Screening and surveillance uncover problems which then need careful attention. Most NHS districts have a CDT to carry out this task – working from child development centres – usually separate from hospitals. Various therapists, as well as consultant paediatricians in community child health, contribute to the work of the team. They include physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, psychologists, health visitors and, in some centres, pre-school teachers or educational advisers and social workers. Their aims are to diagnose the child’s problems, identify his or her therapy needs and make recommendations to the local health and educational authorities on how these should be met. A member of the team will usually be appointed as the family’s ‘key worker’, who liaises with other members of the team and coordinates the child’s management. Regular review meetings are held, generally with parents sharing in the decisions made. Mostly children seen by CDTs are under ﬁve years old, the school health service and educational authorities assuming responsibility thereafter.
Special needs The Children Act 1989, Education Acts 1981, 1986 and 1993, and the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Legislation 1979 impose various statutory duties to identify and provide assistance for children with special needs. They include the chronically ill as well as those with impaired development or disabilities such as CEREBRAL PALSY, or hearing, vision or intellectual impairment. Many CDTs keep a register of such children so that services can be eﬃciently planned and evaluated. Parents of disabled children often feel isolated and neglected by society in general; they are frequently frustrated by the lack of resources available to help them cope with the sheer hard work involved. The CDT, through its key workers, does its best to absorb anger and divert frustration into constructive actions.
There are other groups of children who come to the attention of child health services. Community paediatricians act as advisers to adoption and fostering agencies, vital since many children needing alternative homes have special medical or educational needs or have behavioural or psychiatric problems. Many see a role in acting as advocates, not just for those with impairments but also for socially disadvantaged children, including those ‘looked after’ in children’s homes and those of travellers, asylum seekers, refugees and the homeless.
Child protection Regrettably, some children come to the attention of child health specialists because they have been beaten, neglected, emotionally or nutritionally starved or sexually assaulted by their parents or carers. Responsibility for the investigation of these children is that of local-authority social-services departments. However, child health professionals have a vital role in diagnosis, obtaining forensic evidence, advising courts, supervising the medical aspects of follow-up and teaching doctors, therapists and other professionals in training. (See CHILD ABUSE.)
School health services Once children have reached school age, the emphasis changes. The prime need becomes identifying those with problems that may interfere with learning – including those with special needs as deﬁned above, but also those with behavioural problems. Teachers and parents are advised on how to manage these problems, while health promotion and health education are directed at children. Special problems, especially as children reach secondary school (aged 11–18) include accidents, substance abuse, psychosexual adjustment, antisocial behaviour, eating disorders and physical conditions which loom large in the minds of adolescents in particular, such as ACNE, short stature and delayed puberty.
There is no longer, in the UK, a universal school health service as many of its functions have been taken over by general practitioners and hospital and community paediatricians. However, most areas still have school nurses, some have school doctors, while others do not employ speciﬁc individuals for these tasks but share out aspects of the work between GPs, health visitors, community nurses and consultant paediatricians in child health.
Complementing their work is the community dental service whose role is to monitor the whole child population’s dental health, provide preventive programmes for all, and dental treatment for those who have diﬃculty using general dental services – for example, children with complex disability. All children in state-funded schools are dentally screened at ages ﬁve and 15.
Successes and failures Since the inception of the NHS, hospital services for children have had enormous success: neonatal and infant mortality rates have fallen by two-thirds; deaths from PNEUMONIA have fallen from 600 per million children to a handful; and deaths from MENINGITIS have fallen to one-ﬁfth of the previous level. Much of this has been due to the revolution in the management of pregnancy and labour, the invention of neonatal resuscitation and neonatal intensive care, and the provision of powerful antibiotics.
At the same time, some children acquire HIV infection and AIDS from their aﬀected mothers (see AIDS/HIV); the prevalence of atopic (see ATOPY) diseases (ASTHMA, eczema – see DERMATITIS, HAY FEVER) is rising; more children attend hospital clinics with chronic CONSTIPATION; and little can be done for most viral diseases.
Community child health services can also boast of successes. The routine immunisation programme has wiped out SMALLPOX, DIPHTHERIA and POLIOMYELITIS and almost wiped out haemophilus and meningococcal C meningitis, measles and congenital RUBELLA syndrome. WHOOPING COUGH outbreaks continue but the death and chronic disability rates have been greatly reduced. Despite these huge health gains, continuing public scepticism about the safety of immunisation means that there can be no relaxation in the educational and health-promotion programme.
Services for severely and multiply disabled children have improved beyond all recognition with the closure of long-stay institutions, many of which were distinctly child-unfriendly. Nonetheless, scarce resources mean that families still carry heavy burdens. The incidence of SUDDEN INFANT DEATH SYNDROME (SIDS) has more than halved as a result of an educational programme based on ﬁrm scientiﬁc evidence that the risk can be reduced by putting babies to sleep on their backs, avoidance of parental smoking, not overheating, breast feeding and seeking medical attention early for illness.
Children have fewer accidents and better teeth but new problems have arisen: in the 1990s children throughout the developed world became fatter. A UK survey in 2004 found that one in ﬁve children are overweight and one in 20 obese. Lack of exercise, the easy availability of food at all times and in all places, together with the rise of ‘snacking’, are likely to provoke signiﬁcant health problems as these children grow into adult life. Adolescents are at greater risk than ever of ill-health through substance abuse and unplanned pregnancy. Child health services are facing new challenges in the 21st century.