The government has this morning published its long-term vision for child healthcare services in the country, with new “packages of support” to help give children a healthy start to life.

The strategy Healthy lives, brighter future: the strategy for children and young people's health was jointly published by Children's Secretary Ed Balls and Health Secretary Alan Johnson, and is the first to clearly set out what can be expected from health services for children aged up to 19 years.

"We want to make England the best place in the world for our children and young people to grow up,” said Balls. “Our flagship Children's Plan sets out how, building on over ten years of social reform, we are working even harder to give every child a good and healthy start in life.”

Amongst the new proposals, the government has pledged: better support in the early years of life, including the provision of more health visitors, and the development of a new antenatal programme and a preparation for parenthood package.

In addition, plans were announced to expand the Family Nurse Partnerships programme – a scheme developed in the USA under which specially trained nurses visit the homes of vulnerable teenage mothers - from 30 to 70 sites by 2011, followed by a nation-wide rollout over the next 10 years.

"Our aim is to provide mothers and fathers with the support that they need to give their children a healthy start in life and to help young people to make healthy choices,” Johnson explained, adding: “Investing in children's health from the early years through childhood and adolescence will benefit children, families, society and the National Health Service."

Record funding
As part of the strategy, the government says it is releasing funds of £340 million to help support children with disabilities and their families, bringing the total investment over the next three years to a record £770 million.

“The great thing about the strategy is that it comes with a significant amount of new money targeted around an area of genuine need,” commented Dr Simon Lenton, Vice President of Health Services at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, but he stressed that some of these new funds should be spent on “children with long-term conditions and complex needs, such as cerebral palsy”.

The National Children’s Bureau has also voiced its support for the new plan. Its chief executive, Paul Ennals, said: "Improving child health calls for real partnership - between government departments, between local health services and local authorities, and between local service providers and the children and families they are serving. This strategy takes forward partnership at all those levels, and NCB supports it."

And Jo Webber, Deputy Director at the NHS Confederation, agrees: “The major challenge to success for the new child health strategy will be ensuring that all local agencies work together in delivering better health for children”.