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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 published on 16 January 2019. If you wish to use this content, and need to confirm that the information is still current, contact media@employment.gov.au.

The Australian Government recognises many parents 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.  

What is ParentsNext?

ParentsNext is a national program that provides parents of young children with valuable pre-employment support to help them proactively plan and prepare for their future employment. 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 refer parents to local activities and services to help them progress towards their goals and address any barriers to future employment. This may include help to access secure housing, financial advice, parenting courses, childcare, transport, further education, training or volunteering. Parents can change these activities at any time to suit their needs and circumstances.

Parents have reported a range of benefits after participating in the program, including increased confidence, self-esteem, direction and motivation. Parents who participated in the program showed an increased chance of studying or training as well as an increased chance of employment, although employment is not mandatory.1 Parents do not have to look for work or take up a job as part of the program. However, if a parent is ready to look for work 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 may have ideas about the kind of work they would like to do once their children are older, but staying at home with young children can sometimes isolate them and interrupt career plans. This can result in parents not finishing their education or training, having outdated qualifications and decreased confidence in their work skills. ParentsNext provides support to help parents get into a better position to participate in the workforce by the time they are required to look for work.

Who can receive support through ParentsNext?

ParentsNext is for parents who have been receiving a Parenting Payment for the last six months, have not had employment earnings during this period, have a child aged under six, and meet one of the program’s additional criteria.

The program focuses on assisting parents 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 assessed as needing more support?

A parent’s level of need is based on a combination of 18 factors. These range from recent work experience, length of time on income support payment and living in areas with challenging labour market conditions.

The Department of Human Services (DHS) conducts an assessment using the Job Seeker Classification Index (JSCI) questionnaire to establish if a parent meets the ParentsNext criterion. Parent’s responses to the questions are used to measure their relative need for receiving help to prepare for future employment.

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 parents in these areas, including access to a participation fund and wage subsidies to help overcome barriers to future employment.

All providers have identified diversity strategies that ensure the culturally competent servicing of Indigenous participants. Some strategies include, engaging local Indigenous individuals to be staff members, connecting with Elders in the community and working with local Indigenous organisation. As well as this, all providers need to demonstrate they can effectively and sensitively work with Indigenous parents and are required under the ParentsNext deed to have an Indigenous employment strategy.

By supporting Indigenous parents to achieve their goals ParentsNext aims to make a significant contribution to Closing the Gap. As at 31 December 2018 over 14,000 (19%) of parents in the program identified as Indigenous.

How do parents benefit from participating in ParentsNext?

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

What do parents have to do in ParentsNext?

With help from their provider, parents in ParentsNext identify their education and employment goals and plan a pathway to achieving them—taking into account their family circumstances.

Parents agree to a Participation Plan containing their identified education or employment goals and activity/ies. Providers discuss suitable activities with the parent, and the parent needs to agree on which activities would benefit them in their move towards their education and employment goals.

Participants must:

  • attend their provider appointments (at least quarterly) and any third party appointments
  • agree to a tailored Participation Plan that outlines their personal education or employment goals
  • participate in an activity to build their work readiness.

What is a Participation Plan?

Together parents and providers develop and agree to Participation Plans. Participation Plans take account of the parent's goals, personal circumstances and capacity to undertake the activities. Participation Plans cannot include unsuitable or unreasonable requirements. Parents cannot be required to participate in a job search activity, but they can choose to do so if they want to.

Under Social Security Law, recipients of Parenting Payment who are compulsory participants in ParentsNext must sign a Participation Plan with a compulsory activity, as well as attend appointments and participate in the compulsory activity.

Parents can choose to sign their Participation Plan immediately, or they 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 the parent's circumstances. If a parent refuses to sign the Participation Plan, compliance action will automatically occur.

Where there are unforeseen circumstances that prevent the parent from undertaking one or more activities in their plan, they must contact their provider to renegotiate their plan.

