Hi, my name is John and as Community Programs Manager for Royal Far West, I spend a lot of time out in regional New South Wales, working with local communities including health and education organisations, councils, and community service organisations, to help bring services to children who cannot already access the services they need.
It is a great privilege to be able to spend time in the communities that Royal Far West has been helping for so long. I get to meet the children and families and understand the real issues of living in remote communities, including the difficulty or impossibility to access many services, such as Speech Therapy and Psychology, because of huge waiting lists, the lack of therapists, and the hundreds of kilometres many families have to travel to access services.
What do you do?
The main program I run is the Healthy Kids Bus Stop, a free screening program for 3-5 year-olds that helps identify any developmental issues prior to them starting school. It is so important to identify and support these issues before children start school, so that when they arrive, they are ready to learn and their new teachers are aware of what support they might require.
My small team (Grace, Tom, Issy, Jennifer) and I also support other outreach programs, which are mobile versions of services we offer in Manly. It is not always easy for families to come to Manly so any services we can take to them is very much appreciated.
What happens at the Bus Stops?
Children have a hearing screening; dental check; fine and gross motor skill development screening; language and speech development check; and a food nutrition check – all at the one location in the one day, and all free-of-charge.
At the end of each day the clinicians discuss each child. Using their inputs, we gain a full picture of any developmental, health, family or social issues the child may be facing, and a group decision is made regarding which children need follow-up referrals to what disciplines.
Children requiring further assessment will be referred to appropriate local services where they exist, or to our Telecare service. Those with complex needs may also be referred to our Paediatric Developmental Program (PDP). We have regular follow-ups with each family for 12 months.
Tell us more…
The Healthy Kids Bus Stop has been running for six years, with around 10 Stops per year, and during this time we have screened more than 3,500 children, travelling from Mungindi to Bourke to Tooleybuc to Tumut and everywhere in between. One of the highlights of each visit is seeing the general community pitch together to ensure the success of the program in their town.
We have a big truck provided by Ronald McDonald House Charities that travels to all our Outreach Posts and provides us with clinic and office space. The kids love the truck and for those who have a negative feeling about health and hospitals, this environment makes it much easier to carry out the screenings. We usually set up in big halls at primary schools and work very closely with preschools to ensure the kids and their parents are involved.
Unfortunately, almost of the children we see need support in one or more areas. This creates a huge referral rate, and in many of the communities we visit, local services are just not available or don’t have enough clinicians to meet the need. There seems to be an increasing shortage of services in many health areas in regional NSW, and I believe it is imperative that all agencies work together to find solutions for these kids, because we know that if they do not receive the services they need, when they need them, they will probably struggle in some ways for the rest of their lives.
What attracted you to Royal Far West?
Having lived around Manly for many years, I was always interested in what the organisation did. The chance to work here came in 2013 and I jumped at the opportunity. I originally came here to run a series of pilot programs – mainly around Telecare, which is all about using technology to deliver our services, and when I came back in 2015 I was amazed to see how that program had grown and has continued to do so.
Where we made an impact
At a Bus Stop last year we held an information session for the community on ‘Understanding Child Behaviours’. Preschool and school staff attended, as well as parents, grandparents and health workers. One of the Mums wasn’t registered for the Bus Stop, however after the information session she decided she’d register her son because she was very worried as he was displaying some very concerning behaviours and was starting school in 2020.
During the 2.5 hours they spent with us at the Bus Stop, Mum was able to sit down with each clinician, ask all the burning questions she had, understand more about what services were available, and the sort of help and support they needed to give her son the best start at school.
We developed a specialised pathway to care for her son and he was referred on for Occupational Therapy, Speech Pathology, Paediatrician and Early Intervention. Six months on, her son has a diagnosis of ASD, and is accessing Speech and Occupational Therapy through their local Early Intervention organisation. Her son is in a specialised class with more support, tailored to his needs. During one of our follow-up phone calls, Mum said, “things are a lot more manageable at home. I’m less frustrated and so is he. I feel like I better understand my son and how his brain works – I’m learning every day.”
It’s positive stories like this that really pushes our team to go the extra distance on each Bus Stop. We know we’re helping kids, and their families, and it’s such a joy to be a part of these success stories.
Adapting our plans
Because of COVID-19 we’ve had to cancel our upcoming Bus Stops. We’re working with Local Health Districts (LHDs) and community stakeholders to deliver multidisciplinary screening, assessment and therapy services to country kids in their homes, using Telecare.
We can’t wait to get the Bus back into communities as soon as we’re given the green light!
Visit our Healthy Kids Bus Stop page to find out more.
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