April 16, 2018 11:45:48
Queensland drover Jen McClelland says an Assistance for Isolated Children Scheme allowance would help her youngest sons’ education. (Supplied: Jen McClelland)
A Queensland drover and single parent says she is struggling to educate her youngest sons after the Federal Government rejected her application for a payment under the Assistance for Isolated Children Scheme (AIC) for the third year in a row.
Jen McClelland, 45, wakes up at 4.30am and travels up to 10 kilometres a day with her cattle, stopping briefly under the shade of nearby trees to help her two youngest son’s with their homework.
Jen McClelland says despite applying for the Assistance for Isolated Children‘s Allowance three years in a row she still doesn’t qualify despite her remote location. (Supplied: Jen McClelland )
Ms McClelland has been on the road with her children since May last year and said her children are currently being schooled through distance education scheme.
“I try to juggle doing the schoolwork and being a drover and I’ve tried to get a nanny but I just can’t afford it without the AIC payment,” she said.
Under the Assistance for Isolated Children Scheme, one of the payments is a distance education allowance of $4,214 per year,
“That payment would just make a big difference to us they [The Department of Human Services] just don’t understand that droving is moving everyday, walking everyday with cows to different spots.
“There’s no school, there’s no permanent address.”
Ms McClelland‘s sons receive their curriculum each semester in the post.
“Sometimes their school work isn’t as neat as it should be because it’s covered in dirt or dust but at least its done,” she said.
“We just carry it with us on the horses and when we give the cattle a break at lunch time, that’s our school time. That’s when we get everything up to scratch.”
Rejected three years in a row
Ms McClelland first applied for the AIC in 2015 but said, despite her remote lifestyle, she still does not qualify for the allowance.
“When you walk cattle you are only going five to 10 kilometres a day,” she said.
“Everyday you stop, you pack-up camp, you move … then you do it all over again the next day.
She said last year she relocated four times but the Department of Human Services requires five moves and she did not qualify under the guidelines.
When speaking to The Department of Human Services, Ms McClelland claims she had been told to send her children away for school.
“They told me I should send my children to boarding school,” she said.
“I’m not prepared to do that. If I don’t qualify on AIC as a drover how am I supposed to qualify for all the extra payments for boarding school?
“My eldest boy that’s here with me has Asperger’s. The lifestyle suits him and allows him to enjoy and understand life.”
Ms McClelland said with the allowance she would receive, just over $4,000 a year, would help with her children‘s education.
Instead, she often benefitted from the kindness of strangers.
“I would be able to get some help occasionally,” she said.
“We do have retired teachers that offer to come and do a bit of work with the boys which is great because they are able to get their work caught up.
“Those ladies and gentlemen have been a blessing, but I haven’t been able to afford to pay them for fuel or anything like that because I just don’t have the money.”
Isolated Children‘s Parents’ Association federal president Wendy Hick lives on a beef cattle property on the Northern Territory-Queensland border. (Supplied: Wendy Hick)
Calls for a review
The federal president of the Isolated Children‘s Parents’ Association (ICPA), Wendy Hick, said that Ms McClelland was not the only Australian parent having issues with the allowance.
“We’ve been hearing from some of our members that they’ve been having some difficulty with this process,” Ms Hick said.
“We’ve put a survey out asking people to respond and let us know what’s happening so we can discuss it with the Government to try to get some improvements.”
Ms Hick said more than 200 people had answered the survey from across the country and the main issues had been lengthy delays in processing school term payments.
“Quite a few families depend on this allowance to assist with the cost of educating their children particularly those who go away to boarding school,” she said.
“It can be a huge burden on families to cover these costs.”
The ICPA has called on the Federal Government to review and make the process easier for parent applying for the scheme.
“There really ne to be a review of the process they need to get to the bottom of this happening,” she said.
Financial hardship a priority
The Department of Human Services General Manager, Hank Jongen, said the department was working hard to process AIC claims.
“During peak periods, some claims can take longer to process,” he said.
“Anyone experiencing severe financial hardship should contact the department as soon as possible so we can prioritise their claim.
“In cases of hardship, straightforward claims can be processed in a few days.
“We thank people for their patience and apologise for any inconvenience caused, Mr Jongen said.
Jen McClelland travels 10 kilometres a day to drove cattle in Queensland (Supplied: Jen McClelland)
April 16, 2018 10:42:32
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