Funding called for young mothers

From left to right: transition coach Kirstie, SELLEN chief executive officer Andrew Simmons, Dr Penny Round, Young Pregnant & Parenting Network president Lyn Allison, and Young Parents Program manager Mary Tresize – Brown. Picture: Supplied

By Violet Li

An evaluation report by Monash University has highlighted the need for sustainable funding for a program that supports young mothers in the South East with education and employment.

Young Mothers Transition Program (YMTP), launched in 2022 by South East Local Learning and Employment Network (SELLEN), aims to engage or re-engage young mothers across Casey, Cardinia, and Greater Dandenong in education and employment through a case management model.

Two transition coaches work with young mothers to help address barriers to transport, mental health, housing, and childcare so that they can complete post-compulsory education and build knowledge for future employment.

The program of complementary nature functions alongside the Young Parents Education Program (YPEP) at Cranbourne Secondary College and Foundation Learning Centre which provides inclusive education and early parenting expertise – young parents bring their baby with them and are supported by qualified parenting experts.

The YMTP has seen over 110 young mothers in the region registered in the past two years.

Young Parents Program manager Mary Tresize – Brown said funding for the current YMTP program ceased on 30 June and would finish by October or November this year without further funding.

YMTP is currently funded by the Women’s Leadership and Development Program (WLDP) of the Office for Women in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

“It’s hard to secure sustainable funding. There are funding grants available of course but long term, they are not sustainable,” Ms Tresize – Brown said.

“I am working on finding ways to ensure it continues.”

A program participant, who preferred not to be named, said she wouldn’t have been able to finish school without the resources provided by YMTP and YPEP.

“Kirstie [transition coach] has been an enormous help, from helping me with clothing and other essentials for the baby to helping with more difficult things such as Centrelink, lawyers, and learning about how to acquire housing, as well as getting me a stroller that I take everywhere with me,” she said.

“It was great I had someone to help me with everything, which I am extremely grateful…

“This program has helped me achieve major and minor goals but has also allowed me to gain so much knowledge, not only relating to schoolwork but also to general day-to-day life skills.”

The report by Dr Penny Round of Monash University evaluated the program as “overwhelmingly successful”.

Dr Round said Jen and Kirstie [transition coaches] were able to have sustained contact with young parents and be able to help them address barriers so that education was possible for them.

“They were always solution-focused,” she said.

“They were supportive, strength-based and they were the absolute resource for young mothers to be able to re-engage with their pathways, but also to support their baby.

“They were very accessible and that was important because what happened over time was that the students learned to trust Jen and Kirstie and to know that they were there. And not only were they there, but they were helping.”

Dr Round recommended in the report that more transition coaches needed to be employed to ensure the continued success of young parents and their education.

“It was just the right people for the right job and so we need more Jen and Kirstie,” she said.

“We also need to make sure that funding is there because I just can’t imagine what would happen if they weren’t there.”

A spokesperson for the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet said it was a one-off grant awarded to the SELLEN in 2021 through the Women’s Leadership and Development Program to pilot the Young Mothers Transition Project.

“We recognise the project has had a positive impact on the lives of young mothers in Melbourne’s South East,” they said.

“We encourage SELLEN to register on GrantConnect where future grant rounds and other upcoming Australian Government grant opportunities are published.”

The South East region has recorded low Year 12 completion rates. About 16.9 per cent of young people in Casey, Cardinia, and Greater Dandenong Region have completed Year 10 or less.

According to the 2016 Census, there are 1110 young people in the region with parenting responsibilities.

Many of them lack family or other support to continue their education and obtain a Year 12 certificate.