Improving health and education outcomes for children in remote communities: A cross-sector and developmental evaluation approach
Early childhood is one of the most influential developmental life stages. Attainments at this stage will have implications for the quality of life children experience as they transition to adulthood. Children residing in remote Australia are exposed to socioeconomic disadvantage that can contribute to developmental delays and resultant poorer education and health outcomes. Complex contributing factors in far west New South Wales have resulted in children with speech and fine motor skill delays experiencing no to limited access to allied health services for a number of decades. More recently, growing awareness that no single policy, government agency, or program could effectively respond to these complexities or ensure appropriate allied health service access for children in these communities has led to the development of the Allied Health in Outback Schools Program, which has been operational since 2009. The program is underpinned by cross-sector partnerships and a shared aspirational aim to improve the developmental outcomes of children to enhance their later life opportunities. It was identified early that the initiative had the potential to deliver mutually beneficial outcomes for communities and participating partner organisations.
Over the last five years the program has been the catalyst for partnership consolidation, expansion and diversification. The developmental evaluation approach to continuous program adaptation and refinement has provided valuable insights that have informed health and education policy and enabled the program to be responsive to changing community needs, emerging policy and funding reforms.
This article explores the evolution of the program partnerships, their contribution to program success and longevity, and their capacity to respond to an emergent and dynamic environment. The authors propose that a community-centred and developmental approach to program innovation and implementation in remote locations is required. This is based on the premise that contemporary linear, logic-based policy development and funding allocations, with predetermined program deliverables and outcomes, are no longer capable of responding appropriately to the complexities experienced by remote communities.
Keywords: allied health, remote communities, cross-sectoral partnerships, service learning
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