Explainer: ParentsNext

An image of a tablet screen with the words Explainer:ParentsNext, being held by a pair of hands.

This story was first published on Tuesday 15 January 2019. If you wish to use this content, please contact media@dese.gov.au to confirm that the information is still current.

The Australian Government recognises many parents and carers of young children need help to plan and prepare for employment by the time their children start school. ParentsNext aims to improve their work readiness and future employment prospects.  

This article was updated on 30 June 2021.

For the latest COVID-19 health advice updates and information about temporary lifting of mutual obligations for ParentsNext participants, please visit the COVID-19 page for job seekers.

What is ParentsNext

ParentsNext is a pre-employment program that helps parents and carers plan and prepare for employment before their youngest child starts school. ParentsNext participants get assistance to identify their education and employment goals, develop a pathway to achieve these goals and connect with appropriate activities and services in their local community.

Providers connect participants to local activities and support services such as counselling, financial advice, domestic and family violence, parenting courses, child care, transport, further education, secure housing, training or volunteering. Participants can change the activities at any time to suit their needs and circumstances.

Participants report a range of benefits after participating in the program, including increased confidence, self-esteem, direction and motivation. Participants also show an increased chance of studying or training as well as an increased chance of getting a job.1

Participants do not have to look for work however, if a participant is ready to look for a job and chooses to do so, their provider will assist them.

I am in ParentsNext. What do the changes from 1 July 2021 mean?

From 1 July 2021: 

  • ParentsNext will be streamlined into a single service to allow providers to focus on delivering tailored support to all eligible parents, regardless of where they live.
  • All ParentsNext providers will have flexible access to the Participation Fund to help participants meet their education and employment goals.
  • All participants will be eligible for relocation assistance and employer wage subsidies, subject to separate eligibility requirements. 

In preparation for the changes, participants who appear unlikely to meet compulsory participation requirements from 1 July 2021 have been sent a ‘Changes to ParentsNext’ letter from Services Australia.

If you are no longer required to participate in ParentsNext from 1 July 2021, you will be exited from the program automatically by Services Australia, however, you may volunteer to continue to participate as long as you remain on Parenting Payment and have a child under six.

Voluntary participants in ParentsNext receive the same level of servicing as compulsory participants including access to supports such as the Participation Fund, wage subsidies and relocation assistance, subject to separate eligibility requirements.

Can I volunteer in ParentsNext?

From 1 July 2021, any Parenting Payment recipient with a child under six can volunteer to participate in ParentsNext. Volunteer participants will receive tailored support and all providers will also have access to financial assistance through the Participation Fund to help volunteer participants achieve their education and employment goals.

For more information about volunteering in ParentsNext, find your nearest ParentsNext provider at the jobactive website.  

Who is ParentsNext for?

From 1 July 2021, parents or carers will have compulsory participation requirements in ParentsNext if they:

  • have been receiving Parenting Payment (partnered or single) continuously and not engaged in work in the last six months
  • have a youngest child who is at least nine months and under six years of age
  • are under 55 years of age; and
    • are under 22 years of age and have not completed the final year of school (or equivalent level of education) or
    • are 22 years of age or over; have not completed the final year of school (or equivalent level of education); and have been receiving income support continuously for more than two years or
    • have completed their final year of school and been receiving income support continuously for more than four years.

From 1 July 2021, parents who are already studying or are on extended leave with a job to return to will not be referred to the program. This recognises that some parents are already preparing to enter or re-enterturn to the workforce.

What is the Participation Fund and how can it help me?

From 1 July 2021, all providers will have access to the Participation Fund to help participants to meet their education and employment goals.

The Participation Fund is a flexible pool of funds providers can use to help participants prepare for education and employment. For example, a provider may access the Participation Fund to contribute to the costs of a training course or materials, or towards the purchase of licenses, equipment and clothing items to help a participant into employment, if this is something the participant is ready for.

All purchases made through the Participation Fund provide participants with the tools, skills and experience to help them achieve their education and employment goals.

Please talk to your provider about requesting assistance from the Participation Fund.

Participation (Mutual Obligation) Requirements for ParentsNext participants

ParentsNext participants are required to:

  • attend an initial ParentsNext appointment (generally in person) and then every three months (attendance at these subsequent appointments can be in person/phone/online)
  • negotiate and agree to a Participation Plan
  • participate in and report on having done the activities they agreed to do
  • report to Centrelink each fortnight about any income.

Participants’ payment may be put on hold if they do not meet these requirements and do not contact their provider and re-engage.

ParentsNext providers are required to ensure the services they provide are managed in accordance with local health advice. Your provider is also required to have a COVID-Safe Plan to ensure they have in place appropriate measures for you and your child/ren’s safety.

