I can think of a dozen reasons why parents should be responsible for actions in the family. But being responsible for their children wagging school and suffering a financial penalty is not one of them!
The federal government is introducing legislation that will give schools the power to report to Centrelink the names of children of compulsory school age who wag school.
What will the punishment be for welfare parents of these children? The bill proposes that the parents' welfare payments will be frozen for 13 weeks if their child does not attend school.
Federal education minister, Julia Gillard, stated that "in those cases where children have unsatisfactory school attendance and their parents do not take reasonable steps to work with the school to address the situation, the education authority or school can choose to notify Centrelink".
I consider that this is unjust legislation for these reasons:
- It discriminates against welfare dependent parents. Why should parents receiving Centrelink benefits be singled out and other parents of wagging children not be given a similar consequence? Is the government going to fine parents who do not receive benefits an equivalent of 13-weeks' Centrelink payments?
- This kind of legislation attacks some of the most vulnerable people in our society - single mothers and fathers who are some of our true Aussie battlers.
- These battlers are the very people that Centrelink is encouraging to re-enter the work force. Imagine a mother who has just obtained a new part-time job as a professional counsellor, fruit picker or supermarket checkout operator and is still receiving some Centrelink benefits. If the child refuses to go to school, she has to make emergency arrangements for the child's care so that she can continue her part-time work. But the government now wants to compound her struggles by fleecing her of Centrelink benefits for 13 weeks.
- It is unfair legislation for the impact it will have on the living expenses for welfare-dependent families. I do not know of any rental agent who is happy to suspend house rent for 13 weeks. These families are often skating close to the bread line with survival. This “big brother” tactic may cause some of these families to become destitute financially. What will that do to a child's chances of continuing with their schooling?
- I admit that children wagging school is a problem for their education and future employment prospects. However, my 30 years of family counselling experience have taught me that there can be multiple reasons why children refuse to go to school. Some of these include:
• bullying by other students that is not being addressed successfully by the school;
• children are failing in the school system;
• children think that they are being "picked on" by a teacher;
• trauma in the family caused by death, divorce, separation, and family illnesses; and
• children are not enjoying particular school subjects that are compulsory.
Why doesn't the government require and provide adequate funding for the parents and children to attend family counselling to deal with the real issues associated with wagging school?
On further questioning, the government admitted that this was a last resort action that was to be trialed in a small number of locations. Even so, it is poor policy for reasons noted above.
Ms Gillard stated that "the bill has been carefully developed to ensure that mechanisms are available to minimise any adverse effects on parents and their families as an outcome of suspended income support payments". How can this possibly be with the issues I have raised?
I admit that there are negligent parents who do not adequately supervise their children's school attendance but the government's proposed treatment of banning parents from receiving Centrelink benefits is a poorly conceived initiative.
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