Ethnic and Indigenous access to early childhood healthcare services in Australia: parents’ perceived unmet needs and related barriers


Correspondence to:
Lixin Ou, The Simpson Centre for Health Services Research, The University of New South Wales; e-mail:;


Objective: To evaluate the parents’ perceived unmet needs in early childhood healthcare services among Indigenous, non-English-speaking background (NESB) and English-speaking background (ESB) children and the related barriers.

Method: Data was from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC). Rao-Scott chi-square was used to examine the level of parents’ perceived unmet needs in three ethnic groups in early childhood healthcare services over a 12 month period. Survey logistic regression was used to assess the association between the groups of infants and the barriers to utilisation.

Results: Ten per cent of Australian infants have at least one parents’ perceived unmet need in early childhood healthcare services. NESB (15.3%) and Indigenous (15.1%) infants were more likely than ESB infants (9.9%, p<0.001) to have parents’ perceived unmet needs in health care services. The barriers to service access include cost, transport problems, child care difficulties, service availability and family reasons. Parents of ESB infants were more likely to cite operating hours as the major barrier to accessing services.

Conclusion: There were parents’ perceived unmet needs in a number of health services for all Australian infants, but at different levels by Indigenous, NESB and ESB groups. The most common barrier to services utilisation related to cost or private health insurance, availability and accessibility of service provision and other socioeconomic issues.

Implications: Policy attention and operational changes are required to improve equity in accessing early childhood services, as well as to improve the overall access to healthcare services for all Australian infants.