29 April, 2008

A New Day for Asylum Seekers in Aus?

Australia's "Pacific Solution" draws to a close

CANBERRA, Australia, February 11 (UNHCR) – One of the most controversial chapters in Australia's treatment of asylum seekers and refugees drew to a close this month, when 21 Sri Lankan refugees were removed from the tiny South Pacific island nation of Nauru and taken to live in Australia.
The Sri Lankans were the last refugees left on Nauru and their relocation last Friday signals the end of a deterrence policy dubbed the "Pacific Solution," under which 1,637 asylum seekers were diverted by Australian authorities to Nauru, or Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, to have their refugee claims processed.
The policy was introduced in 2001 to deny asylum seekers access to Australian territory to lodge their claims. The then government led by Prime Minister John Howard adopted the Pacific Solution after Australia refused to allow a Norwegian freighter, the MV Tampa, to enter Australian waters to disembark 433 mainly Afghan boat people rescued at sea.
"Many bona fide refugees caught by the policy spent long periods of isolation, mental hardship, uncertainty and prolonged separation from their families," Richard Towle, UNHCR's Canberra-based regional representative, said.
"The prompt decision by the new government [of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd] to close the Nauru centre and bring the refugees to Australia is very welcome and shows Australia as a humane society in keeping with its international obligations," Towle added.
The last 21 refugees left Nauru on Friday morning and will be settled in the Australian cities of Adelaide, Cairns, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. They were among a group of 83 Sri Lankan boat people intercepted on their way to Australia a year ago and later taken to Nauru. The other Sri Lankans were moved to Australia in recent weeks.
With the end of the Pacific Solution, current Australian policy is to process so-called unauthorized asylum seekers – those who arrive without a visa and usually by boat – on Christmas Island, located off Western Australia.
Christmas Island is one of the islands excised from Australia's migration zone by the Howard government, which means asylum seekers don't have full access to the refugee determination processes followed on the mainland.
UNHCR is urging the Rudd government, which won power last November, to ensure that any continuation of offshore processing on Christmas Island is developed within the letter and the spirit of the 1951 Refugee Convention.
"We hope that the asylum procedures on Christmas Island will mirror those that apply to people who have gained access to Australia's onshore protection system," Towle said.
"This would include appropriate reception arrangements that avoid detention if possible, a refugee status determination that includes independent appeal rights, and timely solutions in Australia for those found to be refugees."
Of the 1,637 asylum seekers subject to the Pacific Solution between 2001 and this year, 1,153 were found to be refugees or in need of protection for other compelling humanitarian reasons. Of those, 705 (approximately 61 percent) were resettled to Australia; 401 went to New Zealand; 21 to Sweden; 16 to Canada, six to Denmark and four to Norway.
A further 483 residents of the centres in Manus Island or Nauru returned voluntarily to their countries of origin or residence, following negative refugee determination decisions.
By Ariane Rummery
in Canberra, Australia

posted by Danielle

26 April, 2008

Freedom Day in Perth!


Wow! What a weekend!

Saturday 19th April was Freedom Day in the city of Perth! :D
The Salvos and other freedom fighters (world vision, ywam, and a myriad of others..) were out in full strength to walk for freedom in the city.

We blew up balloons, we banged drums, we raised banners and we walked in strength in an effort to allow people to see and hear the call to freedom, justice, mercy, love and the stopping of traffik.

T-Shirt FrontAnd, we made Stop The Traffik / Salvation Army T-Shirts and looked fantastic while we were wearing them! The logo to the right on the front and a MASSIVE Red Shield on the back!!

During the walk, and the afternoon session in the City we gave out nearly 800 flyers with information about Trafficking, and an invite to a free* screening of The Jammed in Northbridge.

Many conversations were had, many children were excited by the FREE magazine! (KidZone's galore!) and MANY of the people we gave flyers to during the day, came to watch the movie - and not just because we were offering food** (although that did seem to draw the crowd!)

An estimation of more than 80 people flooded an auxiliary room at the Perth Fortress Corps to watch The Jammed. More than half of those in attendance came through the flyers we gave out, or because of the young enthusiasts just outside the Corps bringing people in!

