By Cam Lucadou-Wells
The comfy classroom at Narre Community Learning Centre looks like part home office and part baby nursery.
Three days a week, the students sit around a large homely table with affirmation posters catching their eyes.
They are teenage mums who – with their babies close at hand – are continuing their schooling the Young Parents Education Program.
While the mums learn VCAL literacy, numeracy, business and workplace skills, their young ones play in the same room.
The babies are doted upon by trained early-childhood workers. Friendships between parents and tots are formed at the study table and play pen.
Jade, a parent at YPEP, says it’s a pathway for mums to “do something in your life”.
“It gives you something to do. You’re not stuck home all day.
“We’re still young and want to do things.”
The students and babies are said to be part of the program’s “family”.
In the homely nursery’s play pen are toys and a line of cots assigned and labelled to each student’s baby. Nearby are armchairs for the mums to feed their children.
“We want this to be a welcome, relaxed and supportive environment,” says co-ordinator Tina Brampton.
Research shows young mothers and their children are vulnerable to poor outcomes, such as welfare dependence, family conflict, inadequate housing and low levels of education.
According to 2011 census data, the South-East region was home to 700 young parents, aged between 15 and 21 years.
That number is assumed to have grown.
Over the past decade, teenage pregnancies in Casey are greater than the state average, and the municipality has one of the youngest demographics in Australia.
Ms Brampton says the YPEP folds in positive parenting lessons such as nutrition, immunisation and baby care into the lessons.
The mothers are also teaming together to form a candle-making business.
They sell candles with aromas such as Japanese honey-suckle, buttercream vanilla, and coconut-and-lemongrass.
Ms Brampton praises the mums for their resilience and ability to juggle parenting and education.
“We want to support young parents to reach their goals of continuing their schooling and keeping their babies with them.”
The Narre Warren YPEP was founded with a donation from Casey Cardinia Foundation as well as from an anonymous donor. It is also supported by the Brave Foundation.
Details: Tina Brampton on 9704 7388 or firstname.lastname@example.org