With our feet in the sand and our hearts in the bush, Royal Far West (RFW) has been supporting country children, families and communities for nearly 100 years. We believe in the strength of regional Australia, but it’s no secret that rural and remote communities have been doing it tough over the past few years. While the pandemic has created its own challenges, country communities are also facing the added impact of the multiple and compounding natural disasters of drought, bushfires, floods and plagues of mice.
While country people are renowned for their resilience and strength in the face of challenges, this prolonged succession of natural disasters has had a significant impact.
At RFW, Australia’s only charity dedicated to the health and wellbeing of country children, we have seen first-hand how this is impacting country children.
In 2022, we are seeking partners who are committed to making a real change for country children.
Over the past two years we have developed a National Paediatric Telecare Service for country children and this year delivered over 1,000 telehealth sessions per week to 1,365 children and 2,730 caregivers via 147 schools. While our core mission has always been to address inequality and remove barriers to service, we know from our work that a more transformative paradigm is urgently needed in the bush to make larger, longer-term gains for vulnerable children.
We all need to lean into the changes made possible by the pandemic, to embrace technology as a true enabler of life-changing health services for regional communities.
The key learning from our work with thousands of country children, in these unprecedented years of disruption and trauma, is that country children at risk of long-term developmental, behavioural and mental health challenges need comprehensive, long-term, fit-for-purpose services. These must involve all the key adults around the child and be delivered by highly trained professionals at the right time – to reverse the widening gap between city and country children.
We want to use our full toolkit – developed over decades of experience and by trauma-informed expertise – to work deeply with schools at a systems level. This includes service delivery via technology, as well as regular in-person visits to build connections and to support local health workers, teachers and parents.
We will build a network of disadvantaged and isolated schools that make a generational shift in the life outcomes of their students. RFW has a unique set of proven attributes that can make an impact on this wicked problem.
We believe that we are the only agency that can partner and scale in this way, and we know that many rural and remote schools desperately need this level of support.
Our clever use of technology supersedes expensive fly-in fly-out models and means that we can provide a specialised health workforce directly into remote schools as required. Schools should not have to wait months until the relevant specialist can visit to be able to support their complex kids.
We are speaking to the Australian Government about funding a pilot of this new model in 30 communities over the next five years. We are also actively looking for other funding and service delivery partners across the country who share our big, hairy, audacious goal to really shift the dial for the bottom 20 per cent of children and families.
Country children deserve the best, and RFW will stop at nothing to deliver long-term change.
Long-term change requires long-term skill building, trust and deep relationships. In working closely with a school community to recognise the long-term impacts of developmental vulnerability, disadvantage and trauma, we will:
- build children’s resilience
- help teachers create classrooms that support children’s diverse needs in challenging environments
- support parents to navigate systems for their children
- improve local developmental and mental health systems to better respond to the needs of families
- support the development of children by connecting them to available local services
- provide therapeutic support via technology for the children in most need – who typically miss out – where they live
- positively impact the school environment and culture, leading to empowered staff, less stress and more protective factors that help to break the cycle of disadvantage.