Welfare stick fails for NT schools (SMH)

A FEDERAL government program that stopped welfare payments to Aboriginal  parents whose children missed too much school has failed to produce sustained  improvement in school attendance.

An official evaluation of the trial’s first year shows it did not improve the  attendance rate, and had little effect on lifting enrolments.

Between the program’s inception in January 2009 and August this year, 380  people had welfare payments, such as the Newstart allowance or disability  pension, suspended for an average of 21 days, and one had them cancelled for  failure either to enrol their children or to ensure regular attendance.

The program ”did not demonstrably improve the rate of attendance … overall,  nor was any effect apparent at any stage of the attendance process in 2009,”  the evaluation says. Even after the program was tweaked in the second year and  produced a spike in attendance,  the improvement was not sustained.

The  School Enrolment and Attendance through Welfare Reform Measure (SEAM),  was trialled in six Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. The  federal government has a bill pending to introduce a third version  in mid 2012,  that gives parents more help before benefits are suspended or cancelled.

As well, the government will expand the trial to a further 16 communities,  including schools in Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, and Katherine.

The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations has released  the evaluation  to the Herald in response to a request.

The Greens senator  Rachel Siewert, who has opposed the penalty approach, had  also called for the report to be made public.

The evaluation shows the threat of stopped payments brought forward school  enrolments that mostly would have happened anyway – for example, from March to  February. But it had no impact on the bigger problem of children leaving school  part-way through the year. Only 40 per cent of the children who enrolled after a  notification letter was sent to their parents stayed enrolled for the full  year.

The program’s ”poor” performance in improving attendance was due in part to  the reluctance of school principals to dob in parents to Centrelink.

The report said it was ”not clear” how the program could address the  reasons for chronic absenteeism, which included cultural obligations, clan  conflict and violence, transport and health problems.  ”Tailored case  management” was the most critical factor in reducing absenteeism, it said.

Under the scheme’s second version, implemented in 2010, children’s attendance  records were  relayed to Centrelink, bypassing the principal. A departmental   evaluation of the early stages, based on samples as small as 56 children, shows  the change led to improved initial attendance for about 80 per cent of the  children whose parents were sent a letter threatening payment suspension,  ”although many of these improvements were slight”.

The Herald has learnt, however, that the improved attendance was not  sustained   due to Centrelink’s inability to provide the necessary support to  families.

The scheme’s proposed third version will allow the  territory government to  take the running with its new approach that requires principals to convene  formal ”attendance” conferences with persistent problem families, social  workers and others. ”Attendance plans” will be drawn up.

If improvement is not evident after 28 days, families  will be referred to  Centrelink for payment suspension, and other families can be fined.

The Minister for School Education, Peter Garrett, said payment suspension  would be used as a last resort when parents had rejected repeated attempts to  discuss the barriers to their child’s attendance and assistance to resolve  them.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/national/education/welfare-stick-fails-for-nt-schools-20111221-1p5op.html#ixzz1hEm18Cr5

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Posted on December 22, 2011, in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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