Over the past couple of years, Sheree Haami has been shocked by the number of times she’s heard a young mother say that before she started her program, she just sat in the house with the baby and looked at the wall. “It sounds dramatic,” Sheree admitted. “But those exact words keep coming out of mums’ mouths.”

Sheree works for the YWCA of  Darwin, where she runs a program that helps mothers between the ages of 14 and 24 finish high school. It may seem like a humble goal, but it makes a big difference to young women’s lives. “They want to be able to access higher education and training, apprenticeships and employment,” Sheree explained. “Unless they have their year 10 certificate, they don’t feel like it’s possible.”

Simply called Mum’s School, the program is straightforward: Sheree and her colleagues pick up young mothers and their children, take them to school, and look after the babies so their mothers can fully engage with learning. “The mums want to be there, it’s a fantastic opportunity and a life-changing experience,” said Sheree. “While there are a lot of challenges in this new adult responsibility, it also provides an opportunity where the life change enables the young person to think of things differently.”

With teenage pregnancy overrepresented in the Northern Territory compared with the rest of Australia, many young mothers can feel isolated and unsupported, particularly given the territory’s often transitory population. The Mum’s School program addresses that lack of connection by linking young mothers with others in the same situation.

“They don’t have the support networks that families traditionally had in sharing their parenting skills – and that’s across the board in society, but particularly for young mums,” said Sheree. “Mum’s School enables them to come into school with their children, do their schoolwork, meet other young mums who have the same stuff going on and form relationships that are supportive of each other.”

Mum’s School is the only one of its type in the Northern Territory. The YWCA of Darwin depends on the support of donors such as the Coca-Cola Australia Foundation to fund the initiative. “The Coca-Cola grant enables us to concentrate on Mum’s School,” said Sheree. “It’ll enable our school to grow. There’s only a limited number of us, with limited vehicles and car seats and all those sorts of things – we can only provide support to so many families.”

The program is already a huge success, with 41 pregnant or parenting young mothers and their children having participated in the program. Some students are already on their way to bigger things. “One young mum, when she entered our program she was 17, she had a new bubba, and she hadn’t even considered going back to school,” said Sheree. “She was just so exhausted and so busy that she couldn’t see anything past that. Now she’s at university doing a degree.”