National Framework for Universal Child and Family Health Services

1. Introduction

Page last updated: 20 May 2013

The National Framework for Universal Child and Family Health Services (the Framework) outlines the core services that all Australian children and families should receive at no financial cost to themselves, regardless of where they live, and how and where they access their health care. The Framework focuses on universal health services available to all children and their families from birth to eight years, but emphasises the provision of additional, targeted or specialist and intensive services for families with additional needs or for those children where a health or development need has been identified.

Early childhood represents a period of immense change and development and the health and wellbeing of the mother, father or primary carer1 is recognised as integral to the health and wellbeing of the child. During this critical transition time, Australian women and men report feeling unprepared for parenthood, [2, 3] lack confidence in their parenting skills and there is a high occurrence of parental stress, postnatal distress and depression (both women and men) in the short and long term after birth [4-6].

Universal child and family health services are uniquely placed to support families, enhance parenting and monitor health and developmental progress during critical periods in a child’s life. Ongoing developmental surveillance offers opportunities to positively impact upon the growth and development of children through health and developmental promotion as well as early identification and intervention [7]. Universal child and family health services are also ideally situated to identify parental health issues, and can provide advice and support and/or appropriate referral.

There are many examples of high quality, evidence-based universal child and family health services across Australia and many children will already be receiving these core services. Some children and families, including those most in need, may not access the full range or quality of services. The Framework does not seek to prescribe specific service delivery mechanisms or restrict flexibility in delivering innovative services to meet the needs of communities. Rather, the Framework articulates a vision, objectives and principles for a solid platform of universal child and family health services and provides suggestions and support for evidence-based practice. Evidence-based practice is described through ‘core service elements’ to guide a consistent approach applicable to all jurisdictions.

1 From this point forward in the document, the term parent will be used to represent mothers, fathers and other carers unless the content is related specifically to mothers or fathers.