Australia Urgent medical 'intervention' required for homeless children in Adelaide's south

07:36  02 june  2020
07:36  02 june  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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A nurse practitioner embedded with United Care Wesley Bowden's (UCWB) homelessness service has been visiting families with children since December to undertake health assessments.

Health conditions requiring "immediate intervention" ranged from ear, nose and throat infections, chronic dental issues, to a craniosynostosis birth defect — where the plates in a baby's skull do not close properly.

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"It can mean the brain does not develop properly … or sometimes it occurs along with developmental delays," Yvonne Parry, from Flinders University's Caring Futures Institute (CFI), said.

"We've had a child present with tonsils so enlarged that the child is at risk of sleep apnoea."

She said of 60 children — aged up to 18 — assessed in the Marion, Holdfast Bay and Mitcham council areas, only 11 per cent were fully immunised.

Most of the children were aged between four and eight, and 48 per cent were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders.

Dr Parry warned there were "a lot more" in the area that were at risk.

"This is the hidden face of homelessness," she told ABC Radio Adelaide.

"We often think of homelessness and we think of the 7 per cent that are sleeping rough in our cities, but not the rest of the families that are out there sleeping in cars, or couch surfing, or accessing homeless services [such as hotel rooms]."

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Table of Contents Steps Involved in an Intervention Recovery Requires Social Support

Nurse filling the gap

Dr Parry said it was the transient nature of their accommodation that made it difficult for health referrals to be followed through.

"The nurse practitioner service is doing a fantastic job at meeting this gap and linking these children in," she said.

"The nurse practitioner can write scripts for antibiotics, for example, write referrals, and do what other health services have not done to date, which is to follow up on the referrals and liaise with the family to see how it is going."

Dr Parry also warned, however, that while the program showed an increase in child referrals to health services, they could still wait up to three months before the referral was moved to a waiting list.

"If we act early in the life of the child and early in the life of the problems, we save time, money and potential lifelong ill-health," she said.

Further funding sought

UCWB chief executive Fiona Kelly said the program had highlighted the urgent need to deliver health assessments to vulnerable families who might not receive care otherwise.

"Our families often present with complex trauma, mental health and other issues that can inhibit their capacity to navigate the health system," she said.

The program's funding, however, is due to run out in July, and an urgent briefing paper has been prepared for SA Health Minister Stephen Wade.

Dr Parry sought funding to continue the southern service into 2021.

She warned there could be up to 1,000 children in the greater Adelaide Metropolitan area that were homeless or at risk of being homeless.

Dr Parry added it was hard to know the exact number because they generally were not among those adult rough sleepers where the majority of homeless research and service delivery was focussed.

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