New education advocacy program gets Aussie cancer kids back on track

When a child survives cancer, their hopes and dreams deserve to survive too. For young Marley Brown, the dream of becoming a theoretical physicist or astrophysicist is now even more possible with the support of a new education advocacy program. The first of its kind in WA, the Back on Track initiative ensures children who go through cancer treatment do not fall through the cracks with their education due to the enormous strain treatment can have.   

Diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia at 15 months old, Marley’s treatment impacted his development at kindy and well into his early primary school years. Now in year 9, Marley is armed with the resources and support he needs to feel empowered to succeed in the classroom and to infinity and beyond.  

The initiative provides fully funded education advocates to be assigned to a child cancer patient following diagnosis, who will remain with the child for their entire treatment journey and beyond. Tailoring a diverse long term education program that includes additional tutoring, advocating at hospital level and with the school. The education advocate supports the child, parents, siblings, classmates, and the teacher throughout the entire school journey, offering guidance upon the often-daunting return to the classroom. 

Watching her son struggle with neurocognitive side effects since primary school, mum Kerrin Hampson says she’s already seen the benefits of the program and believes the initiative will continue to will help Marley find his confidence, feel supported and give him the structures he needs to succeed on his own terms. 

This is the best Marley has been at school, ever. I really want to thank you and Back on Track WA. He’s always loved school, but this is completely different,” says Kerrin.  

Over the past few years, parental concern for their child’s education following diagnosis has been researched and documented by the Child Cancer Research Foundation, including noting reductions in academic performance, ability to participate in school and school-related activities and the need for education professionals and school peers to receive information specific to their child’s needs.  

Working with child cancer families has taught me that while improvements have been made with treatments there are many gaps that the children face. One of them is support with education that is tailored to their needs,” Child Cancer Research Foundation Chief Operating Officer, Kylie Dalton. 

Fremantle College has proudly partnered with Back on Track WA to support Marley’s learning and achievement, which includes a STEM and engineering excursion to the east coast in 2023, fully funded by the program. On the trip’s itinerary is the Sydney Observatory, CSIRO discovery centre, and the Canberra Deep Space Centre. Marley’s thirst for science began with his interest in cancer research early on and has since evolved over time.  

Gifted and Talented Coordinator at Fremantle College, Susan Fahey says Marley responds to every challenge with a smile and a good sense of humour. He has set himself goals for each of his subjects with the overarching goal of improving his study skills, organisational skills, and focus.” 

The Back on Track WA program ensures children have the chance to get back to their education post treatment; an opportunity every child deserves and has already proven to be invaluable to many WA child cancer families. It’s been a vision years in the making and with the support of Cancer Australia’s seed funding, envisioning more children like Marley, reach their full educational potential is becoming even more of a reality. 

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Cassie Silver 
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