Early intervention program gives high risk babies much needed support

The Geelong Community Foundation provide many grants annually to fund projects and programs for the benefit of the community. One recipient from the 2018 grant allocation is the Kids Plus Foundation who provide specialist services to children with special needs and their family. A grant of $20,000 has been given to the Kids Plus Foundation to go toward the support of babies who have a high risk of neurodevelopmental disorder.

A catch up with Shaun Cannon, CEO, Kids Plus Foundation

Tell us about your organisation and what you do?
Kids Plus Foundation (KPF) provides early treatment and specific intervention strategies to improve children’s abilities across a range of developmental areas. We specialise in interventions across the life-span for babies, children and young people with cerebral palsy and similar neurological disorders.

KPF offers physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech pathology, music therapy and social work programs and supports. Our focus is to work in partnership with families to understand their individual needs, values and abilities. Our service aims to empower families and improve capability in order to maximise potential and enhance participation in everyday activities. We care about improving quality of life and celebrating success as children learn, grow and develop.

What was your intention for the Geelong Community Foundation grant?
Geelong Community Foundation provided funding to support the Kids Plus Baby Program (KPBP). The program is an early intervention initiative aimed at supporting babies (and their families) at high risk of having a significant neurodevelopmental disorder. The program targets babies that are extremely premature (<29 weeks), have low birth weight (<1500 grams) or who have been diagnosed with a brain injury. The majority of babies in the KPBP will display characteristics associated with cerebral palsy. The program is a surveillance and intervention program whereby Kids Plus senior therapists monitor the baby during the first year of life and provide support and guidance to parents to help care for their child. The program typically involves either fortnightly or monthly home visitations and assessments involving the baby, their family and medical personnel.

How will the grant be used and how many families and children will it support?
The grant will provide support to 15 families across the Geelong region over a 12-month period.

What has been your feedback from clients about your services?
Parents report that they value that the:

  • service is provided in a timely manner; KPF aims to see a baby within two weeks of referral and can see them in the Special Care nursery before discharge if appropriate
  • service is delivered at the family home (and or hospital if required) – particularly important for medically unstable babies e.g. on oxygen, and for families establishing their normal life routines after months in a hospital environment
  • KPF therapy team work as a team, each with established expertise and experience in delivering support and interventions

What type of support do you provide the family and infant?
The program is delivered by senior therapists who have had post graduate training in the assessment and treatment of infants. Importantly, therapists are certified in using the assessment tools to predict early on which infants may be at the highest risk on longer term impairments.

Assessments are completed at regular intervals and developmental support and intervention is individualised based on the needs of the baby and family. It can vary from weekly intervention for a baby diagnosed with cerebral palsy to bimonthly surveillance and developmental support for an infant with extreme prematurity who is achieving developmentally age appropriate skills. Support can vary – for example, guidance on feeding by the speech pathologist or learning motor skills by the physiotherapist.

Support for parents is also crucial in the early months after hospital discharge and this is embedded in the practice of the therapists. As the baby’s developmental trajectory is more apparent, parents are assisted with learning skills to care for their child in the home, the referral process into the NDIS, and identifying other community support pathways.

Being the only organisation of its kind, what challenges have you come up against?
The baby program is reliant on community support. For the time being there is no public funding available to provide the support required at this early juncture in the child’s development. There is a growing body of research indicating the benefit of “early” early intervention to babies as this can influence the neural plasticity of the brain, leading to better long-term outcomes in learning motor skills. Thus, funding from the Foundation has a significant impact on the long-term development of the infants that take part in the program.

KPF has delivered the Baby Program for three years. We are keen to further research and understand the impact of early intervention on parental mental health and child developmental outcomes in young children with cerebral palsy. Evidence and justification for this early intervention model of care and its outcomes is keenly sought. With greater empirical evidence, the Kids Plus Baby Program has the potential to be adopted more widely across other health and disability services.

Esther & Kids Plus Foundation

If you would like more information on Kids Plus Foundation, please got to https://www.kidsplus.org.au/

If you would like more information or to make a donation to Geelong Community Foundation, please go to https://www.geelongfoundation.org/giving