Not enough support for defence families
By JAMIE CUMMINS
ACCORDING to many ADF dependants the education of their children is suffering due to a lack of support and understanding by defence and education systems in Australia.
A number of measures help ADF families who move frequently, but they are unable to reach enough people in order to do their job effectively.
In 2002 the Defence Community Organisation (DCO) began the Defence School Transition Aide (DSTA) program, placing aides in schools with high numbers of defence children.
The program’s goals are to make sure defence children are welcomed into schools and try to make the process easy for defence families, yet are lacking in staffing.
Of the more than 100 schools in the ACT only 21 contain DSTA’s, which is a low number considering the ACT has the highest number of defence families posted there at any one time.
The DSTA for Campbell High School, Liz Mallet, is aware of the issues surrounding ADF children and says the aides do as well as they can, but it can be hard sometimes as defence kids “move all throughout the year… [and] some kids miss or repeat grades”.
In addition to the DSTAs in schools, defence also provides a Regional Education Liaison Officer (REDLO) in each state. The REDLO’s role is to provide information on education systems throughout the country to assist with movements between the education systems, providing all available information to families and making it as seamless as possible.
Yet, there is only one REDLO in each state, meaning the REDLO’s must have a wide range of knowledge about the education systems and be accessible to a large number of defence personnel at all times.
Defence spouse Tracey Dolan has had her children move schools many times and has had many bad experiences. Throughout her husband’s 35 years in the Navy she has moved her family on average every two or three years. Her eldest son graduated from his eighth school while the family was posted in the USA.
“When we came back to Australia he couldn’t get into any universities because he didn’t have Australian qualifications,” she said. “There was no advice from defence on what to do and in the end we had to go hunting and looking for answers because there was nobody there to help us.”
Her son’s eventual acceptance in university was due to her pressuring of the REDLO in Victoria.
“She told me there was no way to convert his grades into an Australian equivalent, so eventually after some research she was able to find out the best way for him to apply,” she said. “The information was available, it just wasn’t provided, even though my family’s situation was known to defence.”
Mrs Dolan’s answer to the issue is to split her family apart.
“One year my children went to three different schools in twelve months,” she said. “I still have two children in school going into Years 9 and 10. My husband and I have decided he will have to take his next posting on his own and I will stay in Sydney with the children so they don’t have to move schools again.”
Eryn Downs completed high school not long ago without the help of any DSTAs.
“My Dad is in the Air Force and we moved on average every three years,” she said. “When they brought in the aides they weren’t available at any of the schools I went to, so we had to work it all out for ourselves. When you move from NSW to the ACT and go from the high school system to the college system it can all be very confusing. The kids need all the help they can get.”