The Royal Far West say after years of drought, bushfires and now COVID-19, demand for their services that provide healthcare for rural and remote children has grown significantly.
Royal Far West business director Jacqui Emery said they had particularly seen a peak in referrals to their pediatric developmental program, which was for children with complex needs or family situations.
"The other thing we have noticed in the last two years, is a quadrupling of children who are requiring a psychiatric appointment as part of their assessment," she said.
She said anecdotally they had heard from families that the drought has caused a lot of financial stress and pressures.
"I think that the struggle with families suffering financial hardship, is it does have an adverse impact on the parents' well-being, they're carrying all that extra stress and ultimately the stress does filter down to the kids," Ms Emery said.
"If parents are struggling with their mental health, they then have reduced capacity to support their children that have a developmental challenge.
"When parents aren't equipped because of their own, very real, struggles and hardships, it makes it harder for that child to improve.
"Now, with COVID-19 on top of that, people have additional challenges, families don't even have their day to day support of teachers who play an important role in children's lives as well.
"You start talking about double and triple disadvantages for these families that already have to deal with the challenge of isolation and remoteness."
A third had trouble paying for food due to drought
She said they wanted to gather evidence on the impact of drought, so in February they conducted a survey with the 36 families who attend their pediatric developmental program.
"Over a six-week period we asked those families to complete a survey on how the drought has impacted them," Ms Emery said.
The survey found a significant increase in financial stress since the drought, with over a third of respondents having difficulty paying for food and more than half of the families could no longer afford health costs.
The number of adults reporting poor or fair health doubled to over 40 per cent compared to before the drought.
Ms Emery said recent rain had been a source of hope for many families but it was not an instant solution.
"Some have been living in drought conditions for up to seven years," Ms Emery said.
"Families have been living on minimal resources, have increased debt or have completely destocked so it will take time for them to recover.
"Also, the thing to remember about children is often you see these adverse impacts arising quite some time after the event.
"Certainly in bushfires, a lot of children who will have long-term adverse affects, aren't even presenting with those symptoms until as long as 26 months after the actual fire event."
Child centric, family focused
Although, Royal Far West focus their services on children, they said they would continue to raise awareness on the issues facing the whole family.
"We've always been child-centric but family focused," Ms Emery said.
"The children's well-being is linked to the well-being of the family and even the whole community.
"Sometimes country families are so resilient and brave that you don't hear how difficult it is for them.
"One of things we've done to respond to an increase in the referrals, is start to offer more support to parents.
"We now offer emotional coaching, giving parents much-needed tools so they can rebuild their capacity and resilience."
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