Attending a first-time conference is a bit like watching a softball match as a much talked-about rising ‘star’ batter comes onto the field to face-off against a seasoned pitcher. Will they strike a home run or will they simply get struck out? Most want the batter to do well and may even expect it – but there is the sense of anticipation and uncertainty in the air until that moment in time when the bat and ball connect and the latter goes flying.
The Academy of Child and Adolescent Health held its official launch on the 1-2nd of March at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne and Henry and Grace were lucky enough to be able to attend. The ACAH is a non-profit organisation founded with the purpose of “promoting the health and well-being of every newborn, child and adolescent in order that they may reach their maximum potential”. This concept grew out from a RACP focus group though the ACAH is open to all health professionals. The conference focused on key issues related to child and adolescent health. It also explored the ways that the ACAH may be able to make a difference in the areas of education, policy making and advocacy.
One of the highlights of the ACAH morning session was the keynote by Kim Oates. He discussed some of the key areas he thought the ACAH might address in the future including indigenous and refugee healthcare, domestic violence (and child maltreatment), patient safety, parenting support and culture in healthcare.
ACAH board and strategic directions
Of particular note during the morning session, the entire board came to the front and introduced themselves and fielded questions about the ACAH and their involvement to date. In the afternoon there was also a review of the strategic planning day which involved multiple paediatric subspecialty groups discussing some of the steps the ACAH might make to become a central hub that strengthens and utilises the skills and resources in these other organisations in addition to producing its own material.
Living with disability
The midday session featured a fantastic panel on navigating disability. One speaker who particularly impressed us with Jacki (Jax) Brown who spoke on how the way that disability affects and encompasses each individual uniquely. She also raised the importance of considering wheelchair accessibility of events, healthcare venues, work and public transport. Simply being labelled “Wheelchair Accessible” does not mean that a building is wheelchair friendly. Sometimes it might be a separate entrance around the garage which requires buzzer accessmaking the people using it feel excluded. Jax asked us to model inclusion and not ignore disability when we see it – but to respect people living with disabilities, remember that they have value and enable them to define for themselves who they are and what their identifies are. She also encouraged a move away from treating people with disabilities as passive receivers needing to ‘justify’ their needs, but rather to engage and work together with people with disabilities on the structure and social barriers that are causing problems for equity.
Asylum seekers, children in detention
The afternoon session was divided into a presentation from Megan Mitchell – the National Children’s Commissioner and a strategic planning session. This encouraged delegates to add their thoughts regarding the future direction of the ACAH. Megan Mitchell’s talk focused on presenting the findings from the recent report into Asylum Seekers, Refugees and Human Rights. She pointed out that Australia has now been elected to the UN Human Rights council for the next three years and that this could be a critical time to uphold and support the human rights of asylum seekers, refugees and indigenous populations in Australia. After many years, Australia has finally committing to ratify OPCAT (Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment). OPCAT should apply to all places of detention in Australia, including prisons, juvenile justice and mental health facilities, and immigration detention. Megan shared her experiences talking with children in Australia and offshore centres ias well as some of the terrible conditions children have been subjected to – conditions such as having hygiene products withheld for misbehaviour and placing children in prolonged isolation for up to 20 hours a day. These methods of discipline have been teaching children that the abuse of others, especially those less powerful, is normal. It is also likely to be traumatising already vulnerable children and adolescents.
Overall verdict after day 1:
Although the ACAH provided no ground-breaking change in terms of the experience compared with more traditional conference – we still enjoyed it. The talks were, for the most part, on-point. There was a good buzz and question time for every talk was filled without difficulty.
If the first day of the conference is like the time a batter comes to the plate, the second day of a conference is the bottom half of the game. It’s all about finding and keeping the lead. It’s also a nice part of the game because there’s momentum to play off and you’re more familiar with and more invested in the delegates and topics as whole.
Human Digital Interface of Healthcare
This morning session opened with Gareth Baynam discussing digital diagnosis and the search for answers for children suffering from rare diseases. Kath Carmo discussed the value of telemedicine used by the NETS team in retrieval to help guide support and make decisions about transfers. She also explained the importance of retrieval of sick kids in having equitable access to healthcare. James Dromey’s talk was focused on future digital platforms and the way that healthcare can work with IT and tech companies to create new software and hardware to help with preventative medicine and provide education for both healthcare workers and families. He honed in on the importance of product development which doesn’t just ‘sound’ like a good idea – but which is user-centred and has both proof of concept and sustainability.
Advocacy & Global Health
The second session was an intriguing look into how the American Academy of Paediatrics, the UK RCPCH and the Paediatric Society of Australia and New Zealand have grown and developed their role in advocacy and global health. The importance of engaging members and using multiple different approaches in advocacy was stressed. Another element in the early afternoon session was a thoughtful speech from Dame Quentin Bryce who officially launched the ACAH and reaffirmed key areas in need of advocacy such as indigenous health, adolescent health, supporting research and the value in engaging whole families in care for children.
Safe Spaces for Children
The last session for the meeting was broad but interesting – relating to the areas of social media, dealing with violence and providing a legal perspective on children and media. In particular, Donna Cross shared the interests of CoLabforKids and discussed the need to appreciate the nuances of managing screen time and social media. It is not enough to simply say that children should only have X amount of screen time; rather it is important to also look at the quality of the time and use. For example – Is it watching movies in the car or is it with grandma reading an interactive online story book? The latter is much more likely to be beneficial to learning. On the topic of cyber-bullying and social media use – Donna made a great analogy to water safety. Swimming pools are both beneficial but dangerous. Children and adolescents need training, supervision, appropriate barriers and supports to safely enjoy and utilise them.
The ACAH launch was relatively small but filled with many experienced and respected individuals. There was a keen sense of anticipation in the air and thoughtful debate around key issues of advocacy. There were a number of strong speakers but I particularly liked disability panel and thought it worked well. It was very good to see patient and family representation at the conference. The ACAH team also showed a willingness for transparency and utilising a grass-roots approach. This was seen through the opportunity for discussion during and between the conference about the ‘where to from here’ and brainstorming of opinions about areas for priority and methods that might be employed. The majority of delegates were paediatric consultants although a few GPs also attended. It would be good to see further diversity in the board, speakers and delegates across health professionals given the aim and goals of the ACAH. The conference validated, in my mind, both the great need and opportunity for an organisation like the ACAH and I found myself registering for membership by the end of it. Whilst they may have won the game, there are many more matches to come. It will be of the great interest to follow how the ACAH board and members make good on their intentions from this launch in the next few months.
For more on the ACAH or to join membership check out www.acah.org.au