When receiving face-to-face servicing, you need to follow all COVID-19 related procedures set in place by your provider, in line with local health advice.

If you or your child/ren are sick, have been to a recent COVID-19 hotspot or have been told to self-isolate by health authorities you must not attend an appointment in person.

It is important that you inform your provider as soon as possible to discuss your situation and ensure your payment is not put on hold.

Participation (mutual obligation) requirements throughout Australia continue to be adjusted for short periods from time to time in line with health advice, physical distancing requirements and biosecurity measures. Where there are short term adjustments, impacted participants are advised directly and the Department of Education, Skills and Employment website is updated with information on the changes.

Support for participants to meet their participation (mutual obligation) requirements

From 7 December 2020, changes were made to how the Targeted Compliance Framework operates.

ParentsNext participants* who miss a participation (mutual obligation) requirement will have two business days to contact their provider before their payment is put on hold.

If participants miss a requirement, they will receive a text message, an email or an inbox message to advise them they must contact their provider immediately.

Participants are strongly encouraged to keep in regular contact with their provider and let them know in advance if they are experiencing any challenges in meeting their participation requirements.

The reintroduction of mutual obligation requirements throughout Australia continues to remain subject to health advice, physical distancing requirements and biosecurity measures.

For more information see the changes to the Two day business payment suspension delay Fact Sheet link.

*who are in the Green Zone or Warning Zone on their jobactive dashboard

What is the aim of ParentsNext?

The aim of ParentsNext is to help break the cycle of intergenerational welfare dependency, increase female labour force participation and help Close the Gap in Indigenous employment.

Parents and carers may have ideas about the kind of work they would like to do once their children are older. However, staying at home with young children can sometimes be isolating and interrupt career plans. This can result in parents and carers not finishing their education or training, having outdated qualifications or decreased confidence in their work skills. ParentsNext supports parents to plan and prepare for work before their youngest child starts school. 

How does ParentsNext support Indigenous parents?

All providers have strategies that ensure the culturally competent servicing of Indigenous participants. Some strategies include, employing local Indigenous people, connecting with Elders in the community and working with local Indigenous organisations. As well, all providers need to demonstrate they can effectively and sensitively work with Indigenous participants and are required under the ParentsNext deed to have an Indigenous employment strategy.

What happens during a ParentsNext appointment?

During the first ParentsNext appointment, the provider explains the program, requirements, how they will help the participant prepare for future work, and the participant’s rights and obligations. Providers help the participant identify their education and employment goals and a pathway to achieving them. They identify local services that will help the participant achieve their goals and start developing a Participation Plan with them.

Providers must have appointments with the participant at least once every three months so they can review the participant’s circumstances and their Participation Plan and change it if necessary. They discuss their education and employment goals, their progress with activities, any problems that arise, and how they can help the participant.

What is a Participation Plan?

Together participants and providers make and agree to Participation Plans. Participation Plans take account of the participant’s goals, personal circumstances and capacity to undertake the activities. Participation Plans can’t include unsuitable or unreasonable requirements. Participants can’t be required to participate in a job search activity, but they can choose to do so if they want to and are job ready.

Under Social Security Law, compulsory participants must:

  • sign a Participation Plan with a compulsory activity
  • attend scheduled appointments, and 
  • participate in the compulsory activity.

Participants can choose to sign their Participation Plan immediately, or have up to 10 business days ‘think time’ to consider the activities or discuss it with their family. Once agreed, the plan may be updated and renegotiated during subsequent interviews to reflect changes to the participant’s circumstances. If a participant refuses to sign their Participation Plan, compliance action will automatically occur.

Participants can update activities in their plan at any time by contacting their provider.

Can participants get help from other programs?

While participating in ParentsNext, compulsory participants can access the following services (if eligible) for additional support:

Speak to your provider for more information about these programs and other support services.

How do parents and carers access ParentsNext?

Centrelink contacts parents and carers who need to participate in ParentsNext and connects them to a local provider.

There are over 50 providers across Australia delivering ParentsNext. Parents and carers can find their nearest provider through the jobactive website.

What happens if a participant is not happy with their proposed Participation Plan?

Participants should discuss the matter with their provider in the first place. If the participant is dissatisfied with the results of the provider’s customer feedback process, providers must refer the participant to the department for further investigation.

Participants can make a complaint directly to the department, by either:

  • calling the department’s National Customer Service Line (1800 805 260) or
  • using the ParentsNext Complaints, Compliments and Suggestions form on the ParentsNext webpage.
     

Is ParentsNext compulsory?

