Australian Bureau of Statistics, 9. Sexual initiation at a younger age, as well as sexual offending involving adult and juvenile perpetrators, is high; many victims are aged under 17 years and female 10 This is coupled with a loss of traditional social controls regulating youth sexual behavior as a result of colonialism and the associated disintegration of ancestral traditions and culture. Teenage mothers and their children are often more severely disadvantaged than others in terms of both educational 11 and health outcomes 12 , including due to lifestyle choices during pregnancy 13, However, the international development literature shows that, through improved investment, this cycle can be halted.
The power of investing in women and girls as a means for social change has been recognised across the globe Directing resources and effective support to adolescent girls and young women—including measures to improve reproductive health and wellbeing—is proven to create positive and substantial flow-on effects. Thereafter, educated girls are more likely to reinvest back into their families and communities 23 whereas men tend to spend their earnings on pursuing other interests.
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In particular, investing to keep girls in school can result in significant positive outcomes for them and their families Although this body of evidence is growing, there are few examples of this sort of investment in Australia to overcome disadvantage for Indigenous women, including Indigenous teenage mothers. However, if young mothers are to increase their life chances, they need all three.
In Australia, there was a clear need for solutions that could improve outcomes for Indigenous teenage mothers.
The Girl Academy School is a holistic model that offers a second chance to Indigenous teenage mothers. It was developed by and for Indigenous women as a place where teenage mothers can re-engage with and complete their secondary education, but also learn to care for their children and themselves in a nurturing and supportive environment.
Early Childhood Development: the Promise, the Problem, and the Path Forward
The School is located on Wangetti Beach, along a winding road that leads north of Cairns and into the vastness of Cape York at the furthest tip of Queensland. During downtime, mothers and their children build spend quality time together. This extra-curricular support assists mothers and children to build attachment.
It also supports students to get to know their peers; they become like family, helping and supporting each other as they go. The School has started out small, only accepting 20 students at any one time, and focused on re-engaging young mothers and other disengaged Indigenous women in education—a turning point in their lives.
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Since the School opened in early , students and their children have come from a variety of remote and regional communities across the far-north of Queensland and the Northern Territory. Prior to attending the Girl Academy, many students had few aspirations for the future. For many, this is changing:. One student—a fourteen-year-old mother from a remote community—came to the School with her eight-month-old child in early The baby was, at that time, behind in key milestones and had low muscle tone hypotonia. The mother loved her child and wanted the best for them.
She made sure the child was well fed and clean, but beyond that had not been taught about other things her child needed to develop their cognitive and physical abilities.
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After four months, the child had come from only being able to lie on its back without head control at eight months of age to reaching most of its developmental milestones at around twelve months of age. Since then, mum and baby have continued to thrive. Stories like these tell us that the support mothers and other students receive at the Girl Academy are making a real difference in their lives. Full-day learning is not full-day kindergarten. Publication Date: 20 Aug Better experience with ECEs. Murphy, Peter.
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