MUM'S THE WORD: Ipswich State High School Young Families Connect program manager Corinne Harper with students Mikayala Hampson, Amber Heathcote, Shania McNamara, Brie-Anna Youngman, Emily Rutherford and Maddison Parfitt with teacher Erin Sell.
MUM'S THE WORD: Ipswich State High School Young Families Connect program manager Corinne Harper with students Mikayala Hampson, Amber Heathcote, Shania McNamara, Brie-Anna Youngman, Emily Rutherford and Maddison Parfitt with teacher Erin Sell. Rob Williams

A day in the life of a teenage mum

AT THIS special club, prams are parked outside the classroom, children play on mum's lap while she does homework and the sense of sisterhood and resilience is powerful.

There's a buzz inside the Ipswich State High School Young Families Connect (YFC) room as young and teenage parents prepare to finish high school and create a future for themselves and their children.

There are no boys allowed and the women have forged an indestructible group.

Some will go on to be teachers or child support workers while others have a whole series of opportunities to choose from, but they all share common ground in that they are all teenage mums.

The women have an ally in their corner. Program manager Corinne Harper was a young mum herself and she has dedicated her career to supporting other teenagers in the same situation.

 

Ipswich State High School Young Families Connect program manager Corinne Harper.
Ipswich State High School Young Families Connect program manager Corinne Harper. Rob Williams

"I have been working for the department for 12 years around expecting teens and young parents and I was a young parent myself many years ago. I never got the opportunity to finish school back then," Ms Harper said.

"No one fought for me and my rights so that's where I'm really passionate about what I do for these young mums.

"It was always a passion of mine to let the girls have their own space at school where they can bring their children."

Young Families Connect was developed from a similar model at Redbank Plains and started at Ipswich State High in 2016.

It's the first of its kind in southeast Queensland and mums can take as long as they like to finish their Queensland Certificate of Education. The only expectation is they go to class as often as they can. The focus is on engagement over attendance.

Some girls finish their high schooling faster than their mainstream classmates.

Small babies can stay with mum in the classroom while older children can go next door to day care. A child health nurse visits every Tuesday.

Mums up to the age of 24 can finish school through the program and both expecting and new mums are welcome.

At the end, they can graduate with mainstream students and attend the formal.

"I hear it all too often; that young women are excluded from school because they are pregnant, they get some poor excuse about not having them in their school uniform which is disappointing," Ms Harper said.

"As women in general when you become pregnant, all the talk is about motherhood, at any age and that's a good thing but people forget that does not meet all our needs. We are allowed to have carers and go to work. It's so different to the 70s.

"Some women are third generation welfare dependant and they don't know what it means to even finish school let alone have a career, so I'm trying to break that cycle and convince them that they can do it.

"Some don't know what it's like to complete something or have that sense of achievement."

Mr Harper said many schools did not cater well for students' children but young mums were often reluctant to separate from their children.

"They're feeling very intimated by the community's judgment so they try very hard to be great mums," she said.

"When we developed this program, we knew we needed childcare so mums can bring bubs."

The women enrolled in the program have every reason not to go to school, but they still do.

"A lot of them are dealing with domestic violence, homelessness, custody battles, mental health. They don't have families that are looking out for them or after them. They are kids having kids," Ms Harper said.

Ms Harper said the common misconception about teenage pregnancy increasing was wrong. The peak of teenage pregnancies was in the 70s, when pregnant women were "hidden" from society.

Last year in Ipswich more than 130 teenage women had a baby.

In November, four young mums will graduate from the program with a Queensland Certificate of Education.

 

Ipswich High student Emily Rutherford
Ipswich High student Emily Rutherford Rob Williams

Nan's advice was gold

IT was 19-year-old Emily Rutherford's nan who suggested she finish her schooling at Young Families Connect.

Emily's goal was to graduate from high school and the program allowed her to do that.

"I was worried about what people would think of me being a teen parent and I didn't want to get ridiculed at school. I didn't want to get judged.

"My Nan mentioned about this program and I looked into. It seemed like the thing for me and when I came here I had so many opportunities and so much good advice.

She said she hoped to become a primary school teacher.

"I feel stronger now. I don't feel as worried as I would if I was in mainstream. It's just females in here," she said.

 

Ipswich High student Shania McNamara.
Ipswich High student Shania McNamara. Rob Williams

Shania's work pays off

FOR 19-year-old mum Shania McNamara, Young Families Connect is her 'safe place'.

Shania had a son three years ago.

"I went to Bremer first and I was there until grade 10. I was with my son's dad for three months when I fell pregnant," she said.

"The year I had him I wanted to go back to school and my friend put me onto Young Families Connect."

Shania is one of four women in the program who will graduate this year.

"It makes me happy but it has been hard," she said.

Shania finished school in June and started Tertiary Preparation Programs in the lead up to uni.

"I want to do a degree of Human Services at USQ. I want to become a child protection officer but it gives you the option of anything," she said.

 

Ipswich High student Brie-Anna Youngman with her son Byron.
Ipswich High student Brie-Anna Youngman with her son Byron. Rob Williams

Mum defies the doubters

TEEN mum Brie-Anna Youngman, 17, found out she was pregnant at school.

That was more than a year ago and now she and one-year-old son Byron attend the Young Families Connect Program at Ipswich State High School.

"I started going to Redbank State High School to the start of Year 11.

"I found out I was pregnant at school which was pretty scary. I was pretty terrifying," she said.

"I started at Ipswich High as mainstream but I didn't last long.

"It was really daunting."

Brie-Anna plans to study a certificate three in hospitality and diploma in hospitality management when she finishes school this year.

She said the program had been an integral part to her introduction to motherhood.

 

Principal's support behind students

THE IPSWICH State High School Young Parents Connect Program is in place because young mums needed it.

Principal Simon Riley developed the program from a similar model at Redbank Plains and said he was committed to giving young mums the support they needed.

"I walked into Redbank Plains school 18 years as deputy and it was beginning there," he said.

"It was a need and somebody had to step up and take it on otherwise children would drop out of school.

"If there is one or two in every school who dropped out because they are pregnant, that's 20 kids in Ipswich.

"It's not contagious. They should not be penalised. These kids were being ostracised to the point they didn't feel comfortable at school.

"I'm not going to give up because I think the young ladies who are here deserve an education just as much as everyone else which is why we started it in the first place."

The school funds the program up to $100,000 a year.

"We run this program because it needs to be run. We are the only one in the region and we are funding it ourselves," Mr Riley said.

"The school funds to service a need in the area.

"A community need and we deal with it where other people don't. Nobody else was paying any attention to it."

For details on the program, contact Corinne Harper on charp27@eq.edu.au.



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