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1 in 5 kids that start school are developmentally vulnerable. Environmental risk factors at the start of life can lead to a series of developmental setbacks that affect a child’s health and wellbeing throughout life.

Recent data shows that children have better outcomes in life when they begin early intervention programs as infants or toddlers. This also breaks the cycle of disadvantage to society.

That’s why we need to take a life course approach to early childhood development, starting from conception. We must look at each stage of a child’s development and ensure it builds on the next.

Through our work, we will improve policy and practice to ensure every child has the best start to life.

Activity

All our activity is centred on getting wider access to vulnerable communities, and ensuring all families get equal access to the same level of support.

  1. Access
    We have two programs that help us identify children in need of support as early as possible. The first is our Watch Me Grow app - a surveillance app that monitors children’s developmental progress during GP vaccination visits. During these visits, GPs assess whether there’s a need and can refer children and families via our second program: Getting in Early, Getting it Right (Happy Healthy Ready) program. This program works with non-government agencies who run supported playgroups for children from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Backgrounds to identify developmental risk early on and refer kids onto health services. A seamless care pathway is the result.
     
  2. Equity
    We’re working with refugee families to ensure health and community services communicate better with these groups. We’re also encouraging better engagement with these communities, so that providers can tailor their services to different cultures, and support the health of refugee children. Through this work, we’ve spoken to 200 refugee children to understand the mental, community and emotional trauma of trying to fit into a new culture. We’re using these findings to improve care and early intervention programs.
     
  3. Clinical variability
    Through SuCCEED (Supporting Children with Complex Feeding Difficulties), we’re reducing the variations in care that children with complex feeding issues receive through feeding tubes. Since the project’s launch, we’ve connected clinicians, researchers, parents and educators. We’ve progressed towards standardised, enhanced care in feeding clinics across the state.  We’ve used novel research methods such as Video Reflexive Ethnography to identify what makes for “brilliant” care through the eyes of families and clinicians.  We are creating new communities of practice and investigating the impact that simply connecting people can have on the most complex health issues.    We have co-created the first ever Australian website by parents, for parents and families of children with complex feeding difficulties - childfeeding.org. This free website provides information and support to families any time of the day or night, exactly when and where they need it most.
     
  4. Healthy Housing Project
    This project is committed to improving Aboriginal child health and wellbeing. Through it, we are developing an integrated care pathway that connects families, child health, social and housing services. The pathway will include a brief housing screening assessment and decision tree, with actions including referral to appropriate agency contact points for particular housing issues and provision of supporting information. This project is a unique opportunity for NGOs, clinicians, researchers and distinct government organisations to collaborate to improve the housing situations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children at risk of poor health due to housing problems.
     
  5. Care Close to Home
    This project has been set up to improve the care that children in rural areas receive. In particular, those with complex medical conditions that need to be transferred to a local care facility. This project aims to collaborate with healthcare representatives on a shared model of care and improve communication between health and social care services by increasing the utilisation in rural and remote areas to telehealth services by CNCs (Clinical Nurse Consultants), paediatricians, PHNs and GPs to increase their professional capacity and confidence to deal with complex health needs of their patients.

Team

The ELDoH CAG is made up of professors, senior clinicians, chief executives and policy makers. Our team includes 162 members from 13 of the 14 partner organisations.

We engage front line workers, policy makers and key priority setters from a range of organisations including: the NSW Ministry of Health, NSW Department of Family and Community Services, NSW Refugee Health, NSW Department of Education, Settlement Services International, Migrant Resource Centre and Housing NSW.

We have also partnered with several refugee, justice and childhood development organisations across the country and internationally.

Through these engagements, we are listening to what patients, service providers and policy-makers want. These collaborations will ensure we develop integrated services that consider every stage of a child’s development. They will also ensure every family gets better value from early life services across the country.

Vision

To engage and embed research findings about modifiable early life determinants in practice and policy settings that improve equity and value.

Development Research Reach

The Watch Me Grow surveillance app enables better co-ordination between families and service providers. It supports shared decision-making with parents. And can be extended across the country, leading to a national framework that monitors the development of all children - regardless of their background or postcode.

Seed funding awarded to 3 projects resulting in excellent outcomes. The main outcome was the successful application for an $800,000 grant from the Autism CRC to expand the Watch Me Grow app into an Autism surveillance project, a cluster-randomised trial run across two states which will use the Watch Me Grow app to screen children while they are in their doctors’ waiting rooms. Through this funding, we will engage with children, young people and families to co-create an equity-focused research strategy. The findings of which will be translated into scalable programs and major grants that fulfil our vision.

The Happy Healthy Ready Project in the South East has improved access to developmental surveillance for vulnerable populations. Through our partnerships with multicultural playgroups and health services, we have been able to reach children from families who are not engaged with mainstream services.

Give every child the best start:

For more information on the work of our CAG, contact Jerzy Zeiba, Project Officer.