Report suggests improvements to program supporting sole parents
A report into the JET Program for sole parents found government officials needed to work with Aboriginal communities to meet their needs instead of telling them what to do.
This project is an attempt by an Aboriginal person to bridge the gap between a mainstream program in DSS and the needs of the Aboriginal community in Central Australia.
In 1989, the government set up the Jobs, Education and Training (JET) Program to help parents, especially women, train and enter the workforce.
Through the program, eligible sole parents could access training and work opportunities. Customers could work with a caseworker to tailor training to their needs and interests. Caseworkers could also help organise childcare for those who needed it.
By 1992, JET had been implemented in Darwin but Aboriginal customers weren’t accessing it. This report looked at ways to better deliver the program to other communities in the Northern Territory, particularly in Alice Springs. Lorraine Randall, who was the Director of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Section at the Department of Social Security (DSS), wrote the report.
Researching the need for the program
To conduct research, Randall visited many communities, organisations and community-run businesses in the Alice Springs area. Her research said that of sole parents in the area, 88% were Aboriginal and 17% were teenagers.
After speaking to some of these parents, Randall found there was definitely a need for the program.
Lack of knowledge of the program
Randall found that many eligible people didn’t know about the program or had negative views about it. Some customers also found it difficult to know if they were eligible, because eligibility depended on what payment they were getting.
Even among DSS staff there was a lack of awareness about the program. Randall found that staff, especially Aboriginal and Islander Liaison Officers, needed more information.
Recommendation for more JET Advisers
Although there was a need for the program among eligible customers, Randall found that Aboriginal customers needed help accessing the benefits of it.
Randall said there were a number of issues making it difficult for Aboriginal sole parents to find work. As well as it being hard to gain experience, employers were prejudiced against Aboriginal sole parents. Parents also needed flexible childcare, which was hard to come by.
Randall recommended that having a JET Adviser in the area could help sole parents overcome some of these issues.
Recommendation to make the program more culturally relevant
Randall advised that DSS needed to ‘ensure JET be seen as culturally and practically relevant to Aboriginal sole parents in their fight for economic independence’ (Randall 1992:34).
To fix these issues, Randall said government officials needed to work with communities instead of telling them what to do. She said government should consider how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people organised families and communities. She urged DSS to remember the importance of the physical environment and kinship responsibilities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Overall, Randall’s recommendations were for broader, holistic changes which she argued would provide genuine benefits for Aboriginal people in and around Alice Springs.
The report reveals the importance of Aboriginal staff working with Aboriginal people on programs that affect them. It also shows the difficulties DSS had in promoting and effectively implementing mainstream programs in remote communities.
In 1995, DSS produced a video promoting JET to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sole parents who lived in suburban settings.
Lorraine Randall’s language group was Narungga and she was from Point Pearce, South Australia. She became Director of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Section at DSS in 1988. She was central to starting the Support Network for Aboriginal Parents (SNAP) Program, Remote Visiting Teams, and the Aboriginal Interpreter Service.
The JET program began in 1989. It followed recommendations made in Issues paper no. 3, published as part of the Social Security Review which started in 1986.
This copy of the report included here is held in the Department of Social Services Library.
Permission to reproduce excerpts from this report was provided by Lorraine Randall’s daughter, Itumathunga Randall.
Randall L (1992) The Jobs, Education and Training Program: Aboriginal access in the Northern Territory, Department of Social Security, Australian Government.