Getting in early to lift cycle of care

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On-the-spot care: Paediatrician Penny Stevens with Simone and Kyle Dooley at Hastings Primary School. Picture: Yanni

A program under which children receive care and advice from paediatricians at school – rather than having to visit a hospital or clinic – is being hailed a success after 12 months.

The outreach strategy is aimed at children and parents in low socio-economic areas who cannot easily access such a specialist service.

In many cases parents would not be able to pay for the service or be able to transport their child.

Behavioural development issues may also work to frustrate attendance.

Four areas chosen for this collaboration between Peninsula Health and schools are Hastings, Frankston North, Rosebud and Mornington Park. The service has been able to expand with the help of Menzies – Caring for Kids.

Paediatricians visit primary schools in these areas weekly to discuss a range of issues with children identified by the school, as well as their parents. “We do case conferencing with their parents and teachers so we are all on the same page,” Peninsula Health’s clinical director of paediatrics Kathy McMahon said.

“We aim to provide expert care and management in a timely way, and their parents are grateful for it.”

Last year 1000 pupils were counselled and paediatricians made 300 appointments in the first term.

“Previously, when the service was being run in hospitals, sometimes the kids never came, and we would have trouble getting in touch with their schools,” Ms McMahon said.

“Now we all sit around a table to discuss a child’s development and medical problems.”

The children’s backgrounds provide a clue to their situation: about 20 per cent are from families where their two parents remain together, and 50 per cent are already involved with the Department of Health and Human Services.

“Some are real hard core, with lots of bad stuff happening in their families,” Ms McMahon said.

“Our program aims to give them the best aspects of care and education; to get them out of that cycle.

“It’s a long-term project and we have had a 50 per cent improvement this year.”

Ms McMahon said she has had discussions with local GPs about joining in the program, as well as possibly involving social workers to grapple with social issues.

Another improvement in the service would be assessing pre-school children so they are not “behind the eight ball” when they begin school.

“The earlier you can provide intervention with development issues or speech pathology the better the long-term outcome,” she said.

First published in the Southern Peninsula News – 12 June 2018

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