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Young First Nations children in Cape York region get healthy start to life

Published 25 March 2024

First 1,000 Days program strengthens social and emotional wellbeing for families

New program provides targeted support for women and children in the NPA.

First Nations families in the Cape York region are receiving more timely access to care thanks to a new program providing targeted support for women and children in their first 1,000 days. 

The First 1,000 Days Social and Emotional Wellbeing program is funded by Northern Queensland Primary Health Network (NQPHN) and aligns with the Better Health North Queensland (NQ) Alliance First 1,000 Days Framework.  

The program focuses on maternal and child health, and the social and emotional wellbeing of mothers, fathers, carers, and children to help reduce health inequities and ensure all children in the region have a healthy start to life. 

NQPHN Chief Executive Officer Sean Rooney said the first 1,000 days was a critical time in a child’s life, with early experiences being a predictor of health, development, education, and social outcomes, both in childhood and later in life. 

“The first 1,000 days is defined as the period from conception through to a child’s second birthday. During this period, parents and children may receive access to a range of care and supports, including pregnancy care, birthing, post-birth care, and child development,” Mr Rooney said. 

“The program aims to improve health outcomes for First Nations families and communities by providing care coordination and improving access to primary health care, including culturally appropriate mainstream services, while keeping them connected to their community. 

“It allows mothers, fathers, and children to stay in touch with their communities and support systems while they are away to have their babies.” 

Mr Rooney said NQPHN had worked with Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs), Hospital and Health Services (HHSs), the Department of Education and Early Childhood, Tropical Public Health, the Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council (QAIHC), and digital health organisations from across northern Queensland to collaboratively codesign and develop the new models of care so they are relevant to each community. 

In the Cape York region, Northern Peninsula Area Family and Community Services (NPAFACS) is delivering the program and since implementation has co-ordinated care for more than 40 NPA mothers and their young children. 

First 1,000 Days program strengthens social and emotional wellbeing for families in the NPA
An aerial photograph of the five communities of NPA including Bamaga, Seisia, Injinoo, New Mapoon, and Umagico.

NPAFACS Project Manager Health Projects Ugari Nona said children from birth to four years old made up 6.3 per cent of the population in Queensland, but in the NPA region they made up 14.4 per cent of the population.   

“We don’t have birthing facilities in the NPA, so women either go to Cairns, Thursday Island, or Townsville to birth their babies,” Ms Nona said. “This can mean they are away from their communities, sometimes for many weeks, at this crucial time in their family’s lives. 

“When we saw the opportunity to be part of the First 1,000 Days program, we knew it would help ensure that mothers, children, dads, and families had someone watching out for them and linking them to the resources they needed in those early days from birth to a child’s second birthday. 

“Before we started the program, we went into our communities to hear from women about their birth experiences and the social contexts that either helped them and their children thrive, or imposed challenges on them, their babies, and their families.   

“We heard from more than 62 women over eight groups and 19 men over two groups. One of our strongest findings is the importance of sustaining women’s connection to each other during pregnancy and birth, with one of their strongest desires to be able to birth our babies in the Northern Peninsula Area.”   

Meanwhile, Mookai Rosie Bi-Bayan Aboriginal Corporation is supporting Cape York and Torres Strait women, many who may experience difficult births. Mookai Rosie has seen more than 20 women and children from the Cape York and Torres regions through the First 1,000 Days program. 

CEO Theresa Simpson said Mookai Rosie’s integrated team maternity care model would not only be delivered in Cairns, but also into communities. 

“We are very excited to be a part of the wraparound multidisciplinary model that creates a culturally safe and supported environment with comprehensive continuity of care options for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” Ms Simpson said. 

“We are also excited to be able to develop the capacity, capability, and confidence of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce so care provision is safe now and into the future.    

“Our NQPHN-funded mental health practitioners will work with GPs, nurses, midwives, health workers, and healthcare partners to identify a wide range of risk factors contributing to a family’s pregnancy outcomes.  

“Early identification will enable the implementation of codesigned strategies to address these risks, enhancing family health across the first 1,000 days.”  

Mr Rooney said NQPHN was committed to working with First Nations organisations to develop models of care that best supported the needs of their communities. 

The First 1,000 Days program aligns with the NQ First 1,000 Days Framework and the National Strategic Framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ Mental Health and Social and Emotional Wellbeing 2017–2023. The NQ First 1,000 Days Framework was developed by the Better Health NQ Alliance, including key partner Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service (TCHHS). 

Last updated: 25 March 2024