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An image of a tablet screen with the words Explainer:ParentsNext, being held by a pair of hands.

Explainer: ParentsNext

This story was first published on 16 January 2019. If you wish to use this content, please contact media@dese.gov.au to confirm that the information is still current.

The Australian Government recognises many parents and carers of young children need help to plan and prepare for employment by the time their children start school. ParentsNext aims to improve their work readiness and future employment prospects.  

This article was updated on 31 March 2020.

Novel coronavirus (COVID-19) ParentsNext Information

In response to the COVID 19 pandemic, participants are not required to participate in ParentsNext activities or appointments (including with Centrelink) and will not have compliance requirements. However, participants need to continue to report fortnightly to Centrelink to keep receiving Parenting Payment*. More information about Centrelink reporting is available on the Services Australia website.

Providers will make monthly phone calls to check in with participants and assist them to access support and assistance, as required.

If participants are able to continue to undertake activities, for example, online education courses, they are encouraged to do so.

Further information is available on ParentsNext and the department’s website.

*The department is aware of temporary issues with Services Australia fortnightly reporting. Please check Services Australia's advice.

What is ParentsNext?

ParentsNext is a national pre-employment program that helps parents and carers proactively plan their next steps towards study or future employment. ParentsNext participants get assistance to identify their education and employment goals, develop a pathway to achieve these goals and connect with appropriate activities and services in their local community.

Providers connect participants to local activities and support services such as counselling, financial advice, domestic and family violence, parenting courses, child care, transport, further education, secure housing, training or volunteering. Participants can change the activities at any time to suit their needs and circumstances.

Participants report a range of benefits after participating in the program, including increased confidence, self-esteem, direction and motivation. Participants also show an increased chance of studying or training as well as an increased chance of getting a job.1

Participants do not have to look for a job as part of the program. However, if a participant is ready to look for a job and chooses to, their provider will assist them.

What is the aim of ParentsNext?

The aim of ParentsNext is to help break the cycle of intergenerational welfare dependency, increase female labour force participation and help Close the Gap in Indigenous employment.

Parents and carers may have ideas about the kind of work they would like to do once their children are older. However, staying at home with young children can sometimes be isolating and interrupt career plans. This can result in parents and carers not finishing their education or training, having outdated qualifications or decreased confidence in their work skills. ParentsNext provides support to help parents and carers get into a better position to participate in the workforce by the time they are required to look for work.

Who takes part in ParentsNext?

ParentsNext is for parents and carers who have been receiving Parenting Payment for at least six months, have not reported paid work to Centrelink during this period, have a child aged under six, and meet one of the program’s additional criteria.

The program focuses on assisting parents and carers who are early school leavers (under 22 years and with no Year 12 or equivalent), are assessed as needing a high level of support or who have a child aged five years and will soon have job search requirements.

How are parents and carers assessed as needing more support?

Centrelink conducts an assessment using the Job Seeker Classification Instrument (JSCI) questionnaire to establish if a parent or carer meets the ParentsNext criterion. Responses to the questions are used to measure relative need for receiving help to prepare for future employment.

A parent’s or carer’s level of need is based on a combination of factors. These range from recent work experience, length of time on an income support payment and living in areas with challenging labour market conditions.

How does ParentsNext support Indigenous parents?

ParentsNext provides more intensive services in locations where there is a high proportion of Indigenous Parenting Payment recipients. This means additional services are available to participants in these areas, including access to funding to overcome barriers.

All providers have diversity strategies that ensure the culturally competent servicing of Indigenous participants. Some strategies include, employing local Indigenous people, connecting with Elders in the community and working with local Indigenous organisations. As well, all providers need to demonstrate they can effectively and sensitively work with Indigenous participants and are required under the ParentsNext deed to have an Indigenous employment strategy.

By supporting Indigenous parents and carers to achieve their goals, ParentsNext aims to make a significant contribution to Closing the Gap. As at 31 December 2019 over 15,000 (20%) of participants identified as Indigenous.

How do participants benefit from participating in ParentsNext?

ParentsNext providers work with participants to help build confidence, develop skills and access local support services. Services are tailored to each participant’s needs, goals and circumstances.

Watch testimonials from real-life parents who participated in ParentsNext.

What do participants have to do in ParentsNext?

There are four main things participants do while in ParentsNext to keep receiving Parenting Payment.

