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VCOSS welcomes budget boost to support vulner. . .

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VCOSS welcomes budget boost to support vulnerable families

5 May 2015  |  

VCOSS welcomes those commitments in today’s state budget that will help tackle poverty and disadvantage in the Victorian community.

Today’s state budget contains a number of positive measures aimed at improving education, child protection, employment, public transport and reducing family violence.

“This budget is a good first step by the Andrews Government to create a solid foundation for vulnerable Victorian families and communities, and opens the way to further investment to build a Victoria without poverty over future budgets,” said Emma King, CEO of VCOSS.

Education

“The budget contains important initiatives to keep young people engaged in education and training. VCOSS is pleased to see new initiatives which will help families meet spiralling school costs and help ensure children and young people do not miss out on educational opportunities,” Emma King said.

These include:

  • $148.3 million for the Camps, Sport and Excursion Fund
  • An additional $15.7 million for the State School Relief Fund for affordable school uniforms
  • $13.7 million for Breakfast Clubs in the 500 most disadvantaged government primary schools, to help children get a good start to each school day.
  • $8 million for youth participation and engagement, helping reconnect young people to education and employment pathways
  • $1.6 million for a mentoring program for disadvantaged students

“The budget has reconfirmed its commitment to the Gonski School funding agreement until the end of 2017, helping provide some certainty to students, principals and parents.”

The $50 million in capital funding announced today for early learning centres, including 3 and 4 year old kinder programs, child and maternal health services and occasional care is welcome.

Tackling unemployment

“The government has emphasised the importance of tackling unemployment in this budget and the broad public transport and infrastructure packages outlined today by the Treasurer will be a stimulus for job creation, with many of the jobs located in regional and outer-suburban Victoria.”

“Increased funding for measures outlined in the government’s Back to Work package will assist people at risk of unemployment.”

Welcome initiatives include:

  • A significant infrastructure and transport program, investing billions of dollars into job-boosting projects
  • $10.6 million for Melbourne’s North Innovation and Investment fund, to help create employment opportunities in communities affected by manufacturing closures
  • $500 million for Regional Jobs and Infrastructure Fund, helping to improve job prospects for regional communities
  • $200 million for the TAFE Rescue Fund, which will help TAFEs focus their efforts on building skills required for local jobs, and improve access to TAFE campuses previously closed
  • $32 million for Local Learning and Employment Networks to work with young people who are disengaged or at risk of disengaging from education, and put them on a pathway to work.

“The funding boost to TAFEs announced today, along with the review of Vocational Education and Training currently underway, will help keep young people engaged in education and create important pathways to employment for Victorians facing disadvantage. It will also provide a boost to local regional economies.”

“The renewed $32 million commitment to Local Learning and Employment Networks will boost job prospects for young people in regional Victoria. This is an important platform for expanding future support for young people to stay engaged in jobs and training.”

Community sector

VCOSS welcomes the certainty for funding for community sector organisations in this year’s Budget. The government has contributed $935 million towards the mandated Equal Remuneration Order (ERO).

The Government has agreed to work with VCOSS on future years’ indexation as part of ongoing service agreement discussions, and has also agreed to work with VCOSS to monitor ERO implementation.

We also note that there will be further cost pressures on the community sector particularly as a result of the National Minimum wage order, which is on top of the ERO. We note that indexation has been provided on the same basis as the previous 3-year funding and service agreement.

Preventing family violence

The State Budget has allocated funding of $81.3 million to services preventing and responding to family violence, and we look forward to seeing further commitments coming out of the Royal Commission process. Key initiatives include:

  • $36 million allocated to the Royal Commission on Family Violence
  • $16 million in the Family Violence Fund for urgent responses to victims of family violence arising from the Royal Commission
  • Expanded legal assistance for victim of family violence
  • $2.5 million for men’s behaviour change programs

“Victoria’s historic Royal Commission into Family Violence will also give the government future opportunities to expand support for services and programs that address the underlying causes of violence against women and children.”

“Family violence services already face growing demand and it is likely that publicity around the Royal Commission will encourage more people experiencing violence to seek help. These funds will help services respond to those growing requests for assistance.”