The movie is incredibly graphic and confronting, but there was opportunity for prayer, support and comfort after the movie, and there is much hope that people did not feel helpless, but through the info from the talk prior to the movie, and the resources available, feel strong to move forward in the fight for freedom.

In the lead up to the event and on the day, we made important connections with organisations and individuals in Perth who are already working for a traffik free world. In particular, a young enthusiastic representative from YWAM walked with us, stayed all afternoon in the city making incredible connections with passers-by and invited 5 of her friends to the movie.

There are some links here, to show you what these groups are up to;
Lost in Traffik (YWAM Perth)
Don't Trade Lives (World Vision - STIR, Perth)

Thanks for listening to my recap. There will be more news soon from JUSTSalvos in WA. And hopefully some pictures from the walk too!

Grace. Kathleen.

*The screening was technically free, but we encouraged a Gold Coin donation on entry, and raised a total of $275.80 for The Salvation Army's Counter-Traffiking project in India.

**The free food on offer was Fair Trade, and Organic - and for some even gluten and dairy free!! Thanks Fair-Go Trading!

25 April, 2008

BLACK GOLD movie trailer

BUY FAIRTRADE and spread the word!

Prostitution - the oldest profession or the oldest oppression?

here's a quick look into the oppression of prostitution in Thailand...
Prostitution in Thailand: >> THE FACTS

Estimates on the number of women in prostitution in Thailand range from 300,000 to 2.8 million (CATW –Asia pacific, 1996).

In Thailand, it is commonly estimated that 60% of male tourist participate in the sex industry.

An income from prostitution is generally 25 times greater than an income from any other work in rural area (Lisllian S. Robinson, Touring Thailand’s Sex Industry, THE NATION, Nov. 1, 1993).

Rationalization for Entering Prostitution:

Most women are originally from rural and impoverished areas of Thailand and move to the cities in hopes of providing for their families back home.

Most of these women only have a 6th grade education.

Many are single moms.

An alarming number of the women were abused in their pasts, making them vulnerable to further exploitation.

Consequences of Entering Prostitution:

“The experience of prostitution is the experience of being repeatedly sexually assaulted, being dominated, battered, and terrorized (Melissa Farley and Norma Hotaling). The Council for Prostitution Alternatives has reported that prostituted women were raped approximately once a week (Hunter, 1994).

Study by Melissa Farley and Norma Hotaling of 130 prostitutes) in San Francisco (75% women):

• 82% reported physical assaults in prostitution;
• 88% reported physical threats in prostitution;
• 83% had been threatened with a weapon in prostitution;
• 68% had been raped in prostitution.
• 78% expressed the need for a safe place to go
• 84% reported current or past homelessness
• 88% expressed a desire to get out of prostitution;
• 73% expressed a desire for job training;
• 67% stated a need for drug or alcohol treatment. Studies show that 55% to 90% of prostitutes report a history of sexual abuse as children
• 41% of 130 prostitutes met criteria for a PTSD diagnosis. (The incidence of current PTSD in male Vietnam veterans is 15%/35% for high war zone exposure.)

(*Although these stats are of women in the US Farley has done other research showing similar statistics around the world.)
A Canadian Report on Prostitution and Pornography found that women and girls in prostitution had a mortality rate 40 times higher than the national average (Baldwin, 1993).

It’s estimated that 50-80% of sex industry workers are or will be HIV positive. Young people (ages 15-24) account for half of all of the 2.5 million new HIV infections each year.

Prostitutes suffer from sexually transmitted diseases, as well as other related illnesses, acute anxiety, depression, insomnia, flashbacks, and emotional numbing.

An unexpected present for Gen

At Freedom Day in March you may remember that we were giving away a Nintendo DS. Now I am not a huge fan of bribing kids, but on the whole, it works so I do it from time to time. Whenever I go to these events where they are giving away ipods or large prizes of come kind, I get frustrated as it seems it is inevitably won by a middle class kid who already has five of whatever it is they are giving away. But this time (and I didn’t rig it I swear!), the Nintendo DS was won by a seven year old Sudanese boy who I know quite well. It was so good that he won as he is from a large family, and like most refugees, live with a fairly basic lifestyle. It is safe to say he was very excited, as were his brother and sisters. I went away from the event happy that a good deed had been done. The world was a little bit brighter, a little more just, and I felt a little bit taller.

