‘Someone to check in on me’
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‘Someone to check in on me’ learning from parents raising children on their own Practice Talking Forum 2008 Gail Winkworth Megan Layton-Thompson Fran Wilson Lorraine Thomson Institute of Child Protection Studies. The project.

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The project

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The project

‘Someone to check in on me’learning from parents raising children on their ownPractice Talking Forum 2008Gail WinkworthMegan Layton-ThompsonFran WilsonLorraine ThomsonInstitute of Child Protection Studies

The project

The project

  • Working ‘in the Grey’ – an action research project to build system wide support for families who formal systems find “hard to reach”

  • Northside Community Services/ Australian Government Communities for Children (C4C) Initiative/ ICPS

  • Today - early findings

Why is this important the policy context

Why is this important? The policy context

  • Children under 5

  • Integrated service delivery

  • Families most in need hardest to reach

  • Social inclusion - participation in education, employment, family life, civic life of the community

What does theory and research tell us

What does theory and research tell us

  • Special vulnerability of people on low incomes raising children on their own

  • New knowledge about early childhood – quality of child’s attachment experience and the impact of stress

  • Social support theories

The research

The research

Today - Phase 1:

Increase knowledge of the formal and informal networks used by sole parents with children under five, in receipt of income support in Inner North Canberra

The project

  • For those parents who are not well connected to the formal and/or informal systems

    • What is their experience of everyday life?

    • What forms of social support do they draw on?

    • What do they think would help them become the ‘best parents they can be’?

Research approach

Research Approach

  • Earlier work - collaborative practice Nth Canberra

  • Recruit through Centrelink (the national income transfer agency)

  • Phone survey 55 (Family Empower Scale -Freiberg and Homel, 2007; Koren, DeCullo & Friesen, 1992) and additional service questions)

  • In depth interviews 20 parents using social network mapping instrument (Tracy & Whittaker, 1990; Whittaker & Garbarino, 1983) plus questions about ‘enabling conditions’

The survey of 55 parents

The survey of 55 parents


  • Female100%(n=55)

  • Male(n=0)

  • Under 21 7%(n=4)

  • Under 2635 %(n=19)

  • ATS16% (n=3)

  • Culturally div24%(n=13)

  • Lived >5 yrs71%(n=39)

  • Lived < 2 yrs20%(n=9)

Profile children

Profile - children

97 children

under 1 (n=12)

Children 1-2 (n=20)

The project

  • Parental Efficacy (39 out of 42 rated themselves on higher end- only 3 rated low)

  • Social connectedness (35 out of 55 rated themselves on high end – 20 rated low)

Services and information

Services and information

Services accessed last 12 months

Services accessed last 12 months

Other services mentioned

Other services mentioned

Social connectedness

Social Connectedness

Know anyone well enough to

Know anyone well enough to….

The interviews

The interviews

  • 20 participants

  • Social Network Map

  • What are the experiences of parents who are not well connected to family and or the service system?

  • What can we learn from this?

The interviews1

The interviews

GPs 11 (55%)

C/link 6 (30%)

Charities 5 (25%)

11 (55%)did not nominate any

Interview participants

Interview participants

  • Skills and work “Iv’e got aspirations…Im intelligent”

  • Varied educational levels

  • 18 in public housing

  • 7 identified DV as major issue

  • 7 identified mental health

  • 8 children with special needs

  • 4 contact with Care and Protection

  • 5 refugee/ migrants

  • 2 Indigenous

  • 2 contact with Corrective services, YJ or DPP

Key messages from early analysis

Key messages from early analysis

4 main themes

  • Want to move forward but can’t

  • Fear and shame

  • Just don’t know what’s out there

  • Plenty of contact but not connected

1 want to move forward but can t

1. Want to move forward but can’t

  • Want to study or work but cannot get flexible, affordable child care

  • Need help in the home

  • Want someone to talk to

  • Recognise the need for support but cant find the right kind (“other parents like me”)

  • Reciprocity

Cannot get flexible affordable child care

Cannot get flexible, affordable child care

“....because I think I’ve done it about 4 or 5 times now, ring up and then go oh waiting list, waiting list, waiting list, waiting list … like to be honest…its left me balling sometimes, like I have been balling, going, I’m never going to be out of my house, I’m always just going to be in my house until he goes to school …you know “ (9)

Need help in the home

Need help in the home

“I’m OK now…now I think I’m doing great….back then I think I could have done with a lot more. I’d just sit there and either cry or anything…cause I just lost the plot …I had no patience with her..” (31)

Just someone to talk to

Just someone to talk to

  • [any support I want?...]“someone to just check in on me once a week” (29)

  • Even just a phone call ….just to talk to someone  an adult  – just a few minutes every day and not have to go out to do it. ..  …Just need someone to talk to every so often and I just don’t have it (48) 

