Failure to Thrive – A Clinical Update


Failure to thrive is a term used to describe children who fail to achieve their expected growth potential. Risk factors for failure to thrive include feeding difficulties, food insecurity, chronic ill health, behavioural difficulties, carer neglect and many social determinants of health such as inadequate housing, overcrowding, poor hygiene, lack of education and unemployment. These risk factors disproportionally effect Aboriginal communities in Australia and as such, the rate of children with failure to thrive is much higher amongst Aboriginal children than non-Aboriginal children.

In order to prevent or overcome failure to thrive, children will require access to culturally appropriate primary health care. Ideally, this will be in the context of the holistic services provided by Aboriginal community controlled health services. By accessing care in Aboriginal health services, opportunities present for the family to understand the causes of failure to thrive and families can be appropriately and adequately supported to address these issues.

This module provides a brief overview of the causes of failure to thrive and the assessment and management of it.

This module is aimed at anyone working in an Aboriginal health care service who is providing services to parents and children. It will be particularly relevant to Aboriginal health practitioners, registered nurses, midwives and child health nurses. Given the importance of promoting access to AMSs within an Aboriginal community, it is also relevant to Aboriginal health workers and social and emotional wellbeing counsellors and mental health workers. Anyone working in the area of preventative lifestyle activities such as smoking cessation will find it informative. Given the importance of environmental health in preventing failure to thrive, this module is also recommended for any environmental health workers.

Learning Objectives

At the end of this module participants will be able to:

  • Understand why Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are more likely to have failure to thrive.
  • Know how to assess for failure to thrive.
  • Understand broadly the consequences of failure to thrive.
  • Understand broadly the consequences of failure to thrive.

Other Modules to Explore