National Framework for Universal Child and Family Health Services

2.4 The current policy environment

Page last updated: 20 May 2013

There are a number of policy and strategic reform areas that are directly relevant to the health and development of all children.

Under the auspices of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), several current reforms have informed the development of the Framework for Universal Child and Family Health Services.

The Framework is most strongly aligned with the vision articulated by COAG in the ‘Investing in the Early Years: A National Early Childhood Development Strategy’ [23] which states that by 2020:

‘All children have the best start in life to create a better future for themselves and for the nation’

The National Early Childhood Development Strategy outlines how Australia’s early childhood development system will engage with and respond to the needs of children and their families to provide Australia’s young children with the best possible start in life. The strategy aims to link the role of communities, non-government organisations and all governments in shaping children’s early childhood development.

The National Health and Hospital Reform Report [39] also addresses the importance of a healthy start to life and the central role of prevention and early intervention into every aspect of the Australian health system. The right mix of universal and targeted services for all children and families is emphasised, most particularly for children and families with the highest levels of need such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families.

In addition, there are a number of related policy areas.

The National Preventative Health Strategy – ‘Australia the Healthiest Country by 2020’ identifies the importance of effective prevention strategies for obesity, tobacco and alcohol use during pregnancy and the early years of life. Key strategies include: early identification of family risk and need starting in the antenatal period; response to need in pregnancy, early years and through parent support; monitoring of child health, development and wellbeing, as well as service redevelopment and workforce training to meet maternal and
childhood needs (p. xx).

The National Disability Strategy, due for release in 2010-11 after endorsement by the Council of Australian Governments, will provide a national framework to drive future reforms in mainstream systems and the disability service system for people with disability, their families and carers.

Universal child and family health services in Australia also have a key role to play in the COAG strategy – the National Framework for Protecting Australian’s Children, ‘Protecting Children is Everyone’s Business’ [43]. This strategy emphasises the need to take a public health approach to the care and protection of children, young people and their families. Under a public health model or population health approach, priority is placed on having universal supports available for all families (such as, health and education). More intensive prevention interventions are provided to those families that need additional assistance with a focus on early intervention. Tertiary child protection services are a last resort, and the least desirable option for families and governments. The Common Approach to Assessment, Referral and Support (CAARS) has been developed within this strategy.

Given the importance of the antenatal period in influencing a child’s start to life, the Framework for universal child and family health services also seeks to articulate with the national antenatal care guidelines, and the Australian Government’s reform of maternity services.

In Australia, child and family health services are primarily delivered by State and Territory Governments. However, there are a number of policies and programs for which the Australian Government takes responsibility that focus on the wellbeing of children as well as the early identification, prevention and management of health conditions, and consequently may have an impact on child health (see Table 2).

Current Australian Government programs focused on health and wellbeing of children

  • Funding the Medical Benefits Schedule (MBS), the Pharmaceutical Benefits Schedule (PBS), an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander specific primary health care rebate.
  • Funding states and territories through the National Healthcare Agreement (NHA), which now goes beyond hospitals and covers public health, prevention and the interactions of the hospital system with the primary, aged and community-based care systems.
  • Council of Australian Governments’ (COAG) National Partnership Agreement on Preventive Health includes interventions that will be implemented in settings such as preschools, schools, workplaces and communities to help individuals modify their lifestyles in order to reduce the risk of chronic disease.
  • National Immunisation Program (NIP) aims to increase coverage of children against 16 vaccine preventable diseases including measles, mumps, rubella and poliomyelitis.
  • COAG National Partnership Agreement on Indigenous Early Childhood Development, which includes funding to increase antenatal care in early pregnancy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women (particularly those under 20) and for teenage sexual and reproductive health; and funding to improve access for Indigenous children and their families in selected areas to integrated services offering early learning, childcare and family support, and access to maternal and child health services.
  • Indigenous-specific funding targeting maternal and child health e.g. Healthy for Life.
  • Australian Nurse-Family Partnership Program, which provides comprehensive, nurse-led home visiting services for Indigenous families to improve pregnancy outcomes by helping women engage in good preventative health practices and support parents to improve child health and development.
  • Healthy Kids Check for all four-year-olds, which includes basic eyesight examination. Parents also receive a copy of the Get Set 4 Life – habits for healthy kids Guide, which provides practical information about healthy living habits.
  • Funding through State and Territory Governments, Divisions of General Practice and beyondblue under the National Perinatal Depression Initiative-focused on improving prevention and early detection of antenatal and postnatal depression and providing better support and treatment for expectant and new mothers experiencing depression.
  • COAG Mental Health Early Intervention Services for Parents, Children and Young People initiative, which includes the KidsMatter Early Childhood and KidsMatter Primary initiatives for mental health promotion, prevention and early intervention in long day care centres, preschools and primary schools.
Section 3 outlines the Framework and provides the structure health services need to ensure that all children and families have access to suitably resourced, well-supported professionals to ensure each child will achieve his or her optimal potential.