Hi, my name is Tayla, and I am an Occupational Therapist (OT) and Multi-Disciplinary Team Leader in the Community Recovery Team at Royal Far West.
What does your role involve?
I lead a team of clinicians to deliver the Community Recovery Program to schools and preschools in the Northern Rivers region of NSW following the 2022 floods in NSW and Southeast Queensland.
We are an extension of the RFW bushfire team and part of a larger multidisciplinary team that is dedicated to supporting recovery from community disasters. We are one of the only health services dedicated to supporting the mental health and wellbeing of children under 12 years and the adults around them following last year’s floods which was the costliest natural disaster in Australia’s history.
What Aboriginal Country do you live/work on?
I have recently moved and am blessed to be living on the lands of the Garigal people.
How long have you been with Royal Far West?
It will be 4 years in June. I started as an OT working in our then Telecare for Kids and Windmill service.
Have you seen any changes in the sorts of issues children have during your time at Royal Far West?
Yes, the last few years have brought unique challenges for children. Starting with the 2019/20 bushfires, then COVID-19 and the most recent flooding events across the State.
Many rural children have experienced not one but all three significant community disasters. For many children under 5 years, disasters have become the new ‘normal’. This brings unique challenges for children and from what I have personally experienced an increase in disaster ‘fatigue’, lack of stability and safety not only in their family units but within their environments and communities and difficulties coping with the additional stress impacting on their ability to focus, socialise, learn and engage in classrooms.
What led you to work at RFW?
Most of my professional experience has been working in the disability sector and after working in private practice for a few months I realized the pace and ethos did not fit with my own personal values. A friend of mine had done electrical work in the new CCK building and for months suggested I reach out. When I finally made the decision to leave my previous workplace, an OT job came up at RFW and from the moment I stepped into the building (and out of the level 4 lift!) I knew I was in the right place.
After working at RFW for a few years, the inequities between rural and city kids become more apparent and this didn’t sit well with me. I decided to do further study in Public Health and Global Health to understand the ‘big picture’, learn about different health systems around the world and how I can apply a community-based lens to create greater impact on the children and families we see every day. As synchronicities go, I was then offered the opportunity to work in the bushfire team and use the approach of intervention as it looks for a whole school to support children’s wellbeing and recovery. My hope is working with the team to shape the Community Recovery Program to best align with the unique needs of flood affected schools, preschools and communities.
Professionally, I have a deep interest in child development, nervous system regulation and the impact of intergenerational adverse experiences on children and the next generation. Outside of work, I enjoy keeping active with yoga, hiking and swimming and spending as much time in nature as I can.
Can you describe your typical day?
I am someone that thrives on flexibility and am lucky that each day is varied and looks very different. The most exciting part of my role is going on outreach to communities in different parts of NSW. On outreach, I may run children’s groups; focused on building the kids skills to cope with major life changes or facilitate a teacher professional learning workshop focused on supporting children in the classroom following a community trauma.
When I am not on outreach, I have client telecare sessions and meet regularly with my team to support their work with schools. As the floods team was only established in January 2023, ensuring all team members feel they have the right amount of support, training and knowledge to orientate to RFW and the program has been a high priority over the last few months.
Other tasks in addition to the day-to-day support for the floods team includes recruitment of new team members, clinical supervision and the occasional presentation to external agencies such as UNICEF and Red Cross.
Engagement with external and local services is an important part of the role, to collaborate and learn from people on the ground about the evolving needs of children, their carers and teachers. As disaster recovery is a new area for RFW, staying up to date with the latest research and training is important to be responsive to the needs of communities. I might read a journal article, attend trainings, webinars or listen to a podcast when I can.
What do you love about working with families from rural and remote Australia?
I love how with every interaction, with a client over telecare or when visiting a school, I am always learning something new! It might be about their town’s history and location, a new interesting hobby or a significant landmark in the environment.
Each child and each community has its own culture and traditions to learn from. I feel I am very privileged in that I have been able to visit many areas within NSW. Having moved from WA only 4. years ago I feel as if I have seen more of NSW than my home state!
What do you think makes RFW unique?
Being almost a century old, RFW has a rich history that is known across NSW. The people at RFW are the most dedicated and passionate group I have worked alongside in my career. The flexibility that comes with a predominately remote workforce is unique and the shared recognition that we are all working to elevate the voices and needs of children living in rural areas.
Can give us an example of a family’s positive outcomes through working with RFW?
I want to share a positive outcome for a small school community we have worked with recently through the community recovery program. The school was identified in the initial RFW & UNICEF needs assessment in August last year. The town was destroyed, many houses left uninhabitable including the local pub and primary school. Now fast forward one year on, sadly many shops have still not re-opened and many families still living in caravans, tents or in crowded housing. Two colleagues and I delivered Stormbirds; a psychoeducation program to support students in years 4-6 to make sense and process the many changes they have experienced over the last year. On the last day of the program, one of the students told us “I realised I wasn’t the only one who felt scared during the floods”, and another said, “I have learnt new things to do when I have big feelings”. We also ran a few educator workshops focused on recognising their own impacts following the floods and how to support children presenting with behavioural changes with a trauma informed approach. We have also been able to offer ongoing psychology and OT for students in the school via telecare.
When we were there, we also facilitated a school band pizza night for parents, teachers, students, and community members to connect and learn more about RFW’s services. This was identified by the community as a need as there wasn’t any community spaces for people to gather since the floods, leading to feelings of disconnection and a lack of belonging. We provided a space and had over 50 people attend! This is only the first visit to this community by RFW, and we are hoping we can continue to aid and support this community’s recovery journey.
Where’s your country? – Where do you feel most connected to?
I grew up in Perth, which will always hold a unique feeling of home. I feel most grounded and connected when close to the ocean. Mulalloo Beach on the north coast of Perth in particular has a unique pull and special connection to me.
Can you share some career highlights from your time at Royal Far West?
I have had many highlights over my time at RFW. One was a particularly unique opportunity. I was given the opportunity to speak at RFW’s Crowd Funding event back in 2021 about our then named ‘Telecare for Kids’ program. I learnt how to frame and compose a funding pitch with ‘Purpose, Planning and Practice!’ and then present live to an audience. It was an exhilarating experience and I connected with many different people across the organisation.
Another highlight that honestly changed my career direction was being part of the needs assessment in partnership with UNICEF Australia after the 2022 floods. I saw first-hand, the complete devastation of many towns and at the time, still 5 months on there was a lot of uncertainty and instability for children with many losing not only their homes but their school, play spaces, sporting clubs and shopping centres. This experience motivated me to learn more about the impacts of a community disaster and apply for the Team Leader position in the floods team.