Australia has always had a very high level of immigration. There were about 1.5 million children 0 to 17 years of age in immigrant families in Australia in 2001. This represented almost 33% of all children. More than a quarter of these children were in families from the most consistent countries of immigrant origin, Ireland and the United Kingdom. Another 17% were in families from other parts of Europe, while 10% were in families from New Zealand, and 3% were in families from other countries in Oceania. Compared with most other OECD countries, there is a dearth of research on children in immigrant families in Australia, and relatively limited administrative data that might allow us to compare immigrant families to other families in the general population. No recent studies track the educational, health, or employment trajectories of children in families in various immigrant groups. Research on children in immigrant families undertaken since the 1970s has been sporadic and fragmentary. None of the flagship studies on child well-being provides specific information about culturally and linguistically diverse children or children in immigrant families. There are no national studies on the involvement of these children with the child welfare, juvenile justice, or out-of-home care systems, and it is therefore not known if they are overrepresented or underrepresented. Studies tend to compare two or three ethnic or language groups, group all immigrants together, or classify immigrant children according to English-speaking or non-English speaking backgrounds. Australians pride themselves on the harmony and the relative lack of racial tension in their society, but hard data on indicators of racial harmony are scarce. We examine the limited evidence base below, and supplement an analysis of census data and data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC). The findings are rather paradoxical. On the one hand the research confirms the serious disadvantages in well-being that children in certain immigrant groups face, relative to the overall population. The disadvantages include poorer educational outcomes, exposure to racism, the trauma of separation from the cultural and social networks of their countries of origin, challenges to adjusting to the Australian culture and life style, identity problems and less access to services and social support. These issues are heightened among immigrants who have come to Australia with fewer skills and fewer resources, as well as less knowledge of English. On the other hand the wellbeing of migrant children appears to be relatively good compared to the general Australian population and also compared to migrants in other OECD countries.
- Child well being