What we want to achieve between 2020 and 2025
- Families are supported to optimise the healthy development of their children in the first 1000 days
- More children are physically, socially and emotionally ready to start school
A focus on children and families
A positive start in life helps children thrive. The right support provided at the right time helps children develop to their fullest, setting them up to become healthy and resilient adults.
The foundations for health and wellbeing throughout life are established from the early developmental years, starting at conception.
Children and their families need support during this important time of development so they can enjoy the best possible health and wellbeing.
The Australian Early Development Census measures how young children have developed by the time they start their first year of full-time school (Kindergarten in the ACT).
These census results tell us that most children in the ACT are developmentally on track when they start school. However, results also show an increase in the number of children experiencing developmental vulnerability in areas such as emotional maturity and physical health and wellbeing.
Without the right supports these children may be at risk of a difficult start to school or experience ongoing educational challenges that may adversely impact their long-term health.
Investing in the early years before starting school is essential to support more children to enjoy good health and quality of life as they grow.
Key population health measures
The Australian Early Development Census is the main population health measure for the supporting children and families priority area. The census tells us how young children have developed when they start their first year of full-time school. The 5 domains measured in the census are:
- physical health and wellbeing
- social competence
- emotional maturity
- language and cognitive skills (school-based)
- communication skills and general knowledge.
In the ACT, the proportion of children who were developmentally vulnerable on one or more domains increased from 24.6% in 2018 to 26.7% in 2021. In 2021, 47.3% of ACT children were developmentally on track on five domains compared to 48.7% in 2018.
Data from other relevant population health surveys is reported on HealthStats in the ACT including from the:
- Year 7 Health Check survey
- ACT Kindergarten Health Check
- ACT General Health Survey
- ACT Year 6 Physical Activity and Nutrition Survey.
This priority area aligns with the health domain of the Wellbeing Framework, in particular the best start to life, overall health and healthy lifestyle indicators. This priority area also aligns with the education and life-long-learning domain indicator for early childhood education.
Activities delivered under the first action plan
Set up for Success: An Early Childhood Strategy for the ACT
The Set up for Success: An Early Childhood Strategy for the ACT was launched in 2020. This 10-year plan for early childhood education and care in the ACT aims to give all children the best possible start in life with the fairest opportunities to learn.
A key initiative under Set up for Success is delivering universal access to preschool for 3-year-old children.
Best Start for Canberra’s Children: The First 1000 Days Strategy
The Best Start for Canberra’s Children: The First 1000 Days Strategy (Best Start) was launched in 2022. This 10-year plan aims to lead a collective commitment to supporting children and families during the first 1000 days from conception to around 2 years of age.
A key focus of Best Start is to address the Australian Early Development Census findings showing that decreasing numbers of children are developmentally on track when they start school.
Ongoing preventive health activities supporting children and families
National Immunisation Program
The ACT Health Immunisation Unit distributes government funded childhood vaccines to immunisation providers in the ACT every year including to organisations that provide healthcare for priority populations such as the Companion House Refugee Health Service.
Canberra Health Services provides vaccination through the Child and Adolescent Immunisation program.
In 2020, National Immunisation Program funded Meningococcal B (Bexsero) vaccines were introduced for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the ACT.
Children who may be overdue for vaccinations due to COVID-19 disruptions were followed up by the Immunisation Unit to ensure coverage remains high.
Canberra Health Services for families
The Early Parenting Support phone line provides information, advice and referral for families on child health and development, breastfeeding and emotional wellbeing concerns.
The Early Parenting Counselling service provides mothers, fathers and other primary caregivers with therapeutic support and advice to better manage and overcome challenges that may arise in the early stage of family life.
Canberra Maternity Options provides a single entry point into ACT public maternity services through Central Health Intake.
The Women’s Health Physiotherapy service provides physiotherapy care for people during their pregnancy and up to 3 months after the birth. The Mums and Bubs Physiotherapy Service provides assessment, information, exercise advice, early intervention and prevention for people who have given birth in the previous 12 months, as well as infants under 12 months. The Paediatric Physiotherapy Service provides physiotherapy for babies, children and adolescents. The Women Youth and Children Physiotherapy Service provides services for babies aged 3-12 months and women during pregnancy and the first 12 months postnatally.
The Women, Youth and Children Community Nutrition service provides free nutrition assessment, counselling and advice for children, young people, pregnant women and women up to 2 years after giving birth. Support for children and families around weight management can be referred to the School Kids Intervention Program from 4 to 12 years of age.
The full range of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood services can be found on the Canberra Health Services website.
Programs funded through the Healthy Canberra Grants
More than $950,000 was provided to community programs aimed at supporting children and families in the 2022 Healthy Canberra Grants. The community programs included:
- ACT Playgroup’s Reconnect Playgroups program which aims to provide supported playgroups to assist parents with children born during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Barnardos Australia’s Nourishing & Flourishing program which aims to support children aged 0-2 with developmental delays and/or neurodivergence.
- Capital Region Community Service’s Healthy Habits program which delivers interactive group sessions related to healthy childhood development during the first 1,000 days of life.
- Nutrition Australia ACT’s Feeding Healthy Futures program which aims to provide food and nutrition education across three crucial stages in a child’s life – in utero, infancy, and toddlerhood.
- UnitingCare Kippax’s Road to Health program which aims to facilitate workshops to improve health literacy in expectant and new parents.
- University of Canberra’s Active Beginnings program which aims to improve awareness within culturally and linguistically diverse communities of the benefits of physical activity during pregnancy and childbearing years.
- University of Newcastle’s Asthma in Pregnancy: Breathe Life for You and Your Baby program, which aims to decrease rates of uncontrolled asthma in pregnant women.
A range of other grants were provided to community programs that aimed to support children and families between 2020 and 2022:
- Nutrition Australia ACT was funded $147,900 for the Nourishing Little Minds program focused on creating a positive food and healthy eating culture within early childhood settings.
- The Woden School was funded $59,160 for the Stronger Us program which is a whole school community program primarily focused on creating an environment that provides healthy nutrition and physical activity opportunities.
- Ngunnawal Primary School was funded $7,000 for The Deadly Lunchbox program which aims to bring together parents and carers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to inspire and encourage them to prepare healthy food for their children.
- Companion House was funded $141,390 for the Healthy Happy Life حياة سعيدة صحية program which is an Arabic language-based program focused on encouraging physical activity and healthy eating for families with children and young people.
- Macquarie Primary School was funded $72,644 for the Building a Socially Connected and Mentally Healthy Community program designed to build stronger social connectedness and among families and staff and improved mental health among students.
Over $1.5 million was awarded across 9 community organisations through the Healthy Canberra Grants: Focus on Supporting Healthy and Active Living for Children and Young People round announced in 2022. Recipients included programs such as YWCA Canberra’s Healthy Start in the Suburbs program to support healthy development in 0-4 year olds living in developmentally vulnerable areas of the ACT.
A total of $380K was awarded across 10 community organisations through the Healthy Canberra Grants: Reconnection within Priority Populations round announced in 2022. Recipients included programs such as the Circus Start program for babies and children born preterm that aims to reduce developmental delay through facilitated physical and social play.