School of Social and Political Sciences - Theses

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    Indigenous relations of health: How Indigenous family life is associated with Indigenous child health and wellbeing in Australia
    Dunstan, Laura ( 2021)
    In Australia, Indigenous children experience poorer health and wellbeing than their non-Indigenous counterparts. Research on the social determinants of Indigenous health has mostly focused socio-economic factors, but family life is an important determinant, and central to Indigenous conceptualisations of wellbeing, that has been under-researched for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in Australia. Centuries of colonial policies and practices have treated Indigenous families as the problem in Indigenous child health. Furthermore, the small body of empirical research examining the Indigenous family and child health nexus has directed little attention to this colonial history and its influence on how this nexus is understood in contemporary policy and research settings. As a result, academic scholarship provides a limited understanding of how Indigenous families can, and do, shape the wellbeing of their children. This thesis aims to better understand the Indigenous family determinants of child health and wellbeing in Australia, by reflecting the colonial and relational contexts in which they live and thrive. I develop a multidimensional framework of Indigenous family life that captures family dynamics and resources in five dimensions, including: 1) family wellbeing; 2) socio-economic resources; 3) cultural resources; 4) family time and activities; and 5) community social capital. Using data from Footprints in Time: The Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children, I use a range of multiple regression approaches, including ordered logit, quantile, and multinomial logit regressions, to examine children’s physical health (measured in terms of general health and body mass index), social and emotional wellbeing (measured in terms of emotional and behavioural difficulties and prosocial outcomes), and their trajectories of exposure to major life events (MLEs) over time. Results show that each dimension of Indigenous family life is associated with Indigenous child health and wellbeing, but in non-uniform and sometimes unexpected ways. Family wellbeing, socio-economic resources, and community social capital factors were significantly associated with child general health, whereas family wellbeing, cultural resources, and family time and activities factors were significantly associated with child BMI outcomes. Factors from each dimension were significantly associated with child emotional and behavioural difficulties, prosocial outcomes, and trajectories of MLEs, but in differing, and in some cases opposing, ways. These associations are shaped by the relational and colonial contexts in which Indigenous children live. Importantly, extended family, cultural and community relations play important roles in shaping outcomes for children who are faring well and faring poorly, challenging previous assumptions of their detriment to Indigenous child health. Together, these results highlight the importance of taking more comprehensive, careful, and better-targeted approaches to understanding the factors associated with the wellbeing of Indigenous children in Australia. This thesis contributes more nuanced evidence for better understanding the Indigenous family determinants of Indigenous child health in Australia.