VDEI sat down with Julie Gillespie from the Victorian Infant Hearing Screening Program (VIHSP) at The Royal Children's Hospital.
VDEI: Hello Julie! Thank you for agreeing to do an interview with VDEI about your work. Firstly, could you tell share with us a little bit about your current job and your background or previous roles?
I am currently employed by The Royal Children’s Hospital as an early support worker with Victorian Infant Hearing Screening Program (VIHSP). The purpose of this role is twofold: initially the early support worker talks with parents at the time their baby refers to audiology after the hearing screen. The family is then contacted after the appointment and assistance and information is provided as required.
I qualified as a teacher of the deaf 22 years ago and have had the opportunity to work with children with hearing loss from birth to 19 years of age. My career in the deaf education sector has included working in home based and centre-based early intervention programs and supporting students in a mainstream school setting.
VDEI: What do you find most rewarding about your job?
The most rewarding aspect of my job is observing families as they realise that there is an amazing amount of support for them after their child has been diagnosed with a hearing loss.
Parents report almost universally that all the professionals they meet are empathetic, caring and supportive. It is very satisfying to be part of this group and know that we are making a difference for these children and their families.
VDEI: What do you find most challenging about your job?
Being told that your newborn baby has a hearing loss, any type of hearing loss, is challenging for all families. It is always difficult seeing parents in distress when their baby is diagnosed. I am constantly amazed at how quickly most families move on. They immediately want to know what can be done and what they can do. For some parents coming to terms with the diagnosis is a longer process. If the parent’s grief, shock and/or denial prevent them from taking timely action, the impact of early identification is diminished. Facilitating a family’s understanding of the diagnosis for the benefit of the child’s development is of significant concern for the service.
VDEI: How has your role changed over the years?
The VIHSP Early Support Service was established in July 2010. It has been exciting to be part of the development of the role from its inception. The original focus was to provide support for families whose children were diagnosed with a hearing loss in the moderate- profound range. As all families whose babies refer to audiology are contacted prior to their appointment, it quickly became apparent that follow up for all families was appropriate. This ranges from a courtesy call if the hearing is normal, to providing contact for families whose baby is diagnosed with any type of hearing loss. I’ve found that listening to families talk about their experiences is so important. It is essential to be aware of the family’s perspective as this influences how they access the available resources.
VDEI: What impact does your service have?
The Early Support Service provides immediate support at the time a baby is referred to audiology and when a diagnosis is made. The service provides families the opportunity to talk about their anxiety and concerns for their baby and can provide relevant information to assist the parents. Families have reported that they feel reassured knowing there is a pathway that links them to services if and when required. This knowledge assists to alleviate anxiety and uncertainty and demonstrates to parents that there is a collaborative network of services available to them.
VDEI: Tell us how your multi-disciplinary team work together to provide service? Which other professions do you work with in providing service to families?
From its inception we knew that the success of the Early Support Service was dependent on developing strong, collaborative relationships with a number of teams. These include: area coordinators within VIHSP from whom we gain the initial referral; diagnostic audiologists who provide prompt results that allow us to contact families in a timely manner; audiologists from Australian Hearing who welcome us to appointments and provide space for us to meet with families from rural areas; Ear, Nose and Throat doctors; maternal and child health nurses; early intervention services for hearing loss and other generalist services. All services are working together to provide a cohesive network of support.
VDEI: Which professional development event was the most useful you attended at VDEI and why?
The most useful professional development I have attended so far was 'Understanding and Responding to Family Complexity' by Professor Alys Young. This has really informed my work practices and provided very relevant resources.