  1. Attend appointments with a provider – this is a chance for participants to talk to their provider about their education and employment goals and progress against these. After the first interview, appointments can be face to face or by phone. Appointments need to be held at least once every 3 months.
  2. Choose activities – participants are asked to do activities to help prepare for work. Activities should be a suitable fit with family life and education/employment goals. If an activity does not suit, participants should let their provider know.
  3. Make and agree on a Participation Plan – the plan records participants’ education and work goals and the activities, reporting requirements and appointments they agree to do. When participants make new plans with their provider, they have 10 days to think about whether it suits them before signing.  
  4. Reporting – participants may be asked to do two kinds of reporting:
  • to Centrelink, and
  • their attendance at their ParentsNext activity *

* If a participant’s compulsory activity is full-time education or a flexible activity they are not required to report their ParentsNext activity attendance.

What happens during a ParentsNext appointment?

During the first ParentsNext appointment, the provider explains the program, requirements, how they will help the participant prepare for future work, and the participant’s rights and obligations. Providers help the participant identify their education and employment goals and a pathway to achieving them. They identify local services that will help the participant achieve their goals and start developing a Participation Plan with them.

Providers must have appointments with the participant at least once every three months so they can review the participant’s circumstances and their Participation Plan and change it if necessary. They discuss their education and employment goals, their progress with activities, any problems that arise, and how they can help the participant.

What is a Participation Plan?

Together participants and providers make and agree to Participation Plans. Participation Plans take account of the participant’s goals, personal circumstances and capacity to undertake the activities. Participation Plans can’t include unsuitable or unreasonable requirements. Participants can’t be required to participate in a job search activity, but they can choose to do so if they want to and are job ready.

Under Social Security Law, compulsory participants must:

  • sign a Participation Plan with a compulsory activity
  • attend scheduled appointments, and
  • participate in the compulsory activity.

Participants can choose to sign their Participation Plan immediately, or have up to 10 business days ‘think time’ to consider the activities or discuss it with their family. Once agreed, the plan may be updated and renegotiated during subsequent interviews to reflect changes to the participant’s circumstances. If a participant refuses to sign their Participation Plan, compliance action will automatically occur.

Participants can update activities in their plan at any time by contacting their provider.

What happens if a participant is not happy with their proposed Participation Plan?

Participants should discuss the matter with their provider in the first place. If the participant is dissatisfied with the results of the provider’s customer feedback process, providers must refer the participant to the department for further investigation.

Participants can make a complaint directly to the department, by either:

Is ParentsNext compulsory?

Yes, ParentsNext is compulsory for parents and carers who meet all the program eligibility requirements. To keep receiving their Parenting Payment, participants must attend their appointments, agree to their Participation Plan and participate in their agreed activities. 

Participants need to participate in their agreed activities or their Parenting Payment could be put on hold.

Like most other income support recipients, participants report to Centrelink each fortnight to report income and confirm they are meeting their Parenting Payment requirements.

Participants generally also need to confirm attendance at their compulsory activity. However, this is no more than once every two weeks.

Why is ParentsNext compulsory?

Evidence from the evaluation of the ParentsNext trial2 and earlier similar pilots (Helping Young Parents and Supporting Jobless Families) showed participants achieved significantly better results when the program’s activity requirements were compulsory.

The evaluation also showed participation in ParentsNext improves participants’ attitudes towards workforce participation and they are more likely to undertake study and training or be looking for work. It also found a positive impact on work readiness and that participation increases their chances of future employment, even though participants are not required to look for work as part of the program.

Without strong support for disadvantaged parents and carers, the cycle of welfare dependency will continue. Eighty per cent of young mothers on Parenting Payment had a parent or guardian who was also on welfare during their upbringing.3

Why do participants have to report every fortnight?

To continue receiving their Parenting Payment, ParentsNext participants have reporting requirements:

  • Participants need to report to Centrelink (through the myGov website or Express Plus Centrelink app) each fortnight to report any income and confirm they have met the requirements in their Participation Plan.
  • Participants who do not have full-time education or a flexible activity* as their compulsory activity, are required to report their activity attendance no more than once per fortnight. They can report attendance through the jobactive Job Seeker app or to their provider, as specified in their Participation Plan.

*Flexible activities are those that don’t require attendance at a set location or don’t occur at a specific time, for example, online study or research activities.

What if a participant can’t attend a ParentsNext appointment or activity?

If a participant can’t attend an appointment or an activity, they must notify their provider beforehand. If they have a valid reason, for example, their child is sick, or they miss the appointment or activity and contact their provider afterwards on the same business day, their payment won’t be put on hold. The appointment or activity will be rescheduled.

If a participant does not contact their provider on the day, their payment is put on hold and the participant is notified. The participant needs to contact their provider and reschedule the appointment or activity. Once this is done the payment hold is removed and payment proceeds.

