Aims: The aim of this study was to explore the extent to which Australian child and family health nurses work with families with complex needs and how their practice responds to the needs of these families.
Background: Many families with young children face challenges to their parenting capacity, potentially placing their children at risk of poorer developmental outcomes. Nurses increasingly work with families with mental health problems, trauma histories and/or substance dependence. Universal child health services must respond effectively to these challenges, to address health inequalities and to promote the best outcomes for all children and families.
Design: The descriptive study used cross-sectional data from the first national survey of child and family health nurses in Australia, conducted during 2011.
Methods: Survey data reported how often, where and how child and family health nurses worked with families with complex needs and their confidence in nursing tasks.
Findings: Many, but not all, of the 679 respondents saw families with complex needs in their regular weekly caseload. Child and family health nurses with diverse and complex caseloads reported using varied approaches to support their clients. They often undertook additional professional development and leadership roles compared with nurses who reported less complex caseloads. Most respondents reported high levels of professional confidence.
Conclusion: For health services providing universal support and early intervention for families at risk, the findings underscore the importance of appropriate education, training and support for child and family health professionals. The findings can inform the organization and delivery of services for families in Australia and internationally.