Pivoting to resilience

Vanessa Wolf and Michelle Simmonds from Gumboots Child Therapy Service. Picture: GARY SISSONS 236511_43

By Danielle Kutchel

Being named a finalist in the 2021 Casey Business Awards is a privilege, according to Michelle Simmonds, founder and director of Gumboots Child Therapy.

The service was named in the resilience category, and after a year like no other, Ms Simmonds said the team had worked incredibly hard during Victoria’s Covid lockdowns to continue to provide its services to some of Casey’s most vulnerable families.

Ms Simmonds created the business in 2016 to provide “great therapy to vulnerable families”.

At the time, there were only minimal multidisciplinary services in the Casey area, she said.

Stand-alone psychology and speech therapy practices existed, however Ms Simmonds said the sector was missing “the collaborative nature of the informal discussions that clinicians can have when they are all working under the same roof”.

Ms Simmonds said that during the lockdown, Gumboots demonstrated resilience in its approach to client care.

The clinic proactively moved client appointments to telehealth and took on additional students to support those who had lost hospital placements and help ensure the future of allied health.

Gumboots used the downtime to partner with Monash University on a project that assessed the barriers for vulnerable Casey families to accessing allied health services.

Ms Simmonds and the Gumboots team also ran an online professional development course that saw 157 allied health professionals from across the country learn how Gumboots had used Zoom and online programs to provide evidence-based therapy.

The clinic also delivered care packages to vulnerable families who were unable to access essentials like toilet paper during the panic-buying frenzy.

“Resilience, to me, means finding the silver linings in stressful situations,” Ms Simmonds said.

“It means redirecting plans, emotionally supporting staff and ensuring clients have access to supports as they require.

“It means we have to think both reactively and proactively at the same time whilst maintaining a growth mindset and a can-do attitude.”

Concerned about the possibility of the team being a conduit to spread Covid to a medically vulnerable child, the move to telehealth made sense, Ms Simmonds said.

The team worked from home for six months in 2020. Now, services have pivoted to be in-clinic only, meaning the team can maintain oversight of the clinic’s strict hygiene practices and manage client numbers and exposure.

Some staff have also moved to a model of four days of 9.5 hours, giving them greater work-life balance.

“We did this initially as a way of having less clinicians and therefore bodies in the office at any one time and found it had the additional benefit of giving our clients an additional before-school-hours appointment at 8am and one at 4.30pm, enabling extra appointments for school aged children,” Ms Simmonds explained.

It’s a rewarding role, she said, knowing that her work improves the lives of children across Casey.

“We help them overcome emotional, sensory, speech, neurodevelopment delays and trauma and support them to become lifelong learners, advocates for their needs and we help to empower them to find solutions for their functional issues.

“We plant the seeds and provide the therapy to enable the neuroplasticity of children’s brains to re-wire themselves and prevent longer term delays.”

She said Casey was a great place to do business, with new families always joining the community.

New businesses are well-placed to fill gaps, she added, with a need for more NDIS services within the area.

And after a stressful year for business owners, she has some words of wisdom to share.

“This has been a tough year. Reach out for help. Access mentoring. Use mental health services and the resources available to small business. Link in with network events so you know you are not the only business owner carrying all the weight.

“Diversify where you can. Review your budget, speak to your banker. Work on your growth mindset and continue to make rational and logical decisions for your longer-term business success,” she said.