PARENTING would be “pretty daunting” without the help of a Maternal and Child Health nurse, Bendigo mother Andrea Rice said.
Her four children range from 20 years of age to two.
Despite being an experienced parent, the 44-year-old mother said she didn’t know what she would do without the assistance of nurse Jennifer Avery.
“It reassures you more than anything that your child’s meeting the milestones,” Ms Rice said.
She had been concerned about her two-year-old son Tommy Ramsay’s speech development.
Though he seemed to have learned a number of words, Ms Rice said he had become reluctant to use them to communicate.
Instead, Tommy had developed a tendency to gesture and grunt.
The appointment eased some of Ms Rice’s concerns by making her aware of a free speech pathology drop-in clinic for children under school age.
Without the Maternal and Child Health service, Ms Rice said she would probably have to rely more on her doctor, or the internet, for answers.
“At least you know when you come here they’ve got the most up-to-date information,” she said.
Though appointments coincide with key age and stages in a child’s life from birth to almost four years of age, Mrs Avery said they were about the family.
Because for the child to be doing well, the rest of the family had to be doing well – especially the mother.
“You get to know a lot of members of the family,” Mrs Avery said.
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The City of Greater Bendigo on Monday celebrated 100 years of Maternal and Child Health nursing in Victoria.
The state government has recognised the service’s importance in recent years by boosting funding.
It this year announced $81.1 million to provide assistance for families in need of extra support.
A total of $133 million was included in last year’s budget, bringing the balance of funding from the state government and local governments closer to 50:50.
Greater Bendigo’s Maternal and Child Health nurses conducted 12,587 key age and stage consultations in 2015/16.
They also performed 1415 home visits, and an additional 1785 consultations.
Expenditure on Maternal and Child Health and enhanced services in Greater Bendigo was $2,579,000 in the 2016/17 budget – more than double the income of $1,122,000.
Participation in the 10 key ages and stages consultations drops off after the first three visits, from 98 per cent at the home visit following birth to 77 per cent at the last milestone, of 3.5 years.
“We know the early years can shape a child’s entire life,” Minister for Families and Children Jenny Mikakos said.
“That’s why our Maternal Child Health service is so critical for first-time parents.”
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Focus for the future
MATERNAL and Child Health nurses in the City of Greater Bendigo provided 1345 hours of service for clients in the enhanced program in 2015/16.
The Enhanced Maternal and Child Health program assists families who need extra support, including those with babies born prematurely, twins and triplets.
It was established in the early 2000s, and provides services in addition to the 10 Key Ages and Stages consultations in the universal service.
About 37,000 vulnerable families access the enhanced service, statewide.
The state government’s $81.1 million funding boost will extend the enhanced program from one year until the child turns three.
According to the Municipal Association of Victoria, the money will also support MCH nurses to undertake additional outreach visits to families at risk of family violence, and provide additional training for nurses to help families experiencing violence or trauma.
The funding will allow for scholarships, to attract additional nurses, and expand supported playgroups statewide.
The MAV said the money would also increase the capacity of the all-hours Maternal and Child Health Line, which is available to support Victorian families with young children.
“Increasing Enhanced Maternal and Child Health services for vulnerable families was a key priority the MAV put to the state government late last year and we are pleased it is now being delivered,” MAV president Mary Lalios said.
“Almost every Victorian would have had some kind of experience with their local MCH service, whether it was as a child or a new parent.
“It is just as important today as it was a century ago.”
Greater Bendigo staff are not yet sure how much of the $81.1 million will be directed to the city’s 13 MCH centres.
One thing community services manager Rod Flavell does know is that there has been an increase in the number of vulnerable families in the community in recent years.
“The biggest shift we’ve noticed on top of what the services is about – looking after children from nought to school age, and all the good work that’s done there – is a shift in the vulnerability of families,” he said.
“Therefore, more funding’s going into particular programs around or within MCH services.”
He said families in the Bendigo community were struggling with all sorts of issues, including mental health, transience, family violence, trauma, alcohol and other drugs.
“We’re talking to our MCH staff about the need for increased outreach services,” Mr Flavell said.
“That’s a really strong focus of our services these days.”
There was a concerted effort to engage young children from vulnerable families in playgroup and kindergarten, to give them the best possible preparation for primary school.
Bendigo’s MCH service also operates new parent groups.
The city’s 29 nurses have a combined 260 years of service.
“Our nurses are highly trained,” Bendigo mayor Margaret O’Rourke said.
“Victoria is the only state in Australia that requires MCH nurses to be midwives as well as nurses, and work to support families in the first few years of a child’s life.”