Flexible approach to learning for young mums

Jacinta Singerl with her daughter Mia, Ashley Eastwell with her daughter Isla, Amber Heathcote with her daughter Lauryn in the playroom at the Ipswich State High School Young Families Connect flexi school. (back) Program manager Corinne Harper and child care worker Kirsty Francis.

 Girls from as far away as North Brisbane have travelled two hours on at least two public transport systems to get to South-East Queensland’s only flexi school for young mothers here in Ipswich.

Corinne Harper has dedicated her career to supporting who she says, is the most disadvantaged group of women in our community.

Most teenage girls enter into their senior schooling years without a baby on their hip, but for the few who do, the Young Families Connect program paves the way for these young mums to finish their education while also caring for their child.

The girls who attend Ipswich State High School’s flexi school are there against the odds, to ensure a better future for themselves and their child.

Ashley Eastwell, 18, (pictured below) left school in year 11, the following year she had her daughter Isla.

“I am a single mother and I wanted to go back to school so I can go to university or study at TAFE. I wouldn’t have been able to go back to a normal school. I can bring my child here with me and I get to sit with her in the nursery and do my work at the same time,” Ms Eastwell said.

“I come three days a week which gets us out of the house and it’s good to have a routine. It’s a really supportive environment it makes me feel good to be supported by other mums.”

The school offers a wide range of certificate courses that can be completed faster or slower than the traditional school model.

“I think education is so important. These girls are coming from families that have probably never valued education and they haven’t seen anyone in their family finish school. Not all of them but the majority of them,” Ms Harper said.

“They come to me and say ‘I’m dumb, I’m stupid I haven’t been to school since I was 13, my attendance is poor, I can’t do it’ to see those same girls then graduate and go to their school formal, they are so proud of themselves.

“If we can break that cycle, there is nothing like it. The taste of sweet success.

“The real difference this flexi school makes, is the girls believe they can do it. Even if they don’t do it when they are 17, they will believe they will and that is the difference I see.”

About 20 young mums are enrolled with the majority of students between 15 and 22.

Ms Harper started a version of the program 13 years ago at Redbank Plains State High School.

“I could see a need for more flexible learning. If you’ve got a sick baby, you can’t come to school, if you are homeless or in a domestic violence situation, it is going to be difficult to maintain, if you don’t have childcare, the girls would just drop out of school,” she said.

Ipswich State High School has set aside a new building this year for the program, which has a sleep room, a fulltime day carer and playroom, as well as a kitchen, bathroom and computer room.

“We are not funded directly by Education Queensland but our principal, Simon Riley, is committed to filling the need in the community for this type of service,” Ms Harper said.

“We are also supported by Share the Dignity, The Nappy Collective, Save the Children and the Brave Foundation.”

The centre is the host site for a new partnership between West Moreton Health, Mission Australia CFC Inala-Ipswich and Brave Foundation to help young mothers access to health, wellbeing and parenting support through the Brave SEPT (Supporting Expecting and Parenting Teens) Program.

“We have a child health nurse who provides routing health checks, a midwifery nurse navigator and social workers to help connect the girls with the right services,” Ms Harper said.

“We also have playgroup every week and we welcome pregnant women as well as mothers.”

“The journey might be different now but the destination can stay the same.’’

They were the words of advice that Brave Foundation founder Bernadette Black (above) received from her high school teacher after discovering she was pregnant at 16 years.

Ms Black, who was a 2019 Australian of the Year finalist, said those 13 words made all the difference.

The Tasmanian was in Ipswich recently to meet with those running one of nine Brave SEPT (Supporting Expecting and Parenting Teens) mentoring programs in the country.

She said Ipswich was identified as having a higher incidence of teenage parents and Brave SEPT was helping young people to connect to existing support services.

“You have to build a village of support and acceptance for expecting and parenting teenagers,’’ Ms Black said. “If a young person is in a situation where they don’t have a positive voice around them then that one voice (of a mentor) can make all the difference.

“Imagine if my teacher didn’t say those words to me.’’

At 16, while waiting for an antenatal appointment, Ms Black wrote down three goals: be a good mum, finish her education and write a pamphlet to help others in a similar situation to her.

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