Parents will tell you that having a kid is all consuming, but try being young and contending with a child and school as well. It’s often too much and young mums tend to drop out at an unacceptably high rate.
So, Michelle Forsyth has been working on a program that’s designed to keep young mothers engaged and involved in school so having a child early doesn’t mean a truncated education.
Port School in WA’s Young Parent Centre (YPC) is a purpose-built centre for teenage mums who are pregnant or parenting. Her role as the manager is to ensure that educational and parental outcomes are achieved and that the young mums are supported in a cohesive environment.
“I was a special needs education assistant for seven years and I have worked with teenage mums now for 11 years and find it such a rewarding job, although at times it can be challenging. I have a Graduate Certificate in Domestic Violence from CQ University, which is a something I am passionate about and would love to be able to do more to support victims on a national level,” she says.
“Being a teenage mother is very challenging, with many girls feeling discriminated against and judged in the community. By providing a centre for the girls to return to school, while they can place their baby/child in our onsite Early Learning Centre, ensures the girls are provided with the support to enhance their parenting skills and reach educational goals,” she says.
The program seeks to offer practical help to its students, just helping them to get to school can be transformative.
“The biggest challenge to support the girls to stay engaged in school is transportation. Most our students have to travel a great distance to come to the school, with many having to catch two or three buses and a train to attend. The solution to this would be to find funding to provide a bus for the mum and bub, with a driver to pick up and drop off from a few designated places.”
A new initiative is to provide camp for the young women so they can have some experiences, gain a sense of community and develop friendships and a support network.
“Providing a camp allows the girls some normalcy to be able to attend a camp and engage in team building and bonding exercises. The camp also allows the opportunity for staff of the YPC and ELC to provide support and strategies to help them with their parenting, especially over three nights.
“The activities allow the girls to have some fun, engage with each other and staff and for everyone to be able to support each other. It is about enabling the “it takes a village to raise a child,” she says.
Confirmation of the program’s success is the number of students that have stayed in school and gone on to complete further education and improve their life opportunities.
“Many of our students have gone onto further studies with several at University, TAFE and employment, but the biggest success is enhancing their parenting skills and their child achieving learning milestones such as social/emotional skills. These are amazing outcomes for a teenage mum, with some being only 14 when they have started in the YPC. They can stay until the year they turn 21, but unfortunately then, funding is cut,” Forsyth says.
The other part of the equation is the young fathers who are encouraged to take part in the programs on offer too.
“Some of our young mums have partners and we involve partners in our parenting courses, school river cruise, Christmas parties and the ELC has a playgroup session once a week which partners (biological father or not) can attend. We have had several fathers/partners attend our parenting programs such as Circle of Security,” she says.
Michelle Forsyth NGS Super Scholarship Award Winner, she will use the grant to further her work in helping young mums.