Need to meet other parents like me

Need to meet other parents like me

“but I’d really like to meet people who I felt I had something in common with and that…you know” (59)

“I think more help with the parent groups…because the ones I got printed off I thought that’s not me…”(13)



“…I suppose I want to feel I belong somewhere…that I’m able to give as much as I take…I don’t like to be somewhere and just be in need of help …”(59)

“because my [child’s] been a bit naughty at school so its been , she’s been support for me and I’ve been support for her..” (5)

2 fear and shame

2. Fear and shame

  • Neighbourhoods – stressful and unsafe

  • Fearful for the children

  • Feel judged and ashamed

  • Belief that using formal services is a sign of failure

Neighbourhoods stressful and unsafe

Neighbourhoods – stressful and unsafe

“…. when I saw my first offer for housing I thought…what am I doing…what are they doing this to me…they don’t know who I am ….I felt they didn’t understand who I was…I’m smart, I have ambition, I want to own my house, …” (13)

Fearful for the children

Fearful for the children

“…. the junkies downstairs…and they’re always banging and yelling and fighting …and now [the baby hears banging and she thinks it’s the people downstairs…and…it scares her a lot too …she comes running saying mummy mummy are you Ok are you OK? “(31)

“I’m thinking…I’m alright…but what about my child…what is this doing to my child (39)

Feel judged and ashamed

Feel judged and ashamed

  • “I don’t tell people where I live….”

  • I’m never going to let anyone in my place…not in my house no way…I tell my son our house is too small…he doesn’t understand…” (39)

The project

44% of survey said they felt judged as single parents

  • There is a personal feeling of humiliation…. I don’t like to ask for help

  • I feel a stigma being around other people who need services – feel ashamed

  • Would feel judged and afraid kids might be taken away

  • If you’re someone who is drinking or taking pot then you would be very scared to talk to services

  • Sometimes you feel as though [they think] you are not doing enough as a parent but you are trying your hardest.

Belief that using formal services is a sign of failure

Belief that using formal services is a sign of failure

“…I’m so sick of asking and having to swallow my pride every single time …I mean I find I do things myself when I probably don’t need to just because I’m so sick of saying I’d really like the help…”(59)

3 just don t know what s out there

3. Just don’t know what’s out there

  • Don’t know about existing information portals

  • Critical missed opportunities to ‘get more connected to services

  • The potential role of GPs, Centrelink and Housing as connection points.

Don t know about existing sources of information

Don’t know about existing sources of information

“Children’s services are too complicated …it’s hard to know what’s an ad, what’s a service, what’s free and what’s not..”

Critical missed opportunities

Critical missed opportunities

“…Would have been good to find out about the refuges earlier…because my life would have been so much simpler (not having to stay with ex) …….”(13)

The project

“…[Centrelink compulsory interview] one of those people on the desk….I waited 50 minutes and I told them .…is someone going to put another dollar in my meter or what…because I made it pretty clear I wasn’t happy to have to wait another 50 minutes …she just sat on the computer and said is everything still the same?. I said yes…and she said …alright you can go and I’ll do it myself “(31)

4 plenty of contact but not connected

4. Plenty of contact – but not connected

  • Traumatic lives and lack of trust in institutions

  • Being sacked by services

  • Positive role of child care and schools and other normal non stigmatising places

Traumatic lives

Traumatic lives

….I don’t trust people in organisations…never got any help from them so I don’t trust them at all....I don’t trust many people with my daughter….. that’s why I don’t ring for help. If I cant do it I ring my mum….or the doctor…I’m not going to ring anyone else (38)

Being sacked

Being sacked…

  • “I asked to change case managers and I said I ‘d still like case management but I’d like to see someone else and they took it that that you don’t really want our services and they shook hands with me gave me a letter saying I was a good mother and wished me well in the future…” (33)

Positive role of schools and child care

Positive role of schools and child care

“…I work at my [child’s] school so I have contact with [teacher] a lot so basically when it comes to my [child]..she has been there for me ……”(5)

Who gets the guernseys

Who gets the Guernseys?

  • GPs

  • Therapy ACT

  • Local Primary School

  • Local Child Care Centres

  • Salvos

  • HealthFirst

  • Care and Protection

  • Centrelink

  • The Jet project

  • PEP (parent enhancement program)




  • Most report high self esteem, strong networks

  • A significant number feel excluded

  • Social security is the bedrock of prevention

  • Critical role of the GP

  • Under-developed connection points (Centrelink and Housing)

  • Normal non stigmatising places – day care / schools

  • Assertive outreach and supportive linking

Next steps

Next steps

Phase 2:

  • Feedback findings to parents

  • extend the knowledge base among service providers about the perceptions and suggestions of parents

The project

  • assertive outreach

  • supported linking

The project

Thanks very much for listening

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