Reduced care concerns

Michelle Crowther, a local mother and women’s health physiotherapist, spelled out the concerns for reduced MCH appointments in Casey. Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS 390923_02

By Violet Li

Casey mums are questioning when the council’s maternal health checks would be fully restored as their newborns keep missing out on critical services, despite the council claiming a full restoration from December 2023.

The Maternal and Child Health (MCH) service, a free program provided by the local councils, supports families with child health information and developmental checks from birth to the age of six. The program offers 10 appointments at key stages from two weeks old to three and a half years old.

Michelle Crowther, a local mother and women’s health physiotherapist, noticed many of her clients, pregnant and postnatal women, raised concerns about their reduced MCH appointments.

“I know my friend’s daughter has just had a baby and couldn’t get the visits in Casey, so she’s going to Frankston Council to get the visits done,” she said.

“And then I had another patient who told me she could not get any visit about six weeks ago.”

Ms Crowther understood that Casey struggled to provide the full service during Covid, but what confounded her was that Casey didn’t seem to expand the programs after Covid.

Casey was one of the local councils hit hard by Covid due to nurse shortages, with a record 12 per cent decrease in participation in the MCH service in 2022/23.

The council has worked gradually to restore the delivery of the service, with its 2022-23 Annual Report stating that ‘following a period of reduced service offering to the zero to eight week age group from October 2022, this has now increased to zero to 18 months age group at the end of June 2023’.

However, Ms Crowther believed it was not entirely the case.

“My clients and the feedback I received online all said their care was limited to four to 12 months and parents had not been contacted to resume visits,” she said.

After raising her confusion at the February council meeting, she was told that the service had been fully restored, but the council did acknowledge a workforce shortage.

When inquired by Star News, City of Casey manager child, youth, and family Bronwyn Saffron said that the council recommenced its full MCH service from December 2023, which echoed what Ms Crowther had been told at the meeting.

Baffled by the response, Ms Crowther posted posts on the local Facebook page after the meeting and a lot of new mums replied with the same experience.

A mother with a 20-month-old kid did not get a call or a message for an 18-month check-up.

Another commented that she just tried to make an appointment for her almost 18-month-old and was told no service could be provided now.

Ms Crowther said the services were critical for detecting early development disorders.

“I got contacted by someone who works in childcare, saying they noticed at the childcare that the child wasn’t walking or crawling like they should be. And today, when they mentioned it to the parents, they just thought they were just a bit behind, but actually, the baby had hip dysplasia,” she said.

“And by not having that diagnosed early and not getting the right treatment early, that’s something that will affect that child for the rest of their life.

“I would like to know when the full MCH services that other Victorian children receive will be fully restored and if Casey Council will contact toddlers whose care was reduced to resume their visits.”

Ms Saffron, from the City of Casey, said the council recently employed seven new MCH nurses, and more appointments were becoming available.

“Although we are excited about the large number of new MCH nurses appointed, we will continue to work closely with the Victorian Department of Health, Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV), Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, and Safer Care Victoria to resolve workforce issues, which includes council supporting MCH student placements,” she said.

“Council is committed to supporting all families and parents in our community and continues to provide free first-time parents’ groups, sleep and settling support, breastfeeding (lactation) support, and online workshops for the introduction of foods. Council’s Enhanced MCH Team also provides additional in-home support for parents who are referred to the council by an MCH nurse, GP, or other health professionals.

“Parents of older children who in the past have not been able to get an appointment, are encouraged to call the central booking number on 9705 5590.”