Kurnai Young Parents Program was initially known as the Kurnai Young Mums Program (KYM). It was planned in 2013 and commenced in 2014. The program was initiated after concerns were expressed by Kurnai College staff that a number of female students had left school prior to completing their secondary education, in order to have or care for children, and had not reengaged with their education at a later stage in their lives. The outcomes for them and their children were expected to be poor.
Through research, it is known that teenage mothers and their children are at high risk of poor social, emotional, educational and employment outcomes. Their poverty, obstacles to accessing education, and the lack of opportunities to reach their full potential often compound this risk. It can eventually cause serious harm to their children.
The challenge for The Smith Family
Kurnai College approached The Smith Family and together they started to investigate and plan a course that would appeal to and be meaningful to the young parents. This required linking in with a number of external stakeholders and agencies to help resolve a multitude of issues that emerged including: finding a suitable venue to deliver the course that also had easy access to a registered child minding centre and was reasonably well served by public transport; staffing the program; structuring the program; and ensuring the course was affordable for the students and viable for the school.
The challenge for the students
A number of the major challenges faced by the young parents were identified by evaluation through an interview with the teacher delivering the program, a focus group with ten students participating in the program in 2014, and further interviews with two students participating in the program in 2015.
It was clear from the interviews that the students were living in a range of very difficult circumstances and were often under extreme stress due to financial pressures, insecure housing, family violence, delicate mental health, and the pressures of being a single and inexperienced parent.
The young parents expressed a strong sense of feeling isolated from mainstream society; they felt judged and ostracized. This was commonly given as a key reason for dropping out of mainstream school. Some of the students also had learning disabilities that made certain learning outcomes a struggle. They reported that they found it difficult to complete some tasks without support. Many of the students had disengaged from their education some years before they became parents and they lacked positive experiences at school.
Several of the students also had difficulty developing relationships and interacting with others in a group environment and in a broader work like environment. Some were also finding their role as parents of young children challenging and this compounded the challenges they were facing in trying to attend and engage at school.
Over the three years 2014 – 16, the course has attracted over 64 students who came with the desire to improve their future and that of their children.
The students interviewed indicated with passion that the course had exceeded their expectations and had “changed my life”.
The key aspects of the program appreciated by the students was the consideration and understanding of their additional needs, the personal support and commitment provided by the Kurnai Young Parents Program staff; the friendship and support of the other young parents who understood their situation provided encouragement and motivation to complete their course.
The students were very clear that the course had improved their confidence, their educational learning and how to deal with life’s challenges. In answer to the question “What is the best feature of the KYP program?”, all twelve students participating in the focus group rated the program as excellent. They indicated that without it, their lives would have been aimless, spent watching day time TV and restricted to looking after their child/children. In the absence of KYPP they had little hope for and little interest in their future.