This report reinforces the importance of the transition to school for children from families with complex support needs. For all children and families, but particularly for those with complex support needs, the transition to school is a time of both opportunity and vulnerability.
Families with complex support needs are those experiencing multiple challenges related to children, parents or the whole family. These could encompass poverty, unemployment, ill health, substance abuse, experiences of violence or trauma, poor educational outcomes, truancy, behavioural problems, isolation and/or responding to family members with disabilities or special education needs (Katz, Spooner, & valentine, 2007). The combination of challenges presents a range of stresses for these families.
In some literature, these families are referred to as vulnerable, disadvantaged, or at risk. The term complex support needs is used in this report as a means to avoid the stigma often associated with these other terms. The terminology of complex support needs acknowledges the challenges faced by families, focuses on the interaction of different problems and highlights ways in which families, with appropriate support, can draw on their own strengths to make positive changes in their lives.
Points of transition provide opportunities to establish patterns of interaction and support. The transition to school is a point where contexts and supports change, and where interactions between families and schools set the scene for ongoing engagement in education. Acknowledging that families with complex support needs often have less involvement with schools than other families, this report identifies the aspirations of participating families for their children and the practices and supports that make positive engagement with education possible.
Authors: Sue Dockett, Bob Perry and Emma Kearney, Charles Sturt University, Albury, NSW; Anne Hampshire, Mission Australia, Sydney; Jan Mason and Virginia Schmied, University of Western Sydney