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'What else should I be doing?' Parents respond to threats of welfare payment suspensions.

Approximately 68,000 parents have been placed in a government ‘pre-employment’ program designed to address concerns about long-term welfare dependency.

The ParentsNext program is intended to help eligible parents plan and prepare for employment by the time their children go to school. The program has operated since 2016, but in July of this year, changes were introduced that mean if certain criteria is not met by parents, they could have their Centrelink payments cancelled or suspended.

Now, all parents on the program must meet a fortnightly participation plan negotiated with a case worker, known as their ParentsNext provider. Parents are reporting that part of some of their plans involves reporting of children’s activities, such as ‘story time’, swimming classes or playgroup.

One mother told Guardian Australia her payment was suspended for a week when she didn’t report her attendance at a “story time session”.

Currently, a single, primary, carer with a child up to the age of eight, can receive a weekly Centrelink payment of $384.25. Those qualifying for the ParentsNext program can be moved to the scheme anytime after their child turns six months old.

Parents have aired their views on social media about the program changes. Most of them are single mothers who express frustration as they already face enough challenges raising their children.

Backlash to the ParentsNext program changes on social media. Source: Facebook.

"Not happy about this process," wrote one mother. "I am already studying a degree fulltime so not sure what else I need to be doing."

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This was an oft-repeated sentiment in the comments, with parents claiming they are already reporting regularly and fulfilling employment, job-seeking, or study requirements. They also expressed concern that the extra criteria set by the program is excessively onerous, and unnecessary.

"I'm working at least 20 hours a week yet I'm still being harassed about this program," said another mum.

"I don't need it or want it and I don't fit the eligibility, so why do I have to do it?"

Backlash to the ParentsNext program changes on social media. Source: Facebook.

Amongst the comments, there was a general feeling that the program now penalises all parents for not making what the government believes are appropriate choices for their children.

One unhappy grandmother wrote, "Apparently this programme aims at making sure parents are active and not just [sitting] around at home all day."

Terese Edwards, chief executive of the National Council of Single Mothers, told Guardian Australia the changes imply that parents aren't often enough prioritising their children when deciding where to spend their welfare payments.

"It’s offensive that the government believes that … women aren’t trying to do what they can to increase the welfare of themselves and their child," Edwards said.

Backlash to the ParentsNext program changes on social media. Source: Facebook.
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Mamamia received a statement from a spokesperson for the Minister for Jobs and Industrial Relations, Kelly O'Dwyer. This is the statement in full:

“The Government is supporting parents who may find it difficult to get a foot in the door and giving them the best opportunity to succeed in getting a job.

"ParentsNext has been operating in 10 locations since April 2016, and in that time to 30 June 2018, has helped more than 23,500 parents, with nearly 3,500 participants finding paid work and 9,500 participating in education or training.

"Parents participate in activities appropriate for their needs and family circumstances. Participants can receive a range of assistance such as help to access local services to address barriers to employment, including assistance to access childcare and services to address non-vocational barriers such as mental or physical health. If a parent is already studying or doing volunteer work, they can do this as their ParentsNext activity, while accessing other benefits of the service.

"An evaluation of ParentsNext has shown overall positive results, with improvements in participants’ wellbeing, attitude to work, and their chances of engaging in study/training and employment.

"If any parent has concerns about their participation in ParentsNext they can contact the Employment Services National Customer Service Line on 1800 805 260.”

Guardian Australia reports that Terri Butler, Labor’s employment services spokesperson, said whilst the aim of ParentsNext is constructive, the implementation of its compliance framework was not ideal for a pre-employment program.

Have you been impacted by the changes to ParentsNext? Tell us in the comments.

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