Tensions in maternal and child health policy in Victoria: looking back, looking forward Academic Article uri icon


  • Helen Keleher is Associate Professor in the School of Health and Social Development, Deakin University.Kerreen Reiger is Associate Professor in the School of Social Sciences, La Trobe University.Since the late 1980s, Maternal and Child Health Services (MCHS) in Victoria have undergone significant change. This paper provides an historically-informed analysis of the complex intersection of policy, administrative restructuring and stakeholder interests. It draws on and extends the authors' previous research into MCH Service policy directions and administration, including the impact of Compulsory Competitive Tendering (CCT) on MCH nurses in the 1990s. Historically there has been little explicit debate about either organisational arrangements, or the policy objectives of the MCHS. The dominant focus on health surveillance of infants never adequately reflected nurses' wider role in the community and was not consistent with a wider social model of health. Tensions between professional, consumer and administrative stakeholders became heightened by the implementation of the 1990s neoliberal political agenda. During this period, when restructuring linked funding to service delivery through tendering arrangements, apolitical and policy settlement further institutionalised surveillance as the basis of the MCHS. The restructured Service has remained constrained by the dominance of health surveillance as the primary program goal even after more varied contracting arrangements replaced CCT. Although recent initiatives indicate signs of hange, narrow surveillancebased guidelines for Victorian MCH Services are not consistent, we argue, with recent early years of life policy which calls for approaches derived from socio-ecological models of health.

publication date

  • 2004