Payment holds and penalties under the Targeted Compliance Framework only affect a participant’s Parenting Payment. Payments relating to children (such as Family Tax Benefit), concession card eligibility and Rent Assistance (where paid through the family payments system) are not affected.

A participant’s payment won’t be put on hold if they refuse a job, leave a job or do not look for work. This is explicitly precluded by the relevant legislation.

Providers will work closely with participants to support them in meeting their requirements, including changing their appointment times, if necessary, or referring them to activities that better suit their circumstances.

Participants have fewer and more flexible requirements than jobactive job seekers.

If a participant is concerned that they may not be able to report reliably using the jobactive Job Seeker app, for example due to issues with internet access, they can speak with their provider about alternative reporting options.

How quickly are payment suspensions lifted?

Holds on Parenting Payment are typically lifted quickly after the participant re-engages with their provider – most are within two business days. As the Parenting Payment is made fortnightly, in arrears, payment holds rarely result in a delay to the participant’s payment.

Is it compulsory for participants to attend activities in their Participation Plans?

Participants can discuss activities they would like to undertake with their provider when developing their Participation Plan. Participants must attend the compulsory activities they have agreed to in their Participation Plan, which are designed to assist them along the pathway to being work ready.

Participants can identify activities such as playgroups or other similar things (while their children are very young) as a way to overcome isolation, develop social connections and networking opportunities. Participants with limited work history and significant challenges such as a lack of education, medical conditions and language, literacy and numeracy barriers may find this the most appropriate activity early in their time in the program.

It is important that the activities in a participant’s Participation Plan are tailored to their circumstances and future goals. The Participation Plan should be reviewed regularly by the provider and the participant to ensure that activities remain appropriate.

Are staff at activities expected to report a participant’s attendance?

ParentsNext provider staff should not ask staff at third party organisations, such as libraries and playgroups, to identify and report a participant’s attendance at activities.

Before referring participants to a service or facility, it’s best practice for providers to liaise with the organisation to discuss services, preferred volume of referrals and other relevant details.

Do participants still have to participate during a personal crisis?

Personal circumstances can affect a participant’s ability to participate, for example domestic and family violence, family illness, or a major personal crisis. Where these arise, the provider will determine if the participant can be granted a temporary exemption from their activities. When a participant has an exemption, they don’t have to do their activities for an agreed period of time.

Participants can still access help and support from their provider during an exemption period.

If a participant is not happy with their provider’s decision to refuse an exemption, the participant should contact their provider in the first instance and ask for a review of the decision. If the participant is not happy with their provider’s response, they can request an independent review of the decision by the department by contacting the National Customer Service Line.

Do parents or carers who are already studying have to participate in ParentsNext?

Parents or carers who are already studying or doing volunteer work may still need to participate in ParentsNext. However, they can continue their study or volunteer work as their ParentsNext activity.

Participants who are studying may benefit from the extra assistance provided by their provider, particularly if their personal or family situation changes and they have difficulty continuing their study. Additional assistance may include access to child care, transport, financial advice or securing safe housing.

Providers work closely with participants to help them meet their compulsory requirements, including changing appointment times, adjusting activities and advising if they are eligible for a temporary exemption.

Do participants who are pregnant have to participate in ParentsNext?

Participants who are pregnant are supported through the program until they are within six weeks of their expected due date.

The provider applies an exemption from participating in the program from six weeks before the expected due date until six months after the expected due date. Participants need to provide evidence of their pregnancy from their treating doctor, including the expected due date.

Participants who are experiencing illness or issues with their pregnancy may be eligible for a temporary medical exemption prior to that time. Participants should discuss this with their provider.

How soon after giving birth will a parent have to participate in ParentsNext?

Participants supported through the Intensive Stream will recommence in the program once their child is six months old.

Participants supported through the Targeted Stream will be exited from the program when they register their child’s birth with Centrelink. The parent or carer may be re-referred to ParentsNext in the future when their youngest child is one, three or five years of age and they meet other eligibility criteria.

How is a participant’s privacy protected?

ParentsNext providers must comply with the Privacy Act 1988 and Australian Privacy Principles (APPs) when dealing with participant’s personal information.

Participants can sign a Privacy Notification and Consent form, agreeing to the collection of their sensitive information, which has a greater level of protection under the Australian Privacy Principles (APPs). Sensitive information includes certain characteristics of an individual such as details of their cultural or linguistic background, any criminal record, medical information and membership of a professional or trade association. As protected information under social security legislation, a participant’s personal information may only be collected, used and disclosed to carry out the functions of delivering work-related services as provided under social security law, or for other purposes if the participant consents.

