Australia's neediest communities are being held hostage by a succession of social ills from joblessness to jail time, child abuse, poor health and limited education, the study Dropping off the edge shows.
But the report concludes that careful, long-term intervention by governments can stop troubled areas from slipping further into distress and bring them back from the brink.
According to an Age report, project manager Fr Norden said the consequences of inaction for needy communities would be dire.
"If you don't tackle this in a concerted way now, these communities will become out of reach of mainstream government programs ... they could become permanently untouchable," he said. "If you don't, you can start building more gated communities, prisons and mental health services."
The analysis of 25 disadvantage indicators aims to spur governments to action by revealing where social needs are most acute.
The report names Australia's 187 most disadvantaged communities and identifies 22 as priorities for urgent intervention, including Rosebud and Braybrook in Victoria.
Broadmeadows in Melbourne's North West was identified as the most disadvantaged urban area in the state.
In NSW, the Kempsey area emerges as one of NSW's 40 most socially disadvantaged postcodes, the Sydney Morning Herald adds. The only Sydney postcodes featured are Mount Druitt, an area covering 13 suburbs and a population of 57,196, and Claymore.
Study author Tony Vinson (pictured), emeritus professor at the University of NSW, used measures such as joblessness, limited education, ill health, low incomes, housing stress, high imprisonment and child abuse rates to map disadvantage.
He found a small number of postcode areas ranked consistently among the most deprived on more than half the measures.
According to the report, many problems were highly correlated - with child abuse particularly prevalent in neighbourhoods with multiple social problems. A lack of internet access was also a strong forecaster of other types of disadvantage.
But Professor Vinson also found cause for optimism - that rapid changes can be made and that communities that foster a stronger sense of cohesion can protect themselves from the worst effects of unemployment and violence.
"It need not frighten those who control budgets because we are not talking about a huge number of areas," he said.
The report says slashing chronic disadvantage in the poorest neighbourhoods will take a long-term investment (at least eight years of sustained funding for lasting changes), with a heavy focus on health and education in early childhood.
"What amazes me is the durability of disadvantage in these communities. It goes on from generation to generation," Mr Vinson told the Herald.
"People's lives have not been favourably touched by the income growth and employment rates of the majority of the society. If anything the web of disadvantage has become more concentrated."
Plea for action to help the poor (The Age, 26/2/07)
Economic boom bypasses nation's poor (Sydney Morning Herald, 2/2/07)
Dropping off the Edge: The Distribution Of Disadvantage In Australia (Catholic Social Services, Media Release, 26/2/07)
LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Catholic Social Services
Jesuit Social Services
Australia Disadvantage (Not yet online)
Dropping off the edge - Extended summary (PDF)
26 Feb 2007