100 Families WA is a research project organised by seven not-for-profit agencies in WA. It aims to develop an understanding of the generational issues and systemic problems that create entrenched disadvantage; preventing an escape from poverty, trauma and inadequate access to resources. The project is incredibly unique due to its close ties with the ground-level experience felt by families affected, emphasising the importance of lived experience in driving change. The project is unfiltered, unbiased and void of any ties to organisational interest; bound to the reality of families facing entrenched disadvantage. This is accomplished by researching, interviewing and working in collaboration with 400 family members in WA. It looks at what is and isn’t currently working to alleviate societal issues, delving into the necessary actions the service sector, the government and the community as a whole need to take to face the issue of entrenched disadvantage and create a more equitable society for all.
Entrenched disadvantage is something that impacts our schools, their students, and the community in a way that is not often recognised. 12 Buckets is directly involved with this issue, as the four schools we operate in fall below the median measure of educational disadvantage in WA (as per the ICSEA School Rankings). We strive to level the playing field by giving children the support they lack through no fault of their own.
It is easy to forget the impact that a child’s personal life can have on their education – no child is walking through the school gates with the same amount of sleep, emotional support or even food in their stomach. The cycle of disadvantage limits the potential of so many, and there is no easy way to break this cycle. Only through a multi-layered, community-driven approach, that builds upon a deep understanding of the issue, can the adverse impacts of entrenched disadvantage be confronted. For this reason, many organisations, including 12 Buckets, consider 100 Families WA to be an extremely important project.
Research and understanding are integral as the first steps towards breaking the cycle of entrenched disadvantage in our local communities. Without a deep recognition of the layers of disadvantage, and how they work to reinforce the cycle, any actions or policy can only hope to superficially treat the symptoms.
The 100 Families Summary Report acts as an amplifier for the voices of the families affected by these deep-rooted societal issues. The families in the survey were engaged with to gain a better understanding of their background; what creates the spiral of disadvantage, how this experience impacts every aspect of their life, how these factors interplay with services and government policy, and the role (or potential role) of the community in their lives. Through anecdotal and statistical measures, it presents key findings, and how these can be used to stimulate further action. Diversity was an emphasis in the report, allowing the many commonalities between those who face entrenched disadvantages to be highlighted, and demonstrating the extreme hardships faced. For example, 78% of the surveyed families had experienced domestic violence, 51.8% had experienced homelessness and 71.8% had to access emergency food relief services in the past 12 months.
These adverse life events compound to make an escape from cyclical disadvantage extremely challenging. How can a child be expected to concentrate when it is likely they have faced these issues perhaps hours prior. While support services exist for many of these issues, significant barriers to access are present that prevent their effectiveness.
To understand this in a real-world context, take the example of a school in a lower socioeconomic area. This school, while government-funded, will likely receive limited voluntary contribution fees from the parents in the community. For these parents, it is not a matter of choice, as school fees are not a priority when they might be struggling to put food on the table or make this week’s rental payment. Not only is the school then financially disadvantaged, but also in other areas of school activity. Schools rely heavily on the volunteer work that parents pour into schools, whether that be through P&C interaction, fundraising events or camp volunteers. How can a parent hope to support the school P&C when they are working a second job to pay for healthcare? As the school does not receive this extra funding or assistance, it cannot consider providing extra-curricular support services. The children in these lower socio-economic areas will be the ones that require this additional support the most, for the poverty, hardship and lack of support in their immediate surroundings impact them directly. Without emotional support and the lack of community support to bridge the gap, these children will experience a deficit in early emotional wellbeing that can lead to later issues in their life. From here you can see the compounding effect and cyclical nature of entrenched disadvantage.
The findings of the report are a big first step in confronting the issue. It allows us to see where barriers exist in access to the services required for disadvantaged families. This can provide 12 Buckets valuable insight into how we can provide a helping hand to our students to step over the hurdle. A few key findings that stand out to us follow:
People need support
For those in need, support is required at every level, yet it is currently lacking. Where there is a deficit in family support it can instead come through the community, where we should look to build and strengthen local community networks and supports. Community plays an important role in providing practical assistance and emotional support, so supporting these ties is integral for those in need. This is more than just encouraging community engagement on a personal level, but inter-communal engagement. We can start by looking at where we can foster stronger community ties or where the links are currently the weakest, for example between the business and social realm, or between high-income and low-income communities.
One of the key implications from the report highlights the necessity of these support systems:
“In other areas, such as within the service system, there is a need for support that facilitates transformation rather than maintenance of circumstances. Within social systems, families could benefit from more opportunities to engage with positive social relationships in low or no-cost ways.” (100 Families Report)
The creation and supplementation of structural support networks is an incredibly effective way of offering positive social environments that facilitate transformative relationships. These environments, free of judgement and stigma, are important for making people feel seen, heard and appreciated. We strive to be the beginning link in community connection for children in need of support, both through the Big Buckets peer group program and the mentoring in the 12 Buckets room. These programs fulfil this positive social dynamic in a completely cost-free manner to the students and their families.
Invest in prevention and early supports
Early prevention provides a route to addressing causes rather than symptoms, solving issues before they escalate and spiral further. Social systems that engage at a young age have the ability to provide exposure to positive relationships in the formative years of one’s life. Role models are incredibly important in nurturing value growth. Our one-to-one mentoring program seeks to provide this exposure and provide early support that is currently unavailable through many traditional avenues. We seek to do this through the Guiding Buckets model which is based on the Circle of Courage framework. Our model focuses on four key areas (Generosity, Mastery, Belonging and Independence) which are vital for emotional and social wellbeing and building resilience in individuals.
The current school system is lacking in holistic support. This system is very traditional and hasn’t evolved to meet changing community needs, given that society has fundamentally transformed over the past few decades. Natural support structures stemming from family and community have deteriorated, specifically for those in disadvantaged suburbs. Alternative models of schooling (often called Full-Service Schools) look to fulfil the areas where community has disappeared, encouraging the integration of support services into the educational model. The accessibility of the service system is diminished by lack of integration, where those must piece the puzzle together of available services through word of mouth. Full-Service Schools create a fully integrated system where all services can be easily accessed, breaking down the barriers to support that are highlighted in the 100 Families Report. The schools that 12 Buckets currently operate in actively invite other community organisations, including 12 Buckets, to offer that extra support to the community and their families.
By bringing these services (such as healthcare, skills training or community projects) under the educational umbrella, not only are we creating a safe and supportive environment for people, we are doing so at an early age, essential to the prevention of issues before they escalate and spiral. This creates a support system that is heavily integrated into the local community, and when done effectively in collaboration with families, there will be no walls preventing access to these much-needed support services. We hope that organisations such as ours can act as these new pillars of support that make up a more holistic education system.
There is much work to be done in addressing the issue of entrenched disadvantage. The only way forward is a holistic policy, service and community approach. Many of the children in the 12 Buckets program are at the beginning of the spiral of entrenched disadvantage – we hope we can be a part of the change in a child’s life.
Read the 100 Families WA Summary Report here:
Read the 100 Families WA Full Report here: