Meet the team: Emily

Hi, I am Emily, one of the Occupational Therapists (OTs) at Royal Far West. OTs look at the activities that children engage in on a daily basis such as play, learning, social interactions and self-care, and explore which foundation skills such as regulation, strength, coordination or emotions are helping or hindering their performance in these activities.

I am currently the lead OT on RFW’s Bushfire Recovery Program. The Bushfire Recovery Program is an initiative established by us 12 months ago in partnership with UNICEF Australia and the Paul Ramsay Foundation in response to the horrendous 2019/20 bushfires. The bushfire recovery team includes Psychologists, Social Workers, Speech Pathologists and OTs. We have provided support to communities impacted by the bushfires by means of group programs and therapy for children, psychoeducation to carers and educators, and follow-up support via telehealth. Therapy has been delivered to children, families and educators both in-community where a team of clinicians have been based in a regional school for a week, or via telehealth before and/or after an in-community visit.

As the lead OT on the project, I have assisted in the coordination of a number of the community visits we have completed, had an active role in community liaison with educators and stakeholders in communities, developed processes to streamline the project, scheduled ongoing therapy for clients, and coordinated the OT clinicians on the project.

My therapeutic contributions have involved supporting children to feel regulated (calm and alert), by trialling a range of strategies such as movement, respiration, fostering relationships, building their emotional vocabulary, and linking emotions with body sensations such as butterflies in stomach when nervous.

How long have you been here? Have you seen any changes in the sorts of issues children have during this time?

I have been at RFW for more than four years, and during this time have witnessed significant positive changes. This has included the overall expansion of the organisation including increased clinical staff, improved service delivery through innovation, the construction and opening of the amazing Centre for Country Kids facility at Manly, and increased service offerings for country kids and families. Through our expanded service offerings I have had the privilege of being part of our Paediatric Developmental Program (PDP) redesign and the Bushfire Recovery Program.

Through the PDP redesign, the increasing complexity in client circumstances became apparent, and the redesign model has enabled us to improve rapport with families, collect more comprehensive information about each client and their surrounding network, and have the capacity for families to revisit us within a three month period.

During my time here I have also noticed a growing demand for assessments for Autism Spectrum Disorder, likely due to the expanding team of skilled clinicians to assess for ASD at RFW, the ever-growing awareness of ASD and growth of the NDIS.

Particularly through the Bushfire Recovery Program, clients have experienced a significant trauma related to a natural disaster. Natural disaster specific trauma has been a new area of working for me although affected children I am seeing have, more often than not, also experienced pre-existing or ongoing trauma in addition to the bushfire.

What led you to work at RFW?

RFW is an appealing place to work because of the number of opportunities it offers, including working alongside a multidisciplinary team of experienced clinicians; the diversity of programs (i.e. Windmill, PDP, Telecare for Kids); the diversity of program delivery (face-to-face, in-community visits and telehealth); and career progression and professional development.

Describe your typical day?

A typical day varies for the Bushfire Recovery Programt depending on if I am in-community or in the office.

In-community work includes group therapy, OT screeners, educator sessions, whole class regulation demonstrations, carer sessions, preparing resources such as gross motor programs for schools, informal interactions with children on the playground and liaising with community stakeholders i.e. local clinicians, mayors, and the Red Cross.

When I am back in the office, my days are spent seeing clients for therapy, coordinating upcoming trips, follow-up from previous trips including triage calling of clients requiring ongoing support, collecting data to assist in evaluation of programs and constant collaboration with clinicians on the project.

What’s the best thing about working with families from rural and remote Australia?

The best thing about working with the families in our care is that we are offering a service not otherwise available to them due to distance, affordability or expertise.

Tell us about a family that you’ve seen amazingly positive outcomes through working with RFW

I met a family during an outreach trip after the bushfires had swept through their community in September 2019. The small, remote community in which they reside is 50kms from the nearest town. The two children have since experienced heightened emotions and behaviour from a change in family routines and the loss of property and belongings. Both have accessed OT from us (otherwise unavailable to them due to distance, waitlists and costs), to support regulation and engagement in enjoyable physical activities. The carer has also participated in sessions with our OTs to discuss strategies that can be implemented to support the children’s recovery. Over the past few months, the biggest change I’ve noticed is the improved capacity of the carer to implement strategies at home, and the overall improvement in mood of the children in their OT sessions. I am witnessing more laugher and animation which is an absolute joy to see.


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