Developmental issues are often undetected until the child has started school because many families are skipping the 4-year health checks, research shows. According to New South Wales Health, about “2 in 5 children are starting school developmentally off track”.
In response, the New South Wales (NSW) government is implementing a plan to make health checks – which are conducted throughout a child’s life from birth until 4 years old – more accessible for parents by making checks available at preschools.
The Deputy Premier and Minister for Education and Early Learning Prue Car issued a statement saying, “We want to support long term health and development outcomes for all children across NSW, regardless of their family’s postcode, income or circumstances”.
The scheme will be available at all NSW early learning centres including public preschools, community preschools and long daycare centres.
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What happens during a health check
The early years of a child’s life are crucial for development, and health checks are an important part of tracking a child’s growth and finding signs of potential issues early.
Health checks are performed by a health professional, who assesses the child’s listening and talking skills, gross and fine motor skills and social skills and behaviour. The health professional will also check physical development such as vision, hearing, weight, height and teeth.
No vaccinations are given during health checks.
It’s during these vital checks that areas of additional support are identified. Then, proper mediation can take place in the form of occupational therapy, dieticians, speech pathologists or medical intervention.
Which centres will receive free health checks?
For now, only New South Wales is rolling the scheme out. It plans to commence in late 2023 in six local health districts and expand to all preschools and long daycare services throughout 2024.
The initiative will run as an opt-in program, which means parents will need to sign a consent form for their children to take part. A report is sent to parents or guardians with the results and feedback on any extra support required.
Implementing changes such as the health check program takes co-operation between government, early education providers and families, says NSW Minister for Health and Regional Health Ryan Park.
“No state government agency can do this vital work alone. When professionals coordinate their efforts to partner with parents and carers to provide children with the best possible support, we will see improved outcomes for children.”
The health check program is expected to cost $111.2 million over four years. It also aims to reach Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and increase the number of school-ready children to 55% by 2031, as part of the Closing the Gap initiative.
Further support for 4-year-olds
The Australian Government is investing billions of dollars into early childhood education over the next several years. One of its priorities is laying a strong foundation for children starting school, and giving all children the opportunity to learn equally.
There are several other programs currently running that are part of these government initiatives:
- The Preschool Reform Agreement: This program aims to improve preschool participation and outcomes. The four-year agreement has locked in Commonwealth funding for preschools until the end of 2025.
- Support for School Students: The Department of Education provides support for school students through various programs such as Supporting Family-School-Community partnerships for children’s learning, Supporting student resilience and wellbeing, English Language Learning for Indigenous Children (ELLIC) Trial, Early Learning Languages Australia (ELLA), National Student Wellbeing Program, and Life Education Australia.
- National Quality Framework (NQF): this national quality standard ensures consistent and high quality early childhood education and support across Australia, regardless of demographic or location.