it takes a village and cohealth’s child and family health team can help

Posted on 2nd September 2022
Family and Child health website

The old expression claims that “it takes a village to raise a child” and cohealth’s Child and Family Health team can be part of that village. 


Child and Family Health covers a huge variety of paediatric support services for young children and their networks, including Speech Pathologists, Occupational Therapists (OTs), Physiotherapists, Counsellors, Psychologists and HIPPY (Home Interaction Program for Parents and Youngsters).

Anna Wallace, Paediatric Speech Pathologist, and Natalie Tomkins, Paediatric OT, discuss their work and the impact it can have on those facing challenges.

“As an OT,” says Natalie, “I support children from birth to school entry age with mild to moderate delays in their development, whether that’s poor fine motor skills, challenges being independent, as well as difficulties with play skills, sensory processing, attention, emotional regulation and body coordination, just to name a few.”

In Speech Pathology, Anna works with a similar age group to Natalie’s. “I work with children up to school entry age who also have mild to moderate speech difficulties. But in the areas I work, it’s more expressive and receptive language: how they use and understand words. We also look at stuttering, clarity of speech, voice quality, and social interaction from a language perspective.”

Like all cohealth services,  Child and Family Health sees a wide diversity among its clients.

“We work over many different local government areas and our priority is the more vulnerable families who can’t easily access other services,” explains Nat. “We see families with refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds, recent migrants to Australia, those struggling with housing, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, and families grappling with the mental health of the parents.”

“Between Speech Pathology and the OTs, we try to prioritise those vulnerable families, because we’re often the only avenue they have for support for their child[ren],” Anna continues, “and it’s a huge spectrum in terms of accessibility.”

Support for children and families can vary incredibly day-to-day, with the team able to bring many different approaches to their work. But Natalie says that this is part of the fun of the role.

“Treatment can look very different for each child, and that’s the nice thing about it. It might be working towards a little baby using their arms so they can feed themselves independently, or even to help hold the bottle, which then builds the connection between them and their caregiver and reduces the stress and pressure of the experience,” she says.

“Whereas for others, it might be going down to the park and learning how to climb, or going to kinder to work on social interactions and play skills, and some we exclusively see here in the clinic. We want this kind of progress to be enjoyed and achieved for the whole family, not just the child themselves. We try to prioritise those vulnerable families because we’re often the only avenue they have for support for their children.”

“There is that variation between one-on-one support, which is what we mainly do,” adds Anna, “but we do a lot of group work as well. Particularly as kids approach kinder age and head off to school, the approaches around preparing both the child and their parents can be very diverse.”

Using play to support development and learning is a common thread in both Natalie and Anna’s work.

“The power of ‘play’ for young children cannot be underestimated,” says Anna. “We use play a lot to support children because we know there are strong links there with development of language, pretending, imagination, social skills and emotional regulation. It’s also good for families to know that they can go ahead and play with their kids. That’s really helping a lot.”

In recalling their most memorable client interactions, it’s “quite simple” for both Anna and Natalie.

“When mums, dads, grandparents or carers try something a little different with their child,” says Anna.  “The child looks up at their face, and you can see that connection between them shift. They really tune in to what they’re doing differently, and suddenly the parents realise the power of play. That it’s not just a waste of time, or something to keep them occupied when busy. Its power is actually huge. You see the child use a word for the first time, or copy a sound or copy their play, and the parents light up like ‘oooh, I’ve never seen them do that before!’ – that’s wonderful.”

Natalie agrees. “The parents feel guilt and pressure, like they’ve done something wrong. ‘Why won’t my child do what I’m asking them to do?!’. But often, it’s rebuilding their confidence to get them to reframe the way they say or ask things. For example, instead of asking ‘do you want to go to the toilet?’, which is a yes-or-no question, they can say ‘let’s go to the toilet’, which is much more involved and playful in a way.

“It’s not so much that we’ve worked just with that child, but we’ve worked with the whole family to support and achieve their goals.”

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