By Charlise Bennett, Australian Recreational Therapy Association (ARTA) Executive Officer 

In Australia, the Australian Recreational Therapy Association (ARTA) is the peak professional body for people working in health and utilizing recreation, and leisure to support client outcomes. In September 2022, the association changed names from Diversional and Recreation Therapy Australia to give clarity, as a profession about who we are and what we do. 

Recreational therapy, is also known as therapeutic recreation, is a type of healthcare that uses leisure and recreation to support individuals. This can be done through community inclusion, recreation participation, and leisure awareness, assisting people with health conditions, disabilities, illnesses, or other medical conditions to improve their physical, cognitive, emotional, psychological, and social functioning. Recreational therapy can be a powerful tool in contributing to the quality of life of individuals of all ages and backgrounds.

The association has four core values that form the foundation of ARTA. These values guide and drive our strategies and actions towards excellence as a profession, and higher standards of practise both nationally and internationally. These are promotion, collaboration, knowledge and integrity. This includes to promote and advocate for the profession in various arenas and settings. Collaborate with other health professions and members within the profession. Providing opportunities for education and ongoing professional development with lifelong learning. As a self-regulating body, the association ensures members uphold best practice standards and professional services.

Our members work in a variety of health care settings, and this includes residential aged care facilities, hospitals, rehabilitation, disability services, corrections, youth work, palliative care and drug and alcohol services and community services, such as respite and home care. ARTA supports members in all of these areas through lobbying and advocating for our members, resulting in better outcomes for the clients they work with. In the last six months we have been collaborating with different government organisations such as the Aged Care Skills industry Council, The Australian Bureau of Statistics

Australian Aged Care services, both community and residential are funded significantly through the federal government. The funding includes provision for direct care staff. At the end of 2022 the government made an application (to the fair work commission) for direct care staff to be entitled to a 15% pay rise, beginning on July 1, 2023, of this year. However, when seeking clarification in what constituted a ‘direct care worker’ it only appeared to include personal care workers or assistants in nursing care.

ARTA lobbied government to be included in the pay rise for our workforce. As an association we have just been advised that the federal government has since changed their stance on our workforce and they are now being included in the 15% ray rise.

In residential aged care, the recreational therapy teams support the emotional wellbeing of residents in the pursuit of meaningful engagement in leisure and lifestyle programs. During covid, residents were unable to have visitors, socialise, or engage in leisure or recreation activities outside the walls of the residential care facility. The aged care sector is currently experiencing a workforce exodus from positions in leisure and lifestyle. We applaud the Australian government’s recent decision to reverse their decision and include recreation and lifestyle staff as direct care workers.

These are exciting times as a profession, with changing the name of the association appearing to minimise ambiguity for the profession, with more to come. As an association the next step is being recognised as an allied health profession across Australia.