This includes being mindful of Indigenous people's right to have different values, norms and aspirations to non-Indigenous people. Analysts should recognise that Indigenous communities are diverse, with different languages, cultures, histories and perspectives, as well as the diversity of individuals within these communities. Researchers need to be cognisant of diversity by showing an understanding and appreciation of these differences in the analysis, interpretation and reporting of the data.
The third protocol deals with the final research material. Data users need to provide FaHCSIA with their final research material so that the department can honour its commitment to give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities (particularly those involved in the study) feedback on how the data is being used and a summary of research project findings. This also allows FaHCSIA to make publicly available a bibliography of all final research material using LSIC data to encourage uptake of findings, avoid research duplication, and facilitate collaboration and the progressive building upon research findings.
It is important that the findings generated from the LSIC data are made available so they can contribute in the policy, planning, evaluation, management and delivery of services. In accordance with the Deed of Licence, the final research material can also be used across the Commonwealth Government to support internal policy development and evaluation.
These unique LSIC protocols have been developed in consultation with a subcommittee including Aboriginal members from the LSIC Steering Committee. Applicants need to provide a response regarding adherence to the protocols in the data application form.