National Framework for Universal Child and Family Health Services

4.2 Workforce

Page last updated: 20 May 2013

The child and family health and wellbeing workforce in Australia currently incorporates a range of professionals, but in particular, CFHNs and GPs. The core function and activities of child and family health services are outlined in Section 3 of this document.

The Framework recognises the key role of the CFHN in delivering universal child and family health services. Child and family health nurses are registered nurses with postgraduate qualifications and experience in child and family health nursing5. Child and family health nurses work in various settings and tiers, including: primary (e.g. home visits, centre-based consultations, telephone ‘helplines’, parenting groups); secondary and targeted services (e.g. day stay units; sustained health home-visiting programs, culturally-specific programs) and tertiary or intensive service models, including residential health services and children’s hospitals.

Similarly, general practitioners are a valued and well-utilised resource for many families with young children. Given the number of visits children and families make to the GP, it is vital they provide anticipatory guidance and preventive care activities. The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) [122] recommends the opportunistic assessment of ‘hearing, vision, language development, communication and family functioning in the first two years and surveillance of development, emerging behavioural or emotional problems and family dysfunction in the preschool years’. General Practitioners are also encouraged to ask about school progress, anticipate or look for emerging behavioural or emotional problems in children 6-13 years of age [122, p.21].

Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHS) provide culturally responsive, comprehensive primary health care services for children and families. Aboriginal Health Workers (AHWs) play a key role in child and family health services, particularly in ACCHS and rural and remote areas. Other Aboriginal workers who support children and their families include Aboriginal Health Education Officers (NSW), Indigenous Health Workers (Torres Strait), Strong Women Workers (NT, WA) and community-based workers (NT), and Aboriginal Maternal and Infant Care practitioners (SA).

There are other mainstream health professionals and groups who also contribute to the health and wellbeing of children and families and undertake aspects of the core service elements outlined in Section 3 of the Framework. These include: midwives, practice nurses, school nurses, mental health nurses, drug and alcohol counsellors, psychologists, paediatricians, paediatric dentists, psychiatrists, social workers, speech therapists,occupational therapists, physiotherapists, dietitians and pharmacy nurses. Together these professionals form a tiered team of primary, secondary and tertiary level health care that support the child’s health within the context of family and community.

Increasingly, universal child and family health services collaborate with many other service providers outside the health sector including child care workers, early childhood educators, and Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) such as Good Beginnings Australia, Benevolent Society who provide family and parenting support and volunteers such as Australian Breastfeeding Association counsellors and the Playgroup Association of Australia.

There are significant issues in establishing and maintaining a skilled workforce; particularly in rural and remote areas including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Attention to training, qualifications, cultural competencies, supply issues, staff support and mentoring, professional status, work conditions, interdisciplinary practice and leadership are necessary elements in building a capable child and family health workforce.