109.5 Social investment, children's rights and neo-liberal policy: Balancing competing notions of the child in early intervention activities in the East Kimberley, Western Australia

Wednesday, August 1, 2012: 1:30 PM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Sherry SAGGERS , National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University, Perth, Australia
Kate FRANCES , National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University, Perth, Australia
Juan LARRANAGA , Save the Children Australia, West Perth, Australia
Anthea WHAN , Save the Children Australia, West Perth, Australia
In Australia, as elsewhere in the developed world, neo-liberal governments have turned to social investment in human capital (Giddens 1998), rather than direct provision of economic maintenance, to address intergenerational poverty. Since 2000 the Australian federal government has funded a Stronger Families and Communities Strategy through a competitive contracting regime preferentially to non-government organisations partnering with local community organisations to provide a range of early intervention activities designed to ameliorate disadvantage among isolated families (Kenny, 2002). Since 2005 in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia this has included playgroups and centre-based early learning and care, family support services, and arts-based activities for a largely Indigenous Australian population. Save the Children Australia (SCA) has been the facilitating partner for these activities with community partners including Indigenous community organisations, health services, and councils. This government investment in the early years has been accompanied by increasing regulation of children and parents, culminating in policies linking welfare benefits to school attendance in some regions. These policies raise questions about the rights of children and their families, in particular the positioning of children;  as ‘beings’ in the present or ‘becomings’ in which children are considered “a-social, not-yet-social, in the process of becoming social and therefore in need of being made social” (Alanen, 2004:3) as increasing focus is placed on children’s education and employment futures. Save the Children has established a strong international reputation as an advocate for children’s rights and asserts its aim “…to give every child a safe and happy childhood”. In this paper, collaboration between university researchers who have evaluated the East Kimberley activities for almost six years and SCA staff with detailed knowledge of the activities, we review SCA’s struggle to meet the contractual obligations of government, whilst blending good community development principles and the rights of the child.