Our children are precious to us and as parents, one of our biggest concerns is the health of our children. And when parents leave their children in the care of practitioners, they also hand over responsibility for their children’s health and wellbeing. This is a significant responsibility and requires practitioners to have deep pockets of knowledge and understanding about health and wellbeing. My work with early years practitioners over many years has shown me just how much parents rely on the staff in settings to support their children’s health.
Following my general nurse training, I went on to train as a Registered Sick Children’s Nurse and worked in a variety of healthcare settings, in hospitals and in the community. I started teaching nursery nurses more than 20 years ago; I remember the content of the syllabus that related to children’s health as being very relevant to address some of children’s health needs and the students were deeply interested in child health lectures. It was when I started teaching Foundation Degree students in 2004 that I came to realise just how much practitioners do to support children’s health and wellbeing and this became an area of research interest to me.
A broad range of health responsibilities
Many of the principles of the Early Years Foundation Stage are directly related to improving children’s health and wellbeing, for example by promoting physical development, which in turn can help to prevent obesity. The need to promote healthy eating and adequate hydration are laid out as statutory requirements in the EYFS. These aspects of children’s health are of course vitally important, especially in view of the increasing and very worrying obesity epidemic in children as discussed in January’s issue of the Parenta magazine. However, what I found when I worked with Foundation Degree students was that their responsibilities in supporting children’s health and wellbeing were much broader. Not only were they creating policies in their settings to meet the health promotion that is embedded in the EYFS, but they were taking on highly skilled tasks for children that helped them to remain healthy.
Examples of the kind of skills that practitioners took on as part of their role included administering medication, not just orally, but in some cases, they had taken on the responsibility of administering rectal diazepam for children with epilepsy. Administering inhalers for children with asthma was commonplace, as was applying cream to prevent dryness and itchiness associated with eczema. Less commonly, some practitioners took on tube feeding or care of a tracheostomy for children with complex medical needs. As well as managing specific conditions, practitioners were very aware of their responsibilities in relation to promoting good health by preventing infection, not just by ensuring good levels of hygiene, but by being knowledgeable about childhood immunisations.
Conflicts of interest between the setting and parents
The practitioners and students who participated in my research told me about the ways they worked with parents to support children’s health and wellbeing. In many cases, there were conflicts of interest and tensions between a setting’s policy and parental choices. One area of particular tension was when packed lunches did not comply with healthy eating policies. Another area that could create difficulty was trying to reinforce the sickness policy of a setting, especially when a child was not healthy enough to be in the setting, but parents had sent their child in because of work commitments.
It seemed natural that the very rich findings that emerged from my research into how practitioners support children’s health and wellbeing should be written up as a book which is called Supporting Children’s Health and Wellbeing! The book has been written with students and practitioners and the aim is to merge the extensive experience that practitioners have developed in practice with the underlying theory relating to child health. Most importantly, the book aims to illustrate many of the complexities of children’s health in an accessible way and each chapter offers considerations for practice.
In order to introduce you to some of the responsibilities that practitioners identified in the research in relation to their role in supporting children’s health and wellbeing, here is chapter 1 of the book. In this chapter, the terms ‘health’ and ‘wellbeing’ are unpacked and the factors that impact on children’s health are explored. I hope you enjoy the chapter. In future editions of the Parenta magazine, I will be highlighting other ways in which practitioners support children’s health and wellbeing.
About the author
Jackie Musgrave joined the Open University as Programme Lead for Early Childhood in October 2017. Before that, she worked in the Centre for Children and Families at the University of Worcester from April 2012 as the Course Leader for the BA (Hons) in Early Childhood (Professional Practice).
Jackie trained as a General Nurse and she did post-registration training to become a Sick Children’s Nurse at Birmingham Children’s Hospital. Her professional interests as a Practice Nurse included chronic disease prevention programmes, childhood immunisations and women’s health promotion.
Jackie graduated with a Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education from the University of Sheffield, gaining a distinction for her dissertation as well as being awarded the Rutland Prize for Early Childhood Education. Her doctoral research explored the effects chronic health conditions on young children and ways in which practitioners could create inclusive environments for these children.
Jackie’s research-based book, Supporting Children’s Health and Wellbeing was published by Sage in May 2017.