Project Sprouts officially launched to give our kids the best start

Every child deserves the very best start to school and learning.

This is the underlying message behind a new community-led initiative supported by Neighbourhood Central and Royal Far West called Project Sprouts.

On Wednesday, the long-awaited program for the Parkes Shire was officially launched at Holy Family School.

"Today is a very special day," retired school principal and Project Sprouts team member Sheree Rosser said at the launch.

The seeds for Project Sprouts were sown in 2018 when Royal Far West held a 'town hall' style community meeting in Parkes to discuss the confronting findings from its The Invisible Children report about the state of children's developmental health in rural and remote Australia.

With childhood development laying a critical foundation for long-term outcomes, serious concerns were raised by the community around the growing rates of mental health and developmental vulnerabilities in young children in the Parkes region, coupled by the lack of access to services, teacher training and support.

One in five children in the Parkes Shire is developmentally vulnerable and not ready to start school at the age of five, according to Australian Early Development Census Data.

Determined that no child in Parkes would be an 'Invisible Child', Project Sprouts was formed following the meeting.

The project has representatives from schools, preschools, government, business and community organisations, who are keen to create a working model to screen children for developmental health before they start school, to support parents and up-skill local people to better identify children needing early intervention support.

Fiona Francis is the coordinator and her primary focus is to facilitate communication and coordination between families, paediatric health providers and education in the screening and follow-up therapy of children.

She will also encourage community support to improve childhood developmental outcomes through parent communication activities.

Where no local services are available to screen children or up-skill adults, Royal Far West is providing health and developmental screenings - as they did the week of the launch last week across the shire.

They will also be supplying training for teachers, parents and service providers to increase their understanding of child development.

Training to understand behaviour and identify needs was provided to Parkes educators immediately after Wednesday's launch in the school hall.

Tullamore, Trundle, Peak Hill and the Parkes community have all kindly contributed $5000 each to lift the project off the ground. Inland Rail has provided office space and Northparkes Mines has put cash in the bank.

Deputy Mayor Barbara Newton, who is a member of the project team and a rural health advocate and registered nurse, said the Royal Far West's The Invisible Children report shared staggering information about the risks to rural children's development.

"After a few hiccups and a few hurdles, we got there," she said of Project Sprouts.

"[We have different people involved] but we all have one thing in common and that is to help our children have the very best start.

"I've been involved in rural health for 22 years, mainly trying to get health professionals across the mountains.

"People wait for months to get their eyes tested, their teeth checked, but it doesn't happen because of where they live.

"Project Sprouts was established to develop into a referral service linking families and educators to service providers."

Mayor Ken Keith OAM was present at the launch and spoke about the Sunshine Club that used to exist in Parkes and raised about $10 million for Royal Far West in its lifetime.

He said he was pleased to see the work of Royal Far West embraced.

"May it prosper from this day forward and continue to service the children of Parkes," he said.

"There's a greater need for this today than there was 30 years ago."

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