A participant can choose not to sign the Privacy Notification and Consent form. They are still required to participate in the program, but the types of services the provider can offer the participant may be limited.

Do participants have their Parenting Payment cut if they don’t sign the Privacy Notification and Consent form?

No, participants are not obliged to sign the Privacy Notification and Consent form and not doing so doesn’t result in a payment hold or cancellation. Participants are still required to participate in the program even if they choose not to sign the privacy form. However, the types of services the provider can offer the participant may be limited.

Does a participant have to find a new provider if they do not sign the Privacy Notification and Consent form?

No, participants who don’t sign the Privacy Notification and Consent form don’t have to find a new provider. The provider can still refer a participant to an activity that doesn’t require collecting or disclosing their sensitive information.

Can participants change their provider?

Yes, participants can request a change of provider if they relocate or think another provider can provide them with a better service. They can do this by talking to their provider, or to the department’s National Customer Service Line.

Can parents and carers volunteer for ParentsNext?

Parents and carers can volunteer for ParentsNext if they receive Parenting Payment, have a child under six years and live in an Intensive Stream location. Intensive Stream locations are listed at the ParentsNext webpage.

Volunteers receive the same support available under ParentsNext but they are not subject to the Targeted Compliance Framework and can’t have their Parenting Payment put on hold for failing to participate. However, they are exited from the program if they fail to participate as agreed.

Are there specified hours of activity?

There are no specified hours for participation in ParentsNext. The type of activity participants agree to in their Participation Plan determines the time they spend at the activity. For example, volunteer work might involve attendance for two hours a week for four weeks, while a TAFE course may require attendance for two hours, twice a week, for six weeks.

Do participants need to attend their provider’s office for appointments?

Providers must meet face to face with participants for the initial appointment. This can be at either the provider’s premises or an agreed suitable venue. The provider may arrange an alternative to the initial face-to-face appointment (i.e. via telephone or video conference, such as Skype) if there are exceptional circumstances.

After considering the participant’s circumstances, if it is more appropriate to meet via telephone or video conference, this may occur, where the participant and provider agree.

Do participants pay to participate in ParentsNext?

Participation in ParentsNext is free.

Participants can’t be compelled to fund their own attendance in an activity, including an education or training activity (such as a TAFE course). If the participant or the provider can’t locate funding for a course then another activity must be selected.

Providers servicing Intensive Stream participants have access to funds for parents to engage in activities like training, mentoring and professional services.

How is ParentsNext funded?

The Australian Government funds the ParentsNext program. The department manages the program through contracted organisations to ensure ParentsNext services are delivered across all non-remote areas of Australia and are tailored to the needs and circumstances of participants in their area.

ParentsNext providers receive a service fee of $600 per participant every six months.

How many participants have been referred to ParentsNext?

Since the national expansion of ParentsNext on 2 July 2018, more than 114,000* people have been referred to ParentsNext.

*Data as at 31 December 2019.

Do participants leave ParentsNext if they get a job?

Providers can exit compulsory participants when they have stable employment. That is, paid employment averaging 15 hours per week or 30 hours per fortnight, maintained over at least 12 weeks, and which is expected to be ongoing.

Once participants achieve stable earnings and exit the program, they need to continue to report their earnings to Centrelink. If they no longer report earnings, they may be re-referred to ParentsNext if eligible. 

Can participants get help from other employment programs?

While participating in ParentsNext, compulsory participants can access the following employment services (if eligible) for additional support:

  • New Enterprise Incentive Scheme (NEIS
  • Transition to Work (TTW)
  • Volunteer Online Employment Services Trial - From 9 December 2019, participants wanting to find employment while in ParentsNext have access to the Volunteer Online Employment Services Trial. They are not able to access jobactive face-to-face service.

Intensive Stream volunteers are not able to access other employment services concurrently with ParentsNext, but can exit ParentsNext at any time if they choose to do so.

How do parents and carers access ParentsNext?

Centrelink contacts parents and carers who need to participate in ParentsNext and connects them to a local provider.

There are 56 providers across Australia delivering ParentsNext. Parents and carers can find their nearest provider through the jobactive website.

What can participants do if they think they have been referred to ParentsNext in error?

A participant already commenced in the program should discuss any concerns about their eligibility and/or referral to ParentsNext with their provider. Alternatively, participants can contact Centrelink or the department for further investigation.

Participants can make a complaint directly to the department by either:

Endnotes

  1. ParentsNext Evaluation Report
  2. ParentsNext Evaluation Report
  3. Australian Priority Investment Approach to Welfare, Department of Social Services, 2016, www.dss.gov.au

Correct at time of publication

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Last modified on Wednesday 1 April 2020 [9376|124766]