Disadvantage in the Bush – a Speech Pathologist’s Perspective

In 2022, I spent 8 months working as a governess in remote Northern Territory. It was an absolute eye opener to the realities of remote living.  Work-life boundaries were blurred, food prices were astronomical and many children attended School of the Air. Prior to my stint as a governess, I was a speech pathologist in a small, rural town in north-west Victoria. I was well attuned to the lack of resources that occur outside of metropolitan areas and the barriers that parents face when accessing services for their children with additional needs. What I was not aware of was how isolated the living is. Children can go weeks without seeing other kids, mothers can go days without talking to another woman and families can go months over the wet season without anyone else. Such isolation plays a huge part on family dynamics, relationships and growth.
From a parent’s perspective- it’s tough. From a child’s perspective it’s even tougher. People often think about education in terms of developing academic skills but equally as important are the social and emotional skills children develop when around other children. Social interaction helps young children form their sense of self and learn about what others expect from them. A lack of social interaction in child development can have massive flow on effects.
In rural Victoria, solving that problem is easy. In my role as a speech pathologist, I assess the child, make some recommendations for the family and often suggest they partake in activities that allow both the child and the family to socialise, to become a part of the community. I might recommend they attend gymnastics, or netball and I’ll hear feedback about how since they’ve started the activity, their social interaction has increased, they’re reaching developmental milestones and the family unit is functioning better. But when you’re out in the middle of nowhere, with no other families for 100s of kilometres, teachers that only know your child through a screen and no access to allied health services- small gaps can soon become big gaps.
For a lot of kids in metropolitan areas they attend daycare, kinder or preschool and are socialising with other kids on a regular basis. They learn to negotiate, form friendships and develop oral language skills. But when living in isolated locations, with no other kids to compare to, no parents to bounce ideas off and no teachers to regularly check-in on student progress – how do we ensure theses kids are getting their basic social needs met? When children play with others, they learn skills that serve them for their whole lives. Children develop skills like sharing, problem-solving and setting boundaries through interacting with their peers. They develop empathy for others and learn how to recognise other people’s emotional states. And this is where the importance of RAISEducation was really highlighted to me.
These families living so remotely need a starting point. They need someone that understands their way of living and can provide immediate practical help. They need playgroups so that their kids can socialise as well as the parents. They need the support of RAISEducation to be able to point them in the right direction, provide tailored services and advocate for those that know their child needs more but they are just not sure what they need.
For me, RAISEducation was about more than just education. It was about acknowledging the gaps that remote families face and filling them to ensure that every child, regardless of their location, gets their needs meet from the beginning.
Deri Singleton
Speech Pathologist & former Governess