Public Transport

This Budget represents a huge investment in public transport, which will help Victorians, including people experience disadvantage, connect to jobs, education, health and community services and participate in their communities. We particularly welcome:

  • Funding the bus package, which provides $100 million in new bus services over 4 years
  • Allocating funds to major public transport projects, including the Metro Rail Tunnel, level crossings and the Caulfied-Dandenong project, and planning funds for Mernda Rail
  • Over $2 billion in new trains and trams, which will be built in Victoria
  • $50 million towards a trial of 24-hour public transport on weekends, helping people get home safely after an evening out.

We look forward to working with the Government to secure further improvements to the accessibility of public transport for people experiencing transport disadvantage in the future.

Homelessness and housing

The Budget has included some initiatives to reduce homelessness, including the allocation of $40.3 million to continue to fund homelessness innovation action projects.

This initiative can be built upon in future with a more expansive affordable housing strategy that aligns policies, maximises the supply of affordable housing and ensures those who require affordable housing can access it. We are aware the State Government understands the enormity of the affordable housing problem in Victoria, and look forward to working with them on this issue in the future.”

A good start to build upon in the future

“Today’s budget is a good start and a positive first step for the Victorian Government in delivering on key election promises aimed at supporting vulnerable Victorian families. We look forward to continuing to work with the government so that future budgets build further on this, supporting people to overcome disadvantage and become part of strong, cohesive, self-reliant communities, and working to build a Victoria without poverty.”

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Published under State Budget, State Politics

Move to end variable fixed-term energy contracts good for consumers

23 April 2015  |  

Moves by the Victorian Government to stop energy retailers from being able to vary prices midway through fixed-term contracts or charge termination fees if people leave their contracts after a price rise, are a win for consumers, says the Victorian Council of Social Service.

“A fixed term contract should have a fixed price that shouldn’t be able to be varied at the energy retailers’ discretion,” said Emma King, CEO of VCOSS.

“Too many Victorians are being lured into low-cost energy contracts only to find the price can be varied by the retailer with no advance notice and no recourse to consumers, who often face high termination fees if they break the contract.”

“Under current regulations retailers can increase energy prices at any time, even if a customer has signed up to a ‘fixed-term’ contract.”

“Consumers are often caught unaware and can face significant bill shock if they have budgeted to spend based on the lower price figure they thought they were singing up to.”

“Victoria’s energy market is built upon the principle that consumers can choose the best deal they can find to suit their energy use needs but the current rules make a mockery of that choice.”

“Consumer advocates have long called for prices to remain fixed for the life of the fixed term contracts and for termination fees on contracts with variable pricing to be banned.”

“Today’s announcement by Minister for Energy and Resources Lily D’Ambrosio is a welcome step towards keeping energy retailers accountable for the provision of essential electricity and gas services.”

... Read More

Published under Energy and Water

Energy retailers breaching customer protections

15 April 2015  |  

Victorian energy retailers are breaching customer protections and wrongfully disconnecting people from their essential energy supplies at a growing and alarming rate and must be reined in, according to the Victorian Council of Social Service.

“Energy retailers must be put on notice that Victorians will no longer accept a cavalier approach to compliance with customer protections,” said Emma King, CEO of VCOSS.

“The latest report on energy retailers’ compliance from the Essential Services Commission shows there was an alarming rise in the number of wrongful disconnections, which accounted for 1022 of the 1274 serious breaches reported.”

“The report also found that a large proportion of wrongful disconnections reported in 2013-14 were due to breaches of the Retail Code specifically designed to protect customers facing payment difficulty.”

“The ESC report also warns that some retailers appear to accept that a certain number of wrongful disconnections are unavoidable and an inevitable part of how the system works.”

“Energy retailers have obligations to ensure Victorians who face energy hardship or payment difficulties are connected up with genuine hardship programs and not wrongfully disconnected from their supply.”

“Yet too many retailers are ignoring these obligations in their endless pursuit of profit.”

“This cavalier approach is yet more evidence of the serious failings of the retail energy industry to comply with their obligations to provide an essential service to Victorians. It demonstrates the urgency of the review of energy retailer hardship programs ordered by the Andrews Government and now being conducted by the Essential Services Commission.”

