Objective: Children with special health care needs are an important population for educational and health service providers. Accurate information about the prevalence and characteristics of these children and their families is needed to inform the planning and development of systems of care, yet data in Australia are currently lacking.
Methods: This study utilizes population-level data from the Australian Early Development Index, a teacher-rated checklist, to provide estimates of the prevalence and developmental and demographic characteristics of Australian children with special health care needs on entrance to school.
Results: Four percent of children were reported with established special health care needs, and a further 18% were identified by teachers as "of concern." These children showed higher rates of vulnerability across all domains of development. Although children with established special health care needs were represented across demographic profiles, proportions were greater among boys, those from lower socioeconomic status communities, and Indigenous and older children. In contrast, those living in more remote settings were as likely to be identified as "of concern" as their peers but were less likely to have established special health care needs.
Conclusions: These findings have important implications for service provision and policy development. There are substantial opportunities to reorient schooling and early childhood systems to better detect and accommodate the needs of these children.