Family Relationships Quarterly No. 11

Family Relationships Quarterly No. 11

AFRC Newsletter No. 11 — March 2009


In this issue

Welcome to another issue of Family Relationships Quarterly. We have been fortunate to have a number of researchers/service providers contribute to this issue, which has resulted in a range of informative and relevant articles for the family relationships sector.

The opening article is a summary of the results from the Families Caring for a Person with a Disability Study, conducted by AIFS in late 2006 and released as a final report in 2008 ( Thanks to Dr Ben Edwards, principal researcher, for providing us with this summary of the study, which examined the many emotional, physical, relational and economic costs associated with caring. This research also helped to inform the latest AFRC Issues Paper No. 4, Family Relationships and Mental Illness: Impacts and Responses (, released late last year. Both papers provide a comprehensive insight into the experience of carers and how the family relationships sector can support them in their critical role.

Ian Thomas, previously Social Research Coordinator at Crisis Support Services in Melbourne, summarises extensive data on the characteristics of callers and the nature of their presenting problems to MensLine over a recent 12-month period. Over 68,000 calls to the telephone counselling line were analysed, and the article provides a fascinating insight into the scope and nature of issues for men and the much needed work of MensLine in responding to these issues.

Our program  class="nobullets small" cla this quarter shines on the P5 Program (A Participatory Program Promoting Pleasurable Parenting) and the committed work of Beck Miles, P5 Australia Development Officer. Ruth Weston and Lixia Qu provide a comprehensive Trends and Statistics article on attitudes to divorce in Australia, including gender and age differences.

Other features include an update on the Service Provision Project, one of the research components of the Family Law Evaluation being conducted by AIFS, a conference review on the Family Relationship Services Australia conference in November 2008 and literature highlights on gambling.

We hope you enjoy this edition of Family Relationships Quarterly and welcome your feedback, please contactAFRC

Elly Robinson
Manager, AFRC

Caring for families caring for a person with a disability*

Dr Ben Edwards

"When you're a carer, you need to realise that you've got to take care of yourself." Naomi Judd (2004)

In Australia, it is estimated that there were 474,600 primary carers for people because of disability or age in 2003 (Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS], 2003). The issue is of particular importance given the growing number of Australians who have caring responsibilities because of the ageing of the population. The number of people receiving government payments that support carers is substantial. In June 2007, there were 116,614 people receiving Carer Payment and 393,263 receiving Carer Allowance,1 representing a 145% and 102% increase (respectively) since June 2000 (Department of Family and Community Services [FaCS], 2000; Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs [FaCSIA], 2007).

While a great deal is known about the impact and contribution of carers in society, much less is known about how the carer and other family members work together to care for a relative with a disability. For practitioners working in the family relationships sector, assisting carers and their families to care for the person with a disability and themselves can be a difficult task, as caring can impact on many aspects of the lives of carers and their families.

In this article, I highlight some key findings from new research conducted by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) and the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) about the nature and impact of caring on the carer and their family in order to broaden practitioners understanding of these issues (for details, see Edwards, Higgins, Gray, Zmijewski, & Kingston, 2008).2 Although I draw on findings from the study's report, the views expressed in this paper should not be attributed to either FaHCSIA or AIFS. In the final section of this article, I provide a range of resources for practitioners to draw upon to support carers and their families.

The Families Caring for a Person with a Disability Study (FCPDS) investigated the impact of caring for a person with a disability3 on carers who received government payments to care, and on their families. In late 2006, AIFS conducted a telephone survey on a representative sample of 1,002 carers from among carers receiving federal government payments. This is the first detailed, nationally representative analysis looking into the lives of families providing care.

Emotional, physical, relational and economic costs of caring

The major findings from the study suggest that, while caring for a person with a disability is very important, there are significant emotional, physical, social and economic costs to carers and their families. Some key findings from the study are highlighted below.

1. Carers had significantly worse mental health and vitality and higher rates of depression than the general population.

Differences between carers and the general population on these variables were evident for carers of all age groups, except when carers were 65 years or older. The rates of clinical levels of depression were 19% for female carers and 13% for male carers, while for females and males in the general population they were 11% and 8% respectively (see Figure 1). Fifty-one per cent of female carers and 30.7% of males also reported that they had been depressed for 6 months or more since they started caring. Family members also experienced high levels of depression, with 27.3% of partners, 12.1% of parents and 10.6% of offspring of carers experiencing a depressive episode of 6 months or more since caring began (see Figure 2).

Figure 1: Clinical levels of depression over last 4 weeks, by gender and caring status

Figure 1: Clinical levels of depression over last 4 weeks, by gender and caring status

Notes: The incidence of clinical levels of depression in the past 4 weeks was also significantly higher for male and female carers than males and females with no caring responsibilities (males: c2(1) = 5.84, p <.05; females: c2(1) = 39.18, p < .001). 

Source: FCPDS 2006; Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey, Wave 4.1

Figure 2: Family members' experience of depression

Figure 2: Family members' experience of depression

Note: More partners experienced a depressive episode than children and parents of the primary carer (c2(2) = 93.67, p < .001).
Source: FCPDS 2006

2. The risk of carers and family members experiencing a depressive episode of 6 months or more was greatest in the first year of caring.

The risk of carers experiencing a first depressive episode of at least a 6-month duration was greatest in the first year of caring (over 13% of carers), but over the next 20 years the risk was fairly stable at about 3%.4 Carers were also asked about the experience of depressive episodes of other family members. For other family members, the first year of caring accounted for 41.6% of all the first depressive episodes experienced by people with a disability and 17.9% of first depressive episodes of other household members. In this context, early intervention is important in the first year of caring, and thereafter a less intensive but easily accessible intervention may be more appropriate. The early intervention may need to be intensive, given our data on the interconnections between carers and other family members' mental health. It probably would need to address relationship issues such as poor family functioning, for instance, as this variable had moderate associations with higher rates of depression within the family.

3. Almost twice as many carers were in poor physical health than the general population (see Figure 3).

The finding that almost twice as many carers were in poor physical health was not the result of carers being older than the general population. As many of the risk factors for poor physical health were the same as for poor mental health of carers, a coordinated bio-psychosocial intervention may best meet the needs of carers and their families.

Figure 3: Incidence of poor physical health, by gender and caring status

Figure 3: Incidence of poor physical health, by gender and caring status

Notes: A greater proportion of female carers were in poor physical health than females from the general population (c2(1) = 45.30, p < .001). A greater proportion of male carers were in poor physical health than males from the general population (c2(1) = 38.66, p < .001). 

Sources: FCPDS 2006; HILDA Wave 4.1

4. Almost one in three female carers aged 50 or less had separated or divorced since they started caring, while one in seven over the age of 50 had separated or divorced since they started caring (see Figure 4).

The study also provides new information on the timing and risk of increased arguments and relationship breakdown between carers and their partners since caring began. There was a heightened risk of arguments between carers and their partners shortly after commencement of caring (see Figure 5), but an even distribution of the risk of relationship separation over time. The first year of caring seems to be the critical period when additional support may reduce arguments between spouses. The provision of care for a person with a disability did not affect carers' satisfaction with their relationships with other family members. However, carers' children did not get along as well with one another when compared to the general population.

Figure 4: Relationship separation of female carers, by age group

Figure 4: Relationship separation of female carers, by age group

Note: Female carers of a person with a disability who was not their partner (n = 396). Although there was a very high rate of separation for carers aged 18 to 30 (55.6%), this should be regarded with caution, due to the small sample size (n = 18); however, the other rates were robust.
Source: FCPDS 2006

Figure 5: Reports by carers not caring for a partner of significant increase in arguments, by years since started caring

Figure 5: Reports by carers not caring for a partner of significant increase in arguments, by years since started caring

Note: The data presented are based on 431 carers who (a) were not caring for a partner with a disability; and (b) had at any stage had a spouse/partner.
Source: FCPDS 2006

5. Compared to families from the general population, a higher proportion of families of carers suffered from greater financial hardship (see Figure 6).

Irrespective of which payment carers received (Carer Payment or Carer Allowance only), families who cared for a person with a disability experienced a higher level of financial hardship than the general population. Higher levels of financial hardship are a key factor in the higher rates of depression and lower levels of face-to-face social contact that carers experience (see Edwards & Higgins, 2008; Edwards, Higgins, & Zmijewski, 2007). For practitioners, this presents a challenge, as carers and their families may require intensive support and further referral to additional services. Balancing the welfare of carers and their families with the family budget is a key concern.

