Children, The Family and Health: What it Takes to Give Children Long Life
The Singapore Workshop: Statement on the health status of children under 10 years of age in Australia
“The 21st Century offers a bright vision of better health for all. It holds not merely the prospect of longer life, but superior quality of life, with less disability and disease.” (The World Health Report 1998. Life in the 21st Century - A vision for all. World Health Organisation).
More than ever, Australian children will grow up in an era where their well being and not just health will be considered throughout their life. In the national monitoring of health in Australia, a broad definition is utilised consistent with the World Health Organisation’s definition (WHO 1946) which defines health as: a state of complete physical, mental and social well being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Childrens’ health more than any other stage of life is influenced by their family and the wider community (Australia’s children: their health & well being, 1998. AIHW). The problems compromising child health in Australia and the world are not simple nor are the solutions.
- In 1997, there were 3.9 million children under 15 years of age living in Australia.
- Approximately 150,000 or 4% are indigenous children.
- In 1997, 74% of children 0-14 years lived in families with two parents and at least one child, while 18% live in one parent families. Over the past 10 years, the number of sole parent families has increased.
- Nearly 21% of children 0-2 years of age live in families without an employed parent.
- The child death rate has decreased over the past 10 years, with a dramatic reduction of deaths in the 1990’s from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. However despite the reduction in the incidence of vaccine preventable diseases since the introduction of immunisation, many diseases remain a problem in Australia. There have been no notified cases of polio in Australia since 1996, and no cases of diphtheria since 1993.
- The rate of substantial abuse has risen from 4.1 per 1000 in 1990-91 to 5.7 per 1000 children 0-16 years in 1996-97. Injury resulting in death in. children aged 0-9 years has been nominated as a target in relation to the goal of reducing interpersonal violence.
- There has been an increase in children experiencing respiratory conditions.
- Despite overall improvements in many of the indicators of child health and well being, indigenous children and those living in rural and remote areas experience considerably reduced health status compared with those in more populated areas. Indigenous babies die at an increased rate of 2 to 3 times. Injury rates are twice the rate for children from remote areas than those in metropolitan areas.
Aa a community worker within the community health sector I have experienced and welcomed the increasing emphasis of the policy changes that have been made Australia wide to incorporate primary health care strategies. The Global strategy for Health for All by the year 2000 was developed following an Intemational Conference on Primary Health Care in 1978 at Alma-Ata by the World Health Organisation. Australia has adopted these strategies and reports direcfly to the World Health Organisation. Primary health care recognises the complicated factors that affect the health and well being of a child. It recognises the role of the family; the socio economic status of the family; access to education for the child and other structural factors in the wider community which all directly impact on the health and well being of a child.
Amidst the changes to health policies Australia wide, my local community has been affected by the economic trends that have resulted in reductions in government spending across all areas including health, education and social welfare. Other general demographic changes have affected my work with children including the aging of the Australian population; increased numbers of people living in urban areas; growth of extreme disadvantage; changing family structures; changes in levels of migration and increased population mobility which may decrease social supports.
In the Analysis report of Australia’s third evaluation report to the World Health Organisation of the strategy for Health For all 1997 the reviewer stated the following:
“A number of significant achievements have been identified since the second evaluation. A number of difficulties have been encountered which include problems in translating the Health For All rhetoric into action; developing nationally coordinated approach…”
WHO recognises Australia’s success at improving the health and well being of Australians as well as the difficulty in making these changes. I work with children experiencing disabilities that compromise their access to an optimal education. My experience has been within public and private settings, and I currently observe inequity in access to services to assist these children in their everyday life which ultimately affects their health and well being. I experience what WHO recognises every day as I observe the primary health care aims for the children I assist but am not able to service them adequately due to the current systems and the need for a coordinated approach. Over time I look forward to changes in the experiences of the children I assist and particularly those children who are most disadvantaged in our community such as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and those living in more remote areas of Australia.
Last Modified: June 05, 2010