‡ Development of the role of public health nurses in addressing child and family poverty: a framework for action

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The purpose of this paper is to invite dialogue about how public health nurses could best address child and family poverty. Their current role is reviewed and a framework for expanding this role is presented.


The negative health consequences of poverty for children are well-documented worldwide. The high levels of children living in poverty in wealthy industrialized countries such as Canada should be of concern to the health sector. What role(s) can public health nurses play in addressing child and family poverty?


A review of scholarly literature from Canada, the United States of America and the United Kingdom was conducted to ascertain support for public health nurses' roles in reducing poverty and its effects. We then reviewed professional standards and competencies for nursing practice in Canada. The data were collected between 2005 and 2006.


Numerous nursing scholars have called for public health nurses to address the causes and consequences of poverty through policy advocacy. However, this role was less likely to be identified in professional standards and competencies, and we found little empirical evidence documenting Canadian public health nurses' efforts to engage in this role. Public health nurses' roles in relation to poverty focus pri marily on assisting families living in poverty to access appropriate services rather than directing efforts at the policy level. Factors associated with this limited involvement are identified. We suggest that the conceptual framework developed by Blackburn in the United Kingdom offers direction for a more fully developed public health nursing role. Prerequisites to engaging in the strategies articulated in the framework are discussed.


Given more organizational support and enhanced knowledge and skills, public health nurses could be playing a greater role in working with others to make child and family poverty history.

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