Adrielle Connors and daughter Amelia Connors, 3, and Minister Joy Burch at the first turn of the sod for Canberra College?s new CCCares facility at its Woden campus. Photo: Elesa Kurtz
Adrielle Connors will finish school this year with a year 12 certificate and a vocational qualification; something that seemed ''almost impossible'' three years ago as a 17-year-old with a baby.
Ms Connors is one of 170 mothers engaged in CCCares, an education and support program for pregnant and parenting students - including a handful of fathers - run by Canberra College. The program, the biggest in Australia, has been so successful that building began on a larger, $14.5 million facility at the college's main Woden campus on Tuesday.
Turning the first sod with Education Minister Joy Burch was Ms Connors and her three-year-old daughter Amelia, who have reaped the benefits of the program.
''Without CCCares the reality is we probably wouldn't have been able to [finish school],'' Ms Connors said, who had completed year 11 before having her daughter at 17. ''I looked into doing distance education or maybe trying to do my year 12 through Bruce CIT or something, but especially with all the childcare waiting lists in Canberra, it was just going to be almost impossible.
''I didn't have my licence and being at CCCares, they come and pick you up [from home] and they've got nurses who come in for you, they've got people from the bank come in, people from legal aid … it's just a hot spot of services.''
College acting principal Peter Clayden estimates the program and associated services reaches one-third of the territory's young mothers, a group that is hard for health service providers, in particular, to reach.
''We're not just supporting them getting their year 12 certificate, it's only such a small element of their life,'' he said. ''We know there are other young mums out there who are going to miss out on education and all the economic statistics tell us that by the time they're 30, 35 they are more likely to be unemployed, they're more likely to have poor health - and so are their children.''
While the program offers individual learning plans to suit the students and is oriented towards vocational training rather than tertiary preparation, some of the students in its 10-year history have gone on to study at university.
Mr Clayden hopes that will increase with better access to the tertiary lessons when the new facility opens on the mainstream college campus, although he says the strong focus on vocational qualifications has its benefits.
''They are genuinely employable compared to people walking out of [the mainstream campus] building,'' he said.