A week later, I saw this boy, and asked him how he liked his new DS. Certain he would tell me how wonderful his life was, and how much more fulfilled it was with the addition of this toy, I waited in anticipation of receiving my end of the reward. He said… "I love it so much! But I don’t have a game." Oh dear…

It’s a classic tale of third world development aid is it not? We gain so much satisfaction in the giving, and we fail to realize how impractical the gift can be. Like tinned food with no can opener; corrugated iron housing in the desert; baby formula without sterile water; medication without syringes; food for rural areas without roads. I could keep going, but I don’t want to sound like an Alanis Morissette song.

I made a mental note to get him a game, though about a week later I heard that his parent had bought one. However, given he was awarded with the DS, his mother felt the sister should be awarded with the game. She chose a pony game! He was not impressed and failed to see the fun in the pony game. He said “that’s a girls game and I don’t want it”. Fair enough.

So, some generous people invested and I finally got around to getting him a game! He loves wrestling and so I knew that this time I would get it right if I got the WWE game. I wrapped it and took it promptly to his house. The whole family gathered as we watched in great excitement him opening the square object! And there it was; the wide eyes, the massive toothless smile, the giant hug and then the race to the DS to insert the new game. In all of this, his sister disappeared and I felt slightly concerned that she was upset with jealousy, for he now had two prizes, and all she had was a pony game. I was ready to explain my ‘life’s not fair’ speech when she reappeared with a smile as wide as her brothers. She lifted up a can of cold Pepsi and said “here you go!” In true anglo style I said, “no, you can keep that”. The mother turned to me and said with great affection and honesty, “we want you to have it.”

Take from this story whatever social justice lesson or analogy you want, but I have never felt so blessed, rewarded, privileged and humbled.

May you have many an encounter as special as this one.


18 April, 2008

Children are on the agenda at last!

‘Universal child care to age 5’
Michelle Grattan, Misha Schubert and Katharine Murphy Canberra
The Age, April 17, 2008
“ALL Australian parents would have access to low-cost child care and welfare services under a proposal Kevin Rudd will take to his 2020 ideas summit. Days before the summit begins, the Prime Minister has outlined a vision for universal access to a network of "one stop" child-care centres. The centres would provide a broad mix of maternal and child health services, including feeding advice and vaccinations, long day care, preschool education and support for parents. Addressing the Sydney Institute last night, Mr Rudd said his plan would need partnerships between various levels of government, as well as private and community service providers. Access to the centres would be universal but not compulsory, and they would be underpinned by strengthened national quality standards, Mr Rudd said.”

Well, let me start by saying I am a happy little vegemite! I have researched the strong correlation between poor education and poverty, as well as the correlation between early intervention and increased educational attainment. So the push for policy on universal and colocated children’s services pre prep…warms my heart! Why? Well here’s some information I prepared earlier for you…

To date, the traditional welfare-state has been the ultimate antidote to social risk in Australia. When the market could not supply the needs of its citizens, a foundation of protection and safety net was available. It made the capitalist system a little less cruel and a little more acceptable. However, as the bulldozer of globalization continues to level the world, we see a transformation of ideology emerge and in turn a welfare support system with a little less ‘helping hand’ and more ‘firm push’. It is a push into the labor-market, a place filled with high skilled jobs requiring all manner of education. Risk is now less about losing employment and more about whether you are likely to gain initial access. Naturally those with the highest level of risk are those with the lowest level of skill, traditionally those in disadvantaged areas. The problem of social exclusion is mounting and with the situation only likely to worsen, the government is left with a task of intervention and prevention.

