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Home life is a daily challenge for ‘Jane’. Her mother has a problem with alcohol and her father spends more time in prison than he does at home. Jane and her two younger brothers prefer it when he’s in jail; dads aren’t supposed to hit people they love, at least that’s how the people on TV act.

Jane stopped attending her old high school more than a year ago. She couldn’t see the point. Besides, someone had to make sure the boys were dressed and had breakfast.

COVID made it easier to drift away from the daily routine and without devices or internet, at-home learning was almost impossible.

Jane isn’t a real person, but her story is, along with a thousand different variations on the same theme impacting the lives of vulnerable young people in Western Australia. Anything from family dysfunction, drug and alcohol misuse, or ongoing mental health problems can lead to student disengagement.

A school attendance of less than 90% places students at severe risk of lowered educational outcomes. Absenteeism increases social isolation, poor mental health outcomes, and ongoing disengagement from the community. These issues can affect anyone, and demand for places at specialist re-engagement schools grows year-on-year as mainstream schools struggle to meet the demand for support resources and flexible learning options.

Disengagement from education becomes a vicious cycle that limits students’ potential and their ability to function in mainstream society. Without the supports, the guidance and knowledge that comes with an education, young people like Jane can fall through the cracks with no safety net to break their fall.

This is where alternative education pathways can play a role in providing young people with a safe landing. A place that creates education opportunities to meet their unique needs at a pace they can manage while still dealing with the many other challenges in their young lives.

The Communicare Academy is a Curriculum and Reengagement in Education (CARE) School. CARE schools provide year 7-12 students a unique approach to re-engagement in their education journey, focusing on student wellbeing and education support. They also provide flexible learning options and modified curriculums to re-engage students at-risk of falling through the cracks, or those who have been disengaged for some time.

At the Academy we see young people with a range of issues, including childhood trauma as a result of physical and/or sexual abuse, untreated mental health problems, undiagnosed learning disabilities, teenage pregnancy, family dysfunction, and drug and alcohol misuse, just to name a few. These issues can lead to chronic absenteeism and disengagement from education, which large mainstream schools are finding increasingly difficult to support.

Our program is designed to support student wellbeing as a priority, which leads to improved student education outcomes. All students have access to a full-time school psychologist, two full-time social workers, a full-time behaviour support assistant, a full-time Aboriginal Islander education officer, a clinical psychologist two days per week, a nurse practitioner one day per week, and a parenting therapist to support parents in the home.

Our school has a maximum of 92 students at any one time, with this level of support making a massive difference in student attendance and engagement. When our students are at mainstream schools their average attendance is at 30%. However, once they start attending the Academy, their average rises to 78%.

During the COVID-19 pandemic we put in place a range of measures to further support our students and ensure they remained engaged when at-home learning can be difficult. Our staff went back to trusty old pen and paper and created workbooks for students to cover their subjects.

Teaching and wellbeing staff then kept in contact with students via phone to ensure they were safe, well, and learning. Food packs and meal deliveries were ongoing thanks to our Canteen and wellbeing staff to ensure those who relied on the school for supplies were not left short during a time of panic buying and increased financial pressure.

Getting back to Jane, she is now receiving mental health support, engaged in learning, achieving at school, planning for the future, and most importantly, connected with her community.

At Communicare we talk the talk and walk the walk to provide hope and ‘creating futures’ for vulnerable Western Australians every day.

Our future is in the hands of our children and young people. It’s beholden on all of us to make sure they are nurtured, supported, kept safe and given the opportunity to be the best person they can be.


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