Partnering for positive health experiences for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children

  • Starlight and young boy with balloons

Photo: Starlight Children’s Foundation

Australia’s Indigenous populations experience a burden of disease at 2.3 times that of the non-Indigenous population, with children having some of the highest levels of preventable chronic diseases in Australia and the world.

The Starlight Children’s Foundation (Starlight) has been working for over 30 years to support all children with chronic conditions. Many children, regardless of their cultural background, experience stress and anxiety when undergoing treatment or attending a healthcare appointment. However, for some Indigenous communities, this can be additionally complicated by an intergenerational lack of trust in the health system, resulting in poor healthcare engagement, low clinic attendance, and overall negative healthcare experiences.

Starlight’s Healthier Futures Initiative
Recognising the importance in supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in receiving culturally appropriate care and facilitating positive health care engagement, Starlight began partnering with health teams visiting Indigenous communities in rural and remote Australia in 2006.

This program grew into what is now known as the ‘Healthier Futures Initiative’. The Healthier Futures Initiative involves ‘Captain Starlight’ (professional performers who engage with young people through art, music, storytelling, comedy and games to improve health care experiences) accompanying teams conducting outreach clinics with Indigenous communities. Guided by the principals of positive psychology, the Healthier Futures Initiative aims to improve the wellbeing of children and young people by enhancing the primary health care experience through fun, play, and positive distraction.

Building collaborations – The Deadly Ears Partnership
Starlight has been delivering the Healthier Futures Initiative in partnership with a wide range of clinical teams supporting everything from general health checks through to rheumatic heart disease detection. On-going partnerships have been formed with teams from hospitals as well as organisations such as the Earbus Foundation of Western Australia.

More recently, Starlight has expanded the reach of the program by embarking on a collaborative partnership with the ‘Deadly Ears’ outreach program at Children’s Health Queensland. Deadly Ears provide comprehensive ear health services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in 11 partner locations across rural and remote Queensland. Their service aims to reduce the rates and impact of otitis media and conductive hearing loss for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
Preliminary feedback from the first Healthier Futures Initiative visit with the Deadly Ears team, supported by the local Cherbourg health service, has been extremely positive. Deadly Ears health professionals acknowledged the difference between clinics when Starlight Captains were present, and those when they were not present. Parents appeared to be less concerned with waiting for clinic appointments, and children were more settled and less anxious prior to both clinic and surgery. Of great importance, there also appeared to be a reduction in the number of families who left the clinic before receiving the service or treatment they required. Feedback from the Deadly Ears team also highlighted the lack of disruption on staff and the running of the clinic.

Deadly Ears Program Director, Matthew Brown, stated that “The Starlight team added a great deal of value to our work, and we are very grateful for their help.”

Supporting more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children
It is hoped that this new, but already successful, partnership will be joined by other clinical teams working with Indigenous communities and the list of collaborations and locations will grow. The Starlight Children’s Foundation are committed to partnering with health teams to ensure that children attend clinics and have a positive health care experience. Increasing young people’s healthcare participation will ultimately lead to improved health outcomes, more positive attitudes about health care, and facilitate early development of health literacy.


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