School health services contribute to a healthy, thriving child
Health Promoting Schools Week is acknowledged and promoted from 9 – 13 May 2022. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Western Cape Government Health and Wellness (WCGHW), health-promoting schools should foster child health and allow them to learn with all the available resources.
These resources are utilised by engaging with health and education officials, teachers, teachers' unions, students, parents, health providers, and community leaders in efforts to make the school a healthy place, through a healthy environment, childhood immunisations and health check-ups, fitness, good nutrition, and food safety programmes, social support and counselling, education on teenage pregnancy and mental health assessments, guidance, and support.
The Western Cape Government Health and Wellness have been supporting Health Promoting Schools since 1996 and providing school health services for many years to participating primary and high schools in the Western Cape.
Sr Valerie Kruger, School Health Nurse for Mitchells Plain Community Health Centre and Chairperson of the Health Promoting Schools in the Western Cape Metropole, has been leading discussions and support from partners from the Western Cape Education Department and Department of Social Development on health-promoting school policies and support in building healthy communities through school development.
“School health nurses play a vital role in schools by empowering children with teacher support to make healthy choices in their lives and building a healthier community,” says Sr Kruger.
“With parental or caregiver consent, we assess the child’s health by conducting eyesight and hearing screening, oral health screening and education, health promotion, immunisation and vaccinations, monitor growth, and fine motor skills, and assess if the child is receiving good nutrition, treat skin conditions, treat lice and scabies, conduct mental health assessments, and full physical examinations for children in Grade R to 12,” says Sr Valerie.
With the partnership with schools, school health nurses are contacted and consulted if teachers identify health concerns with the child, which ensures the child gets the necessary support and help as soon as possible.
“Teachers contact us if they suspect a child might have Tuberculosis (TB), we contact the parent, assess the child, and conduct a test at the healthcare facility, the child’s identity is confidential,” explains Sr Valerie.
“We screen and treat children with head lice, scabies, and any other skin condition so that the child can be healed and thrive in school and home again,” says Valerie.
“Nurses are called to assist and guide teachers with children who have mental health challenges and those suffering from mental health problems due to social ills or domestic abuse. I assess and guide the teacher and family members, make the necessary referrals to the relevant primary healthcare social worker and mental health nurse,” says Valerie.
“Some children just require a bit of tenderness and health screening to help them focus in class, such as eyesight screening,” says Valerie.
“I had to assess twins in Grade R, the one twin was progressing beautifully, while the other was struggling a bit, and by just assessing the child and conducting an eye test, we determined the child needed spectacles. The child started progressing in class again, after receiving the necessary assistance and spectacles,” says Valerie.
Ensuring that children get their immunisations in school will help their bodies fight any life-threatening childhood diseases better. Many parents don’t bring their children to access healthcare facilities unless their children are sick, hence the importance of school health services and putting in place preventative healthcare measures and assessing and treating the child early.
“Due to the closure of schools during the COVID-19 pandemic, many children missed out on the opportunity to receive school health services and now our school health services are in full swing as our nurses are administering scheduled and catchup immunisations and other preventative healthcare services such as full health screening with parents or caregivers consent,” says Hettie van Merch, Assistant Manager Nursing for school health services and facility-based services in the Klipfontein and Mitchells Plain area.
“School health extends to our youth who can access youth-friendly services at their nearest healthcare facility after school during a dedicated timeslot and can access services such as family planning, mental health, COVID-19 vaccinations, health education, and counselling and support,” says Hettie.
Parents can rest assured that their consent is required for the school health nurses to conduct any screening on their child and through the school, will issue a consent form to administer any immunisations or treatment. Parents are encouraged to join their children on health screening and immunization days for peace of mind and to make their children feel comfortable and less nervous.
To build a brighter and healthier community, health education and care start at a young age, and we encourage all communities to support the Department in educating and growing a thriving and healthy child.