“Victorians need stronger protections and a more powerful compliance framework that gives the Essential Services Commission the capacity to hit retailers hard when they commit serious breaches of those protections.”

... Read More

Published under Energy and Water, Essential Services

Auditor General report supports call for better ‘middle years’ transition planning

19 March 2015  |  

Today’s report by the Auditor General provides further evidence to support VCOSS’ call for better ‘middle years’ transition planning for children moving from primary to secondary school.

“Too many young Victorians are missing out on the opportunities that education can offer due to a lack of investment and support during the critical ‘middle years’, spanning Years 5 to 8,” said Emma King, CEO of VCOSS.

“Victoria needs a strong and comprehensive framework to guide middle years transition that provides much better guidance to schools. The middle years are a time when children are entering adolescence and experiencing significant physical, social and developmental change.”

“Middle years are a critical age for identifying early warning signs, to prevent more complex issues developing. But they have been virtually ignored in policy and program development.”

“The VAGO report showed that children who experience problems transitioning from primary to secondary are more likely to disengage from school.”

“The data in the report shows a noticeable drop in engagement and academic outcomes across the middle-years transition period, especially for boys.”

“In 2013 VCOSS and YACVic published a comprehensive study on supports for young people, Building the Scaffolding: Strengthening support for young people in Victoria, which identified critical gaps in support for young people during these ‘middle years’ and called for targeted services aimed at reducing disengagement.”

“Supporting vulnerable young people to remain engaged in education is essential. More than 10,000 school-aged Victorians disengage from school every year. The effects of this are profound.”

“Young people who stay engaged and complete secondary school have a greater chance of being employed as an adult and of earning a higher income. They can also expect better social and health outcomes.”

“Better middle years transition planning is one important way we can support vulnerable and at-risk young people to remain in education”.

“In contrast to the lack of planning in the middle years, the Auditor General found that most Victorian children are well prepared for their transition from early childhood education to primary school.”

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Building community partnerships to Close the Gap

19 March 2015  |  

Closing the Gap in health and social outcomes for Aboriginal Victorians will require strong partnerships throughout the community and must be a priority for all sides of politics, says the Victorian Council of Social Service.

“All Victorians have a role to play in reducing health inequality for Victorian Aboriginal peoples,” said Emma King, CEO of VCOSS.

“On National Close the Gap Day it is important that we see strong commitments from government and the community to work in partnership with Aboriginal controlled organisations to help remove the barriers to achieving health equality.”

“Victorian Aboriginal peoples must be able to expect equal health and outcomes to non-Aboriginal Victorians and politicians and policy makers need to understand the disproportionate impact their decisions can have on Aboriginal Victorians.”

“VCOSS supports VACCHO’s call for all political parties to maintain and strengthen their collaborative efforts towards closing the gap in Aboriginal health outcomes in Victoria through a culturally competent health system, a vision for sector sustainability and a commitment to engagement with Aboriginal communities.

“There are many practical measures we could put in place immediately to improve health outcomes for Aboriginal Victorians.”

“For instance, the state government can help close the gap and improve Aboriginal people’s mental health and wellbeing by increasing funding targeted to mental health specific programs within Aboriginal community controlled health organisations.”

“This funding can be targeted to mental health specific programs that are Aboriginal led, including by the community controlled health services, or where there are strong partnerships between mainstream organisations and the Aboriginal community to ensure the programs take account of Aboriginal people’s circumstances, needs and values.”

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Focus on therapeutic care the right approach for vulnerable children

16 March 2015  |  

Moving vulnerable children out of residential care and into home-based care is a welcome approach to strengthen therapeutic care and improve the lives of young people in the child protection system, according to the Victorian Council of Social Service.

“Supporting children to move into kinship and foster care through individually tailored Flexible Support Packages will help improve therapeutic care within the child protection system,” said Emma King, CEO of VCOSS.

“The State Government should be commended for moving quickly to put $43 million over 4 years towards moving children out of residential care and into a supportive kinship or foster care environment.”

“VCOSS is pleased to see that the new Flexible Support Packages are intended to cover the needs of each individual child. We also welcome the specific approach to move primary school age children out of residential care into home-based care and to address the over-representation of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care.”

