Dubbo’s Hear our Heart Project has attracted sizable support from the Walter and Eliza Hall Charitable Foundation. You don’t apply to this organisation for funding, because they’re not all about who can write the best grant application. They study good things happening in communities and then they work out how they can help, particularly if the projects are filling major gaps which aren’t funded by the state or federal governments, and are models which can be replicated in other areas. Here’s a Q&A with Hear our Heart co-founder Donna Rees, as told to JOHN RYAN.
Tell us about the fundamental importance of the Hear our Heart (HOH) project – what are the gaps it’s filling?
There are far too many children who remain at high risk and consistently fall through the service gaps, with their hearing problems unidentified and untreated.
With Hear our Heart interventions (indicated in the main diagram as green pillars) across the hearing continuum, the services they provide fill the gap and support and strengthen the impacts of existing services.
If a child isn’t diagnosed and treated for hearing difficulties early on, how much pain and loss of opportunity can this mean for them in their later lives?
An Itinerant Support Teacher Conductive Hearing Loss (ISTCHL) teacher provides support, trying to assist the many children who have hearing issues and fall through the service gaps across the continuum.
If a child doesn’t get picked up at this early stage, what are the chances they can be helped back on track during their secondary schooling, or is that too late?
For a student of high school age with hearing loss that does not get “picked up”, their struggles can be multi-faceted and have wide-ranging implications.
These may include not only not having equal access and participation to the curriculum, but also they’re forever playing catch-up to fill the gaps in learning.
Many have significant language delays, speech, communication and behaviour issues. Regular curriculum should to be differentiated for them to assist their understanding so they have a chance to learn the fundamentals.
Some of these students have language deficits that place them at an age equivalence of a five-year-old.
For them, coping with the huge amount of topics and content thrown at them at the high school level can be very overwhelming.
The impact can affect their wellbeing, confidence and identity.
For our teens, this is a time when everyday life can be challenging, and so with a hearing loss on top of it all they certainly need support – including diagnosis and amplification if needed, but also understanding from their teachers and family.
You’ve been pushing for state and federal funding. Why is such a successful on-the-ground project so difficult to get operational funding for?
There is federal funding and it’s quite substantial. The latest budget actually announced $30 million for ear health! (The 2017 federal report titled “Examination of Australian Government Indigenous Ear and Hearing Health Initiatives”) is an interesting read from our perspective! It describes where/who the dollars have been with over the past few years. Again, quite substantial!
Locally there are providers who have funding from the HEBHBL (Healthy Ears – Better Hearing, Better Listening) program.
Also, the Local Health District has access to this which we have been fortunate to use through our partnership with them.
The Hear our Heart Ear Bus Program (HoHEBP) is unique. We have many successful partnerships that help us in our day to day operations.
The program has quite a significant point of difference to other screening programs, these are shown in the continuum pic.
Education is the key aspect of our program. We’ve seen the days where the piles and piles of hearing screen results sit without follow up.
These are children’s hearing results that need the hand-in-hand explanation to unpack, to follow up, to determine the pathways for support needed for each individual.
HoHEBP is an award-winning, respected program now nationwide. (It) has attracted funding from a wide range of sources, including in 2017 from local council and state government (when we were) a recipient of a Community Partnership grant to fit out the bus.
Our efforts to get a slice of the substantial pie have provided us, as mentioned, with a share through a partnership with the Local Health District.
The Siggins Miller report has many recommendations and HOHEBP certainly meets all of these as we’re always reviewing and maintain best practice protocols.
We update our government contacts and have recently provided our latest pitch to help deepen their understanding of our work.
We’ve provided cost benefit information which show local data and demonstrate the worth of our program as we demonstrate that kids’ ears are worth caring for.
Tell us about some of the families the project has helped?
HoHEBP has seen thousands of children and many of them many times.
