Very few school-age mothers complete secondary education (Barling 2007) without support; not only do they face the same tasks as other teenagers in negotiating the risks of school completion and transition from school to sustainable employment and/ or further education and training, they also face the challenges of negotiating the transition to adulthood and first-time parenthood under conditions of social and economic disadvantage (Shacklock, Harrison & Angwin 2007).
The City of Whitehorse Municipal Youth Plan 2014 to 2018 (Appendix 2 – Service Mapping) identified some relevant key themes and issues to youth engagement, among them gaps in the current service system, particularly in relation to young people with special or complex needs and the need to promote an awareness of the services that are available. Within the city of Whitehorse there are no programs specifically devoted to re-engaging young mums in education and addressing the unique barriers they face, including inflexible school policies and procedures and easy access via public transport. Education with young parents works best when conducted in a reasonably relaxed and unstructured way, and when young parents are allowed input in their program. Many of this cohort find it particularly important that they aren’t “told what to do” but rather “treated as an adult” or “like an equal” (Malin & Morrow, 2009).
These factors highlight the importance of a partnership initiative that provides a pathway for young parents to reengage in education and a collaborative approach is specifically useful when considering the diversity and complexity of young parent’s needs. Gateway LLEN has brokered a partnership between Gateway LLEN, Family Access Network (FAN) and Box Hill Institute named “iVCAL”. The partnership provides young parents already accessing FAN’s services to reengage in an educational program (in a) flexible, supportive and non-traditional environment via an online VCAL model developed by BHI. The program differs from traditional iVCAL (where students participate in a self-paced, online course that is either 100% online or a combination of online and class time) to a model designed to specifically support this cohort by providing all learning and support onsite at FAN and as an integrated part of their pre-existing “Young Mum’s” program. This way, the participants can physically access educational support while studying and are also provided with free childcare assistance. The partnership model also works to increase student awareness and understanding of career pathways accessible through this course of study option and increases collaboration between partnership members to ensure consistent delivery of training and associated support services.
In 2016 Gateway LLEN, in partnership with Family Access Network (FAN) and Box Hill Institute (BHI) successfully piloted the iVCAL partnership, establishing a best practice delivery model and sustaining the engagement of five students.