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Transitions between socio-emotional and cognitive vulnerability profiles from early to middle childhood: a population study using multi-agency administrative records

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Adult psychosocial difficulties, including psychiatric disorders, are often preceded by childhood psychosocial vulnerabilities, presenting critical windows of opportunity for preventative intervention. The present study aimed to identify longitudinal patterns (representing transitions between profiles) of childhood socio-emotional and cognitive vulnerability in the general population from early to middle childhood, in relation to key risk factors (e.g. parental mental illness and offending). Data were drawn from the New South Wales Child Development Study, which combines intergenerational multi-agency administrative records with cross-sectional assessments using data linkage methods. We analysed data from childhood assessments of socio-emotional and cognitive functioning at two time points (ages 5–6 and 10–11 years) that were linked with administrative data from government departments of health, child protection, and education for 19,087 children and their parents. Latent profile analyses were used to identify socio-emotional and cognitive profiles at each time point, and latent transition analyses were used to determine the probability and potential moderators of transition between profiles at each age. Three developmental profiles were identified in early childhood, reflecting typically developing, emotionally vulnerable, and cognitively vulnerable children, respectively; two profiles were identified in middle childhood, reflecting typically developing and vulnerable children. Child’s sex, child protection services contact, parental mental illness, and parental offending influenced children’s transitions between different vulnerability profiles, with the strongest effects for parental mental illness and child protection contact. Early detection of vulnerable children and factors promoting resilience are important steps in directing future health and social policy, and service planning for vulnerable children.

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This research used population data owned by the NSW Education Standards Authority; NSW Department of Family and Community Services and Justice; NSW Ministry of Health; NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages; and, the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research. This paper uses data from the Australian Early Development Census (AEDC). The AEDC is funded by the Australian Government Department of Education and Training. The findings and views reported are those of the author and should not be attributed to these Departments or the NSW and Australian Government. The record linkage was conducted by the Centre for Health and Record Linkage.


This research was conducted by the University of New South Wales with financial support from the Australian Research Council Linkage Project (LP110100150, with the NSW Ministry of Health, NSW Department of Education, and the NSW Department of Family and Community Services representing the Linkage Project Partners) and Future Fellowship awarded to KRL (FT170100294); the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Project Grants (APP1058652 and APP1048055) and Partnership Project (APP1133833), and; the Australian Rotary Health (Mental Health of Young Australians Research Grants 104090 and 162302).

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Correspondence to Melissa J. Green.

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On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

Ethical standards

The research was conducted with ethical approval from the NSW Population and Health Services Research Ethics Committee (HREC/15/CIPHS/21), and data custodian approvals granted by the relevant government departments.

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Piotrowska, P.J., Whitten, T., Tzoumakis, S. et al. Transitions between socio-emotional and cognitive vulnerability profiles from early to middle childhood: a population study using multi-agency administrative records. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00787-020-01475-x

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  • Latent profile analysis
  • Psychopathology
  • Resilience
  • Developmental transition
  • Record linkage