In this new labor-market, education becomes vital not just to the success of an individual’s career, but to the sustainability of an individual’s livelihood and welfare. In this case the risk is that children, denied proper educational opportunities, will be unable to access the market effectively causing a dangerous risk of long-term poverty or wider social exclusion. The current statistics are already disconcerting with a suggestion that those with a minimum level of education are about two and a half times more likely to be unemployed and nearly five times more likely to be in long term poverty compared with those who have attended university (Taylor-Gooby, 2005:4). And what’s worse, the correlation between poverty and low levels of education is not one-way in direction. It is not simply that poor levels of education create poverty stricken individuals. While this appears to be true, the more concerning finding is that poverty appears to prevent individuals from attaining a higher level of education. This breeds a cyclical problem which is not limited to unemployment and poverty.

In relation to risk theory, it is important to note that governments want to prevent a society of low-skilled poor communities that are denied access to the wider market. There is recognition that investment in early years is the only way to secure its future. In one UK report it noted “children who are turning five this year are going to have to carry the burden of caring for the baby-boom generation who will be leaving the workforce in droves when these five year olds enter the workforce. They will have to be exceptionally fit, healthy and productive to cover the cost of the health and social services that the ageing “me generation” will demand” (Hart et al, 2003:4). The risk here is that many of these children will not be equipped for such a task which is not a happy prospect for the current generation of policy makers.

So what do these policy makers do?
Well, striking disparities in what children know and can do are evident well before they enter their first year of school, and these differences are strongly associated with social and economic circumstances and they are predictive of subsequent academic performance (Bohan-Baker, 2004:4). In essence, we know that socially excluded children are less likely to attain the same level of education as other children, and thus policy that attempts to rectify the problem must start before the individual turns five, and not start at eighteen. The government must alter the structures to allow socially excluded children under five to develop properly.

Why do children from poor areas know less? And is starting them in school earlier the solution?

The Centre for Community Child Health reports that;
“Children at risk for the worst developmental outcomes are those who have a
combination of biological and environmental risk factors; these risk factors operate in a cumulative fashion, so that the more risk factors present the greater the likelihood of a poor developmental outcome. Children exposed to six indices of family adversity had 20 times the risk of adverse behavioral or cognitive outcomes compared to children exposed to one or none of the same risk factors” (The Centre for Community Child Health, 2000:10).
The problem occurs because the brain is literally damaged by negative factors. Stress develops toxins in the brain which are generally relieved through a process of positive nurturing experiences. However when children don’t have nurturing relationships to protect them, stress hormone levels remain persistently elevated, which have a toxic effect on the developing brain (Families and Work Institute, 2006:7).

M.Ramphele, Managing Director of the World Bank states;
“The first few years of a child’s life have multiplier effect. Young children who are well nurtured tend to do better in school and are more likely to develop the skills they will need to compete in a global economy. Investing in young children is an essential investment in human and economic development.” (Hart et al 2003:10)

So what do we know? (gross generalizations!)
 Kids under five need to learn, or they will be forever disadvantaged
 Kids under five from poor areas are often not being mentally stimulated
 This results in a lower IQ and poor ability to learn once at school
 Kids under five need social and welfare support to negate negative formative experiences

What do we need?

The idea of having a one-stop-shop of welfare service is not new, and while I applaud Rudd, the idea was borrowed from the UK SureStart program. The idea is to create a holistic approach to problem solving from the perspective of service delivery whilst catering for families as they fulfill all of their child’s need from just one service point. Issues of transport, finance, dead-end referrals, disjointed case management and service delivery could all be overcome through the use of one single building. The concept is sound in principal and practice. Rather than independently funding a range of discrete services, each addressing a narrowly defined ‘problem’ for a specific population subgroup, they argue for funding a system of broad banded early childhood services (Breaking Cycles, Building Futures:26). The result will be a collection of free or cheap services that children and families can access to improve their health and education, ensuring they are well prepared for primary school without any significant disadvantage. The objective: Let’s get ‘all’ five year olds on the same level and even the playing field from the outset.

What are the drawbacks? It sounds too good to be true! Is this another pro-Labor pitch from Gen?
Well yes it is, but I will acknowledge that there are definitely drawbacks. A holistic service could rapidly become a bland and incompetent bureaucracy that parents do not want to access, or a ‘big brother’ factor could evolve not dissimilar to the sentiment of Centrelink. Having funding poured into this one source means little funding would be available for alternative subsidized services in the area resulting in a major crisis if parents did not want to attend the mega-center. And of course, for the conservatives among the readership, I acknowledge that it may appear that the State is taking on too strong a role in the lives of family.

