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Empowering mothers of children with a disability to prioritise own health

Providing primary care for a child with a disability is a full time and often demanding job for around one in 10 mothers across Australia. This can come at a serious personal cost to maternal physical and mental wellbeing, unless mothers attend to their own health needs.

In an effort to better support mothers in this life situation, researchers from the Australian Catholic University have developed the Healthy Mothers, Healthy Families program that provides practical assistance for mothers of children with a disability to achieve better health and wellbeing outcomes.

Through funding from nib foundation, a free, full day workshop will be held in Sydney on 25 July that will cover a range of issues including good nutrition, increased physical activity, social support, improved communication, networking and advocacy skills and paid work participation.

Occupational Therapist, Dr Helen Bourke-Taylor, and women's health general practitioner, Dr Fiona Jane, will present their unique and tailored workshop, which will also give the mothers an opportunity to meet other women with similar interests, perspectives and life experiences.

"Mothers of school-aged children with disabilities face many challenges every day to not only support their child, but also address their own needs. Adding to this is the limited strategies available through our health care system designed to specifically support their needs," Dr Bourke-Taylor said.

"The program aims to empower mothers in their lifelong role, in order to better address their personal health needs," she added.

Someone who has already benefited from the program is Pia, a mother of an eight-year-old boy with Autism. Before taking part in the Healthy Mothers, Healthy Families program she would regularly put the health and wellbeing needs of her son before her own.

"I have always concerned myself with my children's health and put my own issues aside to care for them," Pia said.

"I realise now those that my health is just as important. Since the workshops I’ve made time to visit my GP, I've been to the Naturopath, and I've also been to the dentist, twice."

nib foundation Chairman, Keith Lynch, strongly believes in the importance of supporting these mothers.

"Mothers who are full-time carers for children with disabilities are largely unable to advocate for their own health needs because of the very nature of their care-giving responsibilities," Mr Lynch said.

"Therefore, it is up to professionals to play a key role advocating for pathways and services like these workshops that assist mothers," he added.

Places are available for the free, full day workshop in Sydney on 25 July. Registration is essential. If you are interested in attending, email Dr Helen Bourke-Taylor.