The rise of Special Assistance education

March 5, 2020

The growing need to help young people see and prepare for a brighter future is driving Carinity’s expansion in alternative education.

Traditional mainstream education, with large schools, large class sizes, and a one-size-fits-all approach cannot hope to meet all individual needs.Ongoing stresses from our modern world are fracturing the traditional family unit, says Christine Hill, Executive Manager of Carinity Education Services.

“Many young people are experiencing trauma they don’t have the ability to cope with and, in cases where families are breaking down, are missing a support network. The only other avenue for them is in the school environment,” Christine says.

“There are also the growing problems of cyber bullying, the wider accessibility of drugs, and an increase in mental health concerns among teenagers. Too many young people are finding themselves suspended, or excluded, from school without the cause of their behaviour being understood or dealt with effectively.

“Many young people are alienated because of behaviours or poverty. Mainstream education is important but it doesn’t fit everybody.”

As a result, Carinity Education has responded to demand by creating Special Assistance Schools (SAS) in the regional centres of Rockhampton and Gladstone over the past three years and has plans for another five campuses over the next decade.

Carinity works to ensure its five schools meet the needs of students who cannot thrive in mainstream schools, providing parents and their children with choices and support. As the waiting lists show, there is far more need than spaces available.

According to Dale Hansen, what makes Carinity Education different is its focus on individualised solutions. “We’re in a fairly broken world and for a lot of young people their hopes and dreams for the future are very cloudy,” says the Principal of Carinity Education Glendyne.

“Our focus is on positive relationships, partnering with students in their learning, and co-creating goals based on the students’ perceptions of what they would like to achieve.“

Another major strength is our focus on community. We give young people the experience of belonging, and show them the opportunities out there are also for them. “It’s about enabling a young person to develop belief, seize opportunities as they’re presented, and transform their life from where it is at the moment to a more positive and better future.”

The strengths and positive features of Carinity’s schools come from the close connection they have with the communities they serve. The education is the beginning but for young people to succeed they often need far more.

“You can’t learn effectively if you haven’t had enough to eat or if you are cold because you have insufficient clothing. Some of our young people couch-surf or share a bed because they can’t afford their own,” says Leann Faint, Principal of Carinity Education Southside.

“We are non-fee-paying schools but are also classified as Independent Schools. People who make blanket statements about ‘wealthy independent schools receiving government funding’ should remember schools like ours provide for basic human needs, so young people can have opportunities, in learning and in life.”Carinity Education Southside is unique in that it is for girls only.

“I am concerned about the sexualisation of young girls in our society. Girls come to us with low self-esteem, covered in make-up, and desperate for the wrong attention from boys,” Leann says.“We aim to build their self-worth, not worth based on what others think. We take a multi-tiered approach to supporting the young women in our care. They are supported by their teachers, their youth workers, and a dedicated support team.”

Leann can tell many stories of success and satisfaction. “I am particularly proud of our young mums. Motherhood is difficult enough in your 20s and 30s, but for teenagers it must be terrifying and exhausting,” Leann says.“ Ariana graduated last year, with her son Levi by her side. It was beautiful. This year she returned to complete a work placement. She is so self-assured.“Another of our graduates, a victim of domestic violence, left her partner, overcame a drug addiction, and completed Year 12, relying on her school and her friends for support.”

Hannah, a student at Southside, sees Carinity as an ideal solution. “All the staff welcomed me and my son with open arms and friendly faces, especially with the creche,” she says. “There is way more one-on-one time with the teachers and youth workers, and they work with me. The difference for me is that they make me believe I can graduate, with lots of support and friends around me.”

The girls at Southside are loved and treated like family, explains Leann Faint.“We have 40% indigenous student population, and they are also supported by a large group of aunties on staff, and elders from the community,” she says. The academic expectations of young people at SAS are the same as those placed on students in traditional schools.

“They are a far cry from ‘drop-in centres where there are no expectations’,” according to Independent Schools Queensland Acting Executive Director Mark Newham. “Schools must go through accreditation every five years and fulfill all compliance and legislative requirements, but they have the flexibility to do things a little differently, and provide wraparound supports that not every school can manage.”

Christine Hill agrees. “We don’t offer baby-sitting: we are centres of genuine learning and achievement for young people with challenging life experiences,” she says. Before working in SAS, teachers have specialised training and a rigorous induction process. It’s not for everyone.

“It’s absolutely about getting a right fit – about hiring the right people with the right resilience and relationship skills,” says Mark Newham. “The schools are very discerning when they recruit.”

Carinity Education staff are regularly trained in Therapeutic Crisis Intervention. “Understanding the wellbeing of a child is first and foremost, every day”, says Dale Hansen. “We take a trauma-informed approach to education, helping students develop strategies to manage trauma, and build capability to deal with it in the future.We use programs like the Outcome Star Model, which focuses on managing wellbeing, improving communication, making choices, and understanding consequences.”

The schools are also quick to acknowledge the support the wider community offers them – especially important in regional areas where fewer opportunities might otherwise result in a lifetime of unemployment. Individual schools form community partnerships, with local businesses, and other service providers, to arrange traineeships, work experience, or volunteering opportunities.

Students regularly go out into the community, to be involved and to “give back” to those who support them. In giving back, they can apply their life learnings and seize opportunities to make a positive contribution.

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