Figure 6: Financial hardships in carers' families, by type of hardship and caring responsibilities

Figure 6: Financial hardships in carers' families, by type of hardship and caring responsibilities

Notes: In this instance, the data for carers from the FCPDS have been weighted by gender and age to match the gender and age characteristics of the general population in HILDA Wave 4.1. Statistical tests suggested that, compared to the general population, significantly higher percentages of households caring for a person with a disability "could not pay electricity, gas or telephone bills on time" (c2(2) = 161.40, p < .001), "could not pay the rent or mortgage on time" (c2 (2) = 43.38, p <.001), "pawned or sold something" (c2(2) = 59.60, p < .001) and "asked for financial help from friends or family" (c2(2) = 80.01, p < .001).
Sources: FCPDS 2006; HILDA Wave 4.1

6. Carers who had multiple care responsibilities or who were also caring for children had worse mental health outcomes.

Thirteen per cent of primary carers cared for two or three people with a disability. In addition, one in three (34.7%) cared for at least one child along with the person with a disability (who could also be a child). Caring for more than one person with a disability and/or caring for a person or child with a disability while caring for other children were associated with carers having significantly worse mental health outcomes.

Caring and social isolation

Social isolation is another key issue for carers. In this section, we report on the social lives of carers and the barriers to face-to-face social contact (see Edwards et al., 2007, for details). The key findings are outlined below.

1. Eighteen per cent of carers have face-to-face social contact with friends or relatives outside of the household once or twice every 3 months, or less often than this.

In the general population, significantly fewer people (10.2%) have similarly low levels of face-to-face social contact with friends or relatives not living with them. One of the limitations of making this comparison is that carers may be systematically different to the general population on a range of other variables, which may, in turn, be associated with their level of face-to-face social contact. However, even after controlling for many demographic variables, carers from the FCPDS were still 1.46 times more likely than the general population to have low face-to-face social contact with friends or relatives outside of the household.

2. Almost half of interviewed carers wanted more face-to-face social contact when asked whether they would like to get together with friends or relatives outside of the household.

While almost half of the carers wanted more, half were satisfied with the level of face-to-face social contact. Only 2% wanted less social contact.

3. There were two main factors associated with carers who had low levels of face-to-face social contact and those who wanted more face-to-face social contact: the care needs of the person with the disability and financial hardship.

Carers who were caring for a person with a disability with high care needs were 1.9 times more likely to have low face-to-face social contact and 2.7 times more likely to want more face-to-face social contact than carers of a person with low care needs (see Figure 7). Compared to carers who did not experience any financial hardship events, carers who experienced two or more financial hardship events were 2.5 times more likely to have low face-to-face social contact and 1.9 times more likely to want more face-to-face social contact (see Figure 8).

These findings suggest that carers who provide care for people with more complex and difficult disabilities struggle to find suitable alternative care arrangements to allow them to get out and socialise. On the basis of these results, it also seems reasonable to suggest that the experience of financial hardship may limit the ability of carers to see friends or relatives outside of the household, as socialising may require carers to be able to meet the costs of either catering for visitors or the costs of going out (transport, a meal or other social activity, and the potential costs of providing alternative care in their absence). Saunders (2006) has documented the higher levels of financial hardship experienced by Australian households in which there is a person with a disability, and one interpretation of our results suggests that carers could be responding to such financial hardship by limiting social outings in order to reduce costs.

Figure 7: Carers' face-to-face social contact with friends and relatives outside of the household and the care needs of the person with the disability

Figure 7: Carers' face-to-face social contact with friends and relatives outside of the household and the care needs of the person with the disability

Source: FCPDS 2006

Figure 8: Carers' face-to-face social contact and the experience of financial hardship

Figure 8: Carers' face-to-face social contact and the experience of financial hardship

Source: FCPDS 2006

Supporting carers

In our study, 47.9% of carers indicated that they, the person they cared for and other family members did not use any disability service (Edwards et al., 2008). The study did not provide information about why this group of families did not use any services and highlights the need for practitioners to find ways of engaging with some of these families. However, one in ten carers reported their families used some form of psychological service, such as counselling, a psychiatrist or a psychologist. Respite services (13%) and consulting a general practitioner (11%) were the other commonly used services by these families. Given the challenges facing some carers and their families, the use of these three services highlights that it is unlikely that family relationship practitioners are appropriate support providers for all issues. A coordinated effort from medical practitioners, specialist support providers and services may be indicated in some instances. One of the key issues for family relationship practitioners is referral to appropriate support services or providers for problems outside the scope of their role and expertise. Carers Association Victoria (2005) recommends many things that family relationship practitioners can do, such as:

  • Provide support in a way that acknowledges that a carer has first-hand knowledge of the person being cared for.
  • Consider the needs of the carer as well as those of the person being cared for.
  • Consider cultural and language differences, especially in relation to assessment, treatment and information.
  • Try to maintain open and honest communication.
  • Don't assume a person may automatically provide care without any back-up support or resources.
  • Consider the impact of the disability or illness on all the family members and their relationships with each other.
  • Keep well-informed of appropriate services and other helpful resources that may be of benefit to the care.
  • Respect the privacy of a carer's home.
  • Try to let the carer and their family know in advance about changes in your service, such as staff leaving or roster changes.


In this article, I have drawn attention to research that highlights that caring can have a negative impact on carers' physical and mental health, relationships, social contacts and financial wellbeing. Understanding the extent and impact of caring and how families structure themselves around the care needs of individuals provides an important insight into the future needs of families. It can also inform the ways in which family relationship practitioners can continue to address these issues to improve the wellbeing of all families and individuals who are giving care, and those who are needing care.

Resources for carers and their families and family relationship practitioners

  • Carers Australia ( The carers associations in each state and territory provide carers with referrals to services and practical written information to support them in their caring role. There is a wide range of information and resources available and carers can contact their nearest carers association on 1800 242 636 to obtain free information on a range of topics.
  • The National Carers Counselling service offers short-term counselling for carers, contact 1800 242 636 (
  • Family Relationship Services for Carers provide mediation and counselling to assist families who are concerned about the future care of their family member with disability, are thinking about making arrangements for the future care of their family member with disability, or experiencing disagreement around the future care needs of a family member with disability. Services are tailored to family circumstances and may be delivered in individual, couple or family settings (
  • The Mental Health Respite Program (MHRP) provides a range of flexible respite options for carers of people with severe mental illness/psychiatric disability and carers of people with intellectual disability (
  • A number of resources are also available on the Child Family Community Australia website:


  • Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2003). Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers. Unpublished raw data.
  • Carers Association Victoria. (2005). Supporting a carer you know. Melbourne: Carers Association Victoria. Retreived 21 January 2009, from
  • Department of Family and Community Services. (2000). 1999-2000 annual report. Canberra: Author
  • Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. (2007). 2006-07 annual report. Canberra: Author.
  • Edwards, B., Higgins, D. J., & Zmijewski, N. (2007). The Families Caring for a Person with a Disability Study and the social lives of carers. Family Matters, 76, 8-17.
  • Edwards, B., & Higgins, D. (2008). Is caring a health hazard? The mental health and vitality of carers of a person with a disability in Australia. Manuscript submitted for publication.
  • Edwards, B., Higgins, D. J., Gray, M., Zmijewski, N., & Kingston, M. (2008). The nature and impact of caring for family members with a disability in Australia (AIFS Research Report No. 16). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies. Retrieved 1 July 2008, from
  • Judd, N. (2004). The Naomi Judd interview. Today's Carer Magazine.
  • Saunders, P. (2006). The costs of disability and the incidence of poverty (Social Policy Research Centre Discussion Paper No. 147). Sydney: Social Policy Research Centre, University of New South Wales.

Dr Ben Edwards is a Research Fellow at the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

* Note: This paper uses unit record data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey. The HILDA Project was initiated and is funded by the Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) and is managed by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research (MIAESR). The findings and views reported in this paper, however, are those of the author and should not be attributed to either FaHCSIA or the MIAESR.

Issues and concerns for men contacting Mensline Australia

Ian Thomas

Mensline Australia is the only national, professional telephone counselling service for men in Australia. Although the service focuses on family relationship concerns, counsellors also respond to a broad range of other issues that impact on men, including physical health, mental health, sexual concerns, financial pressures, legal issues and work-related concerns. Over the past seven years of operation the service has received over half a million calls.