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

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

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

  • calling the Department’s National Customer Service Line or
  • using the ParentsNext Complaints, Compliments and Suggestions form on the ParentsNext webpage.

Is ParentsNext compulsory?

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

Since 1 July 2018, the Targeted Compliance Framework has ensured that ParentsNext participants benefit from this program. This means parents need to participate in their agreed required activities or their Parenting Payment can be suspended.

Like most other income support recipients, parents report to Centrelink each fortnight to ensure they are meeting their Parenting Payment requirements. Parents also confirm attendance at agreed ParentsNext compulsory activities on the day attended.

Why is ParentsNext compulsory?

The ParentsNext evaluation2 found that ParentsNext improves parents’ attitudes towards workforce participation and shows 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 parents are not required to look for work as part of the program.

Both the most recent ParentsNext evaluation and evidence from earlier similar pilots showed parents benefit from significantly better results when the program’s activity requirements are compulsory.

Additionally, without strong support for disadvantaged parents, 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 parents have to report every fortnight?

The Targeted Compliance Framework means that most people on income support (including compulsory ParentsNext participants) have two different reporting requirements.

Firstly, as a condition of receiving their Parenting Payment, parents need to report to Centrelink each fortnight to confirm they are meeting their mutual obligations. This includes reporting any employment earnings.

Secondly, parents must report their attendance at ParentsNext compulsory activities (on the day attended) using the jobactive app or to their ParentsNext provider, as specified in their Participation Plan.

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

If a parent 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 if a parent misses the appointment or activity and contacts their provider afterwards, and it is the same business day and they have a valid reason, there is no payment suspension and they can reschedule. 

If a parent does not contact their provider, their payment is suspended and the parent is notified. The parent needs to contact their ParentsNext provider and arrange to attend an appointment or activity. The payment suspension is lifted when the parent re-engages generally within two business days. As the Parenting Payment is made fortnightly in arrears, payment suspension rarely results in a delay in the parent’s payment.

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

ParentsNext participants are not subject to compliance action if they refuse a job, leave a job or do not look for work. This is explicitly precluded by the Targeted Compliance Framework legislation.

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

ParentsNext participants have fewer and more flexible requirements than jobactive job seekers, and fewer ParentsNext participants incur penalties under the Targeted Compliance Framework.

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

Is it compulsory for parents to attend activities like playgroup or swimming lessons?

Parents are able to discuss activities they would like to undertake with their provider when developing their Participation Plan. Parents 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.

Parents can identify activities such as playgroups or other similar things (while the children are very young) as a way to overcome isolation, develop social connections and networking opportunities. Parents 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 parent’s Participation Plan are tailored to their circumstances and future goals and that the Participation Plan is reviewed regularly by the ParentsNext provider and the parent to ensure that it remains appropriate.

Do parents still have to participate during a personal crisis?

Personal circumstances can affect a parent’s ability to participate, for example domestic violence, family illness, or a major personal crisis. Where these arise, the ParentsNext provider will talk to the parent to find out if they can be granted a temporary exemption from their activities.

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

Parents who are already studying or doing volunteer work can continue this as their ParentsNext activity.

Parents who are studying may benefit from the extra assistance provided by ParentsNext providers, 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.

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

Do parents who are pregnant have to participate in ParentsNext?

Parents who are pregnant are supported through the program until they are within six weeks of their expected due date. Parents need to provide evidence of their pregnancy from their treating doctor, including the expected due date.

The provider applies an exemption from participating in the program from six weeks before the parent’s expected due date until six months after their expected due date. Parents who are experiencing illness or issues with their pregnancy may be eligible for a temporary medical exemption prior to that time. Parents should discuss this with their provider.

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

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

Parents supported through the Targeted Stream will be exited from the program when they register their child’s birth with the Department of Human Services. The parent 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 quickly are payment suspensions lifted?

Suspensions are typically lifted quickly after the parent re-engages with their provider – most within two business days. As the Parenting Payment is made fortnightly in arrears, payment suspension rarely results in a delay in the parent’s payment.