“It is also important to note that the implementation of these new support packages will be rolled out in consultation with stakeholders in the community sector and the critically important involvement of the Commissioner for Children and Young People, Bernie Geary, and the Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People, Andrew Jackomos.”

“These new packages follow on from the $19 million investment announced earlier this year by the Minister for Families and Children, Jenny Mikakos, to provide additional staff and supervision to improve safety children and young people in care.”

“VCOSS looks forward to the government’s continued engagement and collaboration with the community sector to build on these recent announcements, so that all Victorian children can get the best possible start in life.”

... Read More

Published under Children, Children and families

Blueprint for building a Victoria without poverty

12 March 2015  |  

The Victorian Council of Social Service is releasing its 2015-16 state budget submission today, describing it as a social blueprint to build a Victoria without poverty, through practical proposals that put people first and place community needs at the heart of decision making.

The VCOSS plan, Building a Victoria without poverty, sets out 12 immediate spending priority areas for this year’s state budget, and presents a series of practical proposals to address some of the biggest social issues facing Victoria, including spiralling youth unemployment, growing educational disadvantage, increasing family violence, and the rising cost of living.

“Poverty is growing in Victoria – with almost 14 per cent of people in our state living below the poverty line – yet we could reverse this alarming trend by adopting an approach to social planning that puts people and communities first,” said Emma King, CEO of VCOSS.

“With the proper policies in place and the right interventions at the right time we could begin to build a Victoria without poverty, where everyone has the opportunity to build a brighter future, and where we leave a stronger, more prosperous and fairer legacy for future generations.”

“The Andrews Government has an opportunity to create a fairer Victoria by using the strategies outlined in the VCOSS plan to tackle some of the most pressing social issues we face today.”

“During the election campaign and since coming into power, the ALP announced a raft of policies that seek to put people at the heart of decision making in Victoria.”

“Commitments around tackling unemployment, improving access to education, beginning to fix child protection, and the swift work in setting up the historic Royal Commission into Family Violence show that the Andrews Government is prepared to work on delivering on those promises.”

“Yet the growing level of poverty and disadvantage in our community requires a strong social blueprint, focused on delivering practical solutions.”

“It is imperative we take a long-term approach that recognises the value of strong communities and the importance of fostering resilience.”

“VCOSS has developed this comprehensive blueprint of social policies to address the underlying causes of poverty and disadvantage and to create a stronger, more inclusive society.”

These top 12 budget priorities offer practical approaches to build a Victoria without poverty:

  • Strengthen the community sector to help people thrive
  • Tackle unemployment
  • Help every child succeed in education
  • Prevent family violence
  • Invest in integrated support for children and families
  • Make child protection work
  • Create healthy and inclusive communities
  • Tackle the housing crisis
  • Cut the cost of living
  • Expand transport options
  • Make communities safer by addressing the causes of crime
  • Build resilient and engaged local communities

The full VCOSS State Budget Submission 2015-16 is available online.

CASE STUDY: Tackling youth unemployment and disengagement

The VCOSS State Budget Submission 2015-16 outlines practical proposals to help solve complex social issues.

Problem: Youth unemployment is growing in Victoria. VCOSS analysis of the most recent ABS data shows that Victoria ended 2014 with the highest monthly average youth unemployment rate since the 1990s, at 14.6 per cent for the year. This analysis also reaffirms that youth unemployment is highest in areas of concentrated disadvantage, including Melbourne’s outer urban fringe and parts of regional Victoria.

In late 2014 Victoria’s unemployment rate hit 6.8 per cent, its highest level in over a decade. There are more than six unemployed people for every job vacancy. There are growing numbers of people who are long-term unemployed, and the workforce participation rate has been falling.

Proposal: As part of its commitment to getting all Victorians back to work, the Andrews Government can support people aged 17–24 who face barriers to employment, by funding a ‘work ready’ pre-employment and training program to provide intensive, case-managed support. This will complement its policy of reinvesting in the TAFE system, and help those most at risk of unemployment avoid long-term joblessness. By investing in a targeted youth employment program, the Andrews Government can provide young people, their families and employers the support they need to ensure they are job-ready and better equipped to sustain employment.