The Mensline Australia database underwent a major overhaul in 2006 to enable more comprehensive data capture regarding men's relationship concerns and relevant risk factors. After two years, the new database contains records from nearly 70,000 men, providing a rich and detailed account of the relationship issues experienced by many men in Australia.

The following paper draws on 68,612 calls from men to the 1300 78 99 78 Mensline Australia telephone counselling line that were recorded between July 2006 and June 2007.5 It is important to note that the information presented here is based on calls, not individuals. Given that some callers ring multiple times and others may only ring once, there is a risk of bias in the data. It cannot be assumed that the people who ring multiple times are demographically identical to those who call only once.

Location of callers

Being a national telephone counselling service, Mensline Australia can provide support to men residing in the furthest reaches of the country. Almost 30% of the calls to a Mensline Australia counsellor over the past two years were from men who resided in regional or remote areas of Australia, with the balance calling from metropolitan areas. This is consistent with the proportion of people living in regional and remote areas of Australia based on Australian Bureau of Statistics 2006 Census data (32%) (ABS, 2008).

Table 1: Location of callers to Mensline Australia















Age profile of callers

The vast majority of calls to Mensline Australia were from men aged between 25 and 54 years (85%), with the highest proportion of all calls being from men aged 35 to 44 years (38%).

Table 2: Age of callers to Mensline Australia



Below 15 years





















75 or over






Labour force status and occupational background of callers

The men contacting Mensline Australia come from a diverse range of backgrounds. Seventy-two per cent of calls were made by men in some form of employment. A further 10% were from men who stated that they were unemployed, with the balance (18%) not participating in the labour force. The majority of employed male callers worked in professional roles (31%); however, Mensline Australia received a substantial proportion of calls from men working in labouring/farming (23%) and technical/trade (21%) sectors. Men working in managerial/administrative (11%), clerical/sales/services (8%) or the production/transport industries (7%) were less well represented as users of the service.

Marital status of callers

Given Mensline Australia's focus on men's relationship concerns, it is not surprising that men who were separated (43%) formed the largest group of callers. However, a substantial proportion of callers reported being married (22%), single (15%) or in a de facto (10%) or casual (10%) relationship.

Table 3: Marital status of callers to Mensline Australia












De facto relationship



Casual relationship






Among those callers who reported being separated from their partner, most stated that their partner initiated the separation (80%). Only 12% of callers stated that they instigated the separation, with the balance (7%) stating that the decision to separate was mutual. Most callers contacting Mensline Australia about a separated wife or partner did so within 6 months of separating from their partner (57%), however almost one-quarter (22%) contacted the service over 18 months after their separation (22%) (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Period since separation among Mensline Australia callers (n = 19,051)

Figure 1: Period since separation among Mensline Australia callers (n = 19,051)

Callers' living arrangements

Almost half of the calls to Mensline Australia were from men who lived alone. This staggering statistic highlights the important role that Mensline Australia plays for many men who might otherwise have limited opportunities to access support. This is particularly relevant given that men tend to have more restricted social networks than women and tend to rely more heavily on their partners for social support (Flood, 2005). Other calls to Mensline Australia were from men who either lived with their partner and children (19%), with their partner only (10%), alone with children (9%), with other family members (8%) or with unrelated others (4%).

Table 4: Living arrangements of callers to Mensline Australia



Lives alone



Lives with partner and children



Lives with partner only



Lives alone with children



Lives with other family



Lives with others






What do men call Mensline Australia about?

Main relationship of concern

Over the past two years, over 20,000 calls to Mensline Australia have been from men wanting to discuss concerns about their separation from their wife or partner. These calls accounted for the largest group of contacts to the service (44%). Nevertheless, calls also related to a wide range of other relationships, such as current partners (37%), children (11%), extended family members (4%) and social (1%) or work relationships (1%).

Table 5: Main relationship of concern for Mensline Australia callers



Separated wife or partner



Current wife or partner






Extended family member






Other relationship



Work colleague






Main issues discussed by callers

In addition to collecting information about the caller's main relationship of concern, Mensline Australia counsellors also recorded the main issue that was discussed with the caller. Not surprisingly, most calls focused on men's relationships with their partner or ex-partner (61%). These calls tended to centre on the practicalities of ending relationships and managing separation processes (25%), the ongoing conflict and communication difficulties with their partner or ex-partner (25%), or working through the significant feelings of anger, resentment, grief, emotional distance and confusion associated with their relationship with their partner or ex-partner (21%).

As indicated above, not all calls to Mensline Australia focused on relationships with partners or ex-partners. A substantial proportion of calls were made to discuss their mental health and emotional wellbeing (9%); legal, custody and access issues (9%); parenting (7%); or issues pertaining to violence and abuse (4%) (see Table 6).

Table 6: Main concerns of Mensline Australia callers



Relationship with partner/ex-partner



Mental and emotional wellbeing



Legal, custody and access issues






Violence and/or abuse



Caring for another



Practical issues



Sex and sexuality



Suicide and/or self-harm






Workplace relationships









Nature of concerns for separated men

There were substantial differences in the main issues that separated men discussed compared to calls from men who were in a relationship. For example, separated men were more likely than men who were in a relationship at the time of their call to discuss issues such as parenting; legal, custody and access issues; and suicide or self-harm (see Table 7).

Table 7: Main concerns of Mensline Australia callers by marital status

In a relationship (no. of calls)

In a relationship (% of calls)

Separated (no. of calls)

Separated (% of calls)

Relationship with partner/ex-partner





Legal, custody and access issues










Mental and emotional well-being





Violence and abuse





Suicide and/or self-harm





Practical issues










Caring for another





Sex and sexuality










Workplace relationships










The types of issues discussed by separated men also varied depending on the period of time that had elapsed since the caller's separation. While relationships with ex-partners were consistently the most common issue discussed, the proportion of calls about ex-partners from men who had separated within the previous 6 months (73%) was significantly higher than the proportion of calls from men who had been separated for 18 months or more (44%). In stark contrast, men separated for more than 18 months were significantly more likely to call about parenting concerns; legal, custody and access issues; and issues relating to their mental health or emotional wellbeing (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Main concerns of separated callers by period since separation (n = 19,051 calls)

Figure 2: Main concerns of separated callers by period since separation (n = 19,051 calls)

Separated men's concerns also varied with regard to who initiated the separation. Most notably, calls from men whose partners initiated the separation were twice as likely to concern suicide or self-harm (2%) compared to calls from those men who initiated the separation or for whom the separation was mutual (1%). While these proportions seem small, they represent hundreds of calls from men who may be at greater risk of suicide post-separation. Furthermore, the proportion of calls about suicide and self-harm from men whose partner initiated the separation was highest within the first 6 months after separation (3%) indicating that men may be particularly at risk of suicide during the initial period after separation.


While Mensline Australia is first and foremost a relationship counselling service specifically designed to engage, support and advise men regarding their relationship concerns, it is clearly responding to a range of other issues. The Mensline Australia's experience plainly indicates that men experiencing relationship difficulties are frequently working through a range of other issues that impact on their wellbeing, such as mental health problems, uncertainty regarding employment, financial stress and difficulties securing accommodation. In addition, many hundreds of calls to the service each year come from men who report experiencing thoughts of self-harm or suicide as a result of the relationship difficulties in their lives. Mensline Australia plays a critical role in the men and family relationships sector by providing support across the service delivery spectrum from prevention through to crisis intervention. Mensline Australia's team of professional counsellors are accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, regardless of what prompts someone to pick up the phone.

Mensline Australia is available 24/7 on 1300 78 99 78.

The Mensline telephone support, information and referral service is provided by Crisis Support Services (CSS). CSS provides a range of services and resources for men with family and relationship concerns. The website includes a document library, online discussion forum, service directory, tip sheets, and resources for older men, younger men, and men from Indigenous, Vietnamese and Arabic communities. Visit their website at:

Note: All reported differences are based on statistical tests using p < .001.


  • Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2008). Australian social trends 2008 (Cat. No. 3218.0). Canberra: Author.
  • Flood, M. (2005). Mapping loneliness in Australia. Canberra: Australia Institute.
  • At the time of writing this article, Ian Thomas was the Social Research Coordinator at Crisis Support Services in Melbourne.

Program spotlight

P5 (A Participatory Program Promoting Pleasurable Parenting)

Robyn Parker


The P5 Program focuses on supporting parents in dealing with family issues, with the broad objective of providing greater depth, connection and meaning to all family and social relationships, and promoting a prosocial, universal skill-based approach to parenting. Grounded in the view that parents are best able to meet the needs of their children when their own needs are being met, the program is based on an empowerment model in which mutual respect and cooperation among family members is engendered. It aims to help parents create an environment in which they feel confident about their parenting, and to help their children make the most of their own skills and energy to secure cooperation and responsibility.

