The Care Journal : Giving Children An Equal Head Start in Life

Early Intervention

Giving Children An Equal Head Start in Life

Dr Chiong Yee Keow was a medical student when she first became involved with a community health services screening project for the elderly. Three years ago, she had a conversation with a professor who asked if she was keen to start a similar community health screening project for vulnerable children.

The idea brewed in her mind and today, Dr Chiong is the advisor to Neighbourhood Health Service Kids (NHS Kids), a pilot project by students from the NUS Medical Society that provides health, developmental, social and educational needs screening for children from low-income families.

NHS Kids held its first screening at Boon Lay Drive in June/July 2018.

Screening for Developmental Milestones

NHS Kids complements the Temasek Foundation Cares – KIDS 0-3 programme, a pilot programme started in 2014 to provide integrated health, social and child development services for vulnerable children (aged 0 to 3) and their mothers. It is evident from KIDS 0-3 that children from low-income families require support and early intervention in the areas of health, social and development. A holistic community-based effort with a network of partnerships, such as NHS Kids, can thus support these children’s developmental progress.

Over 300 medical, nursing, dentistry and social work students and volunteer practitioners turned up over one weekend to conduct the first community-based screening for children from low-income families. One of the areas that they looked out for was the development of the children. 

A child’s height, weight and head circumference are essential growth perimeters that give indications as to whether the child is receiving sufficient nutrition. Dr Chiong shared, “Our experience shows that children from disadvantaged families can be a lot smaller physically compared to their peers. Not having enough nutrients could set the children back, in terms of their physical health and immune system. They will miss school if they catch infections easily.”

Bringing such comprehensive screenings to children in the community can therefore help to identify any development issues so they can be addressed before the children enter primary school.

The screening does not end in itself. For children who require follow-up care, NHS Kids has adopted a ‘many hands’ approach by connecting with agencies that provide follow-up health, developmental, educational and social services support to them and their families. Follow-up phone calls and home visits are also planned, to ensure that these children and their families get the necessary intervention support.

Ultimately, the volunteers at NHS Kids like Dr Chiong want the best for the children. “What we hope to do is to reduce the unequal circumstances that these children are facing, to give them a healthier future and better opportunities in life.”

The two-year pilot NHS Kids programme is supported by Temasek Foundation Cares. The next community screening will be conducted in 2019.