Very special kids in regional areas will now gain access to the specialised care they need.

Very special kids in regional areas will now gain access to the specialised care they need.

William Buckland Foundation has donated over $156,000 to a joint initiative by Very Special Kids (VSK) and the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) that will provide children with life-threatening medical conditions living in regional areas free transport to a respite care facility.

Under the two-year pilot, the Road to Respite program will use a van donated by Ambulance Victoria to transport the children to the Very Special Kids Hospice, where they will be provided with specialised 24-hour nursing care free-of-charge.

The co-trustees of the William Buckland Foundation are Equity Trustees, along with chairman Sandy Clark, Dr Jane Gilmour, Graeme Sinclair and Jennifer McGregor. Equity Trustees also supports the work of the foundation via its granting team, including Nicole Engelman and Ferdi Hepworth.

Equity Trustees general manager of charitable trusts and philanthropy Jodi Kennedy says the funding will reduce barriers and challenges for children living with life threatening conditions and their families.

“This grant was made as part of the William Buckland Foundation’s Improved Health Grants Program. The goal of this program is to improve the health and well-being of children and young people, especially those in rural and regional Victoria,” Kennedy says.

“There is clear alignment between the challenges VSK and the RFDS are addressing with the strategic goals of the WBF Improved Health Program and we are delighted that our funding has connected these two organisations.

“The pilot will address the significant gap in support for children living in regional and rural Victoria.  This will reduce travel time, increase health and well-being, reduce fatigue in carers and lead to increased access to respite for regional and rural families.”

Equity Trustees grant program manager Nicole Engelman says the foundation has a focus on improving lives of vulnerable Victorians through grants that support better housing, health, employment and education outcomes and initiatives that build resilience and strengthen regional communities.

“The Road to Respite Program clearly aligns with the William Buckland Foundation’s strategy to increase access to free or low cost specialist health services for disadvantaged children and young people in rural Victoria,” Engelman says.

Equity Trustees grant program manager Ferdi Hepworth adds the program is a product of the change in strategy and funding direction the WIlliam Buckland Foundation adopted in 2016.

“This project is a great example of what we hoped to see happen when we designed and adopted the strategy – collaboration around a shared purpose with clear benefits for VSK, RFDS and most importantly, the kids and families who most in need of support,” Hepworth says.

“We’re now 18 months into executing our new strategy and we’re seeing a host of great results.”

Strong demand for transport

Very Special Kids CEO Michael Wasley says that to evaluate demand for such a transport service, in 2016 his organisation conducted a survey of the 165 regional families it supports to investigate the barriers that limit their access to the hospice.

“It wasn’t a surprise to learn that there would be a high demand for this service, but it was still important for the foundation and the credibility of our organisation to go and properly check that,” Wasley says.

Not surprisingly, the survey showed 68% of regional families surveyed had never accessed Very Special Kids Hospice due to travel and distance. An additional 72% of families agreed they would increase their use of the hospice if transport assistance was available.

“What we needed to research with our families is their levels of anxiety at having their children in a van with someone they don’t know driving it,” Wasley says.

“And what we’ve found in a few trials that we did ahead of the big launch is that yes, some families were initially anxious, but after the first trip they feel very comfortable with it. It gets easier and easier.”

With a single-vehicle two-year pilot now underway, Wasley says VSK and the RFDS will now work to find a longer-term funding solution.

“The plan for us is now to make that sustainable by receiving other funding once we’ve proved the advantages and the outcomes, and that might be through applying for other grants, or by seeking volunteer nurses and drivers,” he says.

Very Special Kids cares for children with life-threatening conditions by providing a children’s hospice and professional family support services. VSK helps more than 900 families across Victoria with ongoing support from diagnosis all the way through to recovery or bereavement.