All a Twitter to improve regional health

6 September 2011

Kayleen Wallace (left) is applying the social networking techniques to her work with youth at risk of type 2 diabetes.
Kayleen Wallace (left) is applying the social networking techniques to her work with youth at risk of type 2 diabetes.

Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are being used by a group of Indigenous healthcare professionals to promote healthier outcomes in rural and regional Australia.

The students of the Graduate Diploma in Indigenous Health Promotion are applying the communications strategies they have learned in the lecture room to their local communities.

They have learned the best ways to integrate the social networking tools, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube into their health promotion strategies to improve the health and wellbeing of rural and regional Australia.

The course which is being offered for the first time this year has provided Latoya Harbin, from Mount Archer State School in Rockhampton, with an ideal method of communicating with Indigenous families who do not respond to phone calls or letters sent from the school.

While working with the principal and teachers as an Indigenous Teacher Aide, Latoya's job is to make sure all Indigenous children at the school are coming to school every day, and on time.

Latoya uses Facebook to notify the parents of children who are not attending school on a regular basis or who are constantly late to school. Latoya says that from making contact on the social networking site, parents are responding within a matter of minutes or hours, as they may not have any credit to phone the school or they just didn't see the absence as a matter of urgency.

So far Latoya has made contact with 15 families through Facebook.

"Before, if children were coming in late to school or missed two consecutive days or more I have been contacting the family by phone. It was hit and miss; people change their mobile phone numbers all the time.

"Learning to use social media to promote truancy issues is certainly a great challenge and a terrific first step in reaching out to our school community," says Latoya.

It means I can be an advocate for my community and champion the government to address IT barriers in remote communities to ensure messages are received."

Kayleen Wallace who works with youth at risk of type 2 diabetes in the Queensland town of Warwick, is also applying social networking techniques learned during her studies.

"I work with young adults on a daily basis, and I am really excited about the prospects of new health promotion campaigns that use social media like Twitter and Facebook to reach our Indigenous kids.

"I work in collaboration with a nutritionist at the local hospital and we have developed individual nutrition plans for the kids aged between 16 and 22. We are planning to hold a healthy eating Expo in the very near future and social media will help us attract to the kids to the expo.

"I want to use social media because I know the kids are always using their mobile phones to SMS and contact each other so it's a great way for me to communicate with them."

Indigenous Health Promotion aims to improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health at a community level. This means identifying community needs and strengths, developing a plan of action and putting it into practice, says senior lecturer, Michelle Dickson.

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