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Child and Youth Development

Healthy child and youth development begins long before birth and is one of the key determinants for health and well-being throughout life. A healthy child is one who thrives through each developmental stage and is positioned to reach his or her potential in adulthood. The capacity for a child to develop in a healthy manner depends greatly on the environment in which he or she is raised. There is an extensive body of research evidence confirming the profound influence of early experiences on brain development, school readiness, subsequent learning and future adult health. The child’s early experiences have the most important influence of any other time frame in the life cycle. Additional information is available on the Public Health Authority of Canada (PHAC) Opens in new window website.

Among other things, the following facts are known about child and youth development:

  • Quality emotional, physical and social stimulation are essential.
  • Good prenatal nutrition contributes to a healthy birth weight and infant well-being.
  • Tobacco, alcohol and drug use during pregnancy can lead to poor birth outcomes.
  • A healthy birth weight is a key determinant of health; for example, a low birth weight can result in serious health and behavioural problems; a high birth weight may also be associated with maternal and child health problems.
  • Good early nutritional experiences through exclusive breastfeeding and appropriate and timely introduction of complementary foods contribute to lifelong health.
  • A loving and secure attachment to a nurturing adult influences a child’s capacity for social, emotional and cognitive development, and ability to have positive relationships.
  • Parenting is a key factor in healthy child development; they have the primary responsibility for the care and nurturing of their children.

There are a number of provincial programs and initiatives that support healthy child development. These programs are designed to promote healthy pregnancy, infancy, and birth, improve parenting and family supports and strengthen early childhood development.

Parent and Child Health Programs include a variety of programs designed to offer and support seamless service for childbearing families and families with young children, from the prenatal period to the school-aged child. These are offered to all families, through regional community health services. Families are referred to these programs either by health care providers or by themselves and services are provided primarily by public/community health nurses.

Specific program areas include:

  • BABIES, (Before Birth and Beyond: Information, Education and Support), a prenatal education and support program for pregnancy, birth and early parenting which incorporates “A New Life” booklets for parents and other professional resources. Prenatal education and support is also offered through some hospitals which provide maternity care
  • Healthy Beginnings (postnatal follow up program)
  • Child Health Clinics
  • Preschool Health Check program
  • School Health programs and services
  • Immunization Programs

Parent and Child Health Programs also include other services such as:

  • Breastfeeding support
  • Nobody’s Perfect (a parenting program)
  • Developmental Screening
  • Anticipatory Guidance and information for parent and child health topics such as growth and development, guiding children’s behaviour, safety and injury prevention and other general parenting questions
  • Other programs and services to families on an individual or group basis as needed
  • Public Health/Community Health Nurses also provide support to other programs and services for children and youth as needed , including child care settings, and family resource programs such as Healthy Baby Clubs

These initiatives are designed to provide prenatal, postnatal and parenting education and support to women and their families. Healthy Beginnings was developed to assist public health nurses to identify families and their children who require specific follow-up in the time after birth. The goal of the program is to promote optimal physical, cognitive, communicative and psychological development in all children. Included in this program is a plan for screening and follow-up of priority families. Child Health Clinics and Preschool Health Checks also provide screening opportunities for physical growth, vision, hearing, speech/language development, behaviour, oral health and nutrition. Referrals can also be made for other services where indicated. Each program provides a standardized, yet flexible, approach based on best practice in meeting the health needs of parents and young children.

Please see our Child, Youth and Families section for related information.

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