P5 was originally known as the Positive Parenting program. It was written over 28 years ago by New Zealand-based psychologist and author, Kate Birch. Through her work in child development centres, Birch saw many parents struggling in their parenting role, not knowing where to go for help or how to deal with conflicting advice. The initial resource material was intended to facilitate discussion among parents about the issues of parenting, helping them to generate their own answers to their parenting difficulties. Birch also noted that some parents received resource-intensive individual attention from professionals where a group approach would have provided the same benefits. The Positive Parenting program was developed as a result, as a high-value, low-cost, sustainable, community-based parenting program, for parents, by parents. Interest in the program increased and it was made available to other communities in New Zealand, before eventually being brought to Australia by Nambour Community Health in Queensland. A book version of the program was published in 1984 (Positive Parenting; Birch, 1999) and more recently in 2006 (as Pleasurable Parenting for Australian Families; Birch, 2006).

The program

The organisation that now manages the program, P5 Australia, aims to engage community members, community services and the Australian Government to further expand the provision of P5 in Australian communities. Its goal is to be recognised as a peer-facilitated early intervention parent support service.

Over time, without a financial support structure in place, the energy and resources required to maintain and expand the P5 program became depleted and the program kit and materials out-of-date. In 2003, Beck Miles, an interested parent, completed the P5 program and went on to train as a facilitator through the C.A.R.E Parent Support Program of the Byron Shire Council. Impressed by the program and its positive effect on other parents, Miles then took on the responsibility of revitalising the program and spreading the word across the region. Among the first steps was a complete revision of the program kit, now in its fourth edition. Agencies or individuals wanting to offer P5 to clients lease the kit from P5 Australia. Between 2004 and 2008, the number of agencies offering P5 grew from a handful to over 50 reputable organisations.

The book version of the program, Pleasurable Parenting for Australian Families, complements the P5 Program kit and is intended to support parents who have attended a P5 program or those who would rather work through the program on their own. The release of the new book and creation of the P5 logo also gave P5 Australia a marketable identity.

P5 is based on the application of communication theory and learning theory to decision-making and skill acquisition. It shares some similarities with other parenting models such as STEP (Systematic Training for Effective Parenting) and PET (Parent Effectiveness Training). Part of the success in expanding the program is thought to be attributed to its format - a structured, participatory group program that seeks to empower parents and provide them with the means to make informed decisions with confidence, rather than a lecture-style, behaviour management program. It is designed as a support for parents, to help them help their children to develop their capacity for prosocial, independent living, rather than providing them with formulaic responses. P5 is an active program that also requires a degree of reflection and self-examination from the parent regarding how they currently interact with their children and how that interaction might be improved. Group sessions are held weekly in a supportive environment for parents from a variety of family situations. The program structure offers parents opportunities to share current difficulties and challenges, and allows time for parents to learn and practice new skills and approaches to parenting issues that arise within the group.

The core program comprises six sessions of 2 to 2.5 hours, although the configuration can be adapted to suit the needs of the particular client group. Participants listen to audio examples of everyday household hassles between parents and children, and then the incident is discussed, with input from parents and audio comments from the program author. Sessions cover:

  • why children misbehave;
  • confident parenting (and why it is hard to do);
  • how to recognise emotional forms of misbehaviour;
  • identifying the beliefs parents have about themselves as people and parents, and gentle questioning of these beliefs;
  • natural and logical consequences of behaviour;
  • principles of effective listening, with an emphasis on practice of those skills; and
  • positive ways to improve behaviour - consolidation of the information presented in previous sessions.

The final session is also an opportunity to revise and further practise the techniques discussed. Additional sessions are also available that deal with: timeout; family meetings and making agreements; parenting teenagers; and issues between parents.

The program is delivered via a program kit, which includes facilitator manual, audio CD, overhead transparencies, PowerPoint presentation and the Pleasurable Parenting book. The program is delivered by registered facilitators who have attended training with Kate Birch, using resource material available only through P5 Australia.

The facilitators

Formal qualifications are not required of P5 facilitators. Greater emphasis is placed on the facilitator's ability to manage the group and support participating parents, their confidence in themselves as a facilitator, their comfort in engaging participants in role plays and discussions, and familiarity with the program through the P5 book and kit. Participation in a program is encouraged but not required. In P5, the role of the facilitator is very clearly one of support and guidance. However, while experience in dealing with a range of parenting issues is also helpful, intending facilitators cannot be promoters of a particular theory of child management.

More than 500 P5 facilitators have been trained. The P5 Development Officer reports that the vast majority of those who have trained in P5 and who are also trained in some other parenting program nominate P5 as their preferred program to offer their clientele. Their feedback indicates that the P5 program is perceived as suiting the needs of the community as well as their personal needs in facilitating the program. Facilitator training in P5 is now available across the eastern states.

The evidence

One key indicator that P5 is meeting its objectives is the steady expansion of the program from being employed by a very small number of users to currently more than 50 organisations. Some evaluative data have been collected over the years. Feedback from participants indicates that the program can bring about significant positive change in child behaviour, parent interaction and parental emotional wellbeing. Recently, however, the need for more rigorous quantitative evaluation was acknowledged, in order to both justify the investment of funds into the program and to be able to promote P5 as "evidence-based" practice.

The first formal service-based evaluation of the program was conducted in 2006 jointly by psychologists from Community Child Health and Griffith University (Hastings & Ludlow, 2006). Community Child Health, in the Gold Coast Community Service Health District, Queensland, has been running the P5 Program for the last 9 years. Fifty-two parents of children aged between 1 and 13 years (mean = 6.4 years), who were participating in a P5 program, completed measures of the intensity and frequency of their child's disruptive (oppositional, inattentive and conduct-related) behaviour and provided written responses to three open-ended questions regarding how the program may have changed family interaction, what the parent learned about themselves during the program, and whether they would recommend the program to other parents. Parental reports showed a statistically significant and clinically meaningful reduction in children's disruptive behaviours across the pre- to post-test period, with effects particularly noticeable for those cases where disruptive behaviours were most severe.

Responses to the open-ended questions indicated that almost one-third (32%) of participants were experiencing more positive interactions with their family members, and around one-fifth were implementing strategies suggested in the program (21%) or reported increased confidence in their parenting (18%). Other changes included encouraging self-reliance in their children (13%), improved patience, calm and tolerance (7%), a more harmonious life (5%), and increased teamwork in the family (4%). Parents also reported being more aware of their own unhelpful beliefs (33%), having more insight into their parenting (30%), having greater awareness of their own role in their child's behaviour (30%), and feeling reassured that they were not alone in their parenting struggles (7%). Almost all participants (94%) would recommend the P5 program to other parents.

Taken together, the reported changes in children's problem behaviours and the improvements to the overall family dynamic reflect the program's dual focus on both the parent and the child: parents gain insight into, and have the opportunity to re-evaluate, their own beliefs and behaviours, gain some understanding of their child's behaviour, and develop strategies to address problematic behaviours.

The evaluation is affected by a number of limitations that reflect the difficulties inherent in conducting research in a practice environment. For example, it lacks a control or comparison group and measures only one outcome variable. As a preliminary investigation of the program, however, it provides indications of the potential to change both parental and child behaviour, and further studies that address these initial design weaknesses are being developed.

Final comment

P5 provides an option for service providers seeking an alternative to mainstream behavioural management programs. Its managers have worked towards establishing P5 among a core group of agencies, whose continued sponsorship and promotion of P5 can contribute to its expansion. The rapid growth of P5 in the past three years is all the more impressive as it has occurred without funding or a marketing budget.

Although P5 has always been a community-based non-profit program, the P5 organisation recognises the need for future funding and research to foster its continued growth and development. P5 Australia is currently seeking expressions of interest in forming a committee to guide this process.


  • Birch, K. (1999). Positive parenting (New Ed.). Milsons Point, NSW: Random House.
  • Birch, K. (2006). Pleasurable parenting for Australian families. Laurieton, NSW: P5 Australia.
  • Hastings, S. R., & Ludlow, T. R. (2006). P5 - A participatory program promoting pleasurable parenting: Preliminary evidence for a community-based parenting program. Journal of Family Studies, 12(2), 223-245.

