Partnering to support research and positive healthcare experiences

  • Healthier Futures Initiative program participants [Image: Starlight Children's Foundation]

Healthier Futures Initiative program participants [Image: Starlight Children's Foundation]

Roxxanne MacDonald
Starlight Children’s Foundation
Roxxanne MacDonald,
Research and
Evaluation Coordinator

Captain Starlights have been visiting regional and remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities alongside clinical teams for over 15 years as part of the Starlight Children’s Foundation (Starlight) Healthier Futures Initiative (HFI). In an exciting new partnership, Starlight is working with researchers in Western Australia to support this group.

Starlight’s HFI is an innovative program provided in partnership with clinical healthcare teams. Together they are invited to visit rural, regional and remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, focusing on the detection and early treatment of chronic health conditions in children.

Captain Starlights (professional performers trained to positively engage children in healthcare settings through music, art, dance, games and storytelling) accompany the clinical teams and help create child-friendly, positive healthcare experiences. HFI has been shown to not only increase participation in health care and improve clinic efficiency, but it also helps create lasting, positive patient treatment experiences that are critical for both early detection and lifelong participation.

Starlight are excited to have recently partnered with one of the country’s top medical research institutes, the Telethon Kids Institute (TKI), to support their vital work in Aboriginal communities in Western Australia.

Teams at the world-leading institute are working on reducing the burden of group A streptococcus (GAS) infections among Aboriginal children, which often present as skin sores or a sore throat. If left untreated, these infections can lead to serious life-threatening complications such as kidney failure and rheumatic heart disease.

Captain Starlights joined one of the clinical research teams working to better understand GAS infections on their week-long visits to schools in Broome and Derby. The Captains quickly set the mood for the week during the school assembly where they emerged from their hiding spots, telling jokes and doing magic tricks for the, by now, ecstatic students. Throughout the week, every child who participated had the chance to play with a Captain Starlight, creating a happier, child-friendly environment for important research that will contribute to improving health outcomes for future generations.

‘Instead of taking something from the children – taking their time, taking their samples, taking them out of class – it felt for the first time like we were giving them something,’ said one of the researchers.

The clinical researchers shared Captain Starlights’ impact with other TKI colleagues working on a different study relating to children’s skin health.

‘Our colleague said that the kids are having so much more fun [with Captains] putting them at ease, distracting them from anything that might be uncomfortable. We thought that sounds like such an asset that we want in our project; so it's not just getting information, but also sharing a positive experience for people.’

So Captain Starlights joined a TKI skin-screening clinic, where there was dancing, games and silly sword fights, creating curiosity for children and families who wanted to know more.

‘Captain Starlight was like a bridge to get everyone feeling comfortable. The kids are happy and then the parents were a bit more open to having a chat with the clinicians. So, I do think they help get people through the door and help [make] people feel valued.

‘I am a Noongar woman, and my niece and nephew came along and participated in the project, but absolutely could not get enough of the Captains. Mum was dragging them away and bringing them back the next day, because they were asking to see them again. So, honestly, you couldn't ask for a better experience to enjoy a setting which is usually not such a great setting.’

Collaboration with clinicians and community is at the core of HFI, and Starlight are always actively seeking more partnerships and ways to improve the healthcare experience for all children.

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