Every Child Matters – Outcomes for Children and Young People : Being Healthy

This article is part of a series considering the five main areas of concern in Every Child Matters, or ECM as it is now termed, and Valerie is starting with children’s health.

This makes an interesting beginning. If we consider aspects of children’s health, especially for those who are under school age, who are the main subjects of this article, what we must acknowledge from the start is that adults are totally responsible for shaping the first attitudes and expectations a child has linked to life-style and healthy behaviours.


From an Ofsted perspective, whether children are in a nursery or crèche or another day care setting, such as the home of a childminder, being healthy would include offering children food which gives them a balance and includes all of the nutrients that help promote and maintain a healthy body and mind.

The food will have been prepared in hygienic surroundings and if cooked, by an appropriate method so that flavour and texture are retained and potential harmful bacteria such as salmonella are killed off.

Alongside this, children are expected to be encouraged to develop an interest in food and food preparation and form positive attitudes towards different foodstuffs which offer a variety of colours and aromas and which provide a sensory experience as well as a nutritional adventure.

At the same time, Ofsted quite rightly anticipate that a healthy attitude towards exercise and activity will be nurtured so that children can acquire and practice different physical skills to develop competence as they get older.

  • The outcome for children ‘being healthy’ involves children being physically, mentally and emotionally healthy, having healthy choices, and leading healthy lifestyles.
  • The most relevant national standards and areas of learning relate to: 
    • health (Standard 7)
    • food and drink (Standard 8)
    • physical development.
  • In settings where outcomes are good, children:
    • learn about the importance of healthy eating
    • are provided with nutritious, balanced meals and snacks appropriate to their individual dietary needs
    • are protected from infection and are well taken care of if they have an accident or become ill
    • take part in regular physical play, both indoors and outside.

What we are actually talking about is positive parenting. So let’s take that approach and see how difficult or easy it can be.


From the time a baby is born, parents and family members have a duty to prioritise its needs above all others. A high number of mothers will make real efforts to stop smoking and drinking during pregnancy where they have been given information of the dangers to the unborn child. They need to understand that, even if their mothers smoked when they were pregnant, taking the stance that “There was nothing wrong with their babies” is not a useful attitude to have. This also means that no one should be allowed near the baby whilst they are smoking and certainly no one should be holding the baby whilst smoking.

Early Years Firm Foundations Ofsted Publications

I eavesdropped into a conversation where one mother said to another, “I won’t smoke in the same room as the baby until it learns to walk so that it can decide whether it wants to stay or go”. That is a huge responsibility to heap on two-year-old shoulders!

Alcohol consumption should be viewed in almost a similar way. We have a serious problem amongst young people who begin their descent into addiction at a much younger age. Part of that must link to the relative ease of access to alcohol and also the push by drinks manufacturers who add sugar and flavouring and fizz to make it more appealing to younger palates. Binge drinking is an activity which is not necessarily the prerogative of the young, but they are more resilient and have a faster recovery rate, and so are more likely to repeat the experience on a regular basis. Young children fall prey to the behaviours of addiction by watching and listening to their first role models: parents and older siblings.

The Great Outdoors

We assume that everyone understands the importance of fresh air and taking babies and children outside. These are big assumptions to make. We assume that all parents were provided with wonderful experiences by their parents who took them on picnics or walks in parks, by the riverside or local play areas. A lot of families don’t live near any of those things. Some play areas are so unsafe that it is healthier to remain indoors at all times.

The big push currently is for local and district authorities to make play for all children and young people available, free and safe. The National Play Strategy comes as a result of research carried out into when and where children are able to play in their community. The discovery that in some areas, play was neither encouraged nor provided for caused grave concern, so much so that in the Play Review 2004, Frank Dobson recommended a targeted strategic lottery programme for play provision based on the wishes and needs of local children and young people. The Big Lottery Fund Play Strategy was created.

“In the meantime the Minister for Children has conceded that play will receive greater attention within the Every Child Matters inspection framework, as a key aspect of the ‘Enjoy and Achieve’ outcome of the Change for Children programme. More access to active, outdoor play opportunities has also been identified within the Choosing Health physical activity action plan, as a key to combating childhood obesity”.
Issy Cole-Hamilton Principal Play Officer Children’s Play Council

Technology and Playthings 

Children and young people have very different interests compared with the previous generation. There has always been technology. Don’t forget that Meccano was a huge technological invention of its time. The difficulty today is that a lot of the games and pastimes are solitary. Play stations, X boxes and their like almost turn a child into a ‘Nobby No-Mates’.

Parents in general want to do the best for their children. They are told that as the best form of education, they should buy encyclopaedic programmes that give their child knowledge and an advantage over his/her peers. I have known some really dedicated parents buy the biggest television set they could find so that their very small 18-month-old could see the screen better. The child was encouraged to sit in front of it for as long as she wanted because they felt they were offering her the best chance, as both of them felt they had been poorly educated and were not particularly skilled in literacy and verbal communication. It would be wrong to criticise such commitment.

Depression and Related Conditions

There is a noted increase in diagnosed depressive illnesses and consequently, more people appear to be suffering from a mental health condition. There may be organic and environmental causes for these illnesses. Certainly poor accommodation, debt, addictions and poverty level incomes aggravate any situation. It can also lead to different forms of domestic violence which I will mention here but discuss in another Outcome.

Remember that all Outcomes lean on each other. For the child living in such circumstances every day and night, it is impossible for them to understand what is ‘normal’ other than by what they witness. I have worked with children whose behaviour mirrored that of their family members to such an extent that they were considered to be suffering from the same condition, until they were given time away to just be themselves. The emergent individuals always lifted my heart and made me realise yet again how quickly young lives can be blighted for ever unless we find a more productive method of intervention which does not detract from the natural love within the family. Children’s centres and home-based schemes such as Home-Start can assist troubled families.

Home-Start’s informal and friendly support for families with young children provides a lifeline to thousands of parents and children in over 337 communities across the UK and with forces families in Germany and Cyprus.
Support is free, confidential and non-judgmental. In fact, almost 25% of families helped by Home-Start refer themselves – which speaks for itself.They help to increase the confidence and independence of families by:

  • visiting families in their own homes to offer support, friendship and practical assistance,
  • reassuring parents that their childcare problems are not unusual or unique,
  • encouraging parents’ strengths and emotional well-being for the ultimate benefit of their children,
  • trying to get the fun back into family life.

Home-Start volunteers, who have parenting experience themselves, can offer:

  • precious time for listening and talking,
  • help with the children,
  • a break for parents,
  • practical help and reassurance,
  • a chance to meet other parents in the same boat,
  • support to use local services and resources.

Childminders are another invaluable source of positive parent role-modelling. More of these skilled professionals should be asked to befriend families where there is a history of emotional or psychological disruption. Their common-sense approach would be an invaluable support when problems arise.

Promoting a Healthy Outcome for very young children so that they grow into young people and adults with a strong sense of self is a complicated and heart-searching business. It is neither easy nor straight forward. Whilst we should keep on working to improve everyone’s lives, children are of paramount importance. It is they who will become the next generation of parents and by then we must hope that we get it right.

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