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Conference highlights importance of early childhood

This morning I spoke at the opening session of the 6th Biennial conference of the Maternal, Child and Family Health Nurses Australia Association.

This association is the national peak body for nurses working with parents of children from birth to five years of age – a vital time in the development of children.

In my address I spoke about the undeniable importance of the early childhood years and the need for parenting support.

Research clearly shows that from before birth through early childhood, a child’s physical, emotional and cognitive skills and capacities develop at a rate which exceeds that of any other stage of life.

Healthy development is underpinned by secure attachment and loving and responsive relationships with parents and other caregivers.

We know that the support available to parents, both formal and informal, is an important factor in their capacity to parent – support from family, friends and community, along with timely information and access to quality programs and services are all essential.

It is crucial that we design services to respond to the needs of families today and into tomorrow, taking into account how the population and community expectations are changing, - such as the impact of fly in fly out families, and how to tap into new and constantly evolving communication mediums.

Greater priority needs to be placed on support for parents and parenting. Although there is a variety of programs and services in WA there are substantial gaps, such as in regional areas, and greater coordination and integration is needed.

I was pleased to inform conference delegates about the establishment of 16 Child and Parent Centres on school sites in vulnerable communities. Coordinated by community service providers, the centres are based on a model of integrated service delivery, and are intended to improve access to a range of early learning, parenting, child and maternal health and wellbeing programs to support families with young children, from birth to eight years of age.

Having had the opportunity to see a number of these centres in operation, I know that they have quickly become a hub of activity and are in high demand by local families. The challenge now is to broaden the initiative to include other communities to respond to the rapid population growth that many localities are experiencing.

It was a pleasure to hear Emeritus Professor Dame Sarah Cowley talk about the United Kingdom’s health visitors program, the importance of the early years and a ‘proportionate universalism’ approach, one where programs, services and policies are provided to all parents but with a scale and intensity proportional to the level of need and vulnerability.

Jenni Perkins
Acting Commissioner for Children and Young People