To wrap it up…

The research connecting deprivation and cognitive impairment is strong and the government knows it must intervene if it wants to see a generation of children equipped to enter the labor-market. The Government’s focus on inclusion and support comes with a notion that a joined up approach will best achieve these goals. This is positive for children, as a joined up effort is essential for addressing the structural issues associated with social exclusion. The journey has begun, however the next phase is to create practical policies that will address the real and everyday needs of socially excluded people. This battle will not be won through ideology or well-intentioned frameworks, rather with an outright war on the structures that keep the poor excluded. With an agenda of high-skilled employment as the ultimate goal, rather than emancipation for humanitarian purposes, it is unlikely that the government will rock the foundations too hard. However the policies could free quite a few children, and that is better than none at all.


11 April, 2008

Truancy ... the continuing saga

Along with many others, I watched the ABC last night and saw this really great documentary on youth homelessness! “‘The Oasis: Australia's Homeless Youth’ with Tony Jones is a two-years-in-the-making raw observational documentary about the daily chaos and drama of a group of homeless kids at Oasis youth refuge”. I highly recommend it, though I warn you, it is quite grueling at times. There were many stories that broke my heart and behaviours that frustrated me beyond capacity, but what I was left with was an assurance that life is tough for many people, and that it is our obligation to be there right along side them, no matter the cost to ourselves.

Now I need to finish up the thoughts from last week but acknowledge that our thoughts will be well and truly in homelessness. However the two issues, in my opinion, connect very strongly.

Having established the causes and ramifications of truancy in last week’s blog, we are now at solutions to the truancy issue. How did you go thinking up your own? The following were some policies instituted by the UK government in an attempt to turn the situation around:

· In December 1998, police were given the power to begin ‘truancy sweeps’ which enable them to pick up truants from the street and take them to school. This has led to significant reductions in crime. York reported a reduction in youth crime by 67% and Newham reported a 70% reduction in car crime. In Westminster truancy sweeps have significantly increased attendance rates within schools. (SEU,2001:61)
· ‘Parenting orders and fines’ have been introduced to parents who condone truancy. A maximum fine of £2,500 per parent and/or imprisonment of up to three months are punishments for those found guilty of aggravated truancy. (SEU,2001:61)
· ‘Truancy Buster’ awards of £10,000 can be awarded to schools that are able to decrease truancy in challenging circumstances. Practices used to reduce truancy were catering for students emotional and behavioural difficulties, and forging stronger relationships with parents including parent information nights that include prizes, free food and transport. (SEU,2001:62)
· Introducing programs and supports within schools has a truancy prevention focus. Initiatives such as Learning Support Units to deal with children’s literacy and numeracy problems, Learning Mentors, Connexions, the Children’s Fund and curriculum flexibility have all contributed.
The Social Exclusion Unit’s research found that one key success was to contact the parent immediately and advise them of their child’s non-attendance (Tasmanian Govt, 2005:3). Extra-curricular initiatives such as breakfast clubs, after school clubs study support and vocational training were also seen to have a positive effect on preventing and reducing truancy (Tasmanian Govt, 2005:3).

There are positives and negatives to this policy response in relation to addressing social exclusion. The results show that rewards, punishments and the physical removal of children off the streets has increased attendance and reduced crime. This in essence is a good thing. Participation increases the likelihood of passing school and the absence of a criminal record will reduce the chance of exclusion from employment or housing later in life. However if the major cause of truancy is a poor family environment, poverty, behavioural issues etc, does forced increased participation through a truancy sweep improve the child’s situation, or in fact address the cause of truancy? Increased participation will only decrease the urgency to create measures that truly address social exclusion.

Perhaps the biggest concern in relation to social exclusion is the complete absence of programs for children who are disengaged from education. School is compulsory by law until the student is 16 years and therefore no out of school programs, alternative schools etc are funded. The options for welfare workers and principals are very limited when presented with severe truancy issues. There is simply no other alternative than continuing to push them into school; a place that will likely be unable to meet the students needs as they are often too far behind or behaviourally uncontrollable in the class room setting. There are numerous positive and effective pathways open to a student once they turn 15, however this is often far too late to begin intervention.

