The Swinburne research team, in conjunction with Family Life and Life Without Barriers, interviewed twelve staff and ten clients at Family Life to determine the service and information needs of vulnerable young parents who are the beneficiaries of social services and welfare programs.
We first explored the current empirical literature on young parents, digital inclusion, digital literacy, parenting assistive technologies, social isolation of young mothers, online peer groups, and user perspectives on online government services. Building on this literature, we then used interviews to query the strengths and blind spots related to technology among Family Life workers and service users (i.e. young parents).
We sought to identify opportunities for capitalising on the potential of technology to complement or transform existing services provided by Family Life and Life Without Barriers. In particular, we wanted to find out how social service providers could use technology to support clients, manage their organisational obligations, and access professional resources. We also wanted to find out how beneficiaries of these social services engage with digital technology, including the types, their methods of engagement and current barriers to access.
We found that the young parents used resources including Facebook groups, websites and apps for information and support about parenting. However, lack of digital literacy and lack of reliable internet access were sometimes barriers to usage. Staff used technology as part of their day-to-day work, and some were comfortable showing websites and apps about parenting to young parents. However, ‘change fatigue’ and lack of digital literacy could be a barrier for staff, too.
Staff saw both advantages and disadvantages to young parents’ use of digital technology. Digital technology was viewed as a potentially useful source of support, but staff noted that excessive engagement with digital technology could disrupt connection between parents and their children. Staff showed a mix of support and caution about the appropriateness of online parenting resources for clients.
Both staff and clients spoke positively about the possibility of a parenting app that presented relevant information. Government online services, such as MyGov, were flagged by staff as time-consuming and difficult to understand for clients.
We conclude that digital literacy cannot be assumed among young parent clients who utilise welfare and social services. We recommend building clients’ digital capacities as part of social service provision, as this would have multiple benefits. Developing an in-house online peer support group or app is a possibility, but further research is required to test viability, specifications and costings. Furthermore, we recommend several initiatives for helping clients with myGov and related government platforms.