COMPLETE: Royal Far West received a Child Aware Approaches Initiative Grant from the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) to undertake a review of its screening tools and processes to better identify children at risk of being negatively impacted on by these specific life experiences.

As part of this comprehensive review, an additional screening tool and process were developed and trialled with 35 parents/carers to assist the clinical team to establish a broader understanding of parental/family difficulties and to provide greater assistance to the children who utilise our service.

The screening tool identified that nearly half of the families participating in the screening trial were concerned about depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. Positively, 94 per cent of respondents indicated they had someone they could talk to. However, service utilisation by respondents was low (31%), with most stating local support came from their spouse, other relatives and friends. Those who indicated they received local support from services specified that the GP or a counsellor were their main sources of support outside family and friends. This finding is consistent with the literature that reports insufficient workforce and distribution of services favours larger regional centres and towns and results in no or limited services for children living in smaller towns and communities (Edwards and Baxter, 2013).

The study also found that 66 per cent of parents or carers were concerned about their child’s relationship with family or friends. These concerns mainly centred on lack of friendships within and outside the family due to poor communication skills. Approximately 40 per cent of parents reported that their children displayed high levels of physical (40%) and verbal (43%) aggression which may have contributed to these communication and relationship issues.

The percentage of smokers amongst our respondents (20% indicated they were regular smokers) was higher than found in NSW data, particularly when considering that 94 per cent of our respondents were female. The 2010 NSW Population Health Survey (2011) revealed that 15.8 per cent of adults aged 16 years and over were current (daily or occasional) smokers, and (18.2 per cent) in rural-regional health districts. A significantly higher proportion of males (18.1 per cent) were current smokers, compared with females (13.5 per cent).

Data also indicated that the children of 49 per cent of respondents were exposed to tobacco smoke from smokers living in the child’s household or other households visited by the child on a regular basis.

The project enabled earlier identification of issues experienced by families, allowing the scheduling of appropriate appointments.

Clinicians noted increased knowledge prior to the visit gave them the opportunity to ask the right questions and provide more targeted support. Follow-up interviews with eight mothers/carers also confirmed the benefits of identifying family risk issues earlier. Benefits included the opportunity to explore personal or family health issues and to gain strategies for improving coping skills. Where appropriate, they received information about their health concerns and the services and supports available locally or by telephone. Some were assisted to access local services. All parents/carers noted the value of receiving practical parenting advice including how to manage their children’s challenging behaviours. They also valued learning how to support their children with home practice exercises/activities. Parents stated that feeling that they could positively contribute to their child’s health helped to alleviate their stress.