‘Happening’ program

A LATROBE Valley-based program run by Berry Street, engaging with the region’s most disadvantaged young families, has been shortlisted for a statewide award which will be announced tomorrow.

Berry Street’s Happening Families program, which has engaged with almost 300 young families in the local government area over the past five years, is among 15 finalists in the three categories of the 2012 Victorian Early Years Awards.

Berry Street Gippsland regional director Trish McCluskey said the team was pleased with the nomination in the improvements in parents’ capacity category, which was what Happening Families was all about.

“We know we have a good program,” Ms McCluskey said.

She said in an area like Latrobe, in which 16 per cent of children were found to be developmentally vulnerable in their first year of school, the program helped address a pressing need. The statewide average, according to statistics from the Department of Planning and Community Development, was about 10 per cent.

Happening Families senior project worker Lyn McKie said the federally-funded program provided support for young parents between the ages of 15 and 24 years who required support and did not necessarily “fit in” with more mainstream groups, including playgroups.

“Through things like an early childhood development framework, skills development and workshops and social inclusion activities, we help them become sound role models for their young children and build their confidence,” Ms McKie said.

She said the program was born out of a need given the high rate of teenage pregnancies in Latrobe Valley, which is one of the highest in the state.

“The need for the program addresses issues young families face very early on,” she said, adding the average age for teenage pregnancies had risen to 19 years recently, from 16.5 years when the program first began,” Ms McKie said.

With regard to the recently-approved Federal Government cuts to welfare payments to single parents by $56 a week after their youngest child turns eight, Ms McKie said it was “unjust”.

“A reduction in anyone’s income when they’re already living below the poverty line is disastrous; any change needs to be implemented with appropriate support in place,” she said.

She said the Happening Families program helped give young families support even before their children turned the requisite age rather than leaving them to cope with the sudden change.

“We help them continue their education and career goals,” Ms McKie said.