Children have long been at the heart of the work we do at Outback Futures as we know that equipping and empowering the bush’s younger generation is key to shifting long-term outcomes. We also know that early intervention in childhood mental health and developmental issues helps set up individuals to be healthier adults and, ultimately, contributes to more resilient communities in the future.
In 2022, Outback Futures is building on its work with children in remote areas – as well as their families, educators and the whole community – to highlight the importance of and deepen insight into mental health and wellbeing for bush kids.
However, to do this effectively, we first need to develop baseline data to understand how our rural and remote children are currently travelling in terms of their wellbeing. Secondly, we need to be able to assess whether the actions we are taking and the approaches we are implementing are making an impact.
Unfortunately, very little genuine prevalence data is available when it comes to children’s wellbeing in rural and remote areas. By comparison, there is far more data available for metropolitan contexts, which cannot be extrapolated to our outback communities.
To address this issue, Outback Futures is partnering with Griffith University, The John Villiers Trust, and the West and North Queensland Primary Health Networks to roll out a wellbeing measurement tool in remote Queensland primary schools. Developed by Griffith University, the Rumble’s Quest evaluation tool is an engaging digital game that provides a robust and reliable measure of social and emotional wellbeing for 6–12-year-olds. Children play the game as a character who is transported to a mystical land where they meet friendly villagers and join a curious creature named Rumble on a quest to save the village. The unique interactive format allows kids to speak candidly to Rumble about their feelings and makes it easy for them to respond to questions about their wellbeing in a natural, non-threatening way.
Data collected from Rumble’s Quest helps to identify vulnerable children, as well as areas of need that appear prevalent in groups. This then allows schools and allied health service providers to:
- plan effective strategies and tailor programs to address the identified needs
- monitor change in wellbeing over time and evaluate the outcomes of initiatives
- compare the data of a specific group of children with population averages.
In the second half of 2021, Outback Futures ran 18 sessions of Rumble’s Quest in the Barcaldine region and captured over 140 students’ wellbeing measures. This is the first time that wellbeing data has been gathered in this way and to this extent in remote schools. With Australian Government funding for Outback Futures' Resilient Kids project, Rumble's Quest is now being expanded into other remote Queensland primary schools. This extensive baseline data will help Outback Futures, as well as many other agencies and service providers, to collaborate and more intentionally develop programs to support the specific needs of bush kids.
The reality is that developmentally vulnerable children so often end up struggling with questions of self-worth, fall behind at an early age, struggle with communication and social relationships, and are at risk of becoming part of the mental health statistics of the bush.
It's important that all children, regardless of where they live, have access to quality health, education and developmental services, and experience positive wellbeing. Unfortunately, kids living in rural and remote communities are more likely to start school developmentally vulnerable compared to kids growing up in the city. In fact, according to the 2018 Australian Early Development census, one in five are developmentally vulnerable in two or more key domains, compared to one in ten city kids. This vulnerability is compounded in rural and remote areas by limited access to services and less chance of early intervention.
The Outback Futures Community Facilitation Model is all about shifting the long-term outcomes for our outback communities, and this means prioritising early intervention and intergenerational change. Working with children, families and educators to better understand the current lay of the land with our bush kids, and then upskilling, supporting, and resourcing them to own and manage their mental health and wellbeing future, is key to seeing real change.