Mutual obligation as a roadblock to trauma-informed care: the case of ParentsNext

Stream: Young parents, lone parents and social policy
Date: Monday, 9 September 2019
Time: 3.40 pm – 5.00 pm


Rolled out across Australia in 2018 following a trial of two years, ParentsNext is a pre-employment program for disadvantaged parents with children as young as six months. Many of the participants in the program are women experiencing family violence. Drawing on publicly available material including submissions to the Parliamentary Inquiry into ParentsNext, this paper examines ParentsNext through the lens of trauma-informed care. The trauma-informed care movement seeks to inform the design of human services so that they are less likely to retraumatise clients with unresolved trauma and more likely to help these clients heal and recover. The philosophy of trauma-informed care emphasises the principles of safety, trustworthiness, choice, collaboration, empowerment and cultural safety. This paper is one of the first internationally to demonstrate the usefulness of applying a trauma-informed care lens at the scale of national government policy, not just at the smaller scale of individual organisations.

This study finds that although many of the non-governmental organisations contracted to deliver ParentsNext embrace the philosophy of trauma-informed care, the design of ParentsNext is inhibiting the organisations’ ability to deliver pre-employment services in a trauma-informed way. A central element of the program causing anxiety among clients and providers alike is the integration of the Targeted Compliance Framework (TCF) into the national rollout of ParentsNext. The case of ParentsNext demonstrates that the bi-partisan commitment in Australia to the concept of mutual obligation is currently a significant obstacle on Australia’s path to achieving trauma-informed human services.


Katherine Curchin (Presenter), Australian National University
Dr Katherine Curchin is an applied political philosopher with research interests in social policy and public administration. She is a Lecturer in Social Policy at the ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods and an Honorary Lecturer in the School of Philosophy at the Australian National University. She is an editor of the Australian Journal of Social Issues.