What does growth and development mean?
The growth and development of children refers to the changes and growing that takes place from birth right through to adolescence. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children it involves the physical aspects of developing, as well as the social and emotional. In addition, there are other aspects of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child’s overall wellbeing that are extremely significant. That is, connection to culture, community and family.
Growth & Development
Why is it important?
Having an understanding of what has and continues to affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s growth and development is paramount to preventing the common health issues whilst the child is in your care.
Poverty has a profound effect on the health and well being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. The infant mortality rate among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is also three times higher than the national average, or 15.2 deaths per 1000 births compared to five per 1000. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are more likely to give birth to underweight babies than non-Indigenous women.
Historically, the disruption of the traditional diet and food supplies and the introduction of European foods have had a negative impact on the traditional healthy eating patterns and lifestyles of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. As a result children may have different rates of growth than non-Indigenous children after weaning from breast.
Evidence suggests that the early years of development from conception to age six, especially the first three years, set the base for competence and coping skills that will affect learning, behaviour and health throughout life.
Common health concerns to look out for
Middle ear infections – otitis media:
Many children suffer from repeated bouts of middle ear infection and this is one of the most common reasons for hospital admission among Aboriginal children. The term ‘otitis media’ refers to inflammation of the middle ear.
Infections are caused by either bacteria or viruses and can be triggered by a common cold. Babies and young children are more likely to develop this because they are still building up their immunity. Don’t make judgments about runny noses-it may be otitis media. The pus or fluid from this can and may cause mild deafness. Recurring infections are likely to affect speech development and interfere with schooling.
While it is a common childhood disease, it is at least 10 times more common among Aboriginal children than non-Indigenous.
A child with this infection may have the following:
- Fluctuating hear loss;
- Rupturing of the eardrum-know as perforated eardrum;
- Permanent hearing loss caused by many infections or scarring of the eardrum;
- Delayed speech or poor pronunciation;
- Ask the child if they have any ear pain.
According to the Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children experience significantly greater levels of having missing or decayed teeth compared to non-Indigenous children.
Ways of taking care of children’s teeth
Ensure that you teach your child the importance of oral health/hygiene
Teach or demonstrate how to brush teeth and floss-age appropriate.
VISIT THE DENTIST:
Visit the dentist on a regular basis
Nutrition and health
Malnutrition in early childhood has been linked to problems with mental development and disorders including anaemia and recurring infections.
Good nutrition is necessary for growth, physical and emotional health. Normal growth in infancy and childhood is vitally important for good health in adulthood. Poor nutrition can increase the risk of a number of diseases amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
Tipsheet to encourage healthy diet and good nutrition in children:
Healthy eating and physical activity tip sheets (VACHHO) – Website Link
Cook and eat bush tucker food together and with family
Explain the importance of ‘good’ foods and unhealthy foods
If you have any concerns at all regarding the child’s health and development, you should seek professional advice immediately. Speak to your case- worker and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health service.
Links to further readings and resources
Below are links to each state and territories peak Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health services. Contact to get further information about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s health and development and services local to you.
1AHMAC, Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council, (2006), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework Report 2006, AHMAC, Canberra.
2SNAICC, Foster Their Culture, Canadian Child Care Federation, (2008), p22