There are some children who are quite regular visitors, some who have been referred to further pathways and now wear devices to assist with hearing, as well as many who have had surgery (or multiple surgeries) to amend ear health issues.
Many of the families HoHEBP has supported have come so far in their own confidence and competence in caring for their children’s ears.
Education is so important with this aspect – empowering parents with knowledge and understanding is paramount to this.
Knowing about prevention strategies as simple as correct nose blowing, hand hygiene, healthy diet, ear cleaning/protection are just a few of the key messages.
Knowing what signs to look for to then think their child may need an ear health check and hearing test again are areas we focus on in education for families.
Every child who has had an ear health issue diagnosed or hearing loss detected has been helped and it’s the continued support that’s important, as ear health and hearing issues fluctuate.
Genuine partnerships are overwhelmingly important in these grassroots initiatives. Tell us who you’re partnering with and how that’s making the difference?
We have multiple successful partnerships in many aspects of the program. These range from the vehicle donation, fit out, and running right through to our volunteers and audiological staff.
Without these partnerships we would not be operating. We’re now in our fifth year and throughout that time have seen some assistance, staff and volunteers come and go.
How did you feel when the Walter and Eliza Hall Charitable Foundation called you up – was it a humbling experience?
The initial call from Helen the CEO was a surprise, but after she introduced herself and explained why she was calling we instantly became very comfortable with sharing more details regarding our program.
Helen had already done a great deal of research into otitis media and the implications of it, especially within the Aboriginal communities.
HoHEBP is for all children, so much of our data is reflective of huge numbers, but not the high percentage of indigenous as you’d find in other parts of Australia, we have an identified 43 per cent rate of Aboriginal children.
We had many in-depth conversations with Helen and her understanding of our program deepened.
We felt she had really gained quite an insight and was very positive with praise that the key objectives were really relevant to the success of the program.
When we received the call to hear that The Walter and Eliza Hall Foundation wanted to partner with us with the funding we were quite overwhelmed.
There were tears and personally I was lost for words.
We are truly humbled to be considered and, now being the recipient of such substantial funding, that will help us to not only continue but now provide support for more children in our area.
It’s often said that the projects which get grant funding are the ones which can afford to hire the best professional grant writers – how important is it that organisations such as The Walter and Eliza Hall Charitable Foundation are doing their own research to see what projects are genuinely effective grassroots organisations and then offering to help?
There are certainly no paid grant writers using HoHEBP’s money but we have a great team of volunteers here.
Grant writing is very time-consuming and, although we’ve had success over the years, we’ve also had many “we regret to inform you/sorry” letters too.
To actually have The Walter and Eliza Hall Foundation approach us was really surprising, but wonderful, and it makes sense that funding be directed where programs are effective and have proven that they are making a difference.
We see this as a great pat on the back for worthwhile work, at the least.
There’s been such an incredible take-up and support for the HOH project. How important is it to get community buy-in, from organisations and individual families as well as sponsors, volunteers and supporters?
Having been involved with Dubbo & District Support for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing for now 21 years, (Hear our Heart is one of their projects) I have certainly seen how generous our community has been towards all of our projects and activities.
We’ve had support for a whole range of activities including camps, assisting families with travel and accommodation, and purchasing resources for parent and the teachers to access.
When HoH initiated back in 2012, we rallied support, hosted some events to promote the project and raise funds, so we’ve come a long way – it’s an expensive project to run, but we’ve managed to do it.
We like to keep the community involved because Otitis media really is everyone’s business – it’s not selective and can affect anyone.
When a family has experienced their child having hearing difficulties, it really does open their world to a whole new range of the unknown.
Hearing loss is an invisible disability that can have quite devastating outcomes if not detected and then treated or supported with devices or intervention programs – awareness is key to understanding what the wide-ranging ramifications can be.
We are certainly very thankful for the generous support we’ve been given by our local community, individuals, grant providers, sponsors and organisations – especially now from The Walter and Eliza Hall Foundation.