Speech therapy a talking point in the Mallee

It’s a sobering fact that despite 30% of Australians living in rural areas, only 4.5% of speech pathology practitioners provide services to rural communities. With language delays during early childhood potentially having a long term impact on literacy, quality of life, mental health and social opportunity, assisting rural children to access speech pathology services is paramount.

That’s why Royal Flying Doctor Service, Robinvale District Health Service and Mallee Track Health & Community Service are now working in partnership to support children aged 0–12 years in accessing local speech therapy services.

Commenced in July, the new service involves an initial appointment with a speech pathologist, who conducts an assessment and then develops an ongoing treatment plan to support their speech development. Allied health assistants then support and assist clients to achieve their speech and language goals, with oversight by the speech pathologist via both face-to-face and the secure Flying Doctor Telehealth service.

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Early intervention often leads to improved outcomes, so accurately identifying children with speech and language needs is a crucial part of the process. To assist with this, the program also provides training for early education workers at local schools and centres to assist in identifying children with speech and language needs.

With Australian teachers reporting 1 in 5 school students having a language difficulty when they commence school, ensuring early education staff are confident in referring children and families to the service is a vital piece of the puzzle. 

“While this service is currently operating in Robinvale and Ouyen, there are plans to extend the service to other locations including Sea Lake, Murrayville and Underbool in October and beyond. Until now, these areas have never had a visiting paediatric speech service,” says Lauren Zappa, RFDS Victoria Health Services Manager.

We believe that people living in rural and regional areas shouldn’t be at a disadvantage when it comes to receiving health care. Programs delivered in partnership with local health services make a tangible difference to the lives of many children, and it is services like these that RFDS Victoria is proud to help deliver to rural communities.