When KU Ashmont Preschool and Family Centre opened in Wagga Wagga NSW in August 2020, the purpose-built service includes an integrated clinic-based allied health service.

Speech Pathologist, Sarah Stirton had worked professionally in the Wagga Wagga area for many years and was excited to join the KU team to start the practice from scratch and improve learning outcomes for children needing allied health supports.

“Having lived and worked in Wagga from some time, I was already known to some families and had established good relationships with paediatricians and other health professionals in the area. As such, we didn’t need to do a great deal to promote the clinic, as families tended to follow me, and doctors continued their referrals to me.

There’s a tremendous shortage of allied health services in rural and regional areas and the waiting list at private practices can be anywhere from 3-12 months. Delayed assessments for children’s eligibility to NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) benefits and supports, means children can get left behind in their early education and subsequent schooling. The cost for an initial health assessment for NDIS, let alone the cost of the therapies themselves, can create enormous barriers for families who simply cannot afford it.

We aim to reduce those barriers for families and see children as soon as possible. Seriously, if I need to tell a family they may need to wait 3-4 weeks for an appointment, I feel incredibly aware of their circumstances but know for them, this time is no time compared to waiting times elsewhere.

We have families coming to the clinic from across the Riverina district, with some travelling long distances from West Wyalong, Tumut, Narranderra, Griffith and Junee. It’s often common that families will also have more than one of their children needing support. For instance, one mother has 3 of her 4 children diagnosed with autism on NDIS plans and has needed to gain the additional support of a nanny to help her with everything she needs to do. The community has had to cope with a lot over these last few years, with the drought, the fires, and now COVID-19 when we moved to telehealth services during the lockdown period.

We are seeing at least 35 children at the moment, and we envisage the numbers to grow as we establish the clinic further. Most of the children are aged under 2 years, with two aged 4-5 years old and a couple who are at school. The children I see have non-verbal language difficulties, augmentative and alternative communication systems, early stages of autism, and one has cerebral palsy.

While most of the children are on NDIS plans, we work with some parents to raise awareness of the importance and benefits of seeking professional NDIS assessments and reducing the impact of any associated stigma. Our work also extends to advocating for children and families in the health care sector.”

The KU Ashmont Allied Health Clinic is a part of KU’s Inclusion Programs. Working alongside Sarah at the clinic is a part-time Occupational Therapist and a part-time Early Start Denver Model Therapist. KU Ashmont is located on the traditional lands of the Wiradjuri Nation.

KU Marcia Burgess Foundation is developing a fundraising program to alleviate the cost burden for initial assessments where fees create a barrier for children’s access to paediatric allied health services. If you would like more information about supporting our social impact programs, email foundation@ku.com.au or donate at https://www.ku.com.au/donate-now.