Children’s Ground: A model that could end intergenerational poverty in Australia

By Claerwen O’Hara, Castan Centre In-House Intern

Short and long videos of our event with Children’s Ground can be found at the bottom of this article.

Children’s Ground is an innovative organisation that works with children in communities that are devastated by intergenerational poverty and inequity. While the model has been inspired and reinforced by the wisdom and teaching of indigenous people, it can be applied in any community experiencing disadvantage.  The first of its kind in Australia, it aims to tackle entrenched disadvantage through a long-term, holistic and community-based model that is supported by a robust global evidence base. The first Children’s Ground community is being established with the Mirarr people in West Arnhem, where the organisation has been working with the community to develop a platform for well being, learning and development which relies on community involvement.

On 19 March 2013, the unique model underpinning the work of Children’s Ground was presented to an enthusiastic crowd at the Monash University Law Chambers by both Rosemary Addis, Social Innovation Strategist from the Australian Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR), and Jane Vadiveloo, CEO of Children’s Ground.

Addis set the scene with a discussion of the novel partnership between the Federal Government and Children’s Ground, in which the government incubated the development and now provides funding and support, but does not control the project. All parties understood that the initiative needed to be independent from government. Children’s Ground is based on a collective investment model in which funding comes from a range of sources. For example, the West Arnhem Children’s Ground is to be half-funded by the community itself through the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation. This investment model serves to both expand the organisation’s support network and ensure its independence and flexibility.

Jane Vadiveloo then gave a comprehensive explanation of Children’s Ground’s operations. Vadiveloo is clearly a perfect fit for her role as CEO, as evidenced by her twenty years of experience working with communities experiencing disadvantage and trauma. In particular, she has spent many years working closely with Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory.

She began by discussing the need for a new approach to intergenerational poverty. Despite significant economic growth, the gap between the majority of Australian children and those 20% of children who are experiencing the greatest disadvantage is growing. Moreover, current government and non-government programs have  largely failed to create long-term change, particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children whose families are caught in an entrenched cycle of poverty.

Vadiveloo suggested that, by funding disparate initiatives as part of short-term policies and programs, governments had exacerbated Indigenous disadvantage. Previous approaches to poverty alleviation have also involved a lack of respect for and understanding of local culture, a lack of services in local language and a failure to adequately involve communities in the planning and delivery of these programs.

Children’s Ground intends to overcome these issues through eight key principles: start early;  stay for the long haul; work with enough families to achieve a critical mass; often all year round; deliver the whole, not the bits; innovation/use new ways; expect and deliver the best; and be led by child, family and community.

In developing its integrated learning model, Children’s Ground has relied on feedback from local communities that they want an education system that provides skills to access the global world, but that also allows their children to understand their land, language  and culture, to be ‘strong both ways’.

Children’s Ground puts these principles into practice through a suite of services for children and young people from 0–24 years, their families and their communities. These services focus on learning, well being and development and range from health-care and development to education. Many of these can be accessed in the multigenerational community centre that sits at the core of the program, along with other social and cultural events that are also held there. However, the project includes out-reach programs and services as well to ensure accessibility for all.

Children’s Ground is both long-term in its vision, with a minimum 25 year program, and culturally sensitive, for example by providing many of its services in the local language. Its approach is based on a range of research that draws on both global evidence and discussions with the local community about what they want from Children’s Ground. Furthermore, to prevent this research-based method from becoming stale, Children’s Ground’s model provides for a research director to frequently re-evaluate the program, engaging directly with the community.

Moreover, to even further promote the agency of the community and promote economic development and sustainability, members of the local community are employed by Children’s Ground as designers, researchers and users.

Although there is still a long way to go and undoubtedly many challenges to be faced, Vadiveloo’s presentation provided the audience with optimism about the future of disadvantaged children in this country. Children’s Ground represents a powerful practical example of an innovative and potentially very successful approach to eradicating intergenerational poverty.

Watch the full video of our event here:

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In this 5 minute Q&A, Jane Vadiveloo explains how Children’s Ground is different from past initiatives, what it means to be “strong both ways” and why Children’s Ground takes a long term approach:

One comment

  • What a refreshing approach. It has a long -term vision not a politically expedient, short-term approach; it does things with the people and not to them; it is evidence-based not just belief based and it is continually evaluated and refined. What’s more it has the actual support of the Commonwealth. Why haven’t we heard more about it? I can also see its applicability to disadvantaged urban communities. It takes all kinds of communities to raise all kinds of children. Are there any plans on extending the program elsewhere? Thanks for sharing the work of Children’s Ground with me.

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