From my own experience, creating alternative pathways outside of the mainstream school system can be very beneficial for students. The Reservoir Corps began ‘School Connect’ as a pilot program aimed to explore possible solutions to the truancy issue. The program offers one:one lessons by a qualified teacher with students referred from the high school due to extreme truancy. Initially the teacher works with the student in their home with their parent present. Once the student feels comfortable leaving home, the schooling is moved to Shop 16, a student resource centre. The sessions are one hour every day and includes tutoring, development of social skills and recreation time. The aim is to equip the student with enough educational skills that will enable them to reengage with either mainstream or alternative schooling, TAFE or employment. However the curriculum is kept flexible, attainable and interesting so as to keep the student engaged, a problem that often makes regular school attendance and achievement problematic. A secondary aim is also to provide a mentor for both the student and parent to address any family issues present. The program requires a fair amount of time and resources, but the success rate is incredibly high. A proper cost benefit analysis would most likely show that the investment in prevention would be well worth the input of resources.

That is probably enough on this issue for now, but if you would like some more Australia specific and commissioned research, please check out the Youth Homelessness report released this week as it has a section on preventative measures. This includes proposed and current government responses within the education system. For the full chapter, see http://www.abc.net.au/tv/oasis/pdfs/Homeless_ch13.pdf

Have a great week, and place our heroes Captains Paul and Robbin Moulds in your prayers.


What I've Done Linkin Park Alternative

a call to repentance?

10 April, 2008

Sport and Social Justice

"Over the past year, Human Rights Watch has documented numerous abuses in China tied to Beijing’s hosting of the 2008 Summer Games, including media and internet censorship, extrajudicial house arrests and sentences on charges of state subversion of government critics, abuses of migrant construction workers, forced evictions, and the ongoing crackdown on protests in Tibet. Last week, leading human rights advocate Hu Jia was given a three-and-a-half-year sentence for criticizing the Chinese government in the context of the Games. Previously, Yang Chunlin received a five-year sentence for having begun a petition titled, “We want human rights, not the Olympics.”

“One goal of awarding China the Olympics was to improve human rights in China and Beijing’s adherence to international standards,” said Roth. “As the Olympic torch relay makes its way around the world, leaders should not be emulating the Chinese government in its opposition to peaceful dissent and protests.”

Human Rights Watch does not support a boycott of the Olympics, but rather urges the Chinese government to fulfill its human rights commitments, particularly those made in order to win the right to host these Games. Human Rights Watch also urges protestors not to use any form of violence in expressing their views and security officials to exercise restraint. "

For more detailed info check out: http://www.hrw.org/english/docs/2008/04/09/china18486.htm

"Politics often takes on a false mystique, but at its heart politics has to do with the organisation of human affairs. It describes the regulation, ordering and ideological underpinning of human society. As such, politics is an almost universal concept, encompassing a wide spectrum of life and experience. The idea that certain areas of life such as sport or religion are free from politics must be resisted. These activities are political both internally and in relation to society at large.

For instance, in considering the way sport is structured internationally, issues like power, rules and money are all political issues. In society, sport will play a function in the lives of citizens, and therefore be regulated and perhaps even sponsored by a central government. At times (1981 New Zealand Springbok tour, 2007 Australian Zimbabwe cricket tour, 2008 Beijing Olympics), sport or an aspect of it may become a major political issue, affecting the lives of those who would normally have no contact with it." (Just:Imagine - Danielle Strickland & Campbell Roberts)


04 April, 2008

Go to school or Mum's gunna get it!

“Jail sentence on cards for parents of truants”
"The New South Wales Government is planning tougher measures against persistent truants, by going after their parents. Premier Morris Iemma says magistrates will be given new options to make special orders against parents if their children are regularly missing from class. He says that could range from forcing the parent into drug rehabilitation or other forms of counselling, with possible jail sentences imposed as a last resort. "If it's a parent that's got an issue, could be a drug or alcohol issue, well that's not the intention to finish up with a custodial sentence," he said. "The objective is to get in, intervene and help the parent. But there are those sadly who just won't get the message, who do neglect their kids, and the best early warning sign is often long periods away from school." Tuesday 1st April."

