New research shows a parent-child tutoring program in disadvantaged communities has helped lift four and five-year-old’s literacy and numeracy rates from below to above national averages.

Key points:

  • The Brotherhood of St Laurence program works with parents and children on learning and life skills
  • It then employs parent graduates to become peer-to-peer mentors
  • Research found First Nations children demonstrated less improvement in their academic outcomes after going through HIPPY

The Brotherhood of Saint Laurence’s Home Interaction Program for Parents and Youngsters (HIPPY) program works to develop learning and bonding skills with parents and children from more than 100 vulnerable locations around Australia.

National manager Marian Pettit said two academic research studies funded by the Department of Social Services showed it improved the life trajectory for all participants.

Parents employed, often for first time

Ms Pettit said because the program then employed parents to become peer-to-peer mentors for other local families, it helped to break intergenerational cycles of disadvantage.

“We have lots of employers around in the community looking when the tutors are finishing because they’ve got the skills, they have communication skills, they’re able to work in the home, they’re able to work with families,” she said.

The tutor is paid to work with about 12 families over two years. Ms Pettit said it was often a tutor’s first job.

“Then they can relate in English later, so it helps the parent gain English language skills.”

One of the research papers found nearly all home tutors agreed or strongly agreed that “working with HIPPY helped develop skills that will be useful for my future employment”.

Kianna completed the HIPPY program with her Mum Katisha, and is doing well at school.(Supplied: Katisha Jackson.)

‘It’s empowering’

Stay-at-home Mum Katisha Jackson worked her way from a parent participant with her daughter Kianna, to a HIPPY Coordinator in her community in South Australia’s Riverland region.

“I think it’s really important to understand your child and to work out how your child learns. So if you don’t really know, I think it’s really beneficial,” Ms Jackson said.

“It’s also empowering you to become your child’s first teacher, which I think is a really important skill.”

She said she noticed a difference in Kianna right away.

“She’s still willing to have that confidence in herself to just give it a go, have some fun and not take life too seriously.”

Katisha Jackson says the HIPPY program has helped her daughter Kianna be more confident starting school.(Supplied: Katisha Jackson.)

Breaking the cycle

The two research papers cited the well-established link between growing up with financial disadvantage and impacts on social and economic participation.

“Children who live in poverty and financial disadvantage are less academically successful at school, with lasting effects on social and economic participation,” one of the studies said.

“The OECD … consistently finds that, across middle and high-income nations, the reading scores of the 10 per cent most socio-economically advantaged students are approximately three school years in advance of children in the lowest … by socio-economic status.

By studying the families involved with HIPPY, it concluded “families with limited financial resources can reorganise the home learning environment”.

The research also found more needed to be done, identifying that “the absence of a broader emphasis on the home learning environment in Australian policy” meant opportunity to support families were often missed.

It found First Nations children demonstrated less improvement in their academic outcomes after going through HIPPY.

One recommendation was also to “establish a national community of practice to drive culturally significant adaptations to program delivery to improve outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children”.