Professor John Newnham AM delivers his address.
Professor John Newnham AM delivers his address.

Lecture Series: optimising early neurological development in children

Research indicates that there is much that carers, teachers and parents can do to optimise the early neurological development of their children. As part of the Government House Lecture Series, the Honourable Kim Beazley AC, Governor of Western Australia and Ms Susie Annus invited experts in the field of early childhood development to discuss these findings.

In his opening address, the Governor stated that;

There was a time when the approach to parenting was to keep them alive, keep them fed and clothed, and keep them quiet.  Things have changed.

There is now hard science guiding our approach to paediatric medicine and early neurological development. Tonight we will learn how we – as parents, prospective parents, grandparents, carers, teachers and health providers – can set up our children for the best possible start in life.

Attendees seat socially distanced from each other in the Ballroom.Attendees seat socially distanced from each other in the Ballroom.

The Government House Lecture Series highlights important issues for the Western Australian community and brings together eminent speakers to address a topic for selected stakeholders so that they can disseminate key learnings to a broader audience, and ask pertinent questions of experts.

This event follows the recent Kids and COVID lecture.

Professor Steve Zubrick delivers his key findings.

This evening’s lecture, moderated by Chief Executive Officer of Ngala, Fiona Beermier, brought together the following professionals:

  • Professor Steve Zubrick, Emeritus Professor and Senior Honorary Research Fellow in the Faculty of Health and Medical Science at the University of Western Australia and Honorary Emeritus Research Fellow, Telethon Kids Institute on factors affecting the development of different groups of young children.
  • Professor John Newnham AM, Head of Division of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at King Edward Memorial Hospital, former Chief Scientific Director of the Women and Infants Research Foundation and Senior Australian of the Year 2020 on the importance of full-term pregnancy for children’s development.
  • Professor Leon Straker, John Curtin Distinguished Professor at Curtin School of Allied Health, Faculty of Health Sciences on technology and children’s development.
  • Professor Donna Cross, Program Head, Health Promotion and Education Research at Telethon Kids Institute, Western Australian of the Year 2012 and WA Scientist of the Year 2017 on capacity building for practitioners and families to help children’s development. She also shared the work of Associate Professor Hayley Christian, whose research focuses on improving children’s physical activity, health and wellbeing through multi-level interventions that are focused on the child, the family, and social and built environments.

The Governor addresses the audience.The Governor addresses the audience.

Topics covered during the 90-minute discussion covered a broad range of content including:

  • What actions can parents take to ensure their children are using their devices in ways that care for their physical health eg: posture?
  • What policy recommendations would you make to our federal (and state) politicians to enable greater equity for children with developmental lags?
  • How can parents with special needs kids be nudged to use content relevant for them?
  • Is it true that the highest percentage of preterm births occur in mothers aged 40 and over? If so, does our current public health messaging reflect this?
  • Is there a link between nutrition and brain development? What can I eat during pregnancy and feed to my child to help grow a healthy brain?
  • Is intergenerational contact (i.e. with older relatives/neighbours/friends) helpful for a child’s development?

Professor Newnham shared startling findings on the impact on the infant brain of delivery prior to forty weeks gestation, data that is crucially important for potential parents and health workers.

Government House Ballroom makes an enchanting setting for the Government House Lecture SeriesGovernment House Ballroom makes an enchanting setting for the Government House Lecture Series

A recording of the lecture and discussion will be made available to the public soon. Government House thanks the Telethon Kids Institute and Ngala for their vital work in helping to preserve and protect the health of Western Australian children, and in partnering with us on this important event.

Telethon Kids Institute have recently developed an app. “Bright Tomorrows” shows the emotions, thoughts and responses that happen in a child’s brain when a baby experiences meaningful moments. The free app gives parents/carers, teachers and health professionals ideas on how to stimulate a child’s brain with fun and meaningful activities that they can do every day, even guiding the caregiver with the science behind each activity.

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