Behind Queensland’s first online Child Health Nurse-led service

At the start of 2021, registered nurse Rebecca Bradshaw launched Rural Child Health, Queensland’s first online child health nurse-led service offering healthcare and support to rural families.

A longstanding passion for helping rural families inspired Rebecca, a Child Health Nurse for the past 13 years who has worked across both rural and metropolitan settings, to create the unique service.

“I loved being a Child Health Nurse and after working in metro I realised how significant the gap in service equality is between metro and rural,” she explains.

“I wanted rural families to have access to more services and professionals without the six-week wait times that most rural services have.”

“COVID-19 was fresh in our world and I really felt for all the new and experienced mums who were at home feeling socially and physically isolated and I wanted to bring the service to them, in their homes.”

Rural Child Health offers individual consultations for all things relating to child and family health. Part of the nurse-led service links families with other local health services and health professionals who also deliver care via telehealth.

Rebecca used to run the service at the local pharmacy but says since shifting exclusively online it has increased her scope to be able to support and educate rural families not just in Queensland but across Australia.

“Because I am bringing healthcare to them, their lifestyle and location does not determine the level of care they can access. I am breaking down this barrier for them,” she says proudly.

Undoubtedly, the biggest challenge has been raising awareness about the service.

“My biggest challenge has been getting awareness out to the isolated families about who I am and what I do. As it’s the first of its kind in Queensland, many people do not yet know that this service is available and accessible.”

What does a typical day on the job look like?

Rebecca says it can include reviewing parent questionnaire answers new families complete to give her a snapshot of their family and linking in to Zoom calls to support and provide information to families on a range of child health issues such as breastfeeding, feeding, sleep, maternal mental health, growth and development, and domestic and family violence. Above all, she is on call to listen to rural mums and provide a safe space for them to be heard as they navigate the challenges of parenting.

“A huge part of our roles as Maternal Child Health Nurses is family support,” she explains.

“To me it’s important that this Child Health Service is run by a Child Health Nurse because we know what our core values and principles are and we know what our families want and need to access to be happier, healthier and more connected.”

Rebecca says telehealth offers a unique platform to deliver healthcare that is mostly beneficial for rural families.

“Families can access professional healthcare in the comfort of their own home. The mums are less stressed as they haven’t had to travel 100’s of kilometres to get to the appointment, and they are in their own environment, so already feel more relaxed.

“When interacting with toddlers for growth and developmental assessments, they have their own toys and are at home in their own environment so they feel safe and secure and interact freely with me online as this generation of kids are very confident in using screens. The two biggest disadvantages [of telehealth] are I am unable to provide a physical gesture of comfort when mums become upset or overwhelmed and we all know that the internet in rural areas can be suboptimal at times.”

Born and bred in central Queensland, Rebecca believes her rural upbringing has also played a role in the success of the service.

“It’s really important to me also that this service is led by someone with a rural background and a passion, love and appreciation of the challenges our rural families face so they can relate to and understand just how unique it is to raise a family in the rural setting,” she says.

“I think rural people are resilient, honest, hardworking and generally good natured.”

“My father had a significant farming accident when I was a child and, unfortunately, spent a lot of time away from home as part of his recovery. When he transitioned home, the local nurses were amazing and we need to continue to have great health professionals in our rural areas so our families can remain healthy and together.”

Rebecca, who also works in the public sector as a Clinical Facilitator supporting and mentoring first-year practice nurses, was earlier this year named the Queensland winner of the 2022 AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award for her work in establishing the service. She is now also a finalist to take out the national award, announced in September.

“It was such an honour and privilege to be named the Qld winner,” Rebecca recalls.

“It was exciting to have other people be excited about and believe in what I’m doing. It is amazing to be a part of an incredible network of women who are inspiring, motivated and focused on rural families. The grant will go towards a website for Rural Child Health so more people can find me and know about the service to access it. It will also be used to fund a pilot parenting program to run free for rural and remote families.”

Looking ahead, Rebecca says she hopes to continue raising awareness about the service so that she can support as many rural mums as possible.

“They are the wheels that keep the farms and families turning and the most incredibly strong, innovated, adaptable and resilient people,” she says.

“I love helping and supporting them to thrive through motherhood, not simply survive it. I also love seeing the babies grow and develop into toddlers and beyond… it really is such a privilege to be alongside someone on their parenting journey.”

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