The science of prevention for children and youth

Ann V. Sanson, The University of Melbourne
Sophie S. Havighurst, The University of Melbourne
Stephen R. Zubrick, The University of Western Australia


The high prevalence of social, emotional and behavioural health problems in children and young people in Australia, and the high cost and relative ineffectiveness of treatments to ‘cure’ them, lead to the conclusion that the most efficient and cost effective approach is to prevent them from occurring. The challenge is in determining what to prevent and how to do so. While there are complex social and political aspects to prevention, it must also be guided by a solid scientific basis. This paper makes the case that prevention science provides a framework for ensuring that prevention initiatives are founded on robust evidence and implemented in a way that will allow progressive growth in knowledge of ‘what works’ in prevention. The paper examines some of the opportunities and challenges in a shift to an evidence-based prevention agenda to improve the lives of children and young people.

Professor Ann Sanson (PhD) <>works in the Department of Paediatrics at the University of Melbourne. She is a developmental psychologist and, until recently, was the Network Coordinator for the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY). She has been an investigator on the Australian Temperament Project since its inception in 1983 and is the Principal Scientific Advisor for Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. Dr Sophie Havighurst (PhD) <> is a clinical psychologist and Senior Lecturer teaching child and adolescent mental health professionals at Mindful, the Centre for Training and Research in Developmental Health at the University of Melbourne. She is an author and the principal investigator on the Tuning in to Kids parenting program which is both a universal and selective prevention program aimed at enhancing parent-child relationships and building children’s emotional competence. Professor Stephen R. Zubrick (PhD) <> worked for over twenty years in Western Australian hospital and outpatient mental health settings before starting a career in research. He is currently a Winthrop Professor at the University of Western Australia and the Head of the Division of Population Sciences at the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research.

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