Further information

Beck Miles
P5 Australia Development Officer
PO Box 521
Laurieton NSW 2443
Telephone: (02) 6559 7972

Robyn Parker is a Senior Research Officer with the Australian Family Relationships Clearinghouse.

Attitudes towards divorce *

Ruth Weston and Lixia Qu

It appears that around one-third of all marriages in Australia now end in divorce (Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS], 2001), with the number of divorces fluctuating between 12 and 13 for every 1,000 marriages for around two decades. Most Australians would therefore have had some experience of marriage breakdown, divorce and its aftermath - that is, they may have obtained a divorce themselves, seen their parents divorce, and/or witnessed other family members or friends undergo the process.

While the Family Law Act 1975 made it much easier to obtain a divorce, the divorce rate itself was already increasing in the 1960s and early 1970s. There was strong recognition that many couples were trapped in unhappy marriages, and mounting social pressure on the government to introduce legislation that was not "fault-based" (see Weston, Stanton, Qu, & Soriano, 2001).6

Nevertheless, marriage breakdown is almost always a highly disruptive and stressful experience - an experience that may begin well in advance of separation, at least in the eyes of one spouse. Furthermore, there is ample evidence that children of separated or divorced parents have an increased risk of experiencing a broad range of adjustment problems, including high anxiety, social withdrawal, low self-esteem, delinquency in adolescence, and poor school achievement. As adults, these children are more likely than those who grew up living with both biological parents to divorce and become single parents themselves (see Amato, 2000, 2001; Rodgers & Prior, 1998). Although the risk of negative outcomes is only modest - in the sense that most children of separated or divorced parents do not exhibit such problems - the minority who do represent a large number of children (Rodgers, 1996).

Such trends have sparked a great deal of research into and debates about key reasons behind these trends. Included here are the roles of pre-separation difficulties (e.g., levels of conflict and hostility between spouses), the separation itself, and post-separation upheavals in explaining children's elevated risk of negative developmental outcomes. In addition, adverse circumstances that may independently contribute to both marriage breakdown and children's adjustment difficulties have received considerable attention (e.g., parents' mental health problems, financial pressures).7

The general public is unlikely to be aware of all this research. Rather, their views about marriage and divorce are likely to be shaped by their beliefs about the significance of marriage vows and the impacts on couples and any children of sustaining unhappy marriages or achieving divorce. Also important may be beliefs about the chances of unhappily married couples resolving their difficulties.

What, then, are the attitudes of Australians regarding divorce? How similar or different are the views of men and women and of people of different ages? To what extent do the views of those who have obtained a divorce differ from other marital status groups (never married or in first marriage)? These issues are explored through analysis of data from the 2005 wave of the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey.8

In the HILDA survey, respondents were asked to indicate the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with the following statements: "Marriage is a lifetime relationship and should never be ended" and "It is alright for a couple with an unhappy marriage to get a divorce, even if they have children". The response options ranged from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). Ratings between the two extremes were not given any label. In this article, a rating of 4 (the mid-point) is considered to reflect a neutral ("sitting on the fence") position. This may result from uncertainty or mixed feelings.

This article focuses first on the answers provided by men and women, then on the patterns of answers emerging for men and women in different age groups. Finally, the views of those who have and have not been divorced are compared.

General views about divorce by gender

Table 1 shows the proportions of male and female respondents who reported different levels of agreement or disagreement with each of the two statements.

Table 1: Attitudes towards divorce by gender








Marriage is a lifetime relationship and should never be ended

Strongly agree




Somewhat agree








Somewhat disagree




Strongly disagree








It is alright for a couple with an unhappy marriage to get a divorce even if they have children

Strongly agree




Somewhat agree








Somewhat disagree




Strongly disagree












Notes: Ratings of 2 and 3 are here classified as "somewhat disagree", while ratings of 5 and 6 are classified as "somewhat agree". Neutral refers to a rating of 4 (the mid-point on the 7-point scale). Percentages may not total 100 due to rounding.
Source: HILDA 2005

Men and women most commonly agreed (either strongly or moderately) with the statement "Marriage is a lifetime relationship and should never be ended". Roughly half the men (51%) and a slightly higher proportion of women (56%) agreed with the statement, while close to 30% disagreed, with a marginally lower proportion of men than women expressing disagreement (27% vs 33%). The remaining 16-17% selected the mid-point of the scale, indicating neutrality. Strong endorsement of this statement was provided by 19-23%, while strong rejection was indicated by only 11-14%.

There was even greater consensus, however, about the acceptability of divorce when a marriage is unhappy, with a slightly higher proportion of women than men endorsing divorce: 63% of men and 70% women agreed with the statement, "It is alright for a couple with an unhappy marriage to get a divorce, even if they have children". Only 16% of women and 20% of men disagreed with this statement, while 14−17% selected the mid-point rating. Strong endorsement of this statement was indicated by more women than men (31% vs 22%).

Combination of responses to the two statements

The above trends may seem contradictory. To throw further light on general views, the proportion of respondents who provided various combinations of ratings for the two statements were derived, after ratings of 5-7 (reflecting different levels of agreement) were combined and ratings of 1-3 (reflecting different levels of disagreement) were also combined. This yielded nine combinations, as outlined in Table 2.

Table 2: Combination of ratings for the two statements reflecting views on divorce

Statement 1.

Marriage is a lifetime relationship and should never be ended

Statement 2.

It is alright for a couple with an unhappy marriage to get a divorce,
even if they have children


Agree (ratings 5-7)

Neutral (rating 4)

Disagree (ratings 1-3)





Agree (ratings 5-7)




Neutral (rating 4)




Disagree (ratings 1-3)




It is interesting to note that nearly 30% of all respondents endorsed both statements (i.e., they provided ratings of 5-7 for each statement). Why would such a substantial proportion agree with these two statements when, on face value, such paired responses suggest contradictory views: that marriage is a lifetime relationship and should never be ended, and that divorce is acceptable for unhappily married couples? It seems more likely that many, if not all, of these respondents interpreted the statements in such a way that agreement with both would not be contradictory.9 Possibly, most respondents who agreed with both statements held at the outset the ideal of marriage being a lifetime commitment and believed that partners should only marry if they fully intend the relationship to last "until death do us part". At the same time, they may also believe that the wellbeing of family members represents the paramount consideration as the course of the marriage unfolds: the ideal of marriage as a lifetime commitment may need to be set aside where continuing the marriage would seriously jeopardise the wellbeing of family members. Their responses, then, may reflect a qualified acceptance of divorce, rather than contradiction of views.10

Much the same proportion (27%) rejected the concept that marriage is a lifetime relationship and accepted the idea of couples divorcing if unhappily married. This group, then, consistently accepted divorce. It also seems that another 14% were inclined to accept divorce, in that they either disagreed with the first statement (regarding marriage being for life) and provided the mid-point rating for the second statement (regarding couples divorcing) or agreed with the second statement and provided the mid-point rating for the first statement. It seems reasonable to suggest that 41% seemed to express clear, rather than qualified, acceptance of divorce.

Only 12% consistently rejected divorce in the sense that they agreed that marriage is for life and disagreed that it is alright for an unhappily married couple to divorce, but another 12% were inclined to reject divorce in that they provided the mid-point rating for one statement and indicated rejection of divorce via the other statement. Overall then, it seems reasonable to assume that 24% rejected divorce. Given that they did not provide contradictory views, we classify this group as indicating clear rejection of divorce.

These classifications are approximations only. Of respondents who held the ideal that marriage is for life while also believing that there needs to be an "escape route" from marriages that have become irretrievably damaging for family members, some may have accepted the first statement (about marriage being a lifetime relationship) to emphasise their attachment to this ideal, while others may have rejected it because they interpreted it as being too inflexible.

Only 4% indicated a neutral stance regarding both statements (i.e., they provided the mid-point rating), while another 3% rejected both statements. Again, the latter pattern of answers may not necessarily be contradictory: these respondents may have considered divorce to be acceptable for unhappily married couples who do not have dependent children, but not for those with dependent children. In this case, they would reject the notion that marriage is (necessarily) a lifetime relationship as well as the argument that divorce is acceptable even among unhappily married parents.

It is also important to note that this classification system is used to compare groups (men and women in general, and men and women in different age and marital status groups). Hopefully the extent and direction of errors in classification would not differ markedly across these groups.

Comparison of the views of men and women

Figure 1 shows the proportions of men and women who indicated clear acceptance of divorce, qualified acceptance, clear rejection, and the small groups who provided a neutral stance or who rejected the notion that marriage is for life as well as the acceptability of divorce.

