Changes to Kidsport grants will mean that CirQuest Circus will no longer be eligible to accept Kidsport vouchers for participants’ fees, as of July 2018. Until then we are still registered as a Kidsport club but, after July, families with access to the grants will no longer be able to use them for CirQuest classes.
The hugely successful program has enabled 70,000 children in low-income families to access physical activity outside of school, and has been a model which other states have followed. KidSport funding has been available for children aged 5-18 with valid health care or pensioner concession cards, or who may be experiencing financial hardship, to join community sporting and recreation clubs.
In December 2017, the State Government of Western Australia announced that the program would be restricted to only apply to activities which meet the Department of Sport and Recreation’s definition of sport, which is as follows:
*Sport is defined as “a human activity involving physical exertion and skill as the primary focus of the activity, with elements of competition where rules and patterns of behaviour governing the activity exist formally though organisations and is generally recognised as a sport” (Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries website),
According to this definition, only activities which are competitive in nature will be eligible for program inclusion after July 2018. This rigid definition excludes many physical recreation activities of huge benefit for the health and wellbeing of WA children, and in particular for those children who are, because of disability or other individual differences, unable to participate in mainstream sport.
When the changes come into effect in July, the impact on CirQuest will be quite small. The Kidsport grant program is only used by a small proportion of our members, and the cumbersome way in which it is delivered results in a disproportionate amount of administration work to access the funds for us. But we are concerned that those families who need the funding the most won't be able to choose the activities that work best for their children, and will only be able to use the grants for competitive sport.
Children who don’t like, or find it difficult to participate in, competitive sport are the very children who most need assistance to stay physically active. These kids are, because of the same factors which make sport inaccessible, more vulnerable to social isolation, one of the most significant contributing factors in poor health outcomes over the lifespan.
Furthermore, many non-sporting recreational physical activities are the benchmark for inclusive service provision, in that children with disabilities are supported to participate alongside and in collaboration with typically-developing children, in a way that they are often not in mainstream sport. Reducing the access of children with disabilities on low incomes to the best quality inclusive activities is not only reducing the variety of options available, but indeed cutting out the very ones best suited to meet their individual needs.
Scouting Australia has led the discussion about the impact that program changes will have on families, and on 27th December, Nicolas Perpitch’s article “Kidsport voucher change angers Scouts and Girl Guide groups.” In response to the arguments I have discussed here, the Minister’s office was quoted in that article by saying that Scouts and Girl Guides get funding through other departments and LotteryWest. This is deliberately conflating the issue, because grants from these sources cannot be used to cover the costs of important aspects of service delivery, such as insurance, financial management, and administration expenses, without which clubs cannot provide any activities at all. These costs can only be met through fee-for-service delivery models, and the Kidsport program is a great example of funding that is targeted to assist those in need without disadvantaging the clubs who choose to provide inclusive activities.
The Healthy Active Kids reports identify that the proportion of kids getting the recommended amount of physical activity in Australia may be as low as 19%. This is no time to be further restricting the access to physical activity of those children in our community most vulnerable to physical inactivity and social isolation.
I expressed these views in a letter to Minister Mick Murray in December and received a reply, in which the Minister states that “The intent of the State Government s KidSport initiative is to reduce the financial barrier for children from lower socio-economic backgrounds to participate in recognised community sporting groups. The previous club eligibility criteria allowed KidSport grants to be accessed by organisations that were not recognised as offering an official sport, which did not meet the intention of the program.” The Minister offers no explanation as to why the intention of the program has been so restrictive as to include only competitive sport, or why, since the program has been so popular among children seeking alternatives to sport, the intention of the program has not been updated to meet the needs of the community.
The Minister goes on to state that “The McGowan Government recognises that organised sport offers great benefits to its participants” but does not state what these are, or how these benefits differ from those obtained by participation in co-operative, non-competitive physical activity.
We know that the social determinants of health have a compounding effect and that the reduction of opportunities for people who have one risk factor to access other protective factors will have a cascading effect on their lifelong wellbeing.
If you agree that the changes to the Kidsport program to exclude beneficial physical activity that is non-competitive in nature is a backward step by the Department of Sport and Recreation, I urge you to write to the Minister and let him know. The announcement, which was buried in the Christmas rush and a busy news week, has caused very little community response and besides the one article published on the ABC News website, has had very little media attention.
What the Minister apparently fails to understand are the reasons why families and children choose alternatives to competitive sport, and why physical activity that is non-competitive is just as beneficial, if not more so, than competitive sport. He needs to hear this from the voices of parents, not just those whose organizations will be excluded from eligibility, like me and Scouting Australia. You don't have to be eligible for a Kidsport grant to become engaged in this issue; if your children find sport does not meet their needs, the Minister needs your input to understand why these changes are so harmful.
You can contact The Hon. Michael Murray at email@example.com.