A Thank You

I have received a number of approaches from the media in recent days, requesting interviews on the anniversary of my stepping down as Premier on October 21 last year. I have declined because I do not think it is fair to my successor, Jay Weatherill, or his Ministers for me to be involved in commentary on SA Government affairs, let alone daily local political issues. My predecessors afforded me the same courtesy during my 17 years as SA Labor leader.

On November 1 I become a Commonwealth Public Servant and from then on I cannot comment on partisan matters.  However, Sasha and I wanted to take this opportunity before I begin my new career simply to say 'thank you'.  The past year has been both difficult and busy, dominated by the discovery last November of Sasha's breast and lymphatic cancer, her tests, surgery, and the long months of chemotherapy and radiotherapy that followed.  We are immensely grateful to her surgeon Melissa, her oncologist Trevor, her doctor Megan, oncology nurses Jane and Lisa, other dedicated professionals and wonderful friends and family, who have helped Sasha in her recovery.  So many decent South Australians that we do not personally know have also been giving and sending their best wishes.  Many had faced and prevailed against similar challenges.  We thank them for their kindness which meant a great deal to Sasha and to me.  I am very proud of Sasha's positive, indomitable spirit and her good humour, even during the trials of chemotherapy.  She never missed a day's work at her job at Anglicare and kept going to the gym at 6.30am every day during chemo. She is now doing things to help the breast cancer cause and encourage women to be vigilant about tests and checks.  We are looking forward to attending the 2012 Pinkyellowblueball at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre on October 27.  This spectacular cabaret will raise funds for cancer research at the new Flinders Centre for Innovation in Cancer.

For me, I have greatly enjoyed my work with Flinders University.  It has been terrific working with students and with a dedicated team of professional colleagues who realIy care about their students.  I thank them for their support.  The same is true at Auckland University's Political Studies Department, where I was a student in the 1970s.  I have also enjoyed my sessions with inspiring international students in public policy at Carnegie Mellon's Victoria Square campus and working with the Center for National Policy in Washington.  During the year I have also lectured at Sydney University, ANU, and the Australian and New Zealand School of Government.

I have been working with David Cappo on a book on social policy and the nearly ten years work of the Social Inclusion Initiative, in areas such as turning around the school retention rate, strategies to tackle homelessness and our Stepping Up mental health initiative, which resulted in an investment of hundreds of millions of dollars.  It is good to see so many of these initiatives, including Common Ground and the mental health reforms, being taken up by other states and nationally. 

I have enjoyed working with the UK based The Climate Group, a real bridge between business and governments internationally on climate policy, and being involved in the Rio Conference in June.  South Australia is now seen as an international leader in renewable energy with our wind power now exceeding coal fired generation.  Our 1 billion trees initiative through The Climate Group has passed the 550 million mark in commitments from governments as diverse as Scotland, Wales, Quebec, KwaZulu-Natal and Sao Paulo.  Interestingly there is also strong international interest in the clean tech development at Tonsley.    

It has been a privilege to follow former Howard Minister Robert Hill as Chair of Low Carbon Australia Limited.  LCAL is essentially a green bank, providing loan finance to companies to allow them to invest in new technologies to become more energy efficient, while at the same time saving them money and cutting their emissions.  Low Carbon Australia has a great relationship with banks, industry and local government around the country.  Many thanks to CEO Meg McDonald and her terrific team. I also enjoyed chairing the Australia-Canada Economic Leadership Forum in Toronto.  We have so much in common and, while generally regarded as medium sized powers, Australia and Canada are actually major global players when it comes to food exports and mineral resources. 