Does the Department of Jobs and Small Business monitor or profile individual parents?

The department does not profile individual parents. It does actively monitor media reporting and views of the public on the term ‘ParentsNext’.

How is a parent’s privacy protected?

ParentsNext providers are contractually and legally obliged to comply with the Privacy Act 1988 and Australian Privacy Principles (APPs) when dealing with parents’ personal information.

Parents usually 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 parent’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 parent consents.

If a parent chooses 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 parent may be limited.

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

Parents are not obliged to sign the Privacy Notification and Consent form and failure to do so does not result in suspended payments. Parents 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 parent may be limited.

Must a parent find a new provider if they do not want to sign the Privacy Notification and Consent form?

Parents who do not sign the Privacy Notification and Consent form do not have to find a new provider. The provider can still refer a parent to an activity that does not require collecting or disclosing their sensitive information.

Can parents change their provider?

A parent 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 National Customer Service Line.

Can parents volunteer for ParentsNext?

Parents 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 ParentsNext webpage.

Volunteers receive the same support and benefits available under ParentsNext but they are not subject to the Targeted Compliance Framework and cannot have their Parenting Payment suspended 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 parents agree to in their Participation Plan determines the time they spend. For example, attendance at a parenting course 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 parents need to attend provider’s offices for appointments?

Providers must meet face-to-face with the parent for the initial appointment, 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 parent’s circumstances, if it is more appropriate for appointments to be via telephone or video conference, this may occur where the parent and provider agree.

If a parent is undertaking education when they are referred to the ParentsNext and is highly engaged, the provider may agree that ongoing appointments can be conducted flexibly, such as via telephone.

What happens during a ParentsNext appointment?

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

Providers must have appointments with the parent at least once every three months so that providers can review the parent’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 parent.

Do parents in ParentsNext have to look for work?

Parents do not have to look for work or take up a job. However, if a parent is ready to look for work and chooses to, their provider will assist them.

Do parents pay to participate in ParentsNext?

Participation in ParentsNext is free for parents.

Parents cannot be compelled to fund their own attendance in an activity, including an education or training activity (such as a TAFE course). If the parent or the provider cannot locate funding for a course then another activity must be found for the parent.

Providers servicing Intensive Stream participants have access to other 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 of Jobs and Small Business 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 parents in their area.

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

How many parents have been referred to ParentsNext?

Since the national expansion of ParentsNext on 2 July 2018, more than 75,000 people have been referred to ParentsNext.

Are parents guaranteed a job after completing ParentsNext?

ParentsNext is a pre-employment program designed to help parents gain the skills and experience they need to prepare them for a job by the time their youngest child goes to school. The aim of the program is to help parents take control of their future career path. Although not required to, some parents have found jobs while in ParentsNext.

Do parents leave ParentsNext if they get a job?

Providers can exit compulsory ParentsNext 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 parents 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. 

Can parents get help from other employment programs?

While participating in ParentsNext, compulsory participants can access services from jobactive, New Enterprise Incentive Scheme (NEIS) or Transition to Work (TTW), to help prepare them for work, apply for a job, or take up a job.

Voluntary participants are not able to access other employment services concurrently with ParentsNext, but may exit ParentsNext at any time if they choose to do so.

How do parents access ParentsNext?

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

A total of 57 providers across Australia deliver ParentsNext. Parents can find their nearest provider on the jobactive website.

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

A parent who is concerned about their eligibility and/or referral to ParentsNext should discuss this with their ParentsNext provider, if they have already commenced in the program. Alternatively, parents can contact the Department of Human Services or the Department of Jobs and Small Business for further investigation.

Parents can make a complaint directly to the Department of Jobs and Small Business, by either:

  • calling the Department’s National Customer Service Line or
  • using the ParentsNext Complaints, Compliments and Suggestions form on the ParentsNext webpage.

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

This document was update on 27 February 2019.


Correct at time of publication

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