Figure 1: Attitudes to divorce by gender

Figure 1: Attitudes to divorce by gender

Source: HILDA 2005

The most common response pattern provided by both men and women suggests clear acceptance of divorce, as defined above. Women, however, were more likely than men to indicate this level of acceptance (44% vs 37%). The same proportion of men and women (29%) provided "qualified" acceptance of divorce. However, men were more likely than women to clearly reject divorce (27% vs 20%). Only 3-4% of men and women rejected both statements and only 3% provided the neutral response to both statements.

In total then, it appears reasonable to suggest that two-thirds of men and nearly three-quarters of women tended to accept divorce (including divorce between parents) as an option for people in unhappy marriages, although nearly 30% did so while also expressing endorsement of the ideal of marriage as a lifetime relationship - an ideal that, in their apparent view, cannot always be achieved.

It is possible that this gender difference applies more to some subgroups than others. The following section focuses on patterns of answers provided by men and women in different age groups.

Comparison of the views of men and women in different age groups

Figures 2 and 3 present the response patterns provided by men and women in seven age groups. For simplicity, attention is directed to the most common reponses: clear and qualified acceptance of divorce and clear rejection of divorce. Across all age groups, only 2-5% indicated a consistently neutral stance and only 2-4% rejected both statements.

Four clear patterns emerge from Figures 2 and 3. For clarity, these are set out in a series of points below:

  • Firstly, compared with their male counterparts, a higher proportion of women in all age groups clearly accepted divorce and a lower proportion clearly rejected it.
  • Secondly, compared with their counterparts of the same gender, those in their fifties were the most likely to indicate clear acceptance of divorce, followed by those in their forties, then those in their thirties.
  • Thirdly, of all male and female groups, rejection of divorce was highest among men in their teens and twenties, and among men and women aged 70 or more years (30-35%).
  • Fourthly, the views of teenage boys differed considerably from those of teenage girls: the teenage boys most commonly expressed clear rejection of divorce while the girls most commonly expressed clear acceptance of it.

Men and women aged 30-59 years: Comparison of views according to marital status experiences

As noted above, men and women in their thirties, forties and fifties were more likely than their older and younger counterparts of the same gender to accept divorce. Table 3 shows that those who were in their forties or older were more likely to have divorced than never married. This is particularly the case for men in their fifties and for women in their forties and fifties. However, Table 3 does not take into account cohabitation and separation from cohabiting relationships. It appears that the experience of either divorce or separation from a cohabiting relationship is more prevalent among men and women in their thirties, forties and fifties than younger and older aged groups.11

Figure 2: Attitudes towards divorce of men in different age groups

Figure 2: Attitudes towards divorce of men in different age groups

Source: HILDA 2005

Figure 3: Attitudes toward divorce of women in different age groups

Figure 3: Attitudes toward divorce of women in different age groups

Source: HILDA 2005

Figure 4: Attitudes towards divorce by marriage history and gender, persons aged 30-59 years

Figure 4: Attitudes towards divorce by marriage history and gender, persons aged 30-59 years

Notes: "Continuously married" refers to those who were in their first marriage and were not separated at the time of the survey. "Ever divorced" includes those who were in their first marriage but separated from their spouse. "Ever divorced" respondents were single, remarried or cohabiting.
Source: HILDA 2005

Table 3: Marriage history by age and gender











Never married







Married never divorced







Ever divorced







Ever widowed (& never divorced)























Never married







Married never divorced







Ever divorced







Ever widowed (& never divorced)





















Notes: The data refer to respondents who provided ratings concerning the two statements tapping attitudes to divorce. "Ever divorced" includes those who had obtained a divorce and were single, remarried or in a de facto relationship at the time of the survey. Only less than 3% of men and women (separately) were in their first marriage but currently separated from their spouse. Percentages may not total 100 due to rounding.
Source: HILDA 2005

Figure 4 depicts the pattern of the most common responses to the two attitudinal statements of the other groups of men and women aged 30-59 years.

The following trends are apparent in Figure 4:

  • For both men and women, those who were continuously married were the least accepting of divorce, while the patterns of responses of the other two groups (the divorced and never married) were similar. Specifically:
  • compared with the other marital status groups, continuously married men and women were more likely to reject divorce clearly or to express qualified acceptance of divorce, and less likely to accept divorce clearly.
  • While continuously married men were fairly evenly divided in their views, all other groups were most likely to indicate clear acceptance of divorce, followed by qualified acceptance.
  • This was particularly the case for women who had experienced divorce, followed by women who had never married.
  • Compared with their male counterparts, women in all groups were more likely to accept divorce clearly, with the greatest gender difference emerging among those who had experienced divorce.

Summary and conclusions

While more than half the respondents believed that marriage is a lifetime commitment and should never be ended, most respondents considered it acceptable for couples (including those with children) to divorce if their marriage is "unhappy". Women were more likely than men to indicate clear acceptance of divorce and, compared with their younger and older counterparts of the same gender, those in their thirties, forties and fifties were the most likely to express clear acceptance of divorce. The greater tendency for the "middle-aged" groups to accept divorce is consistent with age-related patterns of relationship satisfaction: men and women in their late thirties and early forties were the least likely to express high satisfaction with their relationship with their current partner (Qu & Weston, 2008). Among these three age groups, divorced women were the most likely to indicate clear acceptance of divorce, followed by never-married women.

The proportion of respondents expressing clear rejection of divorce was highest among three male groups (teenagers, those in their twenties and those aged 70 years or more) and among women aged 70 years or more. Interestingly, teenage boys most commonly rejected divorce (rather than express clear or qualified acceptance of it), while teenage girls most commonly expressed clear acceptance of divorce.

The views of the oldest group may be linked with the fact that they grew up in an era when the grounds for divorce were entirely fault-based (pre-1961), or fault-based grounds or five years of separation (when the Matrimonial Causes Act 1959 came into operation in 1961). Those who were 70 years old would have been nearly 30 years old when the Family Law Act 1975 came into force (in 1976). The Act allowed a divorce based on only one ground - "irretrievable breakdown" - as measured by at least 12 months of separation. The views of some of these older respondents may have also been influenced by their witnessing the impact of divorce on their children and grandchildren, and comparing their perceptions of these lifestyles with recollections of their own when they had been of the same age.

Although applying to a minority, clear rejection of divorce was more common among men and women aged 30-59 years who were continuously married than among the never-married and those who had experienced divorce. The continuously married group who rejected divorce may have included those who had not experienced the level of difficulties that led others to seek divorce and those whose commitment to marriage remained strong despite having experienced considerable marital difficulties. The former of these two groups may become more accepting of divorce should they encounter marital difficulties, while the latter may remain highly resistant to the idea of divorce as an option for resolving marital difficulties.

It is interesting to note that, among those aged 30-59 years, the never-married respondents held similar views to those of respondents who had experienced divorce. That is, they were more likely than the continuously married to express clear acceptance of divorce. Perhaps a considerable proportion of respondents of this age (especially those in their forties and fifties) who had never married attached little value to this institution and therefore were inclined to accept divorce. The fact that divorced and never-married women were the most likely to express clear acceptance of divorce is consistent with the greater tendency of women to initiate separation.

It is important to note that the existence of a causal relationship cannot be determined on the basis of cross-sectional analyses such as this one. As the HILDA waves accumulate, it will be possible to assess the level of change in attitudes that occur as people grow older, and as some couples marry and eventually divorce. If there is a causal connection, then longitudinal analysis will help us identify the direction of such causality. For instance, people who are predisposed to view divorce as a solution to marital problems may be more "ready" to divorce when they perceive problems in their marriage. On the other hand, the experience of marital difficulties may lead some people to become more accepting of divorce - and the subsequent experience of divorce may lead people to re-evaluate their views further towards greater or lesser acceptance. Indeed, for many couples, the direction of causality may be reciprocal.

In summary, there seemed to be considerable tension between accepting divorce and adhering to the ideal of marriage as a lifetime institution. This is not surprising in an era in which most people want to marry; there is a strong emphasis on having a close and rewarding emotional bond with one's partner; and alternative options are available for a fulfilling life should this emotional bond deteriorate (see Wolcott & Hughes, 1999, for a discussion of this literature).


