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Close the gap on disadvantage to improve child health

7 November 2013

Close the gap on disadvantage to improve child health – Professor Fiona Stanley

"To improve child health and wellbeing in the future we need to become a more caring community, dedicated to addressing social inequities," says Professor Fiona Stanley.

Changing the focus

"We need to change our focus from short-term, individual and financial gain to finding real solutions for the health and social problems that affect those who are most disadvantaged and vulnerable, she says.

“A truly caring and civil society places greater value on equity, supporting parents and the needs of children,” Professor Stanley says.

“It also prioritises long-term improvements that benefit many, such as learning how to prevent disease and social problems rather than on quick-fix cures and band-aid solutions.”

"There is an urgent need for more research focused on prevention and better management of complex conditions such as mental illness, childhood obesity and substance abuse in both parents and children and fetal alcohol syndrome."

Other priorities included addressing child maltreatment, youth disengagement and crime, with the emphasis on preventing juvenile offending and the big number in detention, particularly Aboriginal children and young people.

Importantly, sound recommendations made in the Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody, the Bringing them Home report and the WA Aboriginal Child Health survey required re-visiting.

“My sense is that if these recommendations had been implemented back then, we would be in a much better situation today,” Professor Stanley says.

“We need to better understand the origins of Aboriginal disadvantage and poor health and how to best deliver services that are inclusive and trusted by communities."

“This is not rocket science: most of us only use services we trust, that we feel we have some control over and that benefit our families and ourselves.”

Other neglected but important areas for research included investigating the effects of climate change on children; the prevention of preterm birth and fetal growth failure and the reasons for families ignoring public health advice, such as for vaccinations, Professor Stanley says.

To enable this research, we must ensure we have the best data on all children and their problems and the risk and protective factors and how these are changing over time.

“Without the best data we cannot make any progress.”