Policy hacking for young parents

Many young parents aged under 18 years face particular vulnerability. They are at heightened risk of long-term welfare dependency compared with many other population groups in Australia today.

According to Australian Government figures, 4,370 young parents received the Parenting Payment in 2014-15. The Australian Government believes that 40% of this number will still be receiving income support in 20 years…unless we shift policy directions to do something about it.

Young parents are more likely to be unemployed or have low-paid or unstable employment. And, the needs of many young parents differ in important ways from those faced by older parents: they face the challenges of dealing with adolescence in addition to raising their own child or children.

Last week I attended a ‘Policy Hack’ arranged by the Department of Social Services (a ‘hack’ is a fairly recent term, derived from the IT world, to describe gatherings of people who intensively focus on problem-solving). Around 120 people gathered to discuss the challenges faced by young parents, as well as young carers and students. The aim was to produce new ideas about ways to help reduce the dependency on welfare that is faced by many in these groups. The Policy Hack brought together people with ‘lived experience’ as well as those from community, research, health, education, employment, business, government and many other sectors.

We were encouraged to think big and boldly. The group in which I participated certainly did that, producing a number of ideas, especially around ways to improve the employment prospects of young parents while not losing sight of their other needs.

by expanding the ‘collaborative space’ between government, business, research, community and other sectors we can get better policy solutions

The Policy Hack was part of the Federal Government’s Try, Test and Learn (TTL) initiative, which was announced by the Minister for Social Services, the Hon. Christian Porter MP, late last year. Under the TTL Fund, $96 million has been earmarked over four years for the delivery of innovative ideas that address barriers to work and create pathways out of the welfare system.

Applications for TTL funding close on 24 February 2017 – there is more information here. According to DSS, ‘A new or innovative idea may outline an initiative that has not been rigorously trialled before in Australia, or it may be a reinvention of a former or existing program. We are interested in funding ideas that could provide new and useful policy evidence for Government.’ TTL is expected to open for ideas submission several times over the next few years, allowing organisations and individuals additional opportunities to submit proposals.

I strongly encourage applications to the TTL Fund. Not only does it represent a significant financial investment but, as demonstrated by the Policy Hack itself, it is underpinned by a drive to encourage collaboration and innovation between stakeholders to ‘crunch’ hard problems.

Families Australia wholeheartedly supports this sort of approach: by expanding the ‘collaborative space’ between government, business, research, community and other sectors we can get better policy solutions because they incorporate the widest range of interests and views.

This approach is seen, for example, in our role in bringing together a wide range of stakeholders to develop and deliver the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020. With respect to young parents, it is also worth noting that the National Framework’s Third Action Plan 2015-18 is placing strong emphasis on helping expectant, new and vulnerable parents where alcohol and other drug, mental health, and domestic and family violence issues combine.

I look forward to learning how the TTL Fund will make a real difference in the lives of families experiencing the greatest vulnerability as well as advance collaborative cross-sectoral relationships.

Dr Brian Babington
15 February 2017

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