All parents want their kids to do well in life. To learn, grow, and have friends. To be healthy and happy. For 1 in 5 kids, this is sadly not the case.
A new app has been developed in response to these findings. The app, called Watch Me Grow, monitors the development of children from 0-5 years. It quickly flags concerns with a child’s development so that issues can be addressed before they become larger problems.
Members of the Early Life Determinants of Health Clinical Academic Group at Maridulu Budyari Gumal developed the app to make it easy for parents to monitor their children’s development as suggested in the Personal Health Record, or Blue Book.
In an independent study conducted by members of the Early Life Determinants of Health CAG, they found that the Blue Book was not being utilized effectively for monitoring kids’ development.
Only 30-50% of families used it correctly in the first 18 months of a child’s life. Surprisingly, only 20% used it between the ages of 1 and 4. This is a critical silent period for assessing a range of developmental and behavioural issues.
Higher risk in certain postcodes
In the same study, it was found that developmental delays are more common in kids from disadvantaged backgrounds.
There are several reasons for this, including limited knowledge of developmental milestones, restricted transport to child and family services, and language barriers.
“If you don't know what the child should be doing at 24 months, you have no way of identifying delays,” says Project Lead Professor Valsamma Eapen.
How Watch Me Grow works
After the study, the Group had to find something that would have better uptake and coverage of the Blue Book to monitor children’s development.
They realised that all families visit their GPs at age-specific time points to get their immunisations. It made sense to coordinate developmental check-ins with these appointments, and Watch Me Grow was born.
1. A quick check-in
The app is given to parents while waiting in their GP’s reception room before a vaccination. They enter their child’s birth date and a series of age-specific questions pop up. Once the parents have completed the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions, the results are sent straight to the parents and their GP.
2. On track
If everything is tracking well, the parents receive information about what their child should be doing at his or her age, as well as guidance on how to promote healthy development.
The information is taken from the Australian authority on parenting, the Raising Children Network. This ensures the guidance parents receive is from a trusted, expert and national voice.
3. Developmental concerns
If there are any concerns with the child’s development, the parents will have the opportunity to discuss these with their GP during the same appointment. This means concerns are picked up and addressed in a matter of minutes.
Once they are linked in with the program, an automatic email reminder is sent to the parents every 6 months. This ensures families stay on top of monitoring their child’s development, should circumstances change or new concerns arise before the child’s next vaccination.
Benefits of Watch Me Grow
While still in its infancy, the new surveillance app is already proving beneficial for families, particularly those with children who are at higher risk and who would not otherwise have engaged with health services for developmental checks.
- Better uptake
The program’s ease of use and simple format has meant more families are more likely to use it.
Families no longer need to remember to complete the developmental checks in the Blue Book as a reminder email will be sent by the app. For some, the app also gets around the issue of accessing transport to travel to a dedicated clinic. For others, it removes any language barriers as they can now access these services through a GP that speaks their native tongue.
This has resulted in better monitoring and understanding of a child’s development – particularly among families from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
- Identify and address issues early
Because the app has a real-time format that’s synced to a child’s routine vaccination appointments, health professionals can intervene early.
“When children fall behind with their developmental milestones, we have an opportunity to jump in, identify it early, and put them on the right track,” says Valsamma.
- Address health inequity in Australia
Perhaps one of the biggest advantages of the app is its ability to tip the health inequity balance. It’s more accessible and convenient for families who previously struggled to keep on top of their child’s development. Now a far greater population of children can enjoy the best start to life.
- Intervene before a child starts school
Often, it’s only when a child gets to school that a teacher notices something is wrong for the first time. It could be that the child is not talking, making friends or sitting still. As Valsamma says, identifying issues at school is too late.
She goes on to say that, “because of kids’ brain plasticity, a lot can be gained from early intervention.” The Watch Me Grow app is that early intervention, ensuring kids don’t miss out on opportunities in life.
- Better knowledge of development milestones
Through the program, families can learn the signs early. The app provides anticipatory guidance, alerting parents to what is expected for their child at 6 months, 9 months, 12 months and so on. It gives parents everything they need to know at different stages of a child’s development from an emotional, social, physical and mental perspective.
What’s next for Watch Me Grow?
Members of the Early Life Determinants of Health CAG has just received funding from Autism CRC, to trial a universal surveillance program that can be used across all GP clinics.
The trial will run in Melbourne and Southwest Sydney covering 30 practices in each site, so 60 in total. Half of them will go into an intervention program, where kids will be actively monitored at 18 and 24 months, when developmental delays are most likely to emerge. The other half will get care by GPs as usual.
The aim is to create a national framework for universal developmental surveillance. This will ensure disorders are quickly identified across the country. It also means that every child, regardless of their background or postcode, will have equal access to the same standards in healthcare.