Health and empowerment program for mothers of a child/young person with a disability

Published: Wednesday 23rd March 2016

Australian Catholic University (ACU) has hosted over 100 mothers of a child or young person with a disability to attend three free workshops on the North Sydney and Melbourne campuses since July 2015.

ACU academic Dr Helen Bourke-Taylor, partnered with nib Foundation, to offer the free workshops to mothers in both cities. The joys and wonderment of mothering are often accompanied by the need to develop high level caring skills, advocacy and organisation skills, when there is a child with additional care needs in the family.

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, Dr Helen Bourke-Taylor, a senior lecturer in the occupational therapy discipline in the School of Allied Health and researcher in the recently launched Centre for Disability and Development Research (CeDDR), has developed the Healthy Mothers, Healthy Families program.

Co-authored and co-presented by Dr Fiona Jane MBBS, a women’s health general practitioner, the program provides practical assistance for mothers of children/young people with a disability to achieve better health and wellbeing outcomes.

The program has been running since 2012 and has been delivered in Chicago USA, Melbourne, Sydney and Geelong. Healthy Mothers Healthy Families advocates for appropriate, evidence informed support that strengthens and empowers parents, carers and families.

The unique and tailored workshop gives mothers an opportunity to meet other women with similar interests, perspectives and life experiences.

Helen described the situation of many mothers:

“Mothers of children and young people with a disability face many challenges every day to not only support their child, but also address their own needs and the needs of other family members.

"Adding to this are the limitations of the current system that assists their child, but does not support families to the same extent. Healthy Mothers Healthy Families aims to empower mothers in their lifelong role, in order to better address life satisfaction, happiness and 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 well-being 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 though that my health is just as important. Since the workshops I’ve made time to visit my GP, I’ve been to a dietitian and I’ve also been to the dentist, twice.”

One final workshop will be run at the ACU Melbourne campus on Saturday, 21 May. Please contact Dr Helen Bourke-Taylor on 03 9953 3736 or email for any inquiries.