Meet the team: Dagney


What’s your role at Royal Far West (RFW)?
I’m an Occupational Therapist (OT) and I also manage our OT team, Dietitian and Orthoptist.

Because I’m now in a management role, I don’t see as many kids as I used to, however I’m lucky to sometimes conduct assessments via Telecare or work with some of the kids with whom I’ve had long-standing relationships.

Our role at RFW is to work towards children functioning to the best of their abilities in all of the important things that they need to do in a day. Children need to play, learn, socialise, sleep, be a part of a family and do a number of other things.

Often things happen in a child’s environment or their body that make it hard for them to do everything they need to do.

The OT’s job is to figure out where the difficulties begin, so we can build up their strength and skill from that level.

A large part of our role is to make sure kids’ bodies feel safe. When we feel safe, we can think, interact, learn, solve problems and do everything we need to do. If we’re not feeling safe, those skills switch off, so there is no point forcing a child to practise skills when they’re not feeling safe. It just won’t work.

While we work directly with kids to try and improve how safe their bodies feel and increase their strength and skill, a large part of our role is to teach parents why children behave the way they do, so they can understand how they need to adjust things to continue to help the kids when they go home.

What led you to work at RFW?
My parents live in Griffith and my dad is a Paediatrician and has referred many kids to RFW, and my mom is a School Counsellor, so I knew about RFW. I also have a tiny OT practice in Griffith that I run one weekend a month, and many of the kids I saw there also attended RFW.

I had worked in private practice for about five years and was definitely ready to find out what else was out there. RFW seemed like a great option because of my country connection, and because I knew that my two days a month out in Griffith was definitely not enough for those kids. I liked the idea of working at a place that saw the huge need out in rural and remote Australia.

I’ve been here for three-and-a-half years. The challenges the children present with haven’t changed, but my understanding of where the challenges are coming from and how to help has definitely increased.

Describe your passion
One of my favourite things is running parent information session on regulation. This happens once a week and is designed to teach parents about different processes that happen in their kids’ (and everyone’s!) brains that impact their behaviour, attention, learning and general function. I love being able to explain to parents why their kids have difficulty with things that seem insignificant to us – it often seems like the kids are being ‘naughty’, but they are just having a hard time with something. I love being able to tell parents that their kids are not ‘naughty’, and share some ideas on making life a bit easier for the kids and for themselves.

What’s the best thing about working with families from rural and remote Australia?
I love knowing that we are making health and developmental support more accessible – there is so much need in this country, and distance often means fewer supports. While there is a lot of need, there is also so much I love about these communities. I often think that city kids miss out – they don’t have the big sky, the wide open spaces and the general developmental benefits of being so close to nature.

Tell us about a RFW family you’ve worked with
I completed a Sensory Assessment via Telecare for a child who has very complex needs. He had a number of diagnoses, vision impairment, and felt very confused and distressed in this world. His distress led to extreme behaviours that put him in danger. His parents were doing so much that was very helpful, and he had made some nice progress, but they were distressed by their son’s extreme behaviours and did not know how to help him when they happened.

Over the course of three sessions with his exceptional mother and amazing preschool teacher, I understood why he was struggling so much, which I could then explain to them. I also gave them a few simple ideas of how to respond slightly differently when he started to escalate, and also some fun things to do through the day that would keep him calm.

By the end of the third session, his mother, who had been very stressed for such a long time, said she felt ‘excited’. It’s such a privilege being able to confirm to his mother and teacher that they were already doing so much that had helped him, and to be able to give them some new ideas.