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Punishing parents won’t stop truancy: why Rudd and Gillard are wrong

27 Aug

On ABC you may read Unleashed: Punishing parents won’t stop truancy by Brian Burgess.

The recent policy announcement of the Rudd government to reduce welfare payments to parents whose children truant from school reflects a concern with a significant issue, but completely misses the mark in how to address it.

Truancy affects 20,000 children and is a complex and multi layered problem. It can occur in any household, not just welfare dependant ones. If a policy of this kind was to be expanded to include all families, which you think in fairness it should, then how would it look? Would we see a tax levy on non-welfare families, or perhaps as a kind of incentive, we could include tax credits for families whose children do attend? These suggestions are obviously simplistic and probably unworkable yet they are in the same vein as the government’s policy suggestion.

Truancy is currently addressed by a range of initiatives designed to engage students in their learning and families in their child’s education. For example with young children in low socio-economic areas where the family may have had no successful personal experience with education the co-location of maternal health centres and pre-schools with the primary school develops connectedness and trust and breaks down some of the barriers to successful engagement with families. Other current initiatives include parenting programs run with the school’s participation where parenting skills are encouraged and an appreciation of the importance of education is developed. Many schools employ staff to build relationships with parents to try and understand and emphasise with their needs and so gain their support…

Then I note that Jim Belshaw has addressed the issue:

Assume that we have a single mum totally dependant on welfare with a thirteen year old daughter, fifteen year old son. I have not been able to check the exact figures, but this family will be receiving per fortnight something like $348 in Family Tax Benefits plus $546 in parenting payments for a total of $894.

This is not a lot of money. If they are renting in the private market place the family will attract some Commonwealth Rent Assistance. Outside regional areas, this family probably cannot afford private rental.

Assume that they are paying $400 per fortnight for a three bedroom cottage. This will attract $126 in rent assistance. After rent, their fortnightly net income is $620 or $44 per day.

They may be in social housing. In this event, they are either not eligible for rent assistance or in NSW, Victoria and Queensland will have it included in rent.

Social housing applies income based rents. This family will pay 25% of income plus 15% of Family Tax Benefits, giving a fortnightly rental of $189. Now the family has a fortnightly net income after housing costs of $705 or $50 per day.

Think about it for a moment. This family has between $44 and $50 to spend per day, or between $15 and $17 per person. Not a lot, is it?

Assume that our fifteen year old son is difficult and is playing truant. Mum loses her income for thirteen weeks.

If they are renting privately they lose their house. If they are in social housing, their rent will drop to minimum, $5 per week in NSW. They will keep their house, but starve.

Call that a reality check! Well done, Jim.

Kevin and Julia: think again! What you have so far come up with on this one is populist nonsense that would have done Howard and Nelson proud. I am very disappointed in you both and am putting you on detention until further notice.

Not entirely unrelated is Spell it like it is | spiked on English/ESL (top 100 language blog!) today.

UPDATE

See Schools asked to dob in truants to Centrelink.

Education Minister Julia Gillard introduced the controversial bill to Parliament today.

The bill will enable parents’ welfare payments to be frozen for 13 weeks if their child does not go to school.

Ms Gillard told Parliament that only a small amount of parents will be affected and the Family Tax Benefit payment will be protected.

“Parents with children of compulsory school age who are affected by the measure will need to provide Centrelink with details about their child’s school enrolment,” she said. “Consistent with current responsibilities, state education authorities and non-government schools will be responsible for monitoring school attendance. In those cases where children have unsatisfactory school attendance and their parents do not take reasonable steps to work with the school to address the situation, the education authority or school can choose to notify Centrelink. The bill has been carefully developed to ensure that mechanisms are available to minimise any adverse effects on parents and their families as an outcome of suspended income support payments,” she added.

However, Ms Gillard also says that in extreme cases, if no further proof is given by a parent after a suspension that they are making their child go to school, payments may be cancelled altogether.

But parents who can show they have taken “reasonable steps” to get their children to go to school will not have their welfare payments suspended, Ms Gillard said.

“Some children, particularly young adults do not have satisfactory school attendance despite concerted actions by parents,” she said. “Under the measure, parents who are taking reasonable steps to ensure their children attend school will be considered to be satisfying their requirements.”

The proposed measures will be initially trialed at eight sites in the Northern Territory and Western Australia.* The scheme will be evaluated in 2010 before it is rolled out nationally…

* Subtext: Indigenous communities…

On the other hand, this is not quite as draconian as first feared… It is, however, likely to add to the burdens of some of the most marginal and dysfunctional people/families without any guarantee of success.

 

One response to “Punishing parents won’t stop truancy: why Rudd and Gillard are wrong

  1. AV

    August 27, 2008 at 4:21 pm

    Truancy affects 20,000 children and is a complex and multi layered problem.

    Lowest common denominator politics, on the other hand, is relatively simple. A kindergartener could do it. (Assuming the kindergartener has turned up to class.)

     
 
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