Leon Byner: You know one of the sad stories is that there are people out there who are parents who,  when they send their young children to school,  the kids don’t have breakfast; or maybe they’re not even clothed properly; or they might not  even had a wash which is extraordinary. You kind of wonder what you do about people like this because we know that, for example, there are a lot of fantastic community programs now where communities of businesses, meet places and restaurants put in to give kids breakfast. But now we find that more students are arriving at school late, dressed inappropriately or are unable to concentrate because they haven’t had breakfast. 

Now the one problem with all this is the less people are prepared to look after their children, the more the Government has got to step in. Then people accuse the Government of interfering in their lives. But you can’t have it both ways can you?. But I thought it would be very appropriate to talk to the Senator that’s really looking at this. He’s the Education Minister Simon Birmingham. Simon good morning and thanks for joining us.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning Leon and good morning to all of your listeners.

Leon Byner: Simon, what do we do about the parents of young children who send their kids to school in a way that’s really not right. What do we do?

Simon Birmingham: Well Leon you’re right, it is a real concern when children are sent to school late without having had a good night’s sleep, without having had a decent breakfast, without all of the fundamentals that are essential to children being able to successfully engage in school during the day and of course learn and make the most of their schooling experience. And there’s a real message out of our latest national census of children in their first year of school – which is surveyed around 300,000 children across the nation – is that we do need to expect more of parents. We do need to make sure they understand what their responsibilities are as parents to help their children because we’ve made some really good inroads in recent years in terms of boosting the language skills and cognitive skills of children which is obviously a dividend from our record investment in areas of early learning and child care services. But that home environment is still critical and all important and that’s where we need to see a real turnaround in some quarters.

Leon Byner: Let’s take a typical hypothetical scenario, but it’s probably real for some families, where he or she comes to school and is inappropriately dressed, hasn’t been given breakfast, a few other things, what does the school or kindergarten reception do, what would you have them do?

Simon Birmingham: Well there are some schools that are doing wonderful things in this space, not just in terms of some of the programs that you highlighted of giving children a nutritious breakfast when they get to school if they haven’t had one already…

Leon Byner: Sure.

Simon Birmingham: …or helping children with other personal difficulties, but there are other schools that are now integrating not just pre-school services but also child care services and health services on the school site. And this morning to launch this latest national census data I’m heading out to the John Hartley School at Smithfield Plains, which is a school that has taken the data from the previous couple of censuses that occurred in 2009 and 2012 and applied it in the way in which they’re working in their school environment. So from the earlier stages, from birth essentially,  they are creating an integrated learning environment and real support that helps set those expectations for parents. They may have had very poor parenting themselves and  might really need to have their hand held through what the rest of us would take for granted as being the absolute basics in looking after your kids.

Leon Byner: So in a situation where a child presents in a way that is totally not fair for the kid, does the parent get contacted and asked can you explain this and are you having issues and do you need help?. Is that what happens or do we not contact them at all?

Simon Birmingham: Of course it really does get down to the case by case circumstances and there’s a matter that individual states, individual schools and their systems all respond to often in different ways. But ideally yes, we do have that type of early and intensive intervention that occurs between the pre-school environment or the school environment and the parent. It’s really to try to get them on the straight and narrow to engage the multitude of different services that are available to help in these circumstances. I mean obviously we know the parents face many different challenges and here we’re talking about in more instances than not, lower socioeconomic communities. Perhaps a range of other particular challenges those families face. But ultimately there’s still nothing more important than making sure that children have a good night’s sleep, have a nutritious diet and get to school on time.

Leon Byner: I’ve got a couple of emails, in fact two or three. One from Annette, one from Bob, one from Peter all saying you couldn’t exclude either substance abuse or drugs or alcohol or both in this matter. What do you say to that?

Simon Birmingham: Well of course they are all sad factors but real factors in the lives of some children. And every so often when I go to different schools I hear miraculous stories of a young child who literally does get themselves up each morning, get themselves ready, get themselves to school because mum or dad is incapable of providing that support. Now these are real child welfare problems and we’ve seen plenty of child welfare problems in South Australia tragically over the last few years. But we do need to see systems, appropriately respond at the State Government level and I can only but hope that the tragic  lessons that have been learnt in recent years see interventions in those really terrible cases at the earliest possible stage to ensure not just the physical safety of those children but also their emotional safety and support so that they can succeed when they get to school.

Leon Byner: Simon, thanks for joining us. That’s the Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, responding to a study that suggests that there are a lot of very young children going to the school’s reception area and they’re not properly fed, in many cases turn up inappropriately clothed. Isn’t it interesting that you’ve got people now that we elect that say we have to remind parents of their responsibility. Parenting is not a new thing, it’s been around for generations, eons of time, but somewhere in the mix there are those who have lost their corporate memory. So what would you do about this? If you were faced with the responsibility of trying to deal with this, what would you do?