The Study of Environment on Aboriginal Resilience and Child Health (SEARCH) is a long term research partnership involving 1600 urban Aboriginal children and their families in NSW.
Study partners include Aboriginal community controlled health services, the Sax Institute, the Aboriginal Health & Medical Research Council (AH&MRC) and researchers, who are focused on addressing the knowledge gap around the health of urban Aboriginal kids and families. The information discovered as a result of the Study is then used to improve programs, services and health outcomes for those involved in the Indigenous healthcare sector.
“The bulk of the health gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians has its origin in childhood and adolescence, but before SEARCH there was little information on the health and wellbeing of urban Aboriginal children and families,” said Ms Sandra Bailey, CEO of the AH&MRC.
“Working on issues identified by Aboriginal health services as priorities, the SEARCH partners have not only been able to better understand the causes of ill-health and disease among urban Aboriginal children but Aboriginal community controlled health services have been able to use the information to deliver targeted services that are making a real difference to their communities.”
"Aboriginal community controlled health services have been able to use the information to deliver targeted services that are making a real difference to their communities."
One of the flagship programs developed as a result of SEARCH is the Hearing EAr health and Language Services (HEALS) program. With Indigenous children experiencing middle ear disease earlier, more often and with more complications than non-Indigenous children, HEALS is designed to address these issues by delivering ear nose and throat (ENT) surgery and speech and language services to kids in need.
If left untreated middle ear disease can lead to hearing loss, speech and language delays, and can hamper the kids’ ability to learn. HEALS has so far delivered more than 7000 speech and language services and ENT procedures to over 800 kids.
At the recent SEARCH annual conference, Aboriginal Medical Service staff and researchers came together to discuss Aboriginal kids’ health issues. A panel discussion heard a number of personal stories from participants about the impact of middle ear disease on their children’s development, and the need to get ear, language and speech problems resolved as quickly as possible to benefit kids’ development and education.
Latoya Terry, a Wiradjuri woman working at the RivMed Aboriginal Medical Service in Wagga Wagga, NSW, has seen the difference the HEALS program has made. “Working at RivMed I’ve seen kids go through the program and improve in their speech therapy and improve in their hearing. At school their grades have improved heaps and they are achieving so much more,” she said.
Tallulah Lett is a Kamilaroi and Bundjalung woman who works at the Tharawal Aboriginal Corporation in Campbelltown in south west Sydney. As well as being the practice manager at Tharawal she is the mother to four children, two of whom are part of the SEARCH study - her daughter Marla Rai and son Zayden.
“[In school] my boy has been branded as the naughty one, but he is actually not the naughty one – he’s the one who needs grommets [in his ears] and help with his speech.”
Tallulah told the conference about the challenges her son has faced as a result of middle ear disease. “[In school] my boy has been branded as the naughty one, but he is actually not the naughty one – he’s the one who needs grommets [in his ears] and help with his speech.”
Tallulah also spoke about the important role the HEALS program has had at Tharawal – not just for the kids involved, but also in helping to build essential relationships with the local hospital.
“Having HEALS active in Tharawal has been key to closing the gap between us and the hospital system… since HEALS has come on board we’ve started to develop a referral pathway. There were 184 children in our community that needed ENT surgery – the hospital was shocked by this, but this need has always been part of the community,” she said.
Tharawal Aboriginal Corporation CEO, Mr Darryl Wright, said SEARCH was having a real impact, with the data being used by staff at his AMS to provide better services.
“SEARCH is effective because it is an active partnership between Aboriginal health services and researchers, where health services like us set the research priorities and work collaboratively to develop interventions to address the problems identified,” said Mr Wright.
“I’ve seen the difference in my community at Tharawal, with kids getting the services they need so they don’t fall behind. As an Aboriginal Medical Service, it has also given us crucial data and information that can be used across our entire community.”
“We know now that the SEARCH partnership model is one that could be rolled out across the country, to give even more Aboriginal communities the information and decision making powers to address local health and social issues”.