Meet the team: Grace

Hi, my name is Grace and I’ve been working at Royal Far West for almost a year in the Outreach Services team. We visit rural and remote towns around NSW to help provide services to these harder to reach communities. I spend most of my time working closely with regional Local Health Districts on our Healthy Kids Bus Stop program. Here, we deliver a free, comprehensive health and developmental screening program for children aged 3-5.

Our aim is to ensure every country child is ready to learn when they start school and are on the right trajectory to maximise every opportunity that comes their way.

Why is it called the ‘Bus Stop’?

We call it the ‘Bus Stop’ because the kids get a ‘bus stamp’ at each clinical ‘stop’ during their day with us. We’ve found it’s a fabulous incentive for them to go to each clinical station to fill up their bus pass. We check children’s hearing, vision, speech and language, fine and gross motor skills development, discuss healthy eating and look at the children’s teeth.

It’s fun to see the kids ‘dragging’ their parents to the dentist stop to get their bus stamp (after their teeth are checked!).

I like to call it a ‘one stop shop’ with specialist screenings all in the one place, often at a local school or Town Hall.

After their session, a full picture of each child’s overall health and development is put together and referrals are written up for children needing support. We help parents/carers navigate the often-complex healthcare system, connecting them to appropriate local services where possible. They often thank us for helping to make the process easier for them (it’s easy for us because we do it every day, whereas if you’re not used to the system it can be quite confusing).

What are the next steps for a child if the “Bus Stop” highlights a developmental challenge?

On average, 80% of the children we see need referrals to local services, which might just be a trip to get their hearing rechecked or it could be intensive therapy for a severe speech sound delay. The needs vary everywhere we go, family to family.

Once I’m back in the office after a Healthy Kids Bus Stop I’ll compile an information pack to send to parents, containing recommendations, referrals accompanied with clinical reports and a list of services in their local area. I follow-up a couple of weeks after the Stop to ensure the parents have received their information and ask if there’s anything they need.

I call again at three, six and 12 months to check in with the families, see how their child is progressing, and let them know if they have any problems or concerns I’m always here to help them.

What led you to work at RFW?

I grew up in the small country town of Denman in the Upper Hunter Valley and a couple of children in my area benefitted from Royal Far West‘s services. I really wanted to work here because I saw the great impact Royal Far West was having with these kids and their families. Not only were they able to receive amazing services not offered in our area, they were able to have a bit of a break in beautiful Manly. I thought, “I’ve got to work there!”. I love my job because I’m still able to visit  country areas on a regular basis.

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

Another favourite part of my job is giving parents the unique opportunity to sit down with a specialised clinician, in a non-clinical setting, where they can ask any question they like, on any issue small or large. It’s early intervention at its finest, which can prevent a whole host of problems down the track. Parents tell us they leave feeling more informed and empowered about their children’s health, and that to me is so rewarding.

What do you think makes Royal Far West unique?

What makes our Bus Stop program so unique is the opportunity for the kids to access so many assessments in one day, especially given the distances some families need to travel. The program provides in 2.5 hours what it might take many weeks or months to access locally and up to 600km in round trips. It is a huge time and financial saver for many families.

Tell us about a fabulous family we’ve supported

The challenges some rural families face are immense and sometimes incomprehensive for those of us living in the city. An example was at a Bus Stop this year, when a lovely Mum was very stressed because her little boy was, in her words, “unpredictable, wild, embarrassing”. At the Stop he was referred to a local paediatrician who has since diagnosed him with ADHD. There are no Paediatric Occupational Therapists anywhere near his home, so he was able to access our Telecare Occupational Therapy. Mum has noticed a huge improvement, and they are now looking forward to starting school next year.

Stories like these bring it all home. If we can make things just a little easier for these people, it makes me one very happy and satisfied employee.

Find out more about the Healthy Kids Bus stop, including it’s schedule