Intergenerational Disadvantage in Canberra

I spoke in parliament about my latest community conversation on disadvantage, which focused on intergenerational poverty.



Fraser Community Summit, 31 May 2012

Every six months or so I hold a conversation to talk about disadvantage in the Fraser electorate. On Tuesday, 29 May I was pleased to welcome 10 representatives from local community sector groups up to Parliament House for an early breakfast conversation. I call it a community summit, but really it is more of an informal conversation with people I regard as my brains trust on poverty.

The focus of this conversation was on intergenerational disadvantage and how to stop the cycle of poverty from replicating itself across generations. One of the attendees at the summit made the point that disadvantage itself is now more complex than it was in the past and is often interrelated with issues such as mental illness, poor health, substance abuse, domestic violence and addiction. Another attendee told the story of a child whose parents were addicted to hard drugs and who was never given anything by his parents; all he had were the things that he had found or stolen. Another spoke about families who eat McDonald's every meal because it is simpler to get takeaway than to prepare a meal. Attendees were concerned about the impact of imprisonment on the children of those who are behind bars.

A central focus of many of the attendees was education. One community sector leader gave the example of students who say to her: 'I'm the first in my family to finish year 10. My parents won't come to my graduation. Will you?' Encouraging more young Canberrans to finish school is vital in reducing disadvantage. This may involve intensive work with students such as one-on-one reading support, even for high schoolers. Within schools it is important to set high expectations for young people. Australian universities need to attract more students who are the first in their family to obtain a degree. This requires working closely with students as early as year 8 to encourage them to consider higher education. While there are many active parents involved in low-SES school communities, it is generally the case that P&Cs in high-income schools tend to be more engaged. Attendees mentioned the importance of involving parents in low-SES schools and of encouraging high-SES schools to form partnerships to help the more disadvantaged members of the community.

Mentoring programs also have promise. Attendees spoke about the FaHCSIA funded SuperGrands, who work with parents to develop skills around budgeting, preparing a nutritious meal or developing regular bedtime routines. Another mentoring program, which is run by UnitingCare Kippax, connects youth in years 10 to 12 with adult mentors who range in age from 22 to 64. In the Alexander Maconochie Centre, there are several mentoring programs to help prisoners. The Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience is a mentoring program for Indigenous high schoolers, which attendees commended.

One attendee reminded us of the valuable role that grandparents can play in cases where the parents have complex needs. Another made the important observation that social capital matters. As US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton once noted, 'It takes a village to raise a child.' Sporting programs targeted at disadvantaged youth, such as the sailing program Buoyed Up, which is run in collaboration with Canberra Yacht Club, can help improve fitness and self-esteem. But attendees argued that there are not enough of these kinds of programs. My own observation with the federally funded Local Sporting Champions grants is that students from affluent backgrounds are often more likely to hear about the program than are students from poor backgrounds.

Attendees referred to a range of other programs that they felt had been successful in breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty. These include: the Home Insulation Program for Parents and Youngsters, HIPPY, a parenting and early childhood program targeting families with young children; programs in schools to encourage respectful relationships; anger management courses to help young people; classes run by Nutrition Australia to teach people to prepare meals that include more fruit and vegetables; and the the Jobs, Education and Training Program JET, program, which provides childcare at 10c an hour and which several attendees argued should be available for a longer duration. We also briefly discussed the 2012 ACT targeted assistance strategy which was chaired by Gordon Ramsay and which looked at what the ACT government can do to better deal with hard-core disadvantage in our city.

I thank the 10 attendees: Fiona MacGregor, Carmel Franklin, Gordon Ramsay, Jenny Kitchin, John Goss, Simon Rosenberg, Camilla Rowland, Kiki Korpinen, Jess Aulich and Lynne Harwood. I also thank members of my staff Claire Daley and Damien Hickman for helping to organise the event. As one attendee put it, breaking the intergenerational cycle of disadvantage is about 'instilling a sense of hope'. I thank the attendees for another valuable conversation about tackling poverty in Canberra.
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