I leave Australia in December to take up a new position as Australian High Commissioner to the UK.  I thank the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister for this great privilege.  Sasha will join me in January.  Apart from the deepest historic and migration ties, Britain remains one of our major trading and defence partners and is the biggest investor in Australia.  In addition to political, diplomatic, trade, investment, defence and other activities I will also become Australia's Commonwealth War Graves Commissioner and a Trustee of the Imperial War Museum.  The Commission honours sacrifice by caring for 1.7 million graves in 23,000 cemeteries in over 150 countries.  There will be some important events coming up soon that both organisations will be heavily involved with: the Centenary of World War One conflicts, including the Somme and ANZAC Cove and the 70th anniversaryof World War Two, in which my father fought for Britain’s Eighth Army.  Australian High Commissioners to the UK also have other roles, including that of Permanent Representative to the UN's International Maritime Organisation and, of course, with the Commonwealth.    

Being Premier of South Australia was the greatest privilege of my life and I owe thanks to former Ministerial and Parliamentary colleagues, dedicated staff and so many others in our team who worked so hard.  When we return to South Australia Sasha and I look forward to seeing the completed new RAH, attending the launch of the first Air Warfare Destroyer, watching Port Adelaide win at the revitalised Adelaide Oval, travelling on the electric train to Seaford, and yes, driving on the two way Southern Expressway to watch the mighty Panthers.  We also look forward to attending all those yearly festivals we love and having that holiday at Arkaroola we were forced to postpone mid year during Sasha's daily radiotherapy treatment.  

I wish Jay and his Ministers every best wish in building South Australia.  From December I will be in a completely different role, representing our country in Britain.  But Sasha and I look forward to returning home to Adelaide a few years from now and we both have great confidence in South Australia's future.

What States Can Do - Part V: The right start for our children

For all children, the earliest years are critically important for their physical and emotional health, for their social development and cognitive skills, and even for their later educational achievement and life chances.

This has been known for centuries. Five hundred years ago, the Dutch humanist and theologian Erasmus said, "One cannot emphasise too strongly the importance of those first years for the course that a child will follow throughout his entire life".

In South Australia through our Thinkers in Residence program (www.thinkers.sa.gov.au), we asked Canadian early childhood expert, the late Dr Fraser Mustard, and more recently Professor Carla Rinaldi from Reggio Emilia in Italy, to advise us on how to improve early childhood education. It's a policy area we take very seriously. In South Australia every child aged 4 is entitled to government funded preschool education.

Fraser Mustard told us that states and nations with early childhood development programs beginning in the earliest years of infancy (birth to age 2) secured the highest scores in literacy and numeracy. These findings are compatible with what we now know about early brain development, language and literacy.

In Reggio Emilia, a northern Italian town with a worldwide reputation for advanced thinking in early childhood education, young children are viewed quite differently. They are treated as citizens with rights. They are not seen as just empty vessels to be filled up with knowledge by enthusiastic teachers. Instead there is a real emphasis on unlocking and respecting a child's imagination which can play a key role in problem solving and in a child's search for knowledge and understanding. A strong embrace of the visual arts encourages children to express themselves creatively. In doing so, it helps them develop their theoretical and analytical skills.

Just over a decade ago, Chicago Economist and Nobel Laureate Jim Heckman said "We cannot afford to postpone investing in children until they become adults; nor can we wait until they reach school age – a time when it may be too late to intervene. Learning is a dynamic process and it is most effective when it begins at a very young age and continues throughout adulthood." In 2006, a major work for the Brookings Institution, outlined three important principles to improve early childhood development:

•    intervene early (at least at the time of birth)

•    intervene often

•    intervene effectively.

But its not just about better preschool education, as important as that is.

For governments, it makes sense to invest in these early years through better targeted health services. Not doing so often results in much bigger spending later in life when problems are harder to fix. Studies around the world show that a lack of investment in the early years can lead to significant social and mental health problems. The Rand Corporation estimated that for every $1 invested in early childhood and parent support programs, $7 could be saved in later life; in health, and criminal justice systems. Unfortunately, government Treasury officials seldom think this way.

The first few months of a baby's life are both important, as well as joyous and worrying, particularly for first time parents.

