What is a public health approach to the wellbeing and safety of children, young people and families?
A public health approach aims to prevent problems occurring in the first place by:
- targeting policies and actions at the known risk indicators for the problem
- quickly identifying and responding to problems if they do occur, and
- minimising the long-term effects of the problems (World Health Organization [WHO], 2006).
A public health approach is based on evidence that shows harm, hardship and developmental challenges for children and young people are largely preventable and manageable. Child health and early years education that are delivered to the whole community – that is universal services – can prevent problems for children and young people before they occur. This universal focus must be combined with targeted approaches for those who face greater challenges and require more intensive, and lasting support.
Why is Every Child promoting a public health approach?
There are five compelling reasons why a public health approach to the wellbeing and safety of children and young people makes good sense.
- It works. There is now abundant evidence to show that early and lasting support targeted to those at risk of harm or hardship can prevent and minimise major problems from occurring.
- It is internationally recognised as leading practice. The public health approach to wellbeing is recognised and promoted within the National Framework
to Protect Australia’s Children, and by reputable researchers and organisations, such as the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). It is acknowledged as comprehensive framework for understanding and advancing the wellbeing and safety of children and young people.
- It is cost effective. There is extensive evidence to show that the cost of prevention and early support is a much better investment than the high costs of reacting to complex problems through the health, education, justice and community service systems.
- It is based on evidence. Evidence shows that access to good health care, housing, income, education and more can reduce and prevent problems before they occur.
- The current approaches are not working well enough. There is consensus among many opinion leaders that a public health, preventive approach to child development makes good sense. Yet our response to child development is reactive – the majority of funds and effort are directed at fixing problems.
Far too many children and young people endure harm and hardship. On some of the indicators of health, education and wellbeing, Australian children and young people fall short of international standards. The numbers of substantiated child abuse and neglect cases in Australia continue to increase every year. The over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people in our child protection and youth justice systems is a major injustice and public health challenge.