Karen Elston is a member of the Royal Flying Doctor Service’s (RFDS) primary health care team, based in Broken Hill NSW. She is a Seasons for Growth veteran, having delivered the program since 2011 across several agencies in Western NSW. Now in her role at RFDS, she is bringing the program to communities in remote Australia.
Karen is passionate about bringing the Seasons for Growth evidence-based program to people living in some of the most isolated parts of Australia. Karen has worked across outback Australia and understands the importance of providing children and young people a safe space to articulate their grief and loss.
Children and young people in remote and rural Australia will experience incidences of grief and loss that are similar to children living in towns and cities across Australia – death of a loved one, parental separation – but in the areas serviced by the RFDS, children and young people can also experience extreme isolation, a challenging move from studying with School of the Air at home to boarding school, separation from siblings who move to the ‘big smoke’ for school, and parents dealing with the challenges of drought or floods.
Delivering services in such remote locations requires planning and lateral thinking. Karen works closely with schools and parents to ensure children and young people have access to programs. Her team will fly into stations, or drive to and stay overnight in towns like White Cliffs, 225 kilometres from Broken Hill, with a population of 156.
Karen has brought creativity and ingenuity to her work with Aboriginal children and adolescents through the program. When she delivered it to young people in Wilcannia, she introduced the use of collage to tell their story, rather than focusing on written work.
The adolescent years can be challenging for young people at times, especially in identifying or talking about how they are feeling, but as Karen said, once you get them in, “magic happens.”
One of her participants told her “I just wanted to get out of maths, but now I am glad I came.”
Karen reflects that “Nothing prepares you for what comes out in a child’s eye.” Their response to grief and loss can be so different from what an adult might expect. For example, one little boy, who was experiencing his parents’ separation, shared his upset about what would happen with the family dog. Pets are often a ‘safe’ discussion point, whilst also being one of the major supports for a child going through change.
The RFDS would like to continue to roll out Seasons for Growth to children and young people across the outback. Karen also sees value in delivering the adult version, including the Seasons for Healing program. Whilst their population numbers are small, grief and loss doesn’t discriminate, and we need to ensure that everyone can access these supportive programs to manage wellbeing and thrive.