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Universal child health programme launched in Wales

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Health visitors and school nurses in Wales will have to comply with a major initiative launched today to ensure every child up to the age of seven receives “consistent and universal health services”.

It will establish a universal programme for all families with 0-7 year-old children, including a range of preventative and early intervention measures such as screening and developmental checks.

“The Welsh government is committed to addressing health inequalities”

Rebecca Evans

The Healthy Child Wales programme will also provide advice and guidance to support parenting and healthy lifestyle choices, said the Welsh government.

It stated that at its “core” the scheme set out what planned contacts children and their families can expect from their health boards from the maternity service handover to the first years of schooling.

The universal contacts cover three areas of intervention – screening, immunisation and monitoring and supporting child development.

Setting out the reasons behind the changes introduced via the programme, an overview document stated it was “essential” that services involved in early years care “work together and take every opportunity to engage, advise and support families and children during this crucial period of their development”.

It noted that health boards had agreed there would be “significant benefit” from having an all Wales approach to child surveillance, essentially services delivered by health visitors and school nurses, and integrating this with the current universal provision of immunisation and screening services.

Therefore, it said the new programme set out an “agreed all-Wales universal schedule” of health visiting and school nursing contacts for every child, with enhanced and intensive interventions delivered to those families and children with increased levels of need.

The implementation of the programme will ensure a commitment to support the health and welfare of all children aged 0-7 years, said the government, and aims to achieve the following key priorities:

  • Deliver key public health messages from conception to 7 years, so that families are supported to make long term health enhancing choices
  • Promote bonding and attachment to support positive parent-child relationships resulting in secure emotional attachment for children
  • Promote positive maternal and family emotional health and resilience
  • Support and empower families to make informed choices in order to provide a safe, nurturing environment
  • Assist children to meet all growth and developmental milestones enabling them to achieve school readiness
  • Support the transition into the school environment
  • Protect them from avoidable childhood diseases through a universal immunisation
  • Ensure early detection of physical, metabolic, developmental or growth problems through an appropriate, universal screening programme

Rebecca Evans, minister for social services and public health, said the programme’s implementation was a priority in the Welsh government’s new five-year plan – Taking Wales Forward 2016-21.

Welsh Assembly

Universal child health programme launched in Wales

Rebecca Evans

She announced the start of the programme at an event to celebrate health visitors at the Swalec Stadium in Cardiff. From 1 October, all health boards will begin implementing the programme.

Ms Evans said: “The Welsh government is committed to addressing health inequalities and adverse childhood experiences. Healthy Child Wales will help us to do this.

“Healthy Child Wales, which has been a collaborative service-led programme, has given us the opportunity to reassess health services for children and use the latest evidence to develop an agreed all Wales approach to monitoring and supporting child development,” she said.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the health professionals who have contributed to the development of Healthy Child Wales,” she added.

Overview of the surveillance component of the Healthy Child Wales Programme

Universal – core components available to all families with children under seven years of age will include:

  • Health and development
  • Screening and physical examination
  • Immunisation
  • Key public health messages
  • Smoking and substance misuse
  • Prevention of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
  • Breastfeeding and healthy weaning
  • Nutrition
  • Obesity and physical activity
  • Baby safety
  • Home safety & accident prevention
  • Healthy relationships and domestic abuse
  • Dental health
  • Pet/Dog safety
  • Promotion of sensitive parenting
  • Secure infant attachment and bonding
  • Involvement of fathers
  • Perinatal mental health
  • Preparation and support with transition to parenthood
  • Safeguarding

Enhanced – the enhanced service will include further interventions that will have been identified as required through either the assessments of resilience and development and will include:

  • Emotional and psychological issues
  • Breastfeeding
  • Positive behaviour change (smoking, substance misuse, diet, dental health etc.)
  • Parenting support programmes, including assessment and promotion of parent-baby interaction
  • Child development & speech and language
  • Infants with health problems
  • Safeguarding concerns

Intensive – will build upon the universal and enhanced core programmes and may include:

  • Intensive structured home visiting programmes
  • Referral to specialist services
  • Safeguarding concerns
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