National Children’s Commissioner Megan Mitchell is calling on Australian governments to ensure all pregnant and parenting teenagers have access to education, a basic human right and a crucial tool for breaking the cycle of intergenerational disadvantage.
A systematic, government-led approach to ensuring teen parents are supported to stay in school is among the 17 recommendations delivered in Commissioner Mitchell’s Children’s Rights Report 2017, tabled in Parliament.
Commissioner Mitchell’s report draws on her eight-month investigation of the issues affecting young parents and their children. The project included analysis of submissions and expert round tables, consultations with 77 young parents and a survey of an additional 89 young or expecting parents.
It found that while teenage pregnancy has fallen in recent years, young parents and their children remain highly vulnerable to breaches of their rights to education, health and care, and are at high risk of long term economic disadvantage.
“I am deeply concerned that responsibility for ensuring these young people can continue studying falls on the goodwill of individual principals in this country; and that not all young parents are fortunate enough to attend schools that support them,” Commissioner Mitchell said.
Attorney-General Christian Porter will join Commissioner Mitchell and Australian Human Rights Commission President Rosalind Croucher to launch the report in Sydney.
It found young parents are at risk of poor health, are likely to be single and on low incomes, have difficulty obtaining stable housing, face significant stigma and are less likely to complete school or obtain qualifications. Their children, too, experience higher rates of health difficulties and are more likely to be placed in out of home care.
The Commissioner found most young parents surveyed (64 per cent) had stopped regularly attending school before becoming pregnant. Of those who were still attending school, only 30 per cent said their attendance was supported by their school.
Data collected by the Commissioner revealed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teenagers comprised 26 per cent of all teen parents, and that teenagers living in regional and remote areas were at a significantly higher risk of unplanned pregnancy.
“Education is critical for breaking the cycle of poverty and to increase the chances of young parents becoming economically secure in the long term,” Commissioner Mitchell said. “If schools don’t have specific programs to cater for these students, and if state and federal policies fail to recognise this need, young parents will continue to fall through the cracks.”
The Commissioner also makes recommendations for improved data collection and research, including that all states and territories commit to collecting information about young parents who come to the attention of child protection authorities and children in care who become young parents themselves.