Flinders University through the Centre for Remote Health (CRH) led a collaborative initiative between health and education staff that provided two four-week blocks of intense physiotherapy services at an additional needs school, Acacia Hill School (AHS) in Alice Springs. This school is the only education facility which caters specifically for children with additional needs in Central Australia. Of the 93 pupils at the school, 67% identify as Indigenous and 30% are in out of home care. These children are some of the nation’s most vulnerable.
This evaluation has been undertaken to assess how the project met its objectives, to explore the experiences and perspectives of the participants, and to collate a set of recommendations which can be used to inform future service-learning placements in the same and comparable contexts.
- The findings of this evaluation reveal that a service-learning placement can be a successful model for physiotherapy service delivery in an additional needs school in Central Australia.
- A lack of government-funded resourcing combined with a problematic transition for many families onto the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) has resulted in some school-aged children with significant neuro-disability not having had access to critical physiotherapy for up to five years.
- The “pilot” nature of the program allowed the stakeholders, students and supervisors a degree of flexibility and creativity in its implementation. This resulted in the process being grounded in the needs of the participants. For example, the cultural safety of the project was enhanced by contributions from parents/carers and school staff. Furthermore, the students’ intimate involvement in rolling out the project gave them a wide range of opportunities to develop skills relevant to the complex social and cultural context of Central Australia.
- Critical to the success of this project was the close involvement of Acacia Hill School in all aspects of planning, delivery and reflection. The report recommends that collaborative planning and delivery of service-learning projects should be a priority.
- There should be more opportunities for Allied Health graduates to return to work in Central Australia with structured mentoring and support, and consider taking a multi-disciplinary approach to service-learning placements in schools such as Acacia Hill School. This should be done through teams of allied health students comprising of physiotherapy, speech pathology and occupational therapy being on placement simultaneously.