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100 Years of Maternal and Child Health in Victoria

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Maternal health Nurse Lyn Hedger and Bernie Cavanagh Maternal & Child Health Services Manager with a promotional tee shirt from the 1980s.

THE City of Ballarat celebrated 100 years of maternal and child health nursing in Victoria with a civic reception last Friday.

Eighteen former Ballarat maternal and child health nurses, along with current day staff, attended the event. The City of Ballarat Maternal and Child Health Service was officially opened by Mayoress Elsworth in the Town Hall Trench Room in January 1923. The first baby health centres were set up in the Town Hall’s Red Cross Room and the former Ballarat East Town Hall in the 1920s, and were aimed primarily at preventing illness and death.

Today, the City of Ballarat employs 24 maternal and child health nurses, along with five casual staff and social workers. Currently 99 per cent of Ballarat families with a new baby use the Maternal and Child Health Service during the first year of their child’s life.

Last year, the service had 1561 new enrolments and provided care for 4955 other infants and children already on the books.

Families can access this free universal health service until their children are six years old. Ballarat Mayor Cr Samantha McIntosh said 100 hundred years of a dedicated Maternal and Child Health Service in Victoria was a wonderful and worthy reason to celebrate. “The story of the Maternal and Child Health Service in Ballarat continues to be a story of success, growth, appreciation, evolution and transformation as the service continually adapts to new practices and the changing needs of families,” Cr McIntosh said. “It provides free, accessible primary health care, including support, advice and information to assist parents to raise healthy, happy and resilient children.

“Milestones like these deserve to be celebrated; and our thanks and appreciation are extended to the nurses who deliver this valuable service. “Yours has been a significant contribution, highly-valued and heavily relied on by many grateful families over this time. The story of the Maternal and Child Services in Ballarat continues to be a story of success, of growth, appreciation, evolution and transformation.” Lyn Hedger worked more than 30 years for the organisation, having begun her career in 1984.

On Friday she gave a detailed account of the growth of Maternal and Child Services. “100 years ago many people around the world were concerned about the future of their countries young men were being killed and maimed in WWI and a very large proportion of babies were dying before their first birthday,” Ms Hedger said in part. “Hygiene was often poor, immunisation non-existent and many babies suffered from diarrhea, caused by poor handling and storage of milk. “The cry was to save the babies, however at this time children under 2 were seen to be a source of infection and couldn’t be admitted to hospital.” Women took matters into their own hands and the first baby health clinic was opened in Richmond in 1917.