Small Steps is a live-in parenting and life skills program where young Mums and their babies can grow together and learn to be a family in a safe and nurturing environment.
We caught up with Nonie, the coordinator at Small Steps, to discover what sort of impact Small Steps has on the young mums and children who participate in the program.
What does a typical day look like in your role at Small Steps?
Every day is different. Typically, my role consists of referrals, meeting potential residents, and helping the girls in the program. I also meet with other stakeholders such as health professionals, family support workers, and child safety. I always meet the girls before they move in so I can ensure they are the best fit, and that they don’t disrupt the program for the other women at Small Steps. I also do a lot of risk management and liaising with volunteers. Judy is a full time live-in volunteer and she is an absolute asset to us. We usually have another 12 to 15 volunteers and I do the inductions and interviews for them too.
The volunteers mentor the girls or mind the children while the girls do classes or workshops. They also run programs such as playgroup, community cooking classes, and other important life skills.
A lot of other community groups and organisations will collaborate with us to run these workshops as well.
How does the Small Steps program help young women and their children?
Small Steps is essentially a live-in supported parenting and life skills program. The idea is to alleviate the immediate crisis of not having accommodation. That then allows the Mums to focus on other areas of their life and grow as people and as parents. We support them to be the best mum they can be, and we help them to set and achieve their goals.
There are some girls that need extra parenting support, or help to develop their life skills. I love that we can take ‘out-of-the-box cases’ and help them because we do have that 24-hour support.
The Small Steps program is one of a kind in Australia. We have referrals coming from all over Tasmania and even interstate.
Another way that Small Steps helps young Mums and their children is by creating peer support networks within the program. The girls develop really strong friendships, and often come back to visit after they’ve found their own place. Lots of girls will pop by to say “Hey Nonie, I got my licence today!” or something like that, so that’s really lovely.
How do Mums get referred to the Small Steps program?
There are a number of ways young Mums can refer. Self-referrals are growing as the program continues and word-of-mouth spreads. A lot of referrals come from health professionals, community nurses or social workers at the hospital. They see the mums in their pregnancy so know about the living arrangements and support networks available to them. We also get referrals from other organisations, schools or Housing Connect. We have a very good reputation in the community so there are always young women wanting to join the program.
Where do the Mums and children go when they leave Small Steps?
The majority of the Mums go on to find permanent, independent living arrangements. That can either be through Housing Tasmania housing, or a private rental. We give them the skills to be able to prepare for this, and transition to independent living smoothly.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
It would definitely be watching the girls grow. Seeing them gain more confidence and start to believe in themselves. I am so lucky that I get to do a job that I absolutely love. I was a mum at 17 years old and I was lucky that I had good support, so it’s something that I’m very passionate about.
I love that we can take on challenging or unusual cases and have a life-changing impact for the Mum and her baby. We can provide stability and boundaries, and a sense of belonging. And the girls really are a beautiful bunch.
What are some of the achievements and wins that the Small Steps mums have had?
We’ve had a number of the girls enrol and complete study at University and TAFE. Some of the girls are still in high school and have continued with their secondary schooling. We also have Mums who are gaining their license and furthering their life skills. We’ve had some Mums who have got a job after their study, or gained other formal qualifications. One of our Mums became a swim instructor and is teaching young kids to swim.
Then there are some of the less ‘traditional achievements’ but the most important. Achievements like reunifying with their children, or keeping their children in their care, as opposed to being taken into State care. There’s also a lot of self-growth, increased confidence and friendships formed.
What’s special about Small Steps?
Because we’re donor funded, we have the ability to offer out-of-the-box services. We can support girls who may not always fit the criteria of the program exactly and meet them where they’re at. I love that we can provide support and be flexible to provide alternative solutions. For example, often the women in our program are escaping domestic violence. For women in the north of the state it was hard for them to meet with us before they got accepted into the program. So we collaborated with women’s shelters in the north and the south. We organised rooms at both the shelters for them, and transport up and back. Then they could go through the normal processes, check the place out and make sure it’s the right fit for them.
What would you like to say to our donors?
A huge thank you! It’s through your generosity that we can continue this one-of-a-kind program for Tasmania’s most vulnerable people. The support provided by Small Steps keeps families together and we couldn’t do it without you.
Donate today to support the young Mums and children at the Small Steps program.