When the rocket ship can't land: How Starlight is supporting remote clinics in the NT

  • Douglas and Eda at the Warruwi Clinic, NT, receiving their Starlight goodies pack

Douglas and Eda at the Warruwi Clinic, NT, receiving their Starlight goodies pack

Starlight Children's Foundation
Dr Claire Treadgold, National Manager, Research & Evaluation

In 2019, The Starlight Children’s Foundation supported over 21,000 clinical experiences in remote communities through the Healthier Futures Initiative (HFI).

HFI has been operating since 2006, when Starlight first introduced its Captain Starlight program to remote areas. Captain Starlights are professional performers who engage with children and young people through activities such as art, music, storytelling, comedy, and games. When mobile clinical teams visit regional and remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, Captain Starlight accompanies them to provide entertainment and play for the children who are attending the clinics, encouraging them to stay for all appointments and keeping them positively distracted while waiting (and even during appointments and procedures as required). The visits are undertaken in partnership with health professionals and are hosted by the Primary Health Care Centres or schools in community. And in keeping with the mythology of the program, children are told that the Captain Starlights have arrived by rocket ship (often leading to some hilarious interactions).

However, in 2020 with the impact of COVID-19, the number of visits and virtual rocket ships landing in communities will be significantly affected. In the Northern Territory, travel to remote communities is prohibited unless essential, and similarly, families are being encouraged to stay in community and not travel to Darwin unless essential. This has resulted in paediatricians converting their trips for remote community clinics to telehealth where possible, with trips postponed indefinitely.

Starlight recognised though that kids were still attending their local health centre or clinic in their community for appointments and wanted to reach out and see if we could assist in any way from afar. The Starlight NT Team contacted 59 of our remote community clinic partners to ask how we could help. We sent through a wish list to see if they needed collateral, arts and crafts, games, and programming content for their waiting room TV, or to see if we could we assist with FaceTime appointments with Captain Starlight.

There has been a hugely positive response, with clinics expressing their gratitude for being thought of at such a stressful time. Most have been interested in activities for the kids – games, arts and crafts, colouring in – and things for mums to do in the waiting room. The team have also helped to alleviate boredom in the waiting rooms by sending Starlight TV content featuring the Captains to each of the clinics, allowing them to play Starlight TV clips in their waiting rooms for the kids.  There has also been lollies and a thank you card in each of the packs to make sure the clinic workers know we’re thinking of them too, and that we can’t wait to blast back down to visit them in the Starlight rocket ship when all of this is over.

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