Yes, ParentsNext is compulsory for parents and carers who meet all the program eligibility requirements. To keep receiving their Parenting Payment, participants must attend their appointments, agree to their Participation Plan and participate in their agreed activities. 

Participants must meet their requirements, or their Parenting Payment could be put on hold  or reduced or cancelled if they continue to not meet their requirements

Like most other income support recipients, participants report to Centrelink each fortnight to report income and confirm they are meeting their Parenting Payment requirements.

Participants generally also need to confirm attendance at their compulsory activity. However, this is no more than once every two weeks.

Why is ParentsNext compulsory?

Evidence from the evaluation of the ParentsNext trial2 and earlier similar pilots (Helping Young Parents and Supporting Jobless Families) showed participants achieved significantly better results when the program’s activity requirements were compulsory.

The evaluation also showed participation in ParentsNext improves participants’ attitudes towards workforce participation and they are more likely to undertake study and training or be looking for work. It also found a positive impact on work readiness and that participation increases their chances of future employment, even though participants are not required to look for work as part of the program.

Without strong support for disadvantaged parents and carers, the cycle of welfare dependency will continue. Eighty per cent of young mothers on Parenting Payment had a parent or guardian who was also on welfare during their upbringing.3

Why do participants have to report every fortnight?

To continue receiving their Parenting Payment, ParentsNext participants have reporting requirements:

  • Participants need to report to Centrelink (through the myGov website or Express Plus Centrelink app) each fortnight to report any income and confirm they have met the requirements in their Participation Plan.
  • Participants who do not have full-time education or a flexible activity* as their compulsory activity, are required to report their activity attendance no more than once per fortnight. They can report attendance through the jobactive Job Seeker app or to their provider, as specified in their Participation Plan.

*Flexible activities are those that don’t require attendance at a set location or don’t occur at a specific time, for example, online study or research activities.

What if a participant can’t attend a ParentsNext appointment or activity?

If a participant can’t attend an appointment or an activity, they must notify their provider beforehand. If they have a valid reason, for example, their child is sick, or they miss the appointment or activity and contact their provider afterwards on the same business day, their payment won’t be put on hold. 

If a participant does not meet a requirement and does not contact their provider on the day, they will receive a notification advising that their payment may be put on hold if they do not contact their provider within two business days and re-engage.

Payment holds and penalties under the Targeted Compliance Framework only affect a participant’s Parenting Payment. Payments relating to children (such as Family Tax Benefit), concession card eligibility and Rent Assistance (where paid through the family payments system) are not affected.

A participant’s payment won’t be put on hold if they refuse a job, leave a job or do not look for work. This is explicitly precluded by the relevant legislation.

Providers will work closely with participants to support them in meeting their requirements, including changing their appointment times, if necessary, or referring them to activities that better suit their circumstances.

Participants have fewer and more flexible requirements than jobactive job seekers.

If a participant is concerned that they may not be able to report reliably using the jobactive Job Seeker app, for example due to issues with internet access, they can speak with their provider about alternative reporting options.

How quickly are payment suspensions lifted?

Holds on Parenting Payment are typically lifted quickly after the participant re-engages with their provider – most are within two business days. As the Parenting Payment is made fortnightly, in arrears, payment holds rarely result in a delay to the participant’s payment.

Is it compulsory for participants to attend activities in their Participation Plans?

Participants can discuss activities they would like to undertake with their provider when developing their Participation Plan. Participants must attend the compulsory activities they have agreed to in their Participation Plan, which are designed to assist them along the pathway to being work ready.

Participants can identify activities such as playgroups or other similar things (while their children are very young) as a way to overcome isolation, develop social connections and networking opportunities. Participants with limited work history and significant challenges such as a lack of education, medical conditions and language, literacy and numeracy barriers may find this the most appropriate activity early in their time in the program.

It is important that the activities in a participant’s Participation Plan are tailored to their circumstances and future goals. The Participation Plan should be reviewed regularly by the provider and the participant to ensure that activities remain appropriate.

Are staff at activities expected to report a participant’s attendance?

ParentsNext provider staff should not ask staff at third party organisations, such as libraries and playgroups, to identify and report a participant’s attendance at activities.

Before referring participants to a service or facility, it’s best practice for providers to liaise with the organisation to discuss services, preferred volume of referrals and other relevant details.

Do participants still have to participate during a personal crisis?

Personal circumstances can affect a participant’s ability to participate, for example domestic and family violence, family illness, or a major personal crisis. Where these arise, the provider will determine if the participant can be granted a temporary exemption from their activities.* When a participant has an exemption, they don’t have to do their activities for an agreed period of time.

Participants can still access help and support from their provider during an exemption period.

