The COVID-19 pandemic is having a huge impact on many families, from changing their routines, to changes in their schooling and in their usual support systems. For the many kids in rural and remote communities with a disability, this disruption can cause great unrest and heightened and often difficult behaviours.
Prioritising the safety, health and wellbeing of country kids and families, in March we suspended our services in Manly and in-community and thought long and hard about how we could innovate our face-to-face programs to support kids with mild and moderate disabilities while they stay at home.
Earlier this month our Business Director Jacqui Emery had a great chat with radio station 2AAA’s Marguerite McKinnon about children and families in the Wagga Wagga, Junee, Coolamon and Gundagai areas accessing our Virtual Programs.
Well on 2AAA FM, face-to-face programs for businesses and organisations including charities, not surprisingly, have been drastically cut back under the current restrictions. But, for charities like Royal Far West, they know the need is still ongoing, and the solution has been found in technology. To tell us more about it, I’m joined on the phone by Royal Far West’s Business Director, Jacqui Emery.
Hi Jacqui, lovely to speak with you again, and thanks for your time.
Oh, thank you Marguerite. It’s lovely to speak to you. Always great to be on your program.
Oh lovely. Look could you please start Jacqui by explaining how Royal Far West helps children in regional areas, particularly in our part of the world, Wagga, Junee, Coolamon and Gundagai?
Yes, thanks Marguerite. As you, and many of your listeners will know, we’ve been working and supporting country children and their families for almost a hundred years. We’re in our 95th year and certainly in most recent times we’re really looking after children’s developmental health. That might be things that are really stopping them from really prospering in life. Day to day things like making friends, doing well at school, tying their shoelaces, being able to communicate effectively, all of those basic skills, foundational skills that are really important to have a great trajectory in life. So, we’re doing that in a whole range of different ways. For children with more complex needs, they’re the children that often come down and visit us in Manly and spend the week with us with their family. We help assess and diagnose what might be going on with those children. Then that puts them on a wonderful pathway to care.
But increasingly over recent years we’ve been delivering both screening assessment and therapy into children’s schools. And we often see children once a week for a whole term and often over two terms. In fact, earlier this year, we were delivering about 500 sessions per week across New South Wales, parts of Queensland and WA. In your lovely area of the world, which is just such a beautiful part of New South Wales, we look after about 239 children per year, and since COVID-19, many of those children have transitioned from face-to-face services into online services.
I’m interested to see how you will be impacted when the state government relaxes those restrictions, particularly relating to school. Would you fall into that category?
Oh, absolutely. Look, it’s really important, particularly because some country families have trouble accessing high speed internet, which is necessary to deliver a great service. So that’s one of the reasons why we deliver services into schools, because they generally have reliable internet, and for us it’s also a great opportunity to build the capacity and help upskill teachers to better support children. I’ve got to say, teachers are just so amazing as we’ve seen in these classes. What a tough job they have, but they do it so well, and certainly in our world, the teacher is often really the pivotal person who might actually pick up that a child has a developmental challenge, and that’s where we step in and it’s very much a working team with the family, the teacher and Royal Far West to get that child to where they need to be.
Royal Far West has now launched a new program, a Windmill disability program online. And it’s a targeted program isn’t it? Could you tell us how it works?
Yes, so Windmill has been going for about 18 months and it’s for children with mild to moderate disability who have an NDIS plan, and we generally support children between the ages of two and 12. It’s for areas such as intellectual disability and delay, autism or other types of developmental delay. The program’s a bit different to some of our other programs because it’s very much family driven. It’s about, what are the goals of the family for their child. So, we work with families to really understand those goals and then we develop a tailored plan in order to do that. Since the inception of the program we’ve had face-to-face versions, and we have always had the tele therapy option as well.
Over the last 12 months we’ve really grown our holiday disability camps in Manly (where we all work), and that’s a great respite for families as well. But now of course in the COVID world we’ve had to switch all of those to online. There’s a couple of different options for families. The first is really a replication of what we do in Manly but using online methods. That’s our Virtual Immersion Therapy program. It’s an holistic program. So, involved in that program will be a Speech Therapist, an Occupational Therapist, a Clinical Psychologist, and possibly a Social Worker or Special Ed Clinician who may be involved in the care of that child working with the family.
The program will start with an online meeting with all of those clinicians to understand the family situation and what their goals are for their child. After that there will be a number of different sessions with each of those different clinicians with the child online, and they work through an intensive program to address those goals of the children, and also helping the parents, giving them strategies about how to help. It’s quite an intensive program, and the family can either choose to do that over a four-week or two-week period depending on how they can balance those needs.
The other one is more of our standard Telecare Windmill Program. That’s normally a singular discipline. So, a child may have a significant speech delay and they’ll work with a Speech Therapist once a week for a 45-minute session over a period of a school term. That might extend, depending on the nature and the level of the NDIS plan that that child has. So, there’s lots of different options. It’s very much about the family’s needs and what they want, and we will work with them in a very customised way to develop a program specifically for them.
Indeed, that’s a lot of work there. So basically, you’re adapting really well and congratulations Royal Far West, been going as you mentioned since 1924. Six years away from your centenary. It’s an amazing achievement and the current circumstances have caused you to change things. So, you look after 10,000 people last year, that’s a lot. Do you think these new measures, can you reach all those 10,000 people?
Absolutely. Of course, there are barriers around, internet strength is probably the biggest barrier for country communities, because having good enough internet so that they can actually access video, is important to make these programs successful. We’ve been overwhelmed by the interest already and the take-up of these online services. But, as I mentioned earlier, we’re really leading the way in this. We’ve been doing our vision of telehealth, which we call Telecare, since 2014 and we deliver 500 sessions per week even outside of these times. So, we’re pretty experienced at doing this. So, for us the transition has been relatively seamless. However, with our face-to-face programs, there is a lot of work, and our whole team are working and going gangbusters to make sure that we can deliver those programs just as effectively online.
Jacqui, thank you for speaking on Friday Magazine. If people need more information, where should they go?
They should absolutely give us a call. We can help them through this. Sometimes this can be a bit overwhelming, but it’s actually not that difficult. We’ve got people in place who can help families set this up step by step.
If you’d like to find out more about our Windmill Virtual Immersion program, please visit our webpage
Or call us on 1800 500 061.