The main problems include a lack of support for babies and toddlers, education, physical health and income disparity, says a strategy report compiled by the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY).
The document, titled Nest, will be launched in Canberra on Monday.
It says Australians aged 0-24 rank in the top third for about a quarter of wellbeing indicators and in the bottom third for another quarter compared with other countries in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development).
Australia is doing well for youth smoking, education and employment, but relatively poorly for infant mortality, income inequality, jobless families, pre-school attendance and year-4 reading and science.
The report highlights serious inequalities between indigenous and non-indigenous children and youth.
"Australian children are not doing as well as they should be. We are middle of the road at best for child wellbeing compared to other countries," said Dr Lance Emerson, CEO of the 3000-member group.
"We have management plans for the hairy-nosed wombat, but we don't have an overarching plan for kids."
He said a co-ordinated plan was needed across several areas.
"It is important that we don't try to address issues individually.
"Finishing Year 12 is a better indicator of low risk for heart disease than hypertension and a lot of other illnesses combined."
The aim was for Australia to achieve a top-five position for education performance and physical, social and emotional wellbeing by 2025, he said.
"Healthy children mean a healthy economy."
Australia needed a strong legislated approach that ensured children got off to a better start, Dr Emerson said.
"The Scandinavian countries are doing incredibly well. They invest heavily in services for parents in the early years."
ARACY Chair Elaine Henry said there had been excellent reforms in the past, but non-government agencies, governments and service providers had been working in isolation, all looking after their own patch.
"We know we can achieve these targets if we invest wisely in evidence-based and prevention-focused policies, programs and practices," she said.
news.com.au 18 Nov 2013