Proposal: Increasing support for vulnerable students to help keep them engaged at school or in training will also assist the Victorian Government’s priorities of placing a greater focus on education disadvantage and helping young people to become work-ready as part of the State Government’s Back to Work initiative.

Example: The Pavilion School

The Pavilion School is a state secondary school for students who have disengaged from or been excluded by schools or education providers. With two campuses in Melbourne’s north, The Pavilion School aims to give its students the opportunity to enhance their education and social development, and to negotiate their transition into further education, employment or training at their own pace. The Mill Park campus is co-located with the City of Whittlesea Baseline Youth Services and a range of other specialist services. This has been a highly successful model.

Example: St Luke’s Anglicare

St Luke’s Educational Services Unit, part of Anglicare Victoria, supports people aged 12-17 who are unable to attend mainstream school, mainly due to extreme behavioural issues. Many students are living in out-of-home care or on statutory orders. Students remain enrolled at local mainstream schools and attend classes off-campus through St Luke’s. Every student has an Individual Education Plan based on their strengths and interests that includes curriculum options and a focus on their wellbeing and self-confidence. Students attend the program for one to six years before returning to their neighbourhood school or being assisted to take another pathway, such as TAFE studies, apprenticeships or employment.

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Published under Budget

Disadvantaged children need early childhood education and care

20 February 2015  |  

Today’s Productivity Commission report on Childcare and Early Learning contains positive recommendations about increasing access to early childhood education for children at risk of abuse and neglect, according to the Victorian Council of Social Service.

“Children at risk of abuse and neglect benefit the most from high-quality early childhood education to improve their life chances, yet services trying to enroll and keep these children in care face a labyrinthine process of red tape, meaning too many children miss out,” said Mary Sayers, Deputy CEO of VCOSS.

”The Productivity Commission’s recommendation that services need reapply for funding every six months for children at risk of abuse or neglect as opposed to the currently mandated every 13 weeks, means services can focus on their primary purpose – ensuring these vulnerable kids get the continuity of high-quality care they deserve.”

“Many children and families face complex problems with multiple and interconnected causes. If children can attend a high quality integrated early childhood education and care (ECEC) service that offers a range of services, it can improve children’s cognitive development and learning in the short and long term. Research shows that it is children from disadvantaged families who benefit the most from this support.”

“Spending money on early childhood has a significant boost to the budget bottom line as well, with research showing economic returns of early childhood investment of up to $16 for every dollar invested, with the highest return on investment for vulnerable children”

“All children from disadvantaged backgrounds need high quality ECEC, not just those at risk and abuse. Whilst the Productivity Commission report does introduce a means tested Early Care and Learning Subsidy (ECLS) which will most benefit those on low and middle incomes, those families not in work or study on the parenting payment face activity tests which may prevent them from accessing care for their children.”

“We need to ensure there are good safety nets for children from disadvantaged families facing complex problems that prevent them from working or studying can still access early childhood education.”

“VCOSS also welcomes the recommendation for continued government investment in universal access to 15 hours of early childhood education in the year before entering primary school as it has been shown children who access early childhood education are less likely to be developmentally vulnerable at school entry and more likely to have better outcomes at school.”

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Stronger protections for energy customers a must

18 February 2015  |  

A review of the hardship practices of energy companies announced by the Andrews Government today will be an important opportunity to improve protections for Victorians who are struggling to meet spiralling electricity and gas costs, says the Victorian Council of Social Service.

“Victorians are being disconnected from their energy supplies at alarming rates and numerous reports have shown that retailers need to do more to ensure people are not wrongfully disconnected or treated unfairly,” said Mary Sayers, Deputy CEO of VCOSS.

“The review, to be conducted by Essential Services Commission, will examine whether the current regulatory system gives customers the right support and assistance to help them avoid having their supply disconnected and whether hardship programs that retailers are required to offer are performing adequately.”

“The review announced today by Minister for Energy, Lily D’Ambrosio, will also examine the regulator’s ability to monitor and enforce compliance with Victoria’s customer protection framework.”

“The review will seek a better explanation of how and why disconnections are occurring and will examine ways to better protect at-risk consumers from disconnection – including through early identification of those at risk of disconnection. Importantly, the review will also consider whether reducing energy consumption can assist households at risk.”