In South Australia, the state government in 2003 launched its ambitious 'Every Chance for Every Child' program. Funded by the state, it involves home visits by qualified paediatric nurses to virtually every baby in South Australia within four weeks of their birth. We call it a 'Universal Contact' visit. This service has proved to be not only popular but extraordinarily helpful for babies and parents alike, particularly for young mothers, single or otherwise, who often feel isolated in their homes and finding it hard to cope. Sometimes there are issues such as post-natal depression to deal with.

The first home visit under the 'Every Chance for Every Child' program is comprehensive. It includes conducting a child health check - a full physical examination, responding to the needs of parents and providing them with information and advice on bonding, feeding and settling their baby, and ensuring the best possible environment for the infant, including safe sleeping arrangements.

Last year 95% of South Australian parents with brand new babies received visits under this program.

This first visit enables the early identification of family and child development issues leading to early intervention and problem prevention. For many, the first visit is enough, but there is much more help available to assist families who need extra support. This can involve a series of follow up home visits or attendance at a Child and Family Health Service Clinic. First time parents are offered access to 'new parent' groups, a 6 week program 'Getting to Know Your Baby' facilitated by a Child and Family Health Service nurse.

An even more comprehensive family home visiting program is available to provide additional support for struggling families. Our Family Home Visiting scheme is a two year, nurse led preventative parenting program based on building a partnership between the child and specialist nurse, and the family, to provide a supportive environment and the best possible developmental start for children. The program has a multidisciplinary approach and includes Aboriginal cultural consultants to assist Indigenous Australian families.

The program focuses on the health and safety of young children, child development, relationships (especially between the child and parent) and community connection – linking the family into services in their local area. It's not a 'one size fits all' approach but is flexible, responsive and tailored to meet different needs and circumstances. Ongoing health checks, immunisations and hearing screening, are part of the program.

I would encourage policy makers to take a close look at the Reggio approach to early childhood education and the 'Every Chance for Every Child' infant health program in South Australia.

Getting the best start – at the start – makes sense for children, families, communities, states and nations.

This Blog was published on the Center for National Policy website.

Mike Rann is Fellow for Democracy and Development with the Center for National Policy, Washington, D.C.

What States Can Do – Part II: Social Innovation - Reducing homelessness

 

10 years ago, as a brand new government, we wanted to take a fresh look at how we could better tackle our most difficult social problems such as a mental health crisis; low retention rates in too many schools and gang related youth crime. We were concerned traditional ways of dealing with these problems weren't working as well as they should. We were frustrated that government agencies tended to operate in silos and too often dealt with complex, inter-related social issues separately; treating the symptoms not the causes. Our first priority was to tackle homelessness. Homelessness is not just a problem about a lack of affordable housing. It is much more about alcoholism, drug dependency; mental illness; unemployment, a lack of skills and self esteem and sometimes criminal behaviour. So, Monsignor David Cappo (www.david-cappo.com), a renowned social justice advocate, was appointed to head our pioneering Social Inclusion Initiative.

I asked him to look around the world for ‘ideas that work' and some of his best came from the United States.

We wanted him to confront the hardest end of homelessness, those ‘sleeping rough' in city parks, under bridges or dependent upon shelters for support. We found that government agencies and charities, while working hard to support homeless people, were too often operating in isolation. I am not diminishing their valuable work in providing food, shelter and care. But we wanted to take the next step by helping homeless people find a home and also move into a productive and fulfilling life.

Cappo proposed a series of programs including our Street to Home initiative, based on the successful New York model. It actively seeks out homeless people and connects them with the range of services they need to achieve a sustainable housing outcome. While finding a home is the main goal, addressing issues such as physical and mental health, substance abuse and other barriers to housing are equally important.

Street to Home workers engage with homeless people wherever they are – such as in a park or on the streets. Once contact is made, the person is assessed across different areas of their life. A Street to Home ‘key worker' will then work with them on a one-to-one basis for the duration of their support. They will work assertively with the person and not let go of them until sustainable housing is achieved. A comprehensive plan based on the person's goals is developed – in their own words. Street to Home makes finding housing the foremost priority so that services and supports can be delivered to the person in the one place.

