A community-led initiative called Project Sprouts was officially launched on Wednesday. As part of the launch, Royal Far West’s Clinicians-in-Community program held free health and developmental screenings for children aged 3-5 this week.
The seeds for Project Sprouts were planted in 2018, when Royal Far West held a community meeting in Parkes to discuss the confronting findings from its ‘The Invisible Children’ report about the state of children’s developmental health in rural and remote Australia, through the lens of the Parkes Shire.
Serious concerns were raised by the community around the growing rates of mental health and developmental vulnerabilities in young children in the Parkes region, coupled by the lack of access to services, teacher training and support.
Determined that no child in Parkes would be an Invisible Child, Project Sprouts was formed following the meeting as childhood development lays a critical foundation for long-term outcomes. With representatives from local schools, preschools, government, business, and community organisations, the community is keen to create a working model to screen children for developmental health before they start school, to support parents and upskill local people to better identify children needing early intervention support.
“It is very exciting. I can’t believe it is finally happening,” said Deputy Mayor Barbara Newton, who is a founder of Project Sprouts.
“The Invisible Children report was very telling about what children miss out on in rural settings, and with Project Sprouts we want to make access to services better to enable children to have the best start to life available.”
“As a parent, I certainly understand the difficulties of navigating both the health care and education systems for a child with additional needs,” said Sharon Scott, one of five women who initiated the project.
“This is why I became involved. Our wonderful working party has worked hard to provide our community with a co-ordinator who will be there to assist and guide families through the challenges of navigating the health care system; the education system and the challenges of being able to access services in our community.”
“My hope is that the parents in our shire embrace the services that Project Sprouts will provide. I hope that each time we have wonderful services like Royal Far West in our community that our families will take the opportunity to use the service. I also hope that if any of our children do need further referrals, that the Project Sprouts Coordinator, Fiona Francis, will be able to connect them to a local service provider.”
“As the coordinator I am here to support parents accessing paediatric screening and therapy, either virtually or in person, for children across the Parkes Shire,” said Fiona.
“I attended the town hall meeting in 2018 as a parent. It was such a powerful experience to be part of, and to realise I wasn’t alone in the challenges of accessing assessment and support for our children.”
She said Royal Far West Clinicians in Community program would be visiting again in March and May 2021 offering free assessments that include a dental check, a speech and language assessment, a hearing test and a motor skill assessment to give children their best start at school.
Royal Far West will also provide training for teachers, parents and service providers to increase their understanding of child development, which in turn would develop the capacity of our community to be able to identify any developmental concerns and importantly seek out early intervention prior to children starting school.
At the moment Project Sprouts has enough funding to employ Fiona for 15 hours per week at least until June next year. “We will be seeking future sponsors and funding sources so we can continue as an ongoing project,” Fiona said.
“I think the families in our community are very lucky, we have the opportunity to make a difference, to see that our kids don’t become part of the statistics of “The Invisible Children,” said Sharon.
By Maggi Barnard