Hi, my name is Kara and I’m one of the Occupational Therapists (OTs) on Royal Far West’s Bushfire Recovery Program.
What does your role involve?
I spend most of my time providing 1:1 telecare support to children in different regions affected by the 2019-2020 bushfires. Personally, I love that this program offers such flexibility and the best team culture going around – although I might be a bit biased about that!
I also spend time in the community on outreach once a term. On outreach we might run children’s groups such as Stormbirds or Seasons for Growth. These groups support children with topics such as natural disaster, change, loss and grief. We also complete classroom observations, educator workshops, OT screenings and parent education or support - just to name a few. We are in such a unique time and space to make a positive impact on the lives of these children, families and communities that have experienced a natural disaster, and it’s such a worthwhile endeavour.
Since you’ve been here, have you seen any changes in the sorts of issues children are facing?
I started in October 2020, and have worked across a few different Royal Far West support programs. Since the COVID-19 lockdowns, we’ve heard from teachers across multiple schools that children in the early stages of primary school (kindergarten, year one and two) who experienced a period of lockdown have often had one or more areas of their development impacted. This includes areas such as fine and gross motor, social skills, sensory processing, emotional regulation and behaviour.
These early years provide a foundation for skill exposure, development and practice. So we’ve seen that teachers have been seeking out creative ways to enrich the development of children who have been through COVID-19 lockdowns. It’s been a pleasure to have been able to provide additional learning opportunities to support teachers and their students in these areas. The most common topics that support is requested is building fine motor skills and in supporting children with emotional regulation.
What led you to work at Royal Far West?
I’d heard lots of wonderful things about the organisation over the years from friends who were already working here and was inspired by the variety of programs and services that are offered to RFW families. I’ve always aspired to work for a non-government organisation and have been lucky enough to find my place in a wonderful multidisciplinary team and wider OT team here. Living on the Central Coast and having a young family, the flexibility offered through Royal Far West is also hard to beat.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Working fully remotely and through telecare, I find moving at the beginning of the day essential. First thing in the morning I’ll usually go to the gym or take my giant poodle for a walk on the beach, have breakfast and then make the long commute from my kitchen to my spare room/office. I enjoy the strong culture of a positive work/life balance, so after logging off for the day, I’m usually playing with my little boy, spending time outside or heading to a local ceramics class.
What’s the best thing about working with families from rural and remote Australia?
Being able to provide support to children, families and communities that otherwise wouldn’t be able to receive services or would face extensive waitlists due to their geographical location is one of the best things about this job. I’ve also loved learning about new parts of Australia. One of my favourite things to do with a child in a session is to use google maps and look at where we both live and then find out how long it would take to drive, walk, take public transport or fly between the two places.
What do you think makes Royal Far West unique?
What stands out to me is that we have a large number of staff members but a strong sense of connection between them. Of course, also the work that we do in supporting country kids, families and communities, and being able to provide support to children affected by natural disasters, including bushfires and floods.
Tell us about a family’s positive outcomes through working with Royal Far West.
Empowering a parent to understand how to support their child’s needs is always a positive outcome for me. One Mum said the turning point for her was “keying into behaviour as a form of communication” and that “my own self care is important, as I can’t help him when I’m burnt out”. I also absolutely love the look of pride on a child’s face when they achieve something really functional like tying their shoelaces, zipping up a jumper or catching a ball for the first time. It’s hard not to get all warm and fuzzy inside when the “I can do it!” moment happens.