ParentsNext is a pre-employment program for people receiving government income support in the form of Parenting Payment.
ParentsNext has been designed with the aim of assisting disadvantaged parents, particularly early school leavers and those assessed to have high barriers to employment, to plan and prepare for future study or work before their youngest child commences school. Parents participating in the program are required to complete and report on activities in a participation plan agreed with a ParentsNext provider.
After a 26-month trial in 10 locations around Australia, the ParentsNext program was rolled out nationally on 1 July 2018. However, in late 2018, media reports started to emerge which questioned whether ParentsNext was meeting its stated aims.
Some parents reported that they had been forced by their ParentsNext provider to attend activities such as library-run 'story time', playgroup or swimming lessons with their children, or instructed to undertake further education at their own expense when they already hold qualifications. Other parents described their frustrations in trying to exit the program after being incorrectly referred.4 Further reports detailed how parents had their income support payments cut-off unexpectedly under the program's compliance model, including over the Christmas period, placing them and their children at risk and requiring emergency relief.
Half of all households in Australia which receive Parenting Payment live in poverty, with single mothers, who are overrepresented in this cohort, particularly at risk of financial stress. Children living in single parent households are more than three times more likely to grow up in poverty than children in couple families. While placing conditions on recipients of Parenting Payment is not a new concept, these media reports suggest that the design and implementation of the new ParentsNext program has resulted in unintended consequences for these vulnerable parents, particularly single mothers, and their children.
These and other concerns raised by parents and their advocates have been explored by the Senate Community Affairs References Committee (committee) during its examination of the aims, design and implementation of the ParentsNext program.
This report is presented in four chapters:
- Chapter 1 provides background and context to the committee's inquiry, outlining the experience of participants in ParentsNext and highlighting the concerns which will be examined in the report.
- Chapter 2 examines the history, aims and design of ParentsNext, including human rights concerns and its suitability for vulnerable participants, and discusses the program's pre-employment focus.
- Chapter 3 addresses evidence about the administration and implementation of ParentsNext by government departments and contracted service providers.
- Chapter 4 provides the committee's conclusion and recommendations.