The Impact of Hearing Impairment on the Life Trajectories of Aboriginal Children in Remote Australia: Protocol for the Hearing Loss in Kids Project

JMIR Res Protoc. 2020 Jan 15;9(1):e15464. doi: 10.2196/15464.


Background: Previous studies have reported a high prevalence of chronic otitis media (OM) and hearing impairment (HI) in Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory (NT) of Australia. Children affected by these disorders are believed to be at increased risk for adverse outcomes in early childhood development, school attendance, academic performance, and child maltreatment and youth offending. However, to date, there have been no studies quantifying the association between HI and these outcomes in this population.

Objective: This study will investigate the association between HI and the 5 outcomes in Aboriginal children living in remote NT communities.

Methods: Individual-level information linked across multiple administrative datasets will be used to conduct a series of retrospective observational studies on selected developmental and school outcomes. The predictor variables for all studies are the results from audiometric hearing assessments. The outcome measures are as follows: Australian Early Development Census results, representing developmental readiness for school, assessed around 5 years of age; Year 1 school attendance rates; Year 3 school-based academic performance, assessed in the National Assessment Program-Literacy and Numeracy; incidence of child maltreatment events (including both notifications and substantiated cases); and incidence of a first guilty verdict for youth offenders. Confounding and moderating factors available for the analysis include both community-level factors (including school fixed effects, socioeconomic status, level of remoteness, and housing crowdedness) and individual-level factors (including maternal and perinatal health and hospital admissions in early childhood).

Results: The study commenced in 2018, with ethics and data custodian approvals for data access and linkage. This has enabled the completion of data linkage and the commencement of data analysis for individual component studies, with findings expected to be published in 2019 and 2020.

Conclusions: This study will provide first evidence of the impact of OM-related HI on the developmental, educational, and social outcomes of Australian Aboriginal children. The findings are expected to have significant implications for policy development, service design, and resource allocation.

International registered report identifier (irrid): RR1-10.2196/15464.

Keywords: academic achievement; child development; child maltreatment; data linkage; hearing impairment; indigenous population; juvenile delinquency; primary schools.