Social, health and wellbeing benefits of learn to swim programs for migrant communities

Social, Health and Wellbeing Benefits of Learn to Swim Programs for Migrant Communities

Research published by Royal Life Saving shows the impact of swimming programs for adult migrants goes beyond just learning to swim. The findings, published in the Health Promotion Journal of Australia, found that female migrants who participated in funded learn to swim programs reported developing positive social networks and friendships, resulting in improved overall physical and mental wellbeing.

Lead author, Stacey Pidgeon, National Manager for Research and Policy at Royal Life Saving, says “Everyone who took part told us they felt fitter, were happier and feeling more relaxed, and that they had overcome their fear of water. Providing supportive and enjoyable swimming experiences for all ages is key to encouraging communities and families to enjoy the water safely. The benefits are twofold: it improves health and wellbeing, and it increases water safety knowledge and awareness.”

Many of the women who took part said cost and the immediate priorities of settlement, such as looking for somewhere to live and finding a job, as well as cultural and religious perceptions, were barriers to learning to swim. Many were aware of the risks associated with drowning and prioritised swimming lessons for their children before taking up the opportunity to learn to swim themselves. Royal Life Saving funds swimming and water safety programs for identified ‘at-risk’ communities across Australia annually, including adults from multicultural backgrounds.

While the swimming programs in the study were successful in improving health, social and wellbeing outcomes for female participants, many of those taking part said that they didn’t yet consider themselves to be good swimmers and would like to continue to improve their newly acquired skills. Ms Pidgeon said “Our study shows that programs need to be longer in duration to make sustainable impact and reduce drowning in these communities. A key recommendation of our work is to have a trusted ‘cultural broker’ to encourage participation, build relationships in the community and support people to organise enrolment, transport and navigate language barriers.”

Royal Life Saving data shows one in four drowning deaths (26%) in Australia involve people born overseas, including residents, overseas tourists and international students. Although men continue to be over-represented in these statistics, the research found that women in migrant communities often act as conduits and advocates for water safety among their families, including their menfolk.

This research forms part of an industry-based PhD research project led by Ms Pidgeon, in partnership with James Cook University, to investigate the drowning incidence and risk mitigation strategies for migrant populations living in Australia. It builds on previous Royal Life Saving research investigating overseas-born drowning deaths in Australia and highlights the organisation’s ongoing commitment to address drowning in high-risk populations, and is a priority area of the Australian Water Safety Strategy 2030.

Further information

Reducing inequities among adult female migrants at higher risk for drowning in Australia: The value of swimming and water safety programs. Stacey M. Willcox-Pidgeon, Richard C. Franklin, Sue Devine, Peter Leggat and Justin Scarr. Health Promotion Journal of AustraliaDOI: 10.1002/hpja.407