Speech by The Hon Julie Collins MP

Opening Address Communities for Children National Forum

Location: Stamford Grand Hotel, Glenelg

**Check against delivery**

Thank you Mike.

Before I begin, I wish to acknowledge the Traditional Owners on whose land we meet today, and pay my respects to their Elders, past and present.

It’s great to be back in South Australia to open the National Forum on behalf of Minister Jenny Macklin.

It was only a couple of months ago I was here to announce funding to expand the Playford Communities for Children site.

I was also pleased to be able to launch the book of one of the organisers of this forum, Karl Brettig.

I’d like to thank Karl and the rest of the organisers: Sue (Christophers), Helen (Francis), Sam (Haskard), Fiona (Dale), Jacqui (Dell), Annie (Adams) and Janine (Carger).

I see the next two days as an opportunity to get together and reflect on the important work you’ve done over the past year.

To share the lessons you have learnt on how to best support disadvantaged children and families.

And look at how we respond to the changing needs of Australian families into the future.

The Gillard Government has been very supportive of the Communities for Children model.

Over the next three years, the Government is investing $134.9 million in our Communities for Children service providers nationally.

This includes $15.9 million in South Australia.

As you’re probably aware, at the beginning of next year we’ll have 52 sites up and running in disadvantaged communities around Australia.

Communities for Children is making real improvements to the lives of vulnerable Australians.

And along with these studies, there a many individual stories highlighting its success.

A local example comes from Port Augusta.

Here they have a volunteer group of parents with young children who are working hard to create a more family-friendly city.

This group, called the Parent Advisory Group Extraordinaire, has moved well beyond just being a parenting support service.

It’s offering parents the opportunity to get involved in networking, advocacy and research, in their efforts to build a stronger community.

Earlier this month they hosted a successful anti-bullying expo, attended by more than a thousand students.

This shows how the benefits of the program can flow into the wider community.

And that’s one of the features of Communities for Children – bringing families and their communities together.

It’s these local ideas and ways of connecting people and communities that are so effective.

I have seen first-hand the wonderful work being carried out at these sites.

Families are always approaching me and telling me about how valuable these services are.

They’re full of praise for people like yourselves who are a key part of why it has been so successful.

The evaluation of Communities for Children program demonstrated that it has been successful in improving the language skills of disadvantaged children.

This is significant in itself, but certainly not all it has been proven to achieve.

The Stronger Families in Australia Study also showed that the program helped decrease the jobless rates among parents and increased their involvement in their communities.

More importantly, for the lives of the children at Communities for Children sites, research shows that parenting skills have also improved.

This is great news, and testament to the job your services are doing on the ground.

It shows that we’re on the right track.

That is why the Gillard Government has boosted funding to Communities for Children to expand and enhance the program.

Communities for Children is also a key part of the Gillard Government’s Budget package to help people experiencing multiple and interrelated forms of disadvantage.

As part of the Building Australia’s Future Workforce package, we are trialling a series of measures to help people participate in the workforce.

Because we have far too many families who are not benefiting from our country’s economic growth.

We have concentrated areas that continue to have very high unemployment rates.

A very high proportion of families in these communities are living their lives from one generation to another on income support.

There are very poor rates of children finishing secondary school.

And often these locations are just a few streets away from places of great prosperity.

To begin with, we’re targeting our efforts to 10 of our nation’s most disadvantaged communities.

  • Playford (SA)
  • Hume (Vic)
  • Shepparton (Vic)
  • Burnie (Tas)
  • Bankstown (NSW)
  • Wyong (NSW)
  • Shellharbour (NSW)
  • Rockhampton (Qld)
  • Logan (Qld)
  • Kwinana (WA)

These are communities with high numbers of very long-term unemployed and teenage parents.

Because the evidence is clear that children whose parents do not work experience worse developmental outcomes and delays, including poorer health and educational outcomes and greater risk of welfare dependence.

Teenage parents and jobless families will have new participation requirements linked to their parenting payments.

This will encourage teenage parents to finish school or another form of training.

Without this they may face a lifetime of poverty.

We are doing this the right way, with more supports.

Essential to our package are more integrated services and supports for teenage parents and jobless families.

We are running Communities for Children services in these sites, investing more than $23 million.

This will expand seven existing sites and establish three new Communities for Children sites in Bankstown, Rockhampton and Shepparton.

They will enable the design of local, tailored services that better target entrenched disadvantage and long-term welfare dependence.

This includes access to early intervention and assistance to help improve health, wellbeing and development outcomes for children.

Our investment will help ensure that parents in these sites have the support they need to give their children the best start in life.

Importantly, we are building parents’ skills and confidence, and providing access to early learning and development opportunities.

Our new approach balances new responsibilities with new opportunities.

There’s also a lot of additional funding to bring community organisations in to help us with this.

There’s more assistance in job services, more affordable child care and more parenting support.

In doing that we also need to find new ways to give communities a say in how we go about this:

  • We will use local committees in each of the locations to guide and drive the supports for these groups;
  • We have allocated $25 million for a local innovation fund across the ten sites in Australia,
  • And this is in addition to the extra funding for Communities for Children nationally.

Because we know that identifying the early warning signs and taking early action to help protect vulnerable children is critical.

When disadvantaged children can’t enjoy the same opportunities as their peers, their problems can extend to health, development, learning and wellbeing.

It’s something the Government is addressing as part of the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009- 2020.

The Framework encourages all levels of government and the community sector to work together to promote and safeguard the wellbeing of children and young people.

As part of our Early Childhood reforms the Government is also investing $955 million to ensure all Australian four year olds have access to 15 hours per week of quality pre-school.

We believe by supporting children during their early years, that the cycle of disadvantage can be broken.

I know another issue which will be discussed at this forum is how you attract and retain quality staff.

We know it is the workers who make a real difference in the lives of vulnerable children and families on the ground.

We know how hard you all work, and appreciate that for too long workers in the community sector have not enjoyed the same pay as those in government or commerce.

That’s why the Government has put a joint submission to Fair Work Australia on fair pay rises for social and community sector workers with the Australian Services Union.

To back this up, the Government is providing around $2 billion in supplementation over six years to fund our share of any wage increases awarded.

The Government is intending to establish a subcommittee of the Community Sector Wages Group to examine the practical issues with supplementation.

I have been asked, with Senator Jacinta Collins, to work with the sector on ensuring this is done in a sustainable and sensible way, with the involvement of SACS providers.

Another key topic for the forum is integration and partnership.

I know much is already being done across the Commonwealth, States and Territories to support social inclusion for people experiencing – and at risk of – disadvantage.

But, new levels of partnership are needed – within, across and outside of government.

These partnerships are evident in a range of other Government programs including the National Action Plan for Social Inclusion.

This is our commitment to build on the huge efforts already underway across Australia, including through COAG national reforms.

And the $1 billion Family Support Program, which brings together existing family, child and parenting services to deliver holistic, integrated support to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged families in our communities.

But entrenched disadvantage cannot be solved by any one government on its own, and that’s why forums such as this one are so critical.

We rely on the work of your organisations on the ground.

I hope your discussions over the next few days help you to continue the work that so many Australian children and families are beginning to rely on.

To consider what has already been done, identify areas for improvement and by combining shared knowledge, skills and experience, improve on service delivery.

I commend you all for your making our Communities for Children services what they are today.

The work you do can be personally challenging and confronting, and the Government acknowledges this.

I wish you all a rewarding two days and thank you.

I look forward to seeing the outcomes of this forum and reading the final paper.

Thank you.