Early intervention key to beating poverty trap

Supporting families, early childhood education and school retention are the key factors in helping people beat the poverty cycle.

Griffith University criminologist Professor Ross Homel AO will outline practical methods and tools to help schools and community agencies lift children and families out of intergenerational cycles of poverty and welfare dependence when he delivers the Keith Hancock Lecture in Brisbane on Thursday, March 8.

“Firstly, we need to support families to provide the best possible home environment, whether that’s practical, economical or emotional support. Let’s start with the assumption that every parent wants the best for their child,” he said.

“Secondly, get the kids into early childhood education at age three, not four. Get them into an enriched kindergarten or pre-school environment, not just child care.

“Thirdly, keep kids at school. One of the biggest risk factors in youth justice is the lack of attachment to school.”

Professor Homel, who was instrumental in creating a large early intervention project – Pathways to Prevention — in partnership with Mission Australia, says despite the best efforts of governments and non-government organisations the gap between rich and poor is widening.

“Children living in economically deprived areas are more likely to become caught up in child protection or youth justice systems than those from more affluent areas.”

Professor Homel cited a recent study that found 89% of children in detention in Western Australia have at least one domain of severe neurodevelopmental impairment.

“More than 950 children in Australia are in detention. In 21st century Australia I don’t know how we can tolerate this extremely high percentage of children locked up, which often leads to years of imprisonment.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth make up more than half of the detainees in detention, so when we talk about the closing the gap, it’s actually getting wider.

“What governments need to do now is to implement best practice social science research into supporting communities.”

Professor Homel and his team have developed a comprehensive prevention support system that is being implemented in nine communities in NSW and Queensland. The Prevention Translation and Support System comprises both human and electronic resources, including outcome measurement tools.

The Keith Hancock Lecture is presented by the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia and named in honour of Emeritus Professor Keith Hancock AO.

Read more about Professor Ross Homel’s research to keep children out of prisons.