  • Amato, P. (2000). The consequences of divorce for adults and children. Journal of Marriage and Families, 62, 1269-1287.
  • Amato, P. (2001). Children of divorce in the 1990s: An update of the Amato and Keith (1991) meta-analysis. Journal of Family Psychology, 15(3), 355-370.
  • Amato, P. ( 2005). The impact of family formation change on the cognitive, social, and emotional well-being of the next generation. Future of Children, 15(2), 75-96.
  • Amato, P., & Cheadle, J. (2008). Parental divorce, marital conflict and children's behaviour problems: A comparison of adopted and biological children. Social Forces, 86(3), 1139-1161.
  • Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2001). Marriages and divorces Australia 2000 (Cat. No. 3310.0). Canberra: Author.
  • Rodgers, B. (1996). Social and psychological wellbeing of children from divorced families: Australian research findings. Australian Psychologist, 31(3), 174-182.
  • Rodgers, B. & Prior, J. (1998). Divorce and separation: The outcomes for children. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
  • Qu, L., & Weston, R. (2008). Snapshots of family relationships. Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.
  • Weston, R., Stanton, D., Qu, L., & Soriano, G. (2001). Australian families in transition: Sociodemographic trends 1901-2001. Family Matters, 61, 12-23.
  • Wolcott, I., & Hughes, J. (1999). Towards understanding the reasons for divorce (Working Paper No. 20). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Ruth Weston is General Manager (Research) and Principal Research Fellow at the Australian Institute of Family Studies. Lixia Qu is a Research Fellow and Demographic Trends Analyst at the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

*Note: This paper uses unit record data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey. The HILDA Project was initiated and is funded by the Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) and is managed by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research (MIAESR). The findings and views reported in this paper, however, are those of the author and should not be attributed to either FaHCSIA or the MIAESR.

Service Provision Project update

Kelly Hand

As many of you are aware, the Australian Institute of Family Studies is undertaking an evaluation of the changes to the family law system introduced by the Australian Government in July 2006. The evaluation comprises 3 main research components: the Service Provision Project, the Families Project, and the Legislation and Courts Project.

The Service Provision Project focuses on the family relationship service aspects of the reforms, and includes an examination of the effectiveness and appropriateness of the new and expanded services.

The Service Provision Project involves a multidimensional program of research that seeks the views of both service providers and clients. This research includes qualitative interviews and web-based surveys of service providers from across the sector, and a survey of clients.

To date, in-depth interviews and focus group discussions have been undertaken with over 60 staff from Family Relationship Centres, the Family Relationship Advice Line and a selection of early intervention and post-separation services from across Australia. In addition, responses from over 500 staff were received during the first wave of our web-based survey. These data are providing valuable insights into service providers' experiences of the family law reforms and their perceptions of how the reforms are impacting their clients.

We are now starting the next phase of the research and in the coming months will be seeking out the views of service providers through the second waves of both the qualitative research and web survey. In addition, a survey of service clients is planned for March/April 2009.

We greatly appreciate the ongoing support and cooperation from the many service providers who have contributed to our research. Your participation and feedback about the study have been invaluable.

If you would like to find out more about the Service Provision Project or any other aspects of the evaluation, you may like to visit the Family Law Evaluation web page. The web page provides an overview of the evaluation and each of the individual projects and will provide information and updates to participants during fieldwork periods. Links are also provided to information about the Family Law Reforms.

The evaluation web page can be accessed at:

If you'd like to provide any feedback on the Service Provision Project or have any further comments or queries about the evaluation, you are welcome to call Kelly Hand (Manager, Service Provision Project) on 1800 352 275 or contact the Family Law Evaluation

Kelly Hand is a Research Fellow at the Australian Institute of Family Studies, and Manager of the Service Provision Project.

Conference Report

Family Relationship Services Australia Inaugural National Conference

Cairns, 5-7 November 2008

Elly Robinson

The inaugural Family Relationship Services Australia (FRSA) conference, hosted in Cairns, was a welcome opportunity to bring together the family relationship sector to network, share knowledge and discuss challenges. Around 250 delegates attended the conference amid the heat and humidity of the impressive northern Queensland setting.

Pre-conference workshops were held on a range of topics, including leadership, post-separation issues, and working with men and different cultural groups. These segued into an almost even combination of keynote speakers and concurrent sessions on the three main conference days. Pre- and post-session entertainment was ample, with laughter yoga in the mornings and conference and networking dinners in the evening. The conference organisers managed to capitalise successfully on the attractions of the setting to provide a conference that was both respectful and inclusive of the cultural atmosphere that Cairns offered.

Appearances by The Hon. Robert McClelland MP, Attorney-General; The Hon. Joe Ludwig, Minister for Human Services; and Senator The Hon. Ursula Stephens, Parliamentary Secretary for Social Inclusion and the Voluntary Sector; as well as representation from both the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) and the Attorney-General's Department (AGD), ensured that the willing involvement of federal government departments was apparent. Barry Sandison, Group Manager, Families Group, FaHCSIA, outlined the highlights for the Family Relationship Services Program (FRSP) in 2008, including the final roll out of Family Relationship Centres and the establishment and first year of operation of FRSA. Mr Sandison also flagged social inclusion as a major priority, as well as policy challenges such as building an evidence base to support programs and broader family policy, and improving links between federal and state/territory governments and their respective programs.

Other national and international keynote speakers and panels provided comment on many issues familiar to the sector. Professor Clive Hamilton, from the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, gave an entertaining keynote speech on rethinking sexual freedom, which took a historical view of the relationship between sexual expression and freedom, and individualism/materialism and emotions/relationships. Deputy Chief Justice Faulks, Professor Helen Rhoades and Ian Kennedy AM12 participated in a panel on the vision and action steps for achieving a paradigm shift in the way we respond to family separation involving dispute and conflict. The message generated from the panel was that there was a paradigm shift already occurring, and cross-professional dialogue, professional development and work practices between lawyers and family service professionals were critical to the continuation along the path ahead.

Professor Michael Little, from the Dartington Social Research Unit (UK) and Chapin Hall Center for Children, University of Chicago, delivered Thursday morning's keynote on using evidence to build effective policies and interventions to strengthen families. Professor Little used data gathered in Ireland on children's behaviour and family conflict strategies to question the focus on families and children "at risk" when there is little overall evidence of the success of the current service models for these groups. He called for a focus on better outcomes for all children, genuine community engagement, a shared worldwide database of effective practice, and a common language between services and programs. Professor Little also sees changing children's behaviour as achievable by changing the behaviour of the people who work with them, and he outlined a number of key examples. One of the more innovative and entertaining examples he gave was of a project in the UK where school dinner ladies asked every third child they interacted with, "What did you read last night?" The answer was unimportant - the question continued to be asked until eventually the children told their parents about the unusual behaviour of the dinner ladies, and as a consequence, the parents felt compelled to read to them.

The concurrent sessions throughout the conference were a strong mix of research and practice, with many FRSP programs reporting directly on service models and practices within their respective programs. There was a considerable research component to the sessions as well, with summaries of many of the major research projects operating within the sector.

Key messages arising from the conference included the need to actively address the crucial nature of partnerships between organisations themselves, and between organisations and governments, particularly in a competitive environment. The need for a common language across the sector was raised many times, as was the importance of adopting an evidence-based approach to practices and policy and the challenges associated with workforce recruitment and retention.

Overall, the conference imbued a sense of many challenges ahead for the sector, which reflect the complexity of the issues faced by Australian families in the current social and economic climate. Many potential solutions were offered, and Dr Chris Jones, CEO of Anglicare Tasmania, nicely summarised a number of these on the last day of the conference, including:

  • Participate - take control of and influence the agenda wherever possible. Dr Jones talked of the many opportunities that the Rudd Government is currently offering to engage in reviews around public policy. Additionally, there are opportunities to take up representative roles in forums and consultations, supporting peak bodies and being involved at a local level (e.g., letters to the editor).
  • Collaborate - notwithstanding the challenges of collaboration, particularly in a competitive environment, there is an imperative to be involved in inclusive activity and collective wisdom.
  • Improve - move away from the risk-averse environment currently operating by allowing staff to try new ideas and innovations as well as improving practices such as human resources and financial reporting within organisations.

The role of the Australian Family Relationships Centre (AFRC) was evident in helping the sector to access good quality, evidence-based materials to inform practice and policy. In addition to FRSA, the AFRC is enthusiastic about its role in informing the sector, and encourages practitioners and service providers to consider the ways in which the AFRC can assist them in addressing the challenges and solutions that lie ahead, and communicate these possibilities to us.

Elly Robinson is the Manager of the Australian Family Relationships Clearinghouse.

