RAI “Small Towns” Report highlights service gap in rural and remote Australia
Royal Far West welcomes new research from the Regional Australia Institute (RAI) which examines rural and remote disadvantage and access to services from an economic perspective, and finds many small towns overwhelmed by significant dental, mental health and educational achievement issues. This aligns with our recent report The Invisible Children, based on research commissioned from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute Centre for Community Child Health.
The RAI Small Towns Report Card ranks how we as a nation have fared in providing access to 10 essential professionals for residents living in small towns across Australia. The report has found that despite governments spending on programs, it is not reaching the areas that need it the most.
The RAI’s latest report: Pillars of Communities found, as did The Invisible Children, that access to appropriate services, including police, teachers, doctors, nurses, paramedics, dentists, psychologists and social workers is limited in rural and remote Australia. RAI finds that remote and very remote areas have only seen a 7% growth in professionals. The lack of service professionals coincides with higher rates of early childhood issues in rural and remote areas, including child development, dentistry and mental health.
“The RAI Report Card correlates with RFW’s own research, and shows that the effects of disproportionate levels of disadvantage are compounded due to poor access to appropriate allied health services and paediatricians. Early childhood is the period of greatest developmental plasticity and not addressing concerns early can have profound long-term influences,” said Royal Far West CEO Lindsay Cane.
“We welcome all recommendations to address service delivery in small towns, and are working with RAI, government, local communities and private funders to this end. Royal Far West supports the RAI recommendations, particularly community initiatives which align with our Town Halls consultation process and Health Kids Bus Stop program, and delivery of online services, where our telecare program is currently bringing virtual allied health services to hundreds of rural and remote children, and delivering capability building to their teachers and parents.”
RFW sees virtual service delivery methods as critical to meeting the national challenge of providing access to services for small towns and communities, and continue to advocate for a national approach and greater funding for these initiatives. Our own research shows that the highest rate of return in early childhood development comes from investing as early as possible, from birth through age five, in disadvantaged families. Our own technology-based programs, such as telecare, could see significant improvements in service delivery to the most needy areas within just a few years. To this end, RFW and Charles Sturt University today announce that they are partnering in a one year discovery phase that will assess the feasibility of developing a National Paediatric Telecare Centre that will service regional Australia, and allow RFW to scale professional service delivery to 15,000 plus children and families per year.