A woman with a girl.

Health checks to Close the Gap for Indigenous children

The Department of Human Services Healthy Start for School initiative encourages parents to ensure their child has a health check before they commence school.

The initiative is available to all children turning four years old whose parents receive an income support payment and Family Tax Benefit Part A.

The check ensures children are fit, healthy and ready to learn when they start school.

For Indigenous families, culturally appropriate care is available through local health services, like Canberra’s Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Services.

Doctor with the girl.
Paediatric nurse Chelsey Helliwell checks Ariana’s ear.

Chelsey Helliwell is a paediatric nurse at Winnunga Nimmityjah AHCS and sees firsthand how important health checks are.

“The checks involve measuring your child’s height, weight, hearing, sight and general well-being,” said Chelsey.

“It’s also an opportunity to discuss all aspects of growth, development and well-being. Everything from dental health, to car restraints, to making sure your child is meeting their age appropriate milestones.

“We ask questions during a check that can be the first step towards diagnosing a range of conditions, such as ADHD and congenital and neurological issues.

“It’s positive for Indigenous kids to engage with the health care system early. This way they start learning to develop language to describe how they feel.

“As a health and community service, we’ve got a big clinical, social and emotional well-being team under the same roof. It’s convenient for families because it alleviates a lengthy referral process.”

Woman with a girl are walking.
Perri Chapman and her daughter Ariana.

Mum of two Perri Chapman received a reminder letter from the department when her daughter Ariana turned four. She visited Winnunga Nimmityjah AHCS shortly after so she could have a health check.

“We are very grateful for the check, because it picked up a problem that we were able to fix with the help of an audiologist and GP,” Perri said.

“We found out Ariana was moderately deaf in one ear, and slightly deaf in the other. She was diagnosed with glue ear and had 2 rounds of grommets.”

A little girl.
Ariana outside Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Services.

Perri said knowing her daughter will start school with the best foot forward puts her mind at ease.

“Without the check, we may have found out about Ariana’s hearing problems too late. We could have spent years working with a speech pathologist. If left untreated, the long term risk of her condition is irreversible damage,” Perri said.

“Her early diagnosis even helped me decide to send Ariana to a school which focuses on assisting children with hearing difficulties.”

“The whole process was very stress-free from start to finish.”

March 21 is Close the Gap Day. It’s a day to raise awareness of the gap in health and life expectancy experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, compared to other Australians.

These health checks ensure the department provides opportunities for Indigenous children to reach their full potential to contribute to Close the Gap.

More information:

For information on the Healthy Start for School initiative see: humanservices.gov.au/individuals/services/centrelink/family-tax-benefit/what-can-affect-your-payment/healthy-start-school

Read more about our services for Indigenous Australians here: humanservices.gov.au/individuals/indigenous-australians