Four families, four questions

Last year, the Minister for Families Jenny Macklin, asked OurSay and Essential Baby to find out the most important issues affecting Australian families today. Over 114 individuals submitted questions to the Minister, which received over 5000 votes from the general public. Here we present the top four eligible questions as voted by you. Minister Macklin will respond to these questions in an exclusive interview with Essential Baby editor Amber Robinson next week. Find out more about top four participants in this OurSay project.

 1. Kate Strohm

Question: I am Kate Strohm, the founder and Director of Siblings Australia, an organisation that attempts to support brothers and sisters of children with disability or chronic illness. I grew up with an older sister with Cerebral Palsy, and whilst there was a lot of love in our family there was also a lot of stress and it took me many years in my adult life working with therapists, to understand and accept the different feelings of grief, guilt, embarrassment and fear and I really wish I had been able to access support much earlier. Since 1999 I’ve had contact with thousands of parents, siblings and professionals, who all talk about similar sibling experiences, but there’s huge gap in services still.  So my question is: what could you do to ensure that this group of vulnerable children is recognised within government policy and also supported through a national initiative?

For 14 years, Kate Strohm has advocated for the several hundred thousand children who live in households where another child has a disability or chronic illness. In these families, finances are often stretched, with many parents full-time carers on a limited income. Siblings may experience a range of stresses including confusion, anxiety, negative reactions from peers, and social isolation. Some experience physical harm due to the difficult behaviours associated with certain disabilities. Research has shown that these children are at increased risk of mental health problems. Kate Strohm’s personal experience led her to establish Siblings Australia in 1999. Since then it has developed a national and international reputation for its work in developing resources and providing services and training. For example, Kate has run workshops all around Australia and overseas for both parents and professionals, on how to support siblings. However, the organisation receives no FAHCSIA funding (no government funding in fact) and may not be able to continue its work. Kate argues that providing support for this group of children not only helps siblings, but also strengthens the sibling relationship which has benefits for the person with disability over a lifetime.

Kate’s book Siblings: Brothers and Sisters of Children with Special Needs, has also been published in the US and UK, and translated into Korean. A 2nd edition is due in 2013.

2. Dr Simon Crouch

Question: “Despite the 84 amendments to Commonwealth law that passed through parliament in 2008 there are still many areas where families with same- sex attracted parents encounter barriers, including legal parentage, access to inclusive services, marriage equality and education. How are you working to ensure that children with gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered parents are treated equally and equitably across all government policies?”

About Simon:

Dr Simon Robert Crouch is a public health doctor and researcher at the McCaughey VicHealth Centre, Melbourne School of Population Health, the University of Melbourne. He has previously worked on both health policies and health programs with the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing and is now undertaking PhD studies focusing on the health and wellbeing of children with same-sex attracted parents. He is the lead researcher on the Australian Study of Child Health in Same-Sex Families. This study aims to investigate the physical, mental and social wellbeing of 750 children belonging to about 500 parents.

 3. Emma King

Question: “Children who start school from behind are rarely likely to ever catch up. Research is compelling for the investment in high quality early childhood education, particularly for children from vulnerable families. For every one dollar spent, society has a return of seventeen dollars, particularly in respect to health, welfare and the justice system. This investment offers the federal government a strong and a hope filled return with a far more engaged community. Early Learning Association Australia’s focus, is to ensure that all Australians have the opportunity to maximize their potential though participation early years programs. We want the very best for every Australian child and their family, irrespective of their circumstances. We’re keen to work with the Minister to provide every family with access to appropriate prevention and early intervention services. Minister, what will the government do to ensure that these early learning opportunities are provided to everyone who needs them?”

About Emma:
Emma King is a passionate advocate for the provision of high-quality, accessible and affordable early childhood education. Before joining the Early Learning Association of Australia (formerly Kindergarten Parents Victoria) Ms King worked as a teacher and as a senior education adviser to the Victorian government. She also has considerable experience in industrial relations having worked in senior roles for trade unions in education and finance.

4. Tyrell Moore

Question: “In 1997 the proportion of single parent households headed by a lone father was 12%, in 2006 lone father households were at 13 (approximately 86,000) and by 2009/10 lone father households this grew to 15% equalling approximately 131,850 lone fathers in Australia raising their children. The needs of children in single father families are the same as the needs in any family throughout Australia and I would like to know why specifically designed services are not being provided for these fathers and their children? I speak to fathers regularly whom are in cars with their children or in men’s shelters with their children, who want to find suitable accommodation for their families. My Uncle became a single father in the early 70’s and with what I have told him regarding the trouble I have had; nothing has changed much since his day.”

Tyrell Moore became a single full time father of his then 2 year old daughter four years ago. He almost ended up homeless after he was told that he was not welcome at a Domestic Violence shelter even though the mother of his daughter had an Intervention Order placed on her by the Victorian Police. Four years on, Tyrell provides a welfare service for fathers and their children, though the organisation he founded, Sole Fathers United Inc. It’s a non- profit, non-sectarian and non-political organisation which assists fathers with giving their children the best start in life to nurture the development of responsible, contributing adults, through programs such as cooking classes and parenting seminars.

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