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WHO publishes new standard for documenting the health of children and youth

WHO publishes the first internationally agreed upon classification code for assessing the health of children and youth in the context of their stages of development and the environments in which they live.

The International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health for Children and Youth (ICF–CY) confirms the importance of precise descriptions of children's health status through a methodology that has long been standard for adults. Viewing children and youth within the context of their environment and development continuum, the ICF–CY applies classification codes to hundreds of bodily functions and structures, activities and participation, and various environmental factors that restrict or allow young people to function in an array of every day activities.

The rapid growth and changes that occur in first two decades of life were not sufficiently captured in the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF), the precursor to the ICF–CY. The launch of the ICF–CY addresses this important developmental period with greater detail. Its new standardized coding system will assist clinicians, educators, researchers, administrators, policy makers and parents to document and measure the important growth, health and development characteristics of children and youth.

Children who are chronically hungry, thirsty or insecure, for example, are often not healthy and have trouble learning and developing normally. This classification provides a way to capture the impacts of the physical and social environment so that these can be addressed through social policy, health care and education systems to improve children's well-being.

"The ICF-CY will help us get past simple diagnostic labels. It will ground the picture of children and youth functioning and disability on a continuum within the context of their everyday life and activities. In this way it enables the accurate and constructive description of children’s health and identifies the areas where care, assistance and policy change are most needed," said Ros Madden, Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care, and, Chair of the Functioning and Disability Reference Group of the WHO Family of International Classifications (WHO-FIC) Network.

The ICF–CY has important implications globally for research, standard setting and mobilizing resources. "For the first time, we now have a tool that enables us to track and compare the health of children and youth between countries and over time," said Nenad Kostanjsek of WHO's Measurement and Health Information team. "The ICF–CY will allow countries and the international community to take informed action to improve children's health, education and rights, by treating their health as a function of the environment that adults provide."

The classification also covers developmental delay. Children who achieve certain milestones later than their peers may be at increased risk of disability. Using this classification, health practitioners, parents and teachers can describe these delays precisely in order to plan for health and educational needs and frame policy debates. The children and youth version of the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF-CY) is launched today in Venice, with international praise:

"The publication of the ICF-CY by the WHO provides, for the first time, a standard language to unify health, education and social services for children," said Dr. Margaret Giannini, Director of the Office of Disability, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"This approach offers a scientific basis for describing each child's functional abilities using a shared language. Further, the ICF-CY has important implications for educational policy, research, and service designs for children and youth with disabilities," said Mary Ruth Coleman Ph.D., President Council for Exceptional Children (2007).

"The ICF-CY is a tool that can be shared by clinical services as well as by schools, community agencies and government entities. Further, with the visibility of an international WHO standard, the ICF-CY can serve to affirm the universal needs and rights of children," said Rune J. Simeonsson, Chair, WHO Work group on ICF-CY Children and Youth; University of North Carolina.

"The approach of focusing on how children and youth function physically, socially and mentally within the context of their development and environment has important implications for special education," said Yutaka Oda, President, National Institute of Special Education, Japan.

For further information, please contact:

Nenad Kostanjsek
Technical Officer
WHO, Geneva
Tel.: +41 22 791 3242
Fax: +41 22 791 4894
E-mail: kostanjsekn@who.int

Lina Reinders
Communications Officer
WHO, Geneva
Tel.: +41 22 791 1828
Fax: +41 22 791 1967
E-mail: reindersl@who.int

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