It always amuses me when an article such as the one above is released. It happens once every six months or so and every time I hold my breath and hope the strategy suggested goes by without much public interest. Not because I don’t want the issue to gain support, as I actually think it is a most important issue. Rather because the potential solutions are usually built around some paternal foundation that seeks to punish as a means of support. Why? Because when people think of truancy, they think of a pestilent child who lies in bed pretending to be sick in an attempt to ‘con’ mum or perhaps an insolent child who regularly throws a tantrum to an undisciplined parent. However when it comes to problematic truancy, the real scenarios are far more extreme and have little to do with the parent-child relationship. When it does, there is so little control from the parent over the child and as such, the threat of fines and jail terms for mum provide little incentive for the child.
So why does a child become truant? There are a number of factors that sometimes work in isolation but are often inter-related making solutions far more complex.
Some Contributing Factors are:
• Unemployment
Most research suggests a high correlation between parental unemployment and truancy. If the parent is home, it is not unthinkable that the child expects to be home as well.
• Poverty
The lifestyle of a family sitting at the lower end of the poverty scale is often so grueling and difficult that education is not the first priority of the family when food and clothing remain serious concerns (Ranson, 2000:8). The Commonwealth Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs provided evidence that people from low-socio economic backgrounds were performing most poorly of any equity group in terms of their participation in higher education (Anglicare, 2002:11) The Smith Family’s research suggests that children from a low socio-economic status are more likely to:
- Have lower levels of literacy, numeracy and comprehension
- Have lower retention rates
- Exhibit higher levels of problematic school behaviour (e.g. truancy)
- Are more likely to have difficulties with their studies and display negative attitudes to school
- Have less successful school to labour market transitions.
(Zappala & Considine, 2001 cited in Anglicare, 2002:11)

• Poor Educational Skills
If a child is unable to keep up academically or socially in school there is a great potential they will disengage. It is not uncommon to find the poorest academic achievers in the hallways or in the principals office during class time. There has also been a significant amount of research produced to suggest that poor literacy skills of a parent are directly related to the performance of the child. In one UK study 60% of children in the lowest reading attainment group had parents with low literacy levels; only 2% had parents with high literacy (Sparkes, 1999:3).
• Parochiality
Perhaps one of the greatest restrictions to social inclusion in relation to children is their limited aspirations caused by limited experience. It is difficult to explain why education is important when a child does not know anyone who has ever needed an education besides their teachers, welfare workers or law enforcement professionals.
• Self-esteem and confidence
A particular type of truant is a ‘school refuser’. Often children become school refusers when they develop a social phobia towards school. This may have occurred because of anxiety, a response to bullying, poor academic record, a general psychological disorder or a number of other personal factors.
• Family related factors
Truancy can also be caused by a range of family issues such as poor parental supervision, parental condoned absence, chaotic family life including domestic violence or drug and abuse, parental over-protection or indulgence, or high levels of domestic responsibility (Tasmanian Govt, 2005:1). A number of students comment that they need to stay home to look after mum or a younger sibling. School is simply not on their agenda as family becomes the priority.

So what is the result of long-term truancy for a student? This is where it becomes very serious. There is little hope of the child completing a high level of schooling if they have been persistently truant. Without education, evidence suggests large periods of unemployment. Without employment, the person will likely go on to face financial and housing problems which for many lead to issues of addiction and for some criminal behaviour. A report by the Australian House of Representatives Truancy and Exclusion from School produced results concluding that early school leavers were 2 ½ times more likely to be unemployed, 2-4 times more likely to be in a low or unskilled job, 5-6 times more likely to be both unemployed and not engaged in education and twice as likely to come form a low socio-economic background (Vicgov, 2005:2).