“In recent years Victoria has seen significant increases in the number of people who are experiencing energy hardship and energy retailers have a poor track record when it comes to wrongfully disconnecting people from their energy supply.”

“Since 2010 the rate of wrongful disconnections of Victorian energy customers has increased six-fold, providing firm evidence that too many energy retailers have taken a harsh and punitive approach to the supply of what are essential services.”

“VCOSS congratulates the State Government for putting people first and we look forward working with them to put the rights of energy consumers at the forefront of how we determine energy policy in Victoria.”

... Read More

Published under Congress, cost of living, Energy and Water, Essential Services

Scathing report reveals true costs of schooling

11 February 2015  |  

A scathing report into the true costs of schooling reveals Victorian families are struggling to pay for items and activities that should be free. It must prompt swift action to assist families and help students remain in education, according to the Victorian Council of Social Service.

“Today’s report by the Auditor-General confirms what VCOSS has been saying for some time: that rising school costs are hurting families, putting increased strain on community organisations and schools, and are a serious barrier to education,” said Emma King, CEO of VCOSS.

“Victorian parents are also paying more for schooling than in any other state.”

“The State Government must now act to ensure all Victorian school students are able to participate in the opportunities afforded by a quality education.”

“The Andrews Government gave strong commitments towards helping families afford the basic costs of education in the lead up to last year’s state election. Today’s report highlights the urgency of this and the government now has a chance to act on those commitments and ensure that Victorian students and their families are properly supported to meet rising school costs.”

“The Auditor-General’s report finds each year Victorian parents are being asked to pay more for education. In 2013, they paid $310 million to schools – $558 per student – a rise of $70 million, or 29 per cent, since 2009.  It says that payments by parents have evolved over time from supporting free instruction to being essential for its provision, and warns that parents are being charged for items and activities that should be free under legislation and policy.”

“The Auditor-General states the Department of Education and Training: ‘has done little to find out what it actually costs to educate a child. Without this information it cannot inform government about whether the funding it provides is in fact adequate, or that it is being used efficiently, effectively and economically by schools’.”

“The Auditor-General also reports that the lack of transparency in school funding means it is almost impossible for a parent, Parliamentarian, or the public to understand how much money schools get, where the money comes from and how it should be used.”

“VCOSS is pleased that the Auditor-General has recognised the extraordinary demand that is being placed on Victorian community services, who families are increasingly turning to for help with school costs. Our overstretched community organisations should not have to pick up the tab for an underfunded education system.”

“The rising school costs for parents highlighted by the Auditor-General have been exacerbated this year by the previous Napthine Government’s disastrous decision to cut the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), which assisted the families of more than 200,000 students meet the costs of basic school items such as books, stationery, uniforms and excursions.”

“Across Victoria we’re hearing about families sending their children off to start the 2015 school year only to discover that this long-standing support no longer exists and that they will have to bear these rising costs on their own.”

“This report is the latest to highlight the inadequacy of Victoria’s schools funding. The Productivity Commission’s recently released Report on Government Services on child care, education and training showed that Victoria spends $2,000 less per government school student than the national average, and $1600 less than New South Wales.”

“Today’s report also shows why Victoria must have a needs-based funding model, along the lines of the Gonski model of schools funding, which would deliver certainty to schools and parents and reduce the need for community organisations to prop up our ailing system. We look forward to the state government releasing its report showing where Gonski funding has gone to-date and call on the Federal Government to deliver the full six years of Gonski funding.”

Quote from affected parent:

“This issue will have a chain reaction felt throughout the wider community. Your child or someone else’s child will be disenfranchised because they will not be able to attend excursions, contribute to fundraisers, buy school uniforms and school essentials because of the abolition of the EMA. As a parent, would you be able to choose between school photos or an excursion to the zoo? No parent should be made to feel that they are dis-empowered by their financial situation especially if their child or children attend a public school.” – Leilani, parent.

___________

VCOSS also highlighted the issue of school costs in the most recent edition of VCOSS Insight magazine. Free, or not so free? The costs of education describes how families facing disadvantage are finding it increasingly difficult to meet rising school costs, and outlines how community organisations are increasingly stepping in to help families meet them.

... Read More

Published under Education