Alison started off covering for maternity leave in the Mothers and Babies team at Princess Margaret Hospital then enrolled in a PhD in Psychology at the University of Canterbury with a study on the early development and family environments of children born to mothers enrolled in the methadone programme during pregnancy. Alison met Dr Patricia Champion while she was undertaking research at University of Canterbury. 'I also met Susan about the same time and when I had handed in my PhD, Susan asked me whether I would consider working at the Centre?' says Alison.
In February 2011 she started working one day a week at the Centre with a focus on babies born prematurely, but her work was interrupted only two weeks later by the 22 February earthquake. Not only was the Champion Centre impacted, but also Alison and John's farm; and not for the first time. In the previous September, their dairy farm had been one of the worst affected on the Greendale Fault. 'We had 2kms of fault-line running through the farm. Luckily, none of our cows were injured but fences, powerlines, water-pipes, tracks and wells were badly damaged and the milking shed had to be completely rebuilt. 'It was interesting watching the scientific community pour onto our farm,' Alison reflects. 'However, from a psychology point of view, I found it interesting observing the process'.
Over the years, Alison's role at the Champion Centre gradually grew from working with babies born prematurely, and their parents to managing the Family Support team and serving on the Centre Management Team. 'People often ask what is a psychologist doing working with babies or young children? Most of the time we are working with the parents and caregivers to help them understand their children's reactions and responses, so they can understand and support them better,' states Alison.
Alison says working in a multidisciplinary team and learning a lot from other colleagues are her biggest highlights from her time at the Champion Centre. 'The staff are very dedicated in what they do,' says Alison. Even though Alison has officially resigned from her position at the Centre, she has been contracted by the Champion Foundation Trust to write a paper on prematurity for use in talking with government. She is hoping we can put some pressure on the government for better support of these vulnerable infants.
When considering her future plans, Alison says, 'I may consider delivering some psychology services to children and families online. However, I discovered over lockdown when I ran out of broadband data, that we don't get very good broadband out rurally.' However, Alison has another string to her bow, as their Chief Pest Controller on the farm. 'I even caught another possum this weekend. I was busy upskilling over lockdown!'
The role of Registered Psychologists at the Champion Centre:
The Champion Centre currently employs one full-time and two part-time registered psychologists. Their role is vital to the effectiveness of all our programmes as they have as their focus both the social and emotional development of children and the key relationships between children and parents/caregivers that allow children to thrive. Whether they are working alongside new parents of children born prematurely or with a recognised disability, helping families understand their children's behaviour, or supporting parents to be effective parents their focus on child and family relationships is at the heart of the Champion Centre model. With more than 200 families attending our programmes at any one time, our psychologists have more than a full workload.
The Champion Centre is administered by the Christchurch Early Intervention Trust, and is registered with the Chartities Commission (CC22708). Gifts of over $5 are eligible for tax rebates.
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