Adjournment Debate – My adjournment is for the Minister for Health in the other place. The action I seek is for the minister to proceed with the establishment of a mother-baby unit in Shepparton. Advocacy for such a unit in Shepparton started back in 1997, when the first paper outlining the need for such a unit was written by local child health professionals. There has been a long-term commitment to such a service being provided from many stakeholders within the region, and the need for it just continues to grow. A KPMG consultancy report was completed in 2018 and provided to the government, which I believe fully supported the provision of such a service.
The Shepparton district is a great place to live. However, it is not without its challenges, one being insufficient access to health services for women and families during and after pregnancy. A service such as a mother-baby unit or parenting facility, such as has been established in metropolitan areas and some other regional communities more recently, can be justified on every indicator. We have one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Victoria. We have low levels of breastfeeding. We have high levels of disadvantage. Mothers and babies leave hospital usually one or two days after delivery, and many find themselves unsupported and unable to cope.
We all speak at great length about the importance of investing in early childhood and how getting it right in those first 1000 days means significantly better outcomes for children as they grow and learn and eventually become adults. The evidence is that in our region access to services is delayed, interventions are delayed and critical infant brain development time is wasted as infants wait for professional parenting assessment before stable parenting or care arrangements can commence. Travelling to metropolitan centres such as the Tweddle Child and Family Health Service in Footscray or the Queen Elizabeth Centre creates considerable hardship and results in many people not seeking the support that they need.
To have a purpose-built and integrated residential facility for the families of newborns in our region is the investment into early childhood development we need to support parents and their babies in those critical months post birth. Goulburn Valley Health Foundation has invested in a trust of over $1 million, which it wants to commit to the establishment of a mother-baby unit. It has held onto and grown this investment over the years, for the particular purpose of improving outcomes for and benefiting mothers, babies and families in these important early days. Much work has been done with great enthusiasm at the foundation level and with stakeholders in our community, who are all supportive of such a residential unit. Surely the time has come for Shepparton to receive this important service within our own community.