Families of all newborn babies should be formally assessed to determine whether they would benefit from professional support to enhance the child's mental and physical health, AMA Vice President and paediatric psychiatrist, Dr Choong-Siew Yong, said today.
"A growing body of evidence indicates that specific early interventions before and soon after birth, and until the child is at least two years old, can have a positive impact on a child's mental and physical health," Dr Yong said.
"There's strong evidence that home visiting programs for parents of young children can improve child behavioural problems, cognitive development, and the management of post-natal depression, and reduce accident injury rates.
"In the longer term, these programs can improve school retention rates, reduce rates of child abuse, reduce youth involvement in criminal activity and improve older children's social and emotional health.
"The AMA believes all Australian governments have a role in ensuring that proven, effective interventions are made available to all children, and in removing intervention services for which there is no evidence of a positive impact."
Families of all newborn babies should have their need for support formally assessed in their own home, Dr Yong said.
"If a family is found to be likely to benefit, they should be visited at home at regular intervals by a specially-trained nurse until the child is two," he said.
"They should also be given effective parenting education and have access to effective early child development support programs.
"Governments should ensure they have access to the appropriate ongoing medical and therapy services they require."
Australia is already in a position to be able to provide such services to all at-risk families, Dr Yong said.
"Interventions made early in life are more cost-effective than those made after problems arise," he said.
"These interventions are likely to benefit the long-term physical and mental health of at-risk children and, by extension, to benefit Australian society as a whole."