By Max Davies

THE City of Whittlesea is planning to improve its maternal and child health services, including addressing funding shortages to meet a growing population and a backlog of cases due to COVID-19 lockdowns.

Several issues were outlined in a draft paper commissioned last month and discussed by council administrators and staff at this month’s council meeting.

Administrators voted to endorse a suite of advocacy ‘asks’ to address issues relating to the funding and provision of maternal and child health services within council’s operational advocacy framework.

The service is a free universal primary health service for all Victorian families with children from newborns to school age aimed at optimising health, wellbeing, safety, development and learning outcomes for children and their families.

Administrators voted to endorse a draft Interface Councils Maternal and Child Health Issues paper, helping to identify current significant sector challenges.

The paper outlines the main sources of issues reported across all interface councils, including the City of Whittlesea, Mitchell Shire and City of Hume, with the issues grouped into six primary themes.

The themes include workforce shortages, funding gaps across the entirety of the model, population growth, and COVID-19 impacts among other factors.

Also identified are issues in the Key Age and Stage Framework, KAS, including an outdated time allocation of 6.75 hours per child, additional demands on the framework and an expansion of issues that staff are required to assess and respond to per consultation.

The City of Whittlesea also identified a series of priority ‘asks’, including a review of workforce challenges and development of a workforce strategy, a review of the KAS framework, development of a new IT infrastructure system and a funding boost to cover the backlog of cases as a result of COVID.

The report was developed through consultation and engagement with involved groups, council’s maternal and child health services team and council’s senior advocacy advisor.

The vote to endorse the report will allow council to work through the Interface Councils Group to lead collective interface advocacy activities and develop an advocacy plan to undertake localised activities and leverage localised discussions.

Chair administrator Lydia Wilson said it was important to understand the issues the service was facing.

“In reading the report, I was really quite surprised to understand some of the current issues that are being experienced right across the whole range of MCH services, which is such an important service to all of our communities,” she said.

“I was … fully supportive a strong advocacy approach, supporting the Interface Group of Councils but also more broadly.”

Council plans to meet with relevant ministers from now until February 2022, formulate pre-budget submissions by January, 2022 and host community engagement from now until April, 2022.