02 December 2020Share
Dr Laura Miller has been awarded a Vice-Chancellor’s Staff Excellence Award for Community Engagement with the Brisbane Paralympic Football Program (BPFP).
In 2018, Laura led the establishment of an ACU partnership with BPFP, a program that supports children, youth and young adults of all abilities to participate in and enjoy community sport. BPFP uses a distinctive family-centred approach to support around 70 children with different abilities to come together on Sundays to play football (soccer) and other sports.
BPFP participants have a variety of health challenges, including cerebral palsy, developmental delays, rare genetic disorders, intellectual impairment, Autism Spectrum Disorder and ADHD. Some are undergoing treatment for cancer.
Laura is the FHS Academic Lead in Specialist Learning Environments and Simulation at ACU and an Occupational Therapist by training. Her passion for enabling kids with disabilities to live full lives drives her work with BPFP to create mutually beneficial community engagement opportunities for ACU students.
Our students work to support the program in a variety of ways. For example, Bachelor of Occupational Therapy students undertake professional placements to work intensively one-on-one with each family during the week, while students from the Faculties of Health Sciences and Education and Arts support activities and games on the weekend.
Using a strengths-based approach, ACU students support participants – who range in age from four years old to young adults – to overcome any challenges they may face and enable participation in activities that are important and meaningful to them and their families.
Each participant is encouraged to set goals about skills and activities they’d like to be able to have – which may include not only football skills, but also social and language skills and activities of daily living.
“Through a strength-based approach, you really see that every person is amazing, every person can participate and be who they want to be,” says Laura.
BPFP helps to make sport more accessible for the families, Laura says, because the program also welcomes and involves participants’ siblings.
“If you have to take three children to three different sport activities… that can be challenging for families who may already be juggling many appointments. But with BPFP, the whole family can come and participate,” Laura said.
As for ACU students, Laura says they not only benefit from the opportunity to apply discipline-specific skills, but also from problem-solving across a wide range of real-life scenarios – such as working with children who may experience challenges with communication or emotional regulation.
“They really learn to communicate with empathy, and how to connect with many different people.”
Laura says power of the program is evident in the fact that students who have completed their placement duties often return to continue serving as junior coaches on Sundays.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit this year, lockdown brought community sport to a halt. As restrictions eased, the BPFP was faced with a new set of challenges about how to enable participation while ensuring COVID-safety for participants – many of whom would be in a high-risk category due to existing health conditions.
ACU codesigned a COVID-safe plan with BPFP so it could resume its activities. The university also offered to host the Sunday football matches at the Banyo campus to ensure an optimally safe environment.
Laura also worked with BPFP to design a new program, PREP-4-BPFP, to provide the younger participants with intensive support so they could return to playing sport safely. Through this program, ACU occupational therapy students provided online support sessions to kids and their families, to continue with goal-setting, skill development and community participation.
Laura says that managing a response to a pandemic gave students an opportunity to be agile and respond to community needs.
“In doing things differently, they had to work really hard as regulations and guidelines were changing week by week – and we collaborated with BPFP on all aspects of the decision-making.”
This included creating community engagement opportunities via Zoom sessions for locked-down students in Melbourne and Sydney, who could not undertake activities face to face.
The BPFP partnership has grown over the years and now supports community engagements for over 50 students across a variety of disciplines, as well as honours research. ACU business students have been helping BPFP apply to become an NDIS supplier. Most recently, Melbourne students in lock-down have been engaging weekly with older participants to assist with resume writing and interview skills.
“I don’t think anyone could watch a game of the BPFP and not be deeply affected by what they see,” says Laura. “It’s amazing to see these kids happy, laughing and engaged in doing the things they like to do.”
Laura says new volunteers are welcome and there are many ways to get involved, such as being part of the steering committee, supporting business development, media or the website, or supporting participants and their families.
If you’re interested in supporting the program, please contact Laura at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr Laura Miller