Early Years Health Screening in Morwell

Our Place Morwell has successfully initiated and led a health intervention initiative for four-year-old kinder children at Morwell Central’s Goodstart Early learning centre, in a pilot program to be expanded across ages and Early Years centres.

This means children can transition to prep with interventions already in place, ready to learn from their first day at school, according to Jen Doultree, Partnership Manager at Our Place Morwell which brings together Morwell Park Primary, Morwell Central Primary and Goodstart Early Learning.

The initiative was created with the Latrobe Community Health Service, National Disability Insurance Scheme- LINK Early Childhood Approach (NDIS), Goodstart Early Learning and Family Services coming together, facilitated by Our Place Morwell.

The Challenge

“A lot of children are coming into prep with developmental delays and no services in place, so we looked to the four-year-old kinder and look at how we might be able to address some of that,” Jen said.

Currently 66 – 68% of children coming into prep at Morwell Central and Morwell Park Primary Schools need to be referred to a health service, and of those approximately a third need more than one referral.

“We know that children without interventions or support for their developmental delays coming into prep will learn but will not meet their learning milestones and will be unlikely to catch up. They’re always in that lowest percentile, so they improve, but they get further behind as they go too. The divide gets bigger because they have missed the foundation for literacy and numeracy.”

Jen Doultree, Our Place Morwell Partnership Manager

The Opportunity

A process to screen all children in four-year-old kinder was developed through a working group with partner organisations including the Latrobe Community Health Service.

The screening involved Latrobe Community Health Service with an occupational therapist and a speech therapist, who spent time in the kinder room and were provided with background information on the children by the early learning educators who flagged the needs of each.

“This process didn’t exist before,” Jen said. “When we did the first screening, I think it surprised everyone and people were surprised by the level of need by what they saw.”

The screening found 13 children who required follow up comprehensive assessments, and four with complex needs that were immediately referred to the NDIS. Reports and recommendations were made for those children.

“We took the recommendations back to the table with all the service providers saying we know we’ve got a system that’s not highly functioning now. We have got a lot of wait lists,” Jen said.

Together they created criteria to prioritise children based on those recommendations and focused on the most efficient and supportive way of achieving referral appointments with parents.

The Outcome

With all recommendations and referrals completed, five children now have NDIS plans approved, children requiring paediatric assessment have either seen the paediatrician or have an appointment scheduled, children have also seen the continence nurse, Kids Connect and paediatric allied health services at Latrobe Community Health Service.

The Systems Change

The intervention screening program will be embedded into early years at Our Place Morwell, Jen said.

The health and community partners will work with the educators to get background information, facilitated by Our Place. There will be greater sharing of assessments between services such as maternal child health assessment and allied health services such as speech pathology and to access interventions and support more quickly.

“Children might go to a GP, a paediatrician, community health and they’re going to NDIS and maternal child health. Parents struggle to communicate what one clinician has said to another clinician,” Jen said.

“So, we’re looking at using the processes such as My Health Record to get those assessments uploaded and for parents to let clinicians know that those assessments are there, that they can access. So for example, when a child attends a paediatrician they will have the full picture.”

The Impact

Children entering school with complex health needs will have supports in place, ready to learn from day one, Jen said.

“The research says that the earlier that we have the interventions in place, the better the long-term outcomes for their education,” she said.

“Schools will also be able to get the disability inclusion funding in place more quickly, to get education supports in place and be specific about the interventions that they’re doing with that child.

“Even just recognising what the actual diagnosis are so that the prep teacher is aware, so they can adapt their practices as early as possible.

“If we start at the earlier ages and put systems in place, we will map children every year, we’ll get screening days and we’ll try and hopefully just build on the process as a partnership, the more children will be set up to reach their potential.”

The program is being scaled by the Latrobe Community Health Services, with screening days in the community where they get maternal child health, NDIS and LCHS together and do assessments collectively with parents.

This success comes down to bringing the partners together and facilitating the work, a role that Our Place can play in communities.

“That’s the beauty of the Our Place model as a facilitator; the value that we can add in terms of tracking it through, documenting it and supporting and following up with parents. Partners in the system often don’t have the time for that sort of work. We can add that value,” Jen said.