Street to Home advocates on behalf of the client and coordinates with other services and resources. This way, everyone is on the same page and the person doesn't have to keep repeating their story to different agencies. Priority is also given to developing the person's capacities, such as financial management and domestic skills, to help ensure their housing is given the greatest chance of being long-term. Once housed, Street to Home maintains regular contact to assist with matters as they arise.

Now adopted around Australia, Street to Home is playing a significant role in Social Inclusion's efforts to reduce homelessness by 50% in the Adelaide CBD.

New York was also the inspiration for Common Ground with inner city apartments especially designed for homeless people who now live in a small ‘community' with other low income people including artists. They are supported by a range of specialist services on site to assist them to re-integrate into society. Common Ground was an initiative that followed the work in New York, of social entrepreneur Rosanne Haggerty. Like Street to Home, Common Ground has proven so successful that it has ‘gone national' attracting support from business and governments. The concept is to bring together a mix of people on low incomes into high quality residential complexes comprising well furnished, self contained apartments, communal areas plus office space for a range of support services and workshops. Common Ground's embrace of life skills to foster greater independence; the arts to build confidence; further education and training as a pathway to employment, has contributed to its success.

Last year I met a young woman, a long term resident of Common Ground, whose life from the age of 13 had been damaged by alcohol, drugs, couch surfing, homelessness, years of domestic violence and serious drug addiction. She nearly died of an accidental overdose in 2003. She is now clean of drugs, has completed a behavioural science degree and a second degree in biochemistry with a 1st class place, winning the Dean's commendation and the University Medal for academic excellence. She now has a scholarship and is completing a PhD with plans to do a medical degree as well. She wants to help others.

"I'm just one success story at Common Ground – there are many others. We have gifted musicians, artists and writers; People studying and working in all types of areas; People rebuilding their families. People with chronic health problems who are now getting the help they need. Some came to Common Ground very broken and mentally unwell. They found a safe, stable place to rebuild themselves, to heal.

Common Ground is more than just a roof over our heads – it's about believing that each person has something unique to offer if they are given the chance to stop just surviving and start growing. It's a place where people are not judged by their past, but supported into their future. Common Ground allows people to realise their potential, then pass their story, their success…onto others – like I am here today."

Hospitals are also playing a role in tackling homelessness.

For years homeless people, when they became ill, were taken to emergency departments. They were treated and discharged, usually back into homelessness. They would then get sick or injured again, treated and then discharged once more back on to the streets. This approach perpetuated the problem at high cost to the individual and taxpayers alike. So in 2004, we set up the Community Liaison Team (CLT) aimed at ‘joining up' health services with housing, mental health, drug and alcohol services. This approach is now embedded in the operations of the emergency departments of two of Adelaide's biggest public hospitals.

The CLT's first task is to identify homeless people -or those at risk of homelessness-who are admitted to hospital. If the person is assessed as needing accommodation upon their discharge, CLT staff will work closely with them to develop a case plan. This involves finding accommodation but also addresses physical and mental issues, substance misuse, family support and the person's financial and legal situation.

In devising and executing the plan the CLT joins up with other services and advocates on behalf of the client to achieve a smoother transition into accommodation. The CLT also provides outreach services. This may include attending appointments with the client, assisting their search for accommodation and following up with the client once they are in their new home. The team helps develop coping skills, including budgeting, meal planning and preparation, and relocation from temporary accommodation such as a 'transition bed' in a boarding house, to their new home. CLT engagement with a client is usually short term (a maximum of three months) during which a lead agency responsible for ongoing case management is then identified.

Between 2004 and June 2010, 1,132 people entering emergency departments were assisted into accommodation. A further 724 people at risk were assisted to prevent them falling into homelessness. Many of the people helped would have otherwise been discharged back into rough sleeping where their health and well being would have further deteriorated. This means that not only has the CLT helped to significantly reduce homelessness but it has also reduced the amount of repeat emergency department admissions by individuals who use the service.

This Blog was published on the Center for National Policy website.

Mike Rann is Fellow for Democracy and Development with the Center for National Policy, Washington, D.C.