Quarter of Coffs kids have health, learning problems
ALMOST a quarter of Coffs Harbour kindergarten students have developmental problems.
But experts say town planners may be the key to reversing a worrying trend that is impacting the future health, development and learning outcomes of our children.
The Australian Early Development Census tested 927 local children in 2015, finding 22.7 per cent had physical, social, emotional, cognitive or learning difficulties.
This is just above the national average of 22 per cent.
About 11 per cent of local kids had problems in two or more developmental areas.
Researchers have found poorly designed neighbourhoods had higher levels of children who were not developmentally on track with their peers.
They want town planners to roll out more open spaces, parks with interactive play areas and local early childhood services as well as pedestrian and cycle friendly street infrastructure to help reverse the trend.
Housing density, street design, traffic exposure and access to parks and social, education and health services all had an impact on childhood development, said University of WA Public Health senior research fellow Dr Hayley Christian.
"If we get the built form of neighbourhoods wrong - because it is permanent and it is expensive - it can have a negative impact for a long time," she said.
"Kids who have more outdoor space in their neighbourhood, are exposed to less traffic and have access to key destinations like playgroups, child health services and high quality childcare are less likely to be developmentally vulnerable and will stay on track."
The Planning Institute of Australia's John Brockhoff said the institute was "very strong" on the need for child-friendly healthy communities.
"We have a plethora of guidance for councils on things like walkable communities and good open space that is fun and interesting," he said.
A Coffs Harbour Council spokeswoman said the needs of children informed the council's planning decisions.
"Council has a role in helping to encourage and deliver good design in planning for the whole community," she said.
"To this end, we are continually developing local plans and policies that use best practice, such as ensuring the connections of footpaths and cyclepaths around new estate areas and developing public spaces that are accessible to all - such as the recent updates at the Jetty Foreshores."
HOW WE COMPARE
Region, % of kids with at least one problem
Clarence Valley, 18.5%
Coffs Harbour, 22.7%
SOURCE: Australian Early Development Census