The CEO of a leading children’s charity has called for stronger school-community partnerships to deliver proper support to disadvantaged children and put a stop to the rise in child poverty.
The comments follow a new report, titled Poverty in Australia 2016, conducted by the Social Policy Research Centre, which showed that 2.9m Australians, mainly women, are living below the poverty line.
Alarmingly, it also revealed that child poverty in Australia had increased by 2% over the decade to 2013-14
The Smith Family CEO, Dr Lisa O’Brien, told The Educator that addressing child poverty was a significant challenge and one that required “strong partnerships across organisations and sectors”.
“Schools have a role, but we can’t expect them to solve the whole problem. At The Smith Family we work in close partnership with local schools to help enable the best educational outcomes for the disadvantaged children and families we support,” she said.
“Our focus is on helping young Australians break the cycle of disadvantage and we look to supporting their educational attainment as key to making this happen.”
How schools can fight poverty
O’Brien pointed out that at the local level, schools can develop links with a range of organisations, like The Smith Family, who can provide specialised assistance to disadvantaged families.
“There are many small but important things that schools can do to help. Providing access, where possible, to affordable uniforms and stationery, ensuring students aren’t further disadvantaged by not having a home internet connection and being mindful of the impact of the cost of excursions and school camps on very low income families, are some of them.
“Schools could also consider offering no-cost after-school learning programs, in partnership with community organisations. These provide students with the extra help and learning support that they might need.”
The Smith Family’s Learning for Life program – which operates in 94 communities – supports 34,000 disadvantaged young Australians with educational programs that help them to make the most of their school years so they can go on to further study, training or a job.
O’Brien said the program has been having a real impact in disadvantaged communities across Australia, adding that it demonstrates the importance of stronger partnerships between schools and their communities.
“We partner with schools in disadvantaged communities to address the barriers and enablers to school engagement, and build a network of supports and opportunities to link parents, schools and the community to overcome the barriers that disadvantage can create,” she said.
“Children on our Learning for Life program are referred to us for support by schools located in the communities in which we work.”
One academic who leads an organisation which engages donors at all giving levels to fund movements for progressive social change suggested an overhaul of existing welfare arrangements to help alleviate the pressures on disadvantaged communities.
Gonski money making a real difference
Dr David Morawetz, founder of the Social Justice Fund, said the increase in child poverty meant that better early childhood education for all 0-5 year-olds was needed.
“We need to implement in full the Gonski needs-based system for school education. That will enable disadvantaged kids to get the extra help that they need,” Dr Morawetz told The Educator.
“We also need to increase the single parent payment. Right now, 40% of kids in single parent families are living under the poverty line.”
Dr Morawetz also suggested that the Newstart Allowance – as well as “most of the other child-related welfare payments” – be increased to help struggling families support themselves and their children.
“More than 730,000 [one child in six] children live in poverty. In single-parent families, four children in 10 now live in poverty,” he said.
“After 25 years of uninterrupted economic growth we can do better than this.”