Australia has gifted Israel many things, but none have been as transformative as the Goshen Project.

Just as it introduced the Eucalypt almost a century ago to combat the swamps that plagued then-Palestine, the early childhood initiative has changed the way Israel’s paediatric community is responding to the needs of young families.

The power of Goshen and its Australian connection was beautifully portrayed in a double page spread authored by senior Australian Jewish News writer, Peter Kohn.

The article can read be here

It centres on the inspirational work of Prof Frank Oberklaid AM, Foundation Director of the Centre for Community Child Health at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne.

Goshen began innocently enough in 2007 in a restaurant of the same name in Tel Aviv.  Prof Oberklaid met with a small group of influential Israeli paediatricians to discuss a revolutionary paediatric healthcare initiative that he pioneered many years earlier.  Up to that point, the Israeli model was to give patients five minutes of consultation time that was primarily focused on disease.

The differences between the early childhood healthcare eco-system in Israel and Australia were stark.  Prof Oberklaid argued that when problems in childhood are left unaddressed, the implications for the health and wellbeing of future generations in Israel would be problematic.  

It had the potential to infect the social fabric of the country, especially among marginalised groups.   

Prof Oberklaid explained to the Israeli paediatricians that medical and paramedical professionals in Australia no longer focus on organic disease, but on children who present with developmental, behavioural and psychosocial disorders.  These can be everything from faecal incontinence, bedwetting, and sleep problems, to language disorders and developmental delay.  

In Australia, these disorders are very common affecting around 20 to 30 percent of all children.

The idea took hold and Goshen was formalised in 2010, before becoming an independent not-for-profit in 2014.

For Goshen to take root in Israel (as the Eucalyptus had done), it needed funding.  It was Prof Oberklaid’s reputation in Australia that gave the original syndicate of five communal Foundations the confidence to provide seed funding for Goshen.  Other major Australian donors played a critical role through AUSiMED. 

Mr Finkel said the core aims of the program are in the prevention, early diagnosis and early intervention in children with developmental and behavioural problems, to work closely with other community based professionals in supporting families of young children, and to translate the research about the importance of early childhood development into robust government policy initiatives.

Identifying these issues early not only makes for less conflicted families, but for societal harmony as well.  Goshen’s reach into the community has literally touched the lives of most young families, irrespective of their religious, cultural or financial status.

There are around 3,000 paediatricians working independently in Israel, of which close to half have been exposed to Goshen.  

Dr Basil Porter, Emeritus Professor of Pediatrics at Ben Gurion University, was an early adopter of Goshen.  He recognised how important the model could be, especially for vulnerable communities in Israel. 

Success for Goshen has not only been in the continuing education and training of the paediatric community, but its accessibility for Israeli families through social media.

It is providing evidence-based information for parents via its website ‘How You’ve Grown!’ (www.gadalta.org.il), based on Australia’s Raising Children Network.

Dr Yaari says social media including a content-rich Facebook page has become a major pillar of Goshen’s outreach to the general population of Israel, including the ultra-Orthodox, Arab-Israeli and Ethiopian communities.  It currently receives more than 60,000 hits a month, and its Arabic-language website has topped 20,000 hits a month from Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon.  

The need for Goshen as an information hub has been amplified during the COVID-19 lockdown, when access to face-to-face medical services has been limited.

Mr Finkel said it was heartening how one of Israel’s oldest and most trusted health providers has been embraced by its newest.  Hadassah introduced Tipat Halav (Mother and Child Health centres) to Israel in the 1920s.  This nursing service reaches 97 percent of the population, but it has been chronically under-resourced and not always highly-regarded by parents.  

Two years ago Goshen was commissioned by the Israeli government to work with Tipat Halav.  According to Dr Yaari, it allowed Goshen to leverage an existing national infrastructure to effectively revolutionise child health in Israel.

Tipat Halav’s traditional role as a medical-expert model morphed into a partnership-based model.  Parents are listened to and respected.  They’re empowered through better parental well-being and self-care, which not only improves parental confidence but results in more positive parenting behaviours.

It has come into its own during COVID-19.  Local Tipat Halav nurses have begun reaching out to young mothers via Zoom, guiding and supporting them, based on their learning experiences through Goshen’s Tipat Halav Initiative.

In 2019, Goshen launched a national leaders training program for 34 Tipat Halav nurses to improve leadership skills and expand professional expertise to support parents and achieve better outcomes for children.  In a ‘train-the-trainer’ model, more nurses are being trained in this holistic approach.

The success of this service resulted in its scaling up and an innovative new initiative, known as Tiponet, was born.  Dr Yaari said that if this pilot continues to prove successful, it will strengthen the case for government investment in tele-health as an innovative complementary service in Tipat Halav.

Since its establishment, Goshen has ventured out into research as well as training and the provision of services.  This is helping government to better understand why this holistic approach is so important to the future wellbeing of society.  Mr Finkel said continued funding for innovative basic research is critical if Israel’s paediatric community wants greater government buy-in on child health.

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