Laughter is contagious at Mount Gambier North School Hub.
Every Wednesday, the Hub becomes a hive of activity as children aged up to 12 years arrive for playgroup, run by Centacare South East’s Family Connections Program.
As new friendships are forged and skills are honed in readiness for school and kindergarten, the children’s parents swap stories and access support for challenges they may be facing, at home or in their work lives.
The inclusive community playgroup model is reaping benefits for families, says school principal Jane Turner: “When you work with parents alongside their children, you get powerful outcomes.
“There is targeted support for the kids that need it the most and this really makes a huge difference on their first day of school.
“The junior primary teachers could see at the beginning of this year that, despite being four-and-a-half, the kids were more ready for school than they had been in the past.
“At the same time, we’re supporting parents to support their children which is important for their academic performance and wellbeing.’’
The playgroup sprang out of a conversation around services the Hub could provide after it was set up in 2014 to build social capital and family resilience in the South East.
The school had identified a need for services to be accessible in the right place at the right time, essentially, within walking distance of home. It enlisted ac.care to provide an on-site Family Support Worker and the Hub was born, with further support from Innovative Communication Action Networks (ICAN).
Today, the service-meets-school Hub is building a strong rapport with the parent, student and wider community through collaboration, connection and commitment to making meaningful change at grass-roots level.
The Hub provides families with a direct pathway to key parenting support and early intervention services which have traditionally been delivered from offices scattered across the region.
“What we see is children and parents blossoming,’’ Jane says.
“The Hub has allowed us to be much more proactive in supporting people, whether that be through meals, financial counselling, social work or parenting courses.
“People are coming in with the idea of a shared partnership and are realising that connection with community is very important.’’
Centacare South East Manager Craig Wood says the Hub has given families a sense of belonging to their community and empowered them to share their stories, simultaneously schooling service providers on how they can better cater to their needs.
“We are demonstrating we also belong and that we, too, are part of the school and care about our community,’’ he says.
Organisations including Centacare, ac.care, Re-engage, Mind, ICAN, Mount Gambier Children’s Centre, Pangula Mannamurna, Headspace, Acacia Kindergarten meet with Hub school support staff each term to co-ordinate responses to growing trends and issues identified by families experiencing challenges and, in some instances, crisis.
*Mount Gambier North School Hub is being highlighted as part of National Child Protection Week. This year’s theme ‘Stronger Communities, Safer Children’ emphasises the importance and value of connected communities in keeping children and young people safe and well. Communities in which children are seen and heard, where their participation is valued and where their families can get the support they need are stronger communities which contribute to keeping children safe and well.