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March 29, 2010 | by  | in Features |
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Using the infrastructure

There is an African proverb that says: It takes a village to raise a child. Now the provenance of this proverb is under debate but this isn’t the important thing about it. The important thing is it’s somewhat trite meaning. To digress a little, it takes a wide variety of people and experiences to make your child prepared for the big wide world.

At least that is the surface meaning.

If we dig a little bit deeper, a permanent village represents a significant step in the agricultural growth of a community. This is a fancy way of saying a village suggests an infrastructure. This infrastructure is what supports us. So we are going to take a closer look at the infrastructure that supports us, namely the university and StudyLink.

So what does the university do for student parents? I was surprised to discover they provide a number of facilities. Director of Campus Services Jenny Bentley says “a number of … support services contribute significantly to assisting parents to achieve at university”.

She says “All our … student support services are well funded and resourced, but with the increasing student numbers and increased student awareness they are generally in high demand throughout the year.”

For a seemingly silent, unacknowledged sub-culture, student parents do present their own draw on resources. The facilities on hand certainly do their best to deal with the challenges provided.

Student Health Service

I’m sure most of you have at some point or another come into contact with the public health service. The fact is that they are enormously overworked and understaffed. It should come as no surprise that interminable wait times and rushed service is the name of the game there. You can expect to feel like just a number on a list, because that’s basically what you are. At Student Health, however, you become more human in your representation.

They are a student-oriented service. They can give you the top-to-toe checkout, and tell you if you’re pregnant. Student Health can’t really help you with the whole midwifery and ante-natal business though. Let us skip forward a few months then. What other services does this fine old establishment offer student parents?

The Creche

Bentley says there are six early childhood centres under the Campus Services umbrella, and there is a parent room available to parents enrolled at the Fairlie Terrace centres.

It is clear to see that the high level of service the crèche provides is a testament to the tenacity and commitment of the staff to education. All of the people who work there are of a wonderfully sunny disposition and they very obviously care about the kids in their care. Not only that, but they are always willing to stop and talk to you if you stop in. The time they can dedicate to the conversation tends to depend very heavily on the calls on their time when you show up though, so bear that in mind.

The Counselling Service

Bentley says the Counselling Service “frequently deals with students who need support to address the competing demands of study, parenting and the financial pressures that can come with this”.

In fairness, bringing a child into the world is going to put some pressure on the strongest of wills, and these people are here to help as best they can. The staff at the Counselling Service are an amazing bunch of people, and they have been a rock in the storm for many, many students with a variety of troubles.

If you can find the time to talk to them, it’s probably worth it. The truth is that every so often problems arise that you just can’t talk to your mates or family about, and the people at the Counselling Service are more than happy to help in any way they can. Awesomely, the service they provide is free, so the budget will remain unstrained by the help they offer.

StudyLink and WINZ

The next leg of the infrastructure trousers that clothe student parents is of course StudyLink—and by proxy—WINZ. The StudyLink website is not the most user-friendly. It often doesn’t point you in the direction you want to go in, leading you to think it is designed much like a maze, full of false turns and blind alleys. Persist and you will discover that while the help offered may not seem like much, it is there. And you should make the most of it.

Student parents may be eligible for help from Studylink for:

  • Accommodation costs
  • Childcare costs
  • Disability costs
  • Emergencies
  • Health costs
  • Scholarships
  • Work costs
  • Student Allowance Transfer Grants
  • Unemployment Benefit Student Hardship

Studylink can also provide advice on:

  • Study assistance from Work and Income
  • Temporary Additional Support
  • Working for Families Tax Credits from Inland Revenue

Here are a few tips to make your experience at StudyLink and WINZ a little more palateable:

1. Have a folder of everything they could ever need from you ever. Have the originals of your birth certificates, two forms of identification, a bank statement with your address on it, a verified copy of your tenancy agreement, or letter from the leaseholder outlining your accommodation costs. Pro-tip: Make the bank statement look good. If it reads McDonalds, Kitty O’Sheas and Peaches & Cream, odds are you wont get what you’re after. Go buy a stamp, some petrol and panadol from a pharmacy. Make it look like you’re in legitimate need.

2. Make an appointment. It is frustrating having to track down a landline to make the 0800 call, but it is less frustrating than lining up, child in arms, to make an appointment that could quite conceivably not be for a few more days. Payphones will let you make the 0800 call. They’re rarely utilised these days, so make them look useful.

3. Don’t overdo the sob stories. They want to know what they can help with. If you go too over the top with your outlining of the circumstances, they are likely to look deeper than they would have otherwise.

4. Remember they are bound by law. The fact is that the 20-something sitting across the desk from you probably has no idea what your circumstances are like. They have a set of rules that they have to follow. You can argue with a lot of things, but the law is one of those things where you’re probably going to lose the argument.

5. Don’t get angry. Getting angry just makes it more likely that you will end up on Police 10-7 as one of those “terrible parents exposing their children to anti-social behaviour”. You have enough on your plate already. If you’re really that upset about it then get your child and some chalk and spend a wonderful Sunday afternoon scribbling your complaints outside their office. This way you can vent your frustrations safe in the knowledge that it’s mostly harmless, and your child won’t take your vitriolic bile spewings to heart because they are written in multi-coloured chalk.

6. If this isn’t going to be enough, you always have the right to officially complain about a decision. They will listen to you and follow due process with your complaint. Your side of the story will be heard, clarified and understood. If they are in the wrong they will fix the problem faster than you imagined possible, and if you are in fact wrong they will very patiently explain why. If you think the explanation is bullshit I recommend referring to the above.

StudyLink and WINZ are functionaries of a system. They are the governmental fronts for the machine that purports to support you as a student parent. That machine is not perfect. It can make mistakes. The odds of those mistakes happening to you are long. So long, in fact, that if they do happen to you, they can appear to be the machinations of a far reaching conspiracy calculated to make your life miserable. It’s not, but it can feel that way.

The infrastructure is there for you to utilise. It can be helpful. One last piece of advice: don’t lie to them. When they catch on, and almost inevitably they will, the full weight of the system will fall on your head and you will not come out on top. Other than that, please go forth and grab what you can with both hands. Or with one while you hold your child safe against you.

This is part two of Josh’s feature series on what it’s like to be a parent at university. If you think you might have something to contribute, flick him an email,
josh@salient.org.nz.

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