Preparing our children for school and beyond

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Ardoch Early Years Literacy Volunteering program

There is a well-known saying: it takes a village to raise a child. Like many of these old sayings there is a fundamental truth to this and three of the Foundation’s recent Education grants illustrate how important the ‘village’ is to the success of the child. In different ways each of these projects demonstrates how the wider community can support younger generations to embrace education, and reap all the benefits that brings.

In 2001, a group of Australia’s leading researchers in children’s health and development met to discuss ideas for improving the life outcomes of Australia’s children. Agreeing that collaboration was vital, the group decided to create a research alliance. Recognising the potential of such a collaboration, The Ian Potter Foundation provided $400,000 to help the group establish the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY).

‘There is ample evidence that multidisciplinary, inter-sectoral efforts can work‘, said the group’s first CEO, Prof Fiona Stanley AC (now a Governor of The Ian Potter Foundation). ‘Australia has already had spectacular world-leading successes in endeavours including AIDS strategy and the campaign to reduce road deaths in young people.’

ARACY became the first organisation to attempt to bring together all Australian researchers, policymakers and practitioners who focus on children and young people’s health and wellbeing. Today, ARACY has grown into an alliance with more than 2000 members from all areas including academia, business, government, the community sector and the wider community.

ARACY has now been working for 10 years to create a better future for Australia’s youth, and continues its work in collaboration and evidence-based research and prevention programs across of a number of projects.

A recent ARACY research project, right@home is an Australian multi-state, sustained nurse home-visiting (SNHV) randomised controlled trial (RCT) designed to promote family wellbeing and child development. The trial is based on the Maternal Early Childhood Sustained Home-visiting program that aims to help parents care for and respond to their children, creating a supportive home learning environment. This program is a collaboration between ARACY, Centre for Community Child Health (CCCH) and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and the Translational Research and Social Innovation (TReSI) group at the University of Western Sydney.

The right@home research project has two phases. Phase one has been in progress since July 2011 and focuses on children up to two years old.  Phase two will look at the long-lasting effects of the SNHV program for children from two to five years old, especially on their school readiness.

Breaking the cycle of intergenerational disadvantage is one of the most complex and difficult challenges faced by our society, and over the years, The Ian Potter Foundation has supported a number of innovative programs aimed at addressing this continuing issue.

The 2007 Vinson report ‘Dropping off the Edge: The Distribution of Disadvantage in Australia’ (DOTE) placed Benalla in the top 40 disadvantaged areas in Victoria. This spurred a group of local residents to tack action. In consultation with the community, they developed an ambitious community-wide program to fill the gaps in existing services and create a better future for their town. Knowing that community-driven, place-based programs have the greatest chance of success, in 2009 the Foundation made the first of four grants over four years totalling $900, 000 to support Benalla’s Tomorrow: Today Foundation and their Education Benalla Program.

Working with schools, parents, community groups and government agencies, the multi-faceted program supports families throughout children’s infancy and school years. The aim is that education and training completion rate for Benalla’s 17–24 years olds will equal or exceed the Victorian average for non-disadvantaged districts by 2030.

So far, the Tomorrow: Today team have implemented a range of programs across the childhood years. They have started a pre-school program, Parents Early Education Partnership (PEEP),  encouraging mothers of young children to engage with their children through stories and imaginative play. 

The Reading Buddies program is run through all of the primary schools in Benalla with a 150% increase in the number of students participating since its start in 2012.

For older students, a mentoring program called Hands on Learning (HOL) started in 2010. This program focuses on engaging middle school students in activities that help the community with assistance from community members. This program’s aim is to identify disengaged youth at risk of early school leaving and help them feel more connected to the community, feel better able to cope when things go wrong, feel supported by friends and family and ultimately finish their schooling.

Similarly, the Connect9 Mentoring Program brings together volunteer mentors and young people identified as ‘vulnerable’ to share experiences such as bushwalking, sports, movies, and other outdoor activities. Having contact with adults from the community provides an opportunity for vulnerable young people to explore possible career pathways, and receive support and understanding for issues such as mental health problems.

In 2011 an initial evaluation of the Education Benalla Program by The University of Melbourne confirmed some significant improvements in key indicators for groups of pre-school children and Year 9 students, as well as a dramatic decrease in suspension rates and a huge jump in kids wanting to finish Year 12. Hopes are high that this community-driven initiative will be the catalyst for lasting change and a brighter future for this town and others like it.

Another grant recipient, the Ardoch Youth Foundation has been working for over 25 years to provide education support for children and young people in disadvantaged communities. The Ian Potter Foundation has most recently provided funding for Ardoch’s Early Language and Literacy program to train volunteers to provide targeted support in early years services. The program has been developed with Deakin University to create an early years training program and manual that aims to equip volunteers with the skills, knowledge and confidence to build vulnerable children’s literacy, play and language skills and engage parents in supporting their children’s learning.

Each of these organisations’ programs is drawing on the resources of the community to try to tip the balance back in the favour of children and young people, to show them and their families the benefits of being engaged in education, and ultimately to give them the best chance to reach their potential.

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Case Studies,Education

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