If a participant is not happy with their provider’s decision to refuse an exemption, the participant should contact their provider in the first instance and ask for a review of the decision. If the participant is not happy with their provider’s response, they can request an independent review of the decision by the department by contacting the National Customer Service Line.

* From 21 September 2020, Centrelink can also make decisions about the full range of exemptions to ParentsNext participants.

Do participants who are pregnant have to participate in ParentsNext?

Participants who are pregnant are supported through the program until they are within six weeks of their expected due date.

The provider applies an exemption from participating in the program from six weeks before the expected due date until nine months after the expected due date. Participants need to provide evidence of their pregnancy from their treating doctor, including the expected due date.

Participants who are experiencing illness or issues with their pregnancy may be eligible for a temporary medical exemption prior to that time. Participants can discuss this with their provider or Centrelink.

How soon after giving birth will a parent have to participate in ParentsNext?

Participants will recommence in the program once their child is nine months old and they meet all other participation requirements.

How is a participant’s privacy protected?

ParentsNext providers must comply with the Privacy Act 1988 and Australian Privacy Principles (APPs) when dealing with participant’s personal information.

Participants can sign a Privacy Notification and Consent form, agreeing to the collection of their sensitive information, which has a greater level of protection under the Australian Privacy Principles (APPs). Sensitive information includes certain characteristics of an individual such as details of their cultural or linguistic background, any criminal record, medical information and membership of a professional or trade association. As protected information under social security legislation, a participant’s personal information may only be collected, used and disclosed to carry out the functions of delivering work-related services as provided under social security law, or for other purposes if the participant consents.

A participant can choose not to sign the Privacy Notification and Consent form. They are still required to participate in the program, but the types of services the provider can offer the participant may be limited.

Do participants have their Parenting Payment cut if they don’t sign the Privacy Notification and Consent form?

No, participants are not obliged to sign the Privacy Notification and Consent form and not doing so doesn’t result in a payment hold or cancellation. Participants are still required to participate in the program even if they choose not to sign the privacy form. However, the types of services the provider can offer the participant may be limited.

Does a participant have to find a new provider if they do not sign the Privacy Notification and Consent form?

No, participants who don’t sign the Privacy Notification and Consent form don’t have to find a new provider. The provider can still refer a participant to an activity that doesn’t require collecting or disclosing their sensitive information.

Can participants change their provider?

Yes, participants can request a change of provider if they relocate or think another provider can provide them with a better service. They can do this by talking to their provider, or to the department’s National Customer Service Line.

Are there specified hours of activity?

There are no specified hours for participation in ParentsNext. The type of activity participants agree to in their Participation Plan determines the time they spend at the activity. For example, volunteer work might involve attendance for two hours a week for four weeks, while a TAFE course may require attendance for two hours, twice a week, for six weeks.

Do participants need to attend their provider’s office for appointments?

Providers must meet face to face with participants for the initial appointment. This can be at either the provider’s premises or an agreed suitable venue. The provider may arrange an alternative to the initial face-to-face appointment (i.e. via telephone or video conference, such as Skype) if there are exceptional circumstances.

After considering the participant’s circumstances, if it is more appropriate to meet via telephone or video conference, this may occur, where the participant and provider agree.

Do participants pay to participate in ParentsNext?

Participation in ParentsNext is free.

Participants can’t be compelled to fund their own attendance in an activity, including an education or training activity (such as a TAFE course). If the participant or the provider can’t locate funding for a course then another activity must be selected.

Providers servicing Intensive Stream participants have access to funds for parents to engage in activities like training, mentoring and professional services.

How is ParentsNext funded?

The Australian Government funds the ParentsNext program. The department manages the program through contracted organisations to ensure ParentsNext services are delivered across all non-remote areas of Australia and are tailored to the needs and circumstances of participants in their area.

Do participants leave ParentsNext if they get a job?

Providers can exit compulsory participants when they have stable employment. That is, paid employment averaging 15 hours per week or 30 hours per fortnight, maintained over at least 12 weeks, and which is expected to be ongoing.

Once participants achieve stable earnings and exit the program, they need to continue to report their income to Centrelink. If they no longer report income, they may be re-referred to ParentsNext if eligible. 

What can participants do if they think they have been referred to ParentsNext in error?

A participant already commenced in the program should discuss any concerns about their eligibility and/or referral to ParentsNext with their provider. Alternatively, participants can contact Centrelink or the department for further investigation.

Participants can make a complaint directly to the department by either:

Endnotes

  1. ParentsNext Evaluation Report
  2. ParentsNext Evaluation Report
  3. Australian Priority Investment Approach to Welfare, Department of Social Services, 2016, www.dss.gov.au
     

Correct at time of publication.