Nurse practitioner service expands to help more homeless children and families

A pilot nurse practitioner program led by Flinders University in partnership with United Care Wesley Bowden (UCWB) is expanding to two other metropolitan sites, providing more early intervention and health support for families living with housing stress and instability.

The part-time program, led by Caring Futures Institute research and child and adolescent nursing expert Dr Yvonne Parry, was established at UCWB’s Marion office a year ago and will now extend to two other sites thanks to a grant from the Channel 7 Children’s Research Foundation.

The nurse practitioner service is one of 18 projects to share in $1.5 million in funding from the research foundation, assisting research into children’s health, education and welfare.

In the past year the nurse practitioner has consulted on average one day per fortnight at UCWB’s Marion office, providing full paediatric health assessments to 74 homeless children (0-18 years) or children living in housing instability and their families.

Dr Parry says the recent grant will provide more early intervention and health support for marginalised families in a setting on the ‘coalface’ where nurses can “operate in their full scope of practice”.

Researcher Nina Sivertsen, left, Dr Yvonne Parry, and Alicia Bell, the nurse practitioner who has been carrying out the service at UCWB.

It will also give Flinders researchers insights into areas of demand and health needs in other metropolitan areas.

“These structured, community embedded interventions by a nurse practitioner with the skills to provide advanced paediatric full health assessments of children aged 0-18 living in housing instability, provides important health pathways to ensure their development and long-term wellbeing,” Dr Parry says.

It is estimated that 22% of Australian children live in temporary or precarious living conditions, with families hit harder by unemployment and other problems created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr Parry leads an internationally renowned team researching children and families and the impacts of childhood disadvantage.

The children assessed through the UCWB nurse practitioner service are found to have skipped health checks, vaccinations, and even nutritional meals.

They may not have had regular appointments with a GP and have poorer access to health services, leading to more physical and mental health issues and increased emergency department presentations.

UCWB’s homelessness services support about 700 people each year of which around 150 are children aged under nine.

The nurse practitioner services has found that overall almost a quarter of children presented with severe health conditions requiring an immediate response such as chronic dental caries and craniosynostosis – a birth defect in a baby’s skull.

Only 6% of the children were fully immunised.

UCWB chief executive Fiona Kelly says extending the nurse practitioner service to additional locations will make it easier for families to access free healthcare while going through extremely difficult times.

“Having a nurse practitioner working alongside our social workers will enable us to intervene early to disrupt patterns of ill health for these families,” she adds.

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