Bus Stop Rolls on for Growing Country Kids
By mobilising children’s health, education and disability services to regional areas of direct need, a bid to tackle high rates of developmental issues in country New South Wales is bringing together communities.
With a team of more than 90 paediatric specialists, Royal Far West provides health, education and disability services from the Centre for Country Kids at Manly, virtually via Telecare, and in community outreach programs including the Healthy Kids Bus Stop program.
Almost 90 per cent of children who stopped by the Bus on a visit to Narrandera in late 2019 were referred for further services.
“Children in rural and regional Australia are up to five times more likely to experience developmental challenges and have less access to developmental health services,” said Royal Far West CEO Lindsay Cane AM.
“Early childhood lays the foundation for positive lifelong outcomes and success for children’s physical and mental health, education and employment outcomes and early intervention is critical.”
The Narrandera Healthy Kids Bus Stop visit – supported by regular partner Ronald McDonald
House Charities, Manildra Foundation, and run in partnership with Murrumbidgee Local Health District at the host Narrandera Public School – has further expanded into a community-wide collaboration involving preschools and community service organisations in the wider Gunnedah district.
Throughout Bus Stop Week at Narrandera, 64 of the 73 children aged from three to five years required referrals in one or more areas after being assessed by a child and family health nurse, speech pathologist, occupational therapist, audiometrist, dietitian and oral health practitioner.
Of the referrals to local clinicians, to teletherapy through Royal Far West or to Royal Far West’s Paediatric Developmental Program in Manly for more complex cases, 40 children were referred to a GP for middle ear pathology, 30 children for speech therapy, and 25 children for occupational therapy.
The Manildra Foundation contribution further enabled two workshops for preschool staff in Leeton and Narrandera to build strategic skills and knowledge for everyday teaching of children with developmental challenges.
While the early childhood checks are a service to identify young children who would benefit from extra support so that they are ready to learn when they start school, parents also find value in the Royal Far West Healthy Kids Bus Stop.
“If it wasn’t for the bus, then I wouldn’t have known what to do,” said one parent. “I didn’t realise how much my son’s lack of expressive language was affecting his behaviour and now I have the strategies to support him.”
Another parent appreciated access to all the different services at once.
“I’ve been worried about a few things with my daughter and I was able to get answers for all the questions I had,” said the parent. “It was a really nice environment to have a chat about my child’s development and not feel rushed out the door.”
With some children identified for allied health support unable to access face-to-face services due to COVID-19, Royal Far West was able to redirect Manildra Group’s funding to a telehealth model to help children thrive in their own homes.
This included weekly appointments for 19 Gunnedah children with complex needs, who were able to receive their speech therapy, occupational therapy and psychology support in their homes, instead of at Royal Far West’s Centre for Country Kids in Manly.
One parent commented, “The weekly appointments are great. We are getting strategies to work on week to week and the consistency is really helping. I can see a big improvement on settling his emotions – I feel like it’s helping me just as much as it’s helping him.”
As one of Australia’s oldest and most-respected charities, Royal Far West was established in 1924 with a continued focus to innovate and deliver services in the best possible way to ensure country kids can access the vital care they need to reach their full potential.
The support of rural partners who share a commitment to strengthening the resilience and wellbeing of country children is needed more than ever.
Manildra Group Director, Caroline Honan acknowledged that it is critical that all children across rural Australia receive the same access to vital care, medications, and treatments.
“It is the amazing work of organisations such as Royal Far West that enable the rural communities in which we operate to continue to educate and care for country children, preparing them for all opportunities in life.”