Right now, 190,000 children across rural and remote Australia have health and developmental needs that can’t be met because of where they live. This is a number that Royal Far West (RFW) are on a mission to curb, and the latest iteration of our School and Early Years service is one of the many ways we are working to make this change.
Addressing and preventing poor mental health, developmental vulnerability and lack of access to healthcare services for children aged three to 12 years needs to happen in every country community. The best way to do that is within the school gate, where kids and families are easy to reach and are surrounded by protective factors.
We have been delivering allied health services into schools and pre-schools across New South Wales and Queensland, via a combination of telehealth and outreach, for nearly 10 years and have now introduced our refreshed School and Early Years service.
The new service model takes a whole-of-school, whole-of-community approach. It is a flexible, wraparound, collaborative care model with the children at its centre. It also offers evidence-based parenting programs and, importantly, is responsive to community needs.
Working in partnership with early childhood settings and primary schools allows this new model to link across education, health and social service sectors. It reduces the burden on overstretched rural and remote local health professionals and schools that have to coordinate and manage multiple providers and programs – which is a key barrier to engagement as identified in many school-based initiatives.
A key aspect of the service is working directly with the children to support their developmental and mental health needs, and also with those around the child to build their capacity to understand and respond to the child’s needs. The service aims to deliver positive outcomes for parents by equipping them with the skills to support the whole family. It also aims to lower the burden on educators by providing tools and strategies to support improved behavioural and learning outcomes for young children for years to come.
The service is delivered via a hybrid approach with a mix of in-person and telehealth consults across the school year. Our multidisciplinary team operates as an extension of the school or pre-school team, enabling us to tailor services and practitioners to the school and children’s needs on an ongoing and iterative basis This approach works best when the service becomes a part of the curriculum.
From a workforce stance, our psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists and speech pathologists all work together to deliver optimum outcomes. They also have a level of flexibility in location delivery, with the hybrid work model enabling us to employ healthcare practitioners based across regional locations.
We have seen positive feedback on the outcomes of this service, with recent feedback from one RFW school noting a clear impact in their students:
‘We have been using services from RFW for many years. The services provided include speech therapy and counselling. Without RFW, students in these schools would not have access to professional and, often times, life-changing supports. The telehealth model that is used works effectively for children: it is supportive, targeted, consistent and enabled therapy to continue during COVID. The outcomes for our students have been positive. The impacts have been identified in school attendance, improved behaviour and enhanced wellbeing of students. Our principals speak highly of the reliable and professional service that helps our students both academically and personally.’
At RFW we seek to bridge gaps for the health needs of rural and remote children. Innovation, adaptive service models and advocacy are how we work to address these changing needs. We know sustainable models are crucial to these communities and encourage you to join us in advocating for service needs in these communities, to help us continue to make an impact and drive positive change for our country kids. They are our future.