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New data platform to study health and wellbeing outcomes of all children born in NSW since 2001

Dr Kathleen Falster was awarded $40,000 in the 2018 round of UNSW Medicine Neuroscience, Mental Health and Addiction Theme and Maridulu Budyari Gumal Clinical Academic Group (CAG) Collaborative Research Seed Funding for the project: Neurodevelopmental, physical and mental health consequences of early life adversity: A cross-sectoral population data linkage to inform health and social policy.

Name: Dr Kathleen Falster

Position: Senior Lecturer, School of Public Health and Community Medicine, UNSW Sydney

How has the Neuroscience, Mental Health and Addiction Theme and CAG enabled you to develop your research interests?

Seed funding from the Neuroscience, Mental Health and Addiction Theme and CAG is contributing to a new data platform to study the health and wellbeing outcomes of all children born in NSW since 2001 (~1.6 million children), from the perinatal period to adolescence. This Early Life Course data platform will enable the academic, clinical and policy investigators to undertake research to inform and evaluate the impact of health and human services interventions on the health and wellbeing of mothers and children at the population level, with a focus on:

1.  Medicine use in pregnant women and children

2.  Perinatal health

3.  Child health, development and wellbeing

Since early 2019, this project is contributing to a large-scale data infrastructure project led by the Centre for Big Data Research in Health and involving researchers from across UNSW Sydney's Faculty of Medicine.

Your project, Neurodevelopmental, physical and mental health consequences of early life adversity: a cross-sectoral population data linkage to inform health and social policy was successful in the 2018 round of Theme and CAG seed funding. Can you please tell us about the project?

This cross-sectoral data linkage project will include information about the pregnancy and birth, health, development and education of NSW children, as well as their contact with child protection services, social services, and the justice system. Data will also be linked for the children’s mothers and families. This comprehensive data platform will enable us to pursue research into the neurodevelopmental, physical and mental health consequences of maternal medicine use during pregnancy and child maltreatment, among other adverse experiences and outcomes early in life.

Because pregnant women and children are typically excluded from clinical trials, linkage of routinely collected pharmaceutical dispensing, health and developmental data is the only practical way to assess the effects of maternal medicine use during pregnancy on the developing child. Likewise, linkage of data on child protection and justice system contacts with data collected by health, education and social services offers the best opportunity to understand the scale of the child maltreatment problem at a population level and its causes and consequences. Furthermore, these data can be used to evaluate the impact of policies and programs on child outcomes at the population-level.

What impact do you imagine the project will have?

This cross-sectoral data linkage project will enable policy-relevant research to inform policy priorities that focus on threats to child health and development, including in utero exposure to medicines and child maltreatment. We work closely with policy, practice and community stakeholders to inform our research directions and translate our findings into policy and practice throughout the research process. We envisage that research using the Early Life Course data platform will inform health and social policy and practice in NSW, which will, in turn, improve the health and wellbeing of children at the population-level, including reducing health inequities. 

How will the project support new collaborations?

This project has already been the basis for several research grants led by the investigators in 2019, in collaboration with other academic, clinical and policy collaborators in NSW, Australia and internationally. It will also facilitate numerous postgraduate research projects in the coming years.

In the years to come, it is anticipated that this project will lead to collaborative research with other academic, clinical and policy colleagues from across the Neuroscience, Mental Health and Addiction Theme and CAG.

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