ADJOURNMENT;Small Steps, Cybersafety Book Launch – 24 Jun 2014

Tonight I want to talk about two events I attended recently in my home state of Tasmania, both organised and supported by welfare organisations and both promoting causes that are of a great deal of importance to me. These events were of particular interest to me because of the common theme—supporting children. Prior to entering this place, a substantial part of my professional life was spent as an early childhood educator. My work with children has instilled in me a strong belief in the importance of supporting the education, welfare and development of children. In fact, while the phrase ‘our children are our future’ is somewhat cliched, it captures the fact that the way we nurture and raise our children can have a dramatic impact on the kind of adult society we end up with.

The first of the two events was the launch of Hobart City Mission’s Small Steps program. It is unfortunate but true that my home state of Tasmania has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Australia. A study conducted by Tasmania’s Department of Health and Human Services on selected outcomes for Tasmanian children led to the release of the report Kids come first. The report revealed that areas of low birth weight, high rates of smoking in pregnancy and low rates of breastfeeding correlate with areas of high teenage fertility rates. This supports anecdotal evidence that babies born to teenage mothers have a significantly increased risk of poor health and development. Unfortunately, some babies are taken into state care because their mothers do not have the accommodation, support or skills to ensure their children’s safety.

The Small Steps program offers a solution to this problem. The Small Steps program supports young mothers up to the age of 25 who have children up to the age of five and who are at risk of homelessness or having their children taken into state care because of a lack of appropriate accommodation and support. Program participants are provided with secure accommodation and tailored support services. An individualised case management plan is developed for each resident and services are provided through referral agencies.

The case management plan will support and coordinate the work of clinicians and other allied health professionals who are working with the young mums and their infants around issues relating to physical, emotional and mental health; provide advocacy for young mothers and their infants; provide access to allied health professionals, education providers and community groups to educate and improve the quality of life of both the mothers and their infants; provide access to recreational, lifestyle and vocational activities that will enhance their socialisation and improve self-confidence; and provide young mothers and their infants with qualified staff to support them to attain the best possible outcomes. The referral agencies currently supporting Small Steps clients include Child Protection Services, hospitals, Youth Justice Services, child health nurses, Centrelink, the Tasmanian Department of Education, Tasmania Police, youth workers, Mara House, Annie Kenney Young Women’s Refuge, Hobart Women’s Shelter, Colony 47, Mission Australia Youth Beat and other community service organisations.

The launch itself was well attended and it was great to see so much community support being demonstrated for this program, despite it being a cold, wet and windy Hobart evening. I am sure any residents of Canberra listening this evening will be able to appreciate the kind of weather Tasmanians have to endure in winter. I was pleased to meet the CEO of Hobart City Mission, John Stubley, and his hardworking team.

I also had a chance to tour the facility, which was originally a facility for backpackers. The facility has 14 self-contained units equipped with beds, cots and ensuites, as well as shared laundry facilities and shared community spaces for the residents. Although the units are small, they are quite suitable and very nicely renovated. The common area is used for parenting classes and other learning activities. There is also a common kitchen facility that will encourage shared participation in cooking. A recent donation from the Commonwealth Bank has helped Hobart City Mission to furnish the units. The mothers have to pay rent and sign a tenancy contract with Hobart City Mission. This is an important step in developing their tenancy skills and making the transition to private rental.

I believe Small Steps is a vital program for young mothers and their children. Growing up in state care can have various negative impacts on a child’s development and it is much better that the child remain with their mother—with appropriate support. Small Steps will give young mothers at risk the skills and self-confidence to become independent, successful parents as well as healthy role models for other mothers and for their children. Small Steps is just one of the many ways in which Hobart City Mission supports people in need—not only in the City of Hobart but in the broader area.

Just before I move on, I would like to thank my parents, who are active volunteers with Hobart City Mission. They are in their mid-eighties. My dad has been very unwell over the past couple of years, but they still put in their regular two or three days for Hobart City Mission. At the event, I was very proud to receive accolades on their behalf.

The other event I wish to mention was the launch of three books for children—addressing cybersafety, cyberbullying and sibling bullying—which was held last Friday morning at the Brighton Civic Centre. This is about 30 or 35 minutes north of Hobart. The book launch was organised by the Salvation Army and the books will be contributing to their Communities for Children program. Funded by the Australian government’s Department of Social Services, the Salvation Army’s Communities for Children program aims to improve the development, health and wellbeing of children up to the age of 12—and to help their families—through innovative early intervention and prevention programs. As co-convenor of Parliamentarians Against Child Abuse and Neglect and the former chair of parliament’s Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety, I have a strong interest in child safety and child protection, including the protection of children in the online environment.

The three books were launched by the founders of the Daniel Morcombe Foundation, Bruce and Denise Morcombe. The Daniel Morcombe Foundation is, of course, named after Queensland teenager Daniel Morcombe, who was abducted and murdered in 2003. Bruce and Denise are his parents. It was an absolute pleasure to meet Bruce and Denise Morcombe. While no parents should have to experience the tragedy or the suffering that they have had to go through, I am pleased that, with the excellent work they are doing with the Daniel Morcombe Foundation, they have been able to channel their experience into something positive. They have become inspiring advocates for child safety and child protection, causes that I passionately support.

The three books that were launched were written by Mary Koolhof, a Tasmanian psychology teacher. Ms Koolhof has written books for other Salvation Army programs and is a passionate believer in the power of stories to motivate young people to change their lives for the better. The books were illustrated by another Tasmanian, Kyan O’Rourke. The three books are Tom and Jamal speak up—A story about cybersafety, Alicia helps Bec take a stand—A story about cyberbullying and My brother Sam—A story about bullying. The first two books are suitable for children aged between nine and 12. The third one is suitable for children under the age of about seven. While the books cover slightly different topics—bullying, cyberbullying and cybersafety—each one uses the medium of storytelling to convey the same common messages. Those messages are about encouraging children to discuss their feelings with someone they trust. In particular, they encourage discussion between children and trusted adults, such as parents, carers, teachers and anyone else who works with young people, or who the young people feel they can trust.

The launch was attended by students from the Jordan River Learning Federation Gagebrook Primary School Campus, the Campania District School and schools located within the Salvation Army – Communities for Children South-East district. Activities were provided for the children. A copy of the book will be provided to every primary school student in the South-East district and copies of the book can be purchased in other districts. I am very pleased that books such as these are being published to help educate children about how to deal with bullying, cyberbullying and other cyber threats, in a way that is understandable and accessible to them.

Having served as the chair of the Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety, I understand that, while there are roles for government, parents, schools and the broader community in protecting children from cyber threats, educating children about how to deal with cybersafety and cyberbullying is one of the most powerful ways we can help them to stay safe online.

I would like to thank the Salvation Army, Hobart City Mission and all the other amazing welfare organisations for the great work they do supporting people and communities across Tasmania. One of the great privileges of being an elected representative in any parliament is being able to support the keenness of organisations like these to showcase their programs and to witness first-hand the excellent work they do.