The national authority in Aboriginal primary health care – Aboriginal health in Aboriginal hands
NACCHO Aboriginal children’s health and what works :No School No Pool policy means improved health in remote communities
” Participants identified a range of encouraging aspects of the Royal Life Saving Society program including cultural appropriateness, community participation, positive effects on health, swimming ability and wellbeing and the promotion of good behaviour among youth.
Evidence suggested the pool encouraged younger students to attend school through the implementation of the ‘No School No Pool’ policy.
The poor health of remote Aboriginal communities has been well documented. Children in these regions are more likely to suffer severe skin, ear, eye and respiratory infections as a result of inadequate hygiene, exposure to a dusty and dirty environment and insufficient health services.”
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A unique study conducted by the Royal Life Saving Society WA has found swimming pools in remote Aboriginal communities are positive enablers of community cohesion, improved health and well-being and higher school attendance.
The Remote Aboriginal Swimming Pool (RASP) program focuses on providing the remote communities of Burringurrah, Jigalong, Yandeyarra, Bidyadanga, Warmun and Fitzroy Crossing with recreational and educational swimming programs, to encourage safe aquatic participation.
Funding is provided by WA’s State Government and BHP Billiton, while the pools are run and managed by the Royal Life Saving Society.
In order to gather feedback on the effectiveness of the RASP program, and to encourage the communities to identify areas for improvement, Royal Life Saving Society researchers engaged with participants in three of the six communities over a six month period.
RASP is premised on the basis that providing well-maintained, well-supervised aquatic facilities and swimming programs can potentially improve the overall health status of Aboriginal communities, particularly Aboriginal children.
Research shows that the children appear healthier since the pools have opened, and the incidence of skin sores and ear infections has decreased. At Burringurrah, ear problems have decreased from 90% to 54% and severe skin sores have decreased from 28% to 3%. Similar results were recorded in Jigalong.
Swimming proficiency has reduced mortality rates from drowning; a key issue in these communities which are located close to rivers that flood during the wet season.
Interviews were conducted with adults, while students took photos of things they liked and didn’t like about the pools; captions written to describe these photos were then analysed
Greg Tate, Royal Life Saving Society WA General Manager for Community Health, believes the results from this project provide further evidence of the health benefits of remote pools, explaining “while our findings are based purely on observations, community members consistently report that infections among children are reduced during the pool season.”
Tate says these results further justify enhanced government support of the project, adding “our findings are not limited to one facet of the community.
There is evidence to suggest that the building and running of pools in these regions enhances multiple aspects of individual and community wellbeing.
Western Australian Parliamentarian Dr. Kim Hames “Aboriginal swimming pools are one of the single most successful interventions influencing health, social and education outcomes for these communities in our state. “
These pools are a community hub and the focal point for social interactions and recreation for those in very remote locations.
The community ownership they facilitate and their benefits for wellbeing make them valuable investments.”
The Remote Aboriginal Swimming Pools project (RASP) has delivered significant positive outcomes for the communities involved, including health and social benefits and education and training opportunities.
Each community has embraced the No School, No Pool policy and school principals have reported a marked increase in school attendance and an overall improvement in the children’s behaviour. For example the Jigalong community school has increased school retention rates from approximately 20% to 80%.
“The school attendance has definitely improved. In fact, at Jigalong we were told that they had to increase the number of teachers because so many kids were going to school …”
[Mary Tennant, Research Assistant, Telethon Kids Institute]
Further benefits include an increase in physical activity levels in the host communities, enhanced community cohesion and reported decrease in vandalism.
“It is quite interesting that the policeman said that in the summer months the crime rate among adolescent children went to zero. In the winter months when the pool was closed, it went up … it is definitely helping with crime.”
[Mary Tennant, Research Assistant, Telethon Kids Institute]
The children participate in a number of activities at the pool including swimming lessons, work experience and holiday programs. They have painted brightly coloured murals on the buildings, displaying their creative and artistic talents.
Social programs at the aquatic facility are popular, with birthday parties, pool-fishing events, barbeques and movie nights proving to be regular features on the community calendar. Swimming and lifesaving carnivals are also a social highlight.
Training & Employment Benefits
Mentoring and training is being provided for community members with a view to management responsibility and ownership passing back to the community in the longer term.
In association with the management training, the Royal Life Saving Society also runs a pool lifeguard training course and approximately 45 Aboriginal trainees have progressed to pool lifeguard standard. Part of the training is completed at the community pool, with the remainder undertaken at the nearest regional centre. The partnership covers all accommodation and travel costs incurred by the trainees.
“Swimming pool management training courses are an ideal employment pathway allowing an individual within a remote community to obtain portable work sills and qualifications that can be used in mainstream society.”
[Education and Health Standing Committee, Swimming Pool Program in Remote Communities, Report No. 2 in the 37th Parliament, 2006]
The course is a modified version, designed to be more accessible for the Indigenous learner.
“We have found that a more hands-on training approach works well and as a result of the changes most Indigenous students who commence training achieve a successful outcome and meet the standards required by industry for employment.”
[Greg Tate, Manager Community Relations, Royal Life Saving Society WA]
Royal Life Saving is continuing to work closely with the remote communities to develop new and innovative programs to ensure we are adequately servicing the community’s needs