Aboriginal Case Manager, Annette Gaulton was late for the interview – but she had a good reason. The very pregnant mother of one of her Royal Children’s Hospital patients urgently needed to be taken to the Royal Women’s Hospital.
That’s the nature of Annette’s job, to provide whatever support is needed to ensure the best outcomes for sick Aboriginal children and their families.
Annette is a proud Kooma woman from southwest Queensland, determined to make the most of the education her parents fought to ensure she received. Arriving in Melbourne in 1995 with two small children and limited funds in her pocket she set about finding a job and setting up the family. For the next 20 years she worked in Victoria in various organisations and was ready to return back to Queensland, until an acquaintance mentioned a vacant role in the Aboriginal service at The Royal Children’s Hospital.
“I had never worked with my people before,” Annette said. “But this is about our kids. It’s the best job I’ve had in my life. I found myself in this role.”
Annette is one of four Aboriginal Case Managers who work closely with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families at Wadja Aboriginal Family Place. Wadja – an Woiwurrung Aboriginal word meaning ‘child/children’ – aims to improve health outcomes for indigenous children and young people by providing a culturally sensitive and responsive service.
Supported by the Good Friday Appeal, the service reduces the barriers that can negatively impact on an Aboriginal family’s capacity to engage with healthcare services.
“I honestly believe that this (the RCH) is the best place for my people to get care for their sick children,” Annette said. “They see that in my eyes and hear it in my voice so that makes them more trusting.”
It is hard to comprehend the enormity of the journey that Aboriginal families often have to navigate their way through when a sick child needs the services provided at the Royal Children’s Hospital. In addition to establishing families’ trust in the medical services, nurturing an ability and willingness to live – sometimes for many months – in a totally different environment is critical for the best health outcomes.
About one in three of the families live over 100 kilometres away from the hospital, some in small, remote communities. Coming into the hustle and bustle not only of the hospital but also the city of Melbourne can be quite a challenge for them. Ensuring patients and families have food, accommodation, suitable clothing, knowledge of public transport and services is all part of the job for the Case Managers.
In addition Case Managers attend weekly Wadja Health clinics at the hospital with patients’ families or carers and a Wadja paediatrician. Program manager Nicola Watt said in a recent survey families and carers had said it made a real difference to have another Aboriginal person in the room with them. In the words of one respondent: ‘I feel very safe and supported, and so does my family, in relation to the health and development of my children’.