18 August 2021

An innovative approach to make sure all children start school developmentally on track

Many of us know how important the first few years of a child’s life are for their brain development, attachment and setting them up for the rest of their life. If a child is not reaching their developmental milestones, it is therefore crucial that this is identified as early as possible so the child can receive the necessary supports to help them start school well.

A different approach

In NSW, all families are given a Blue Book at their child’s birth, which holds information about how to support their child’s development at different ages, when to get immunisations and how to track their milestones. This can include if they are speaking the appropriate number of words, or if they can jump off a step, or use a crayon to draw a shape. These Blue Books are designed to be used with the child’s GP or a child and family health nurse at a local Community Health Centre who can do the age-appropriate developmental check with the child at routine stages from the 6-week mark all the way to 4 years when the child is about to start school. This is a great idea, as these regular check ins with a nurse provide the opportunity for parents and carers to ask questions, get activity ideas about what intentional play activities will help their child at that age, as well as increasing opportunities for the early identification if a child isn’t reaching their developmental milestones.

These programs are great, however when families face struggles such as lack of transport, financial stress, family stressors or lack of employment, being able to access a Community Health Care Centre to do a Blue Book check drops down the priority list or sometimes just aren’t possible to access. This doesn’t take away the importance of early identification of children’s needs, in fact, it’s more important in these situations as children from suburbs of disadvantage often have higher developmental delays and concerns.

In these areas, a different approach is needed to overcome the unique barriers families face. The Hive have partnered with NSW Health to deliver a pilot program called the Check Ups Before School (CUBS) Program for families in three Mt Druitt suburbs. This program focuses on overcoming the common barriers in accessing a nurse for a Blue Book. Through CUBS, a Nurse, Speech Pathologist and Health Linker partner with local early childhood and community sites to deliver the developmental checks in places where families trust and gather regularly. In this way, the program is accessible and proactive by being readily available to families and provides integrated and relational support alongside the trusted early childhood service educators.

The inclusion of a Speech Pathologist and Health Linker ensures that children and families can get timely support to speech therapy in the early education centres, and practical support after the Nurse check to make sure they can be connected to the necessary supports such as allied health services, a paediatrician or the NDIS.

Early identification of developmental delays or concerns is essential for children to receive timely support and the best start when they start kindergarten. For some families, the current early identification systems aren’t easy to access, and place-based solutions that are relational, integrated, and accessible are the solution to make sure that children from every suburb can start school well.