That is probably enough chunky information to digest for this week. I will blog more on government responses to truancy next time. However, are you starting to get a picture of truancy? Truants are not independent cases caused by poor parenting and are more likely a vulnerable group within society, a group that is going to find life getting tougher and not easier as it progresses. As such, should our response be targeted towards punishing individual parents? Policy needs to be shrouded in support and not punishment. So what does that support look like? Perhaps instead of pointing the finger at the parent, we should turn that finger around and point it at the education department. Why are they failing to engage kids? Why are truant children not offered any other options beside schools? Where are the aids to help kids reengage after they have fallen behind? How does a fine help a financially struggling family? Since when do tweens and teens respond to threats from parents let alone the government?

Anyway, more for next week and until then I shall leave you to come up with some solutions.


Thanks to all those who supported the Melbourne Freedom Day event! It was a great success and showed the beginnings of a justice movement started by children, a movement that will grow in momentum and significance.

03 April, 2008

The New Road to Hell (By Nancy Gibbs, Time Magazine)

There was a certain bracing beauty about the original seven deadly sins--pride, gluttony, melancholy (which was dropped in the 17th century in favor of sloth), lust, greed, envy and anger--which among them could account for virtually all the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind. Anger gives rise to violence; gluttony to waste; pride to every manner of tragedy and hurt. They were judged sufficient for the past 15 centuries, ever since they were cataloged by Pope Gregory the Great, with an assist from Thomas Aquinas and Dante.

But not anymore. "We are losing the notion of sin," Pope Benedict XVI warns, as attendance at confession plummets. The culture celebrates what once it sanctioned: parents encourage pride as essential to self-esteem; a group of self-rising French chefs has petitioned the Vatican that being a gourmand is no sin. Envy is the engine of tabloid culture. Lust is an advertising strategy; anger, the righteous province of the aggrieved. Most days I'd give anything for some sloth. It was the moral philosopher Mae West who observed that "to err is human, but it feels divine." (She also advised, "When choosing between two evils, I always like to try the one I never tried before.")

So one can understand the impulse of the Vatican to stress a broader range of sins for the modern age. Gianfranco Girotti, the No. 2 Catholic official in charge of confessions and penitence, told the Vatican's newspaper, "You offend God not only by stealing, blaspheming or coveting your neighbor's wife" but also by polluting, cloning, taking drugs, promoting social injustice or becoming obscenely rich. Where the standard sins are individual failings, in a global culture sin is social. "Attention to sin is a more urgent task today," Girotti said, "precisely because its consequences are more abundant and more destructive."

The bishop suggested that the realm of biotechnology was especially dangerous, which reflects church teaching that destroying an embryo equates with murder. But the original mortal sins had as much to do with attitudes as with acts. Greed might lead to theft, lust to adultery, but the sin began in the heart. Yet modern research does not seem wicked to many suffering patients or the doctors who hope to cure them; the church's sin is their salvation. Likewise the accumulation of excessive wealth: leave aside the historical irony of this charge issuing from the Vatican. What do we make of Bill Gates, the Great Acquisitor, who, as a philanthropist, is now arguably the greatest individual force for good around the world? Does it not seem as if he has grasped the eternal somewhere along the way?

Then there is the question of punishment. In Dante's purgatory, the punishment for envy was to have your eyes sewn shut with iron wire. But these were personal punishments for individual crimes. When societies sin--dismissing the poor, despoiling the planet--who, exactly, should pay, and how? I am responsible for the lies I tell or the fries I crave and have a duty to give to the poor. But what about social injustice? How do I dissect the sources to find the sin? I try not to litter, but I have to drive. Am I a sinner on days I fail to carpool?

This is the most confounding part of the notion of social sin. Sin, unlike crime or folly, is a spiritual notion: for Muslim or Jew or Christian, sin is the saboteur that keeps us from grace, separates us from God. The new list is about what separates us from one another; it makes abstract the failings that once were intimate and in the process may make sin smaller, not bigger or more relevant. Private faith already speaks to public duty, as Mohandas Gandhi suggested with his version of the seven deadly sins: "Wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, science without humanity, knowledge without character, politics without principle, commerce without morality and worship without sacrifice." The responsibility rests with the individual, but that includes the duty to take care of others as well as your own soul.