Literature highlights


Compiled by Joan Kelleher, Librarian

Adolescent gambling in the ACT. (2005). Delfabbro, P., Lahn, J., & Grabosky, P. Canberra: Gambling and Racing Commission, and online

Key findings are presented of a 2003-04 study into adolescent gambling in the Australian Capital Territory. The study aimed to assess the prevalence of adolescent gambling and problem gambling in the ACT, and to identify the risk factors for adolescent problem gambling; the psychological and social correlates of gambling and other high risk-behaviours; gambling beliefs and cognitions; the role of advertising in adolescent gambling; and young people's help-seeking behaviour in relation to problem gambling. The study is based on a survey of years 7 to 12 students from government, Catholic, and independent schools.

Australasian gambling review. (2007). Delfabbro, P. H. (2nd Ed.) Adelaide: Independent Gambling Authority, and online

The first Australasian Gambling Review was commissioned in 2003 by the Independent Gambling Authority of South Australia to provide a summary of the Australian and New Zealand gambling literature since 1992. Although gambling research predates 1992, the early 1990s period was chosen as the starting point because that is when gambling revenue began to grow very rapidly in Australia. The report summarised studies of the prevalence of gambling and problem gambling in Australia, and the methodologies and measurement tools that were used. It also contained an analysis of the social and economic harms and benefits of gambling, discussions of the causes of problem gambling, and evaluations of research into assistance for problem gamblers. This report updates the first edition to 2006 and notes the recent trends in gambling research since 2003, in particular, the relatively slow growth in academic research into gambling and its effects.

Australian apprentices and gambling. (2005). Dowling, N., Clarke, D., Memery, L., & Corney, T. Youth Studies Australia, 24(3), 17-23.

Recent evidence suggests that young people are at an increased risk for developing problem gambling compared to adults. However, relatively little is known about the gambling behaviour and gambling related problems of young workers. This survey of Australian apprentices revealed high rates of gambling and gambling-related problems, particularly in relation to gambling on games of skill, racing and casino table games, and low rates of help-seeking for gambling-related problems. The findings imply that there is a need for effective health promotion and intervention targeted at this group of young workers. (Journal abstract)

From pokies to problems: Gambling and the impact on community services in eastern Melbourne. Final report. (2005). Graffam, J., & Southgate, R. Burwood, Vic.: Centre for Health Through Action on Social Exclusion, Deakin University. Online only.

The four stages of this study into the impact of gambling on community services were: a literature review, a survey of people with gambling-related problems, a survey of community services staff, and a focus group with the staff of the Gamblers Help Eastern service. The study found that the current system of service provision does not allow the impact of gambling-related problems to be fully calculated, and that stigma and shame prevent people from disclosing gambling-related problems. The true cost of gambling is therefore difficult to quantify. The study proposes an integrated model of service delivery involving the sharing of information and training among Gamblers Help services and community services.

The peril of pokies: Problem gambling among older women. (2005). Kimberley, H. Parity, 18(2), 24-25.

Results of a study into older women and gambling problems are presented in this article. The article describes the stages in a problem gambling continuum for older women: troubled lives, novice stage, solo stage, regular stage, secretive stage, enchanted stage, turbulent stage, cognisant stage and alleviated stage.

Prevalence of gambling and problem gambling in NSW: A community survey 2006. (2007). Nielsen, A. C. Sydney: Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing. Online only.

In 2006, AC Nielsen conducted a survey to assess the prevalence of gambling and problem gambling in New South Wales. It was found that 69% of the NSW adult population had gambled at least once during the 12 months prior to the survey being conducted. Using the Canadian Problem Gambling Index (CPGI), the survey has found that 0.8% of the NSW adult population falls in the problem gambling group. A further 1.6% are considered moderate risk gamblers and 2.1% low risk gamblers, equating to less than 5% of the population with some level of gambling risk.

Problem gambling in non-English speaking background communities in Queensland, Australia: A qualitative exploration. (2005). Scull, S., & Woolcock, G. International Gambling Studies, 5(1), 29-44.

This article presents findings from a qualitative study concerning problem gambling by people of non-English speaking background communities in Queensland. The study involved interviews with 65 community leaders, welfare workers, and problem gamblers of Chinese, Greek or Vietnamese background, and focused on community perceptions of gambling, gambler motivations, the impact of gambling, help-seeking behaviour, and cultural barriers to seeking or obtaining help. The article also discusses how these service barriers could be addressed, and briefly considers how vulnerable people might be diverted from gambling.

Psychosocial correlates of problem gambling in Australian students. (2006). Delfabbro, P., Lahn, J., & Grabosky, P. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 40(6), 587-595.

This study examined the relationship between problem gambling and psychological and social adjustment in Australian adolescents. A sample of 926 adolescents in the Australian Capital Territory were administered a standardised series of measures relating to gambling and psychosocial adjustment. Young people were asked to indicate how often they gambled, to report any difficulties that they might have been experiencing with gambling, and to complete a variety of measures of psychosocial health. The results suggest that problem gambling appears to be a significant risk factor for poorer mental health among Australian adolescents. The adolescents classified as problem gamblers were found to have poorer scores on all psychosocial measures. Although many in this group reported being part of a socially active peer group, they also reported being more alienated and unpopular among their classmates. (Journal abstract, edited)

Safe as houses? An exploration of the link between gambling and homelessness. (2005). Rogers, N., Button, E., & Hume, A. Adelaide: Department for Families and Communities. Online only.

This study was undertaken to explore the link between homelessness and gambling, specifically the extent to which gambling is a causal factor in homelessness, and gambling patterns amongst homeless people. Data collection included a survey of all SAAP services, a survey of all Break Even (problem gambling) services, and consultations with workers from both service sectors. The report concludes that clear links between gambling, housing stress and homelessness were identified, but there is a complex interplay of problems. Gambling-related homelessness usually develops over time as problems build up and negative impacts of the gambling increase. For homeless people, problem gambling intervention is not straightforward. Most have complex and multiple needs and issues are very entrenched. Strategies for the future are suggested.

Suicide and gambling. (2005). Zangeneh, M. Australian e-Journal for the Advancement of Mental Health, 4(1), 3. Online only.

Studies are cited in this guest editorial that illustrate that problem gamblers have high rates of both suicidal ideation and suicide attempt. The author suggests that, regardless of the underlying cause, problem gamblers appear to be a high risk population and may benefit from an assessment of suicide ideation at entrance to treatment.

Suicide and problem gambling: A community partnership strategy for problem gamblers. (2007). Chow-Fairhall, J., & Watkins, D. In P. Hanlon (Ed.), Reach out, connect: Contemporary TheMHS in mental health service: Book of proceedings, 16th Annual TheMHS Conference, Townsville, Queensland (pp. 132-139). Balmain, NSW: Mental Health Services Conference Inc. of Australia and New Zealand.

Problem gambling is essentially a hidden problem. Nonetheless, screening for problem gambling is not a standard part of the clinical risk assessment protocol for people with mental health problems, meaning an important aspect of people's overall wellbeing can be missed. This paper looks at some of the reasons behind the current spotlight on gambling in Victoria and identifies negative aspects of problem gambling that impact on mental health. It also briefly describes an observational study design on problem gambling and mental health undertaken at the Alfred Hospital and includes a summary of a brief clinical intervention provided to people with gambling problems seen during the course of the study. (Author abstract, edited)

The yoke of care: How parents and parents-in-law experience, understand and respond to adult children's gambling problems. (2007). Patford, J. Australian Journal of Primary Health, 13(3), 59-68.

Clinical commentaries and research studies have described the effects of problem gambling on families, but they have usually focused on immediate rather than extended family members. To offset this bias, the present study aimed to develop a deeper understanding of the various ways in which parents and parents-in-law experience and understand adult children's gambling problems. Thirteen parents and two parents-in-law volunteered to participate in the study. Their experiences and perspectives were explored through in-depth interviews, emails and telephone discussions. Findings from the study indicate that the repercussions of an adult child's gambling may damage parents and parents-in-law financially, complicate their family relationships and erode their health and wellbeing. Implications for formal service provision are discussed. (Journal abstract)


1 Carer Payment is an income support payment available to people who, because of the demands of their caring role, are unable to support themselves through substantial workforce participation. Like other income support payments, Carer Payment is targeted at those most in need. It is subject to income and assets tests and is paid at the same rate as other social security pensions. At 20 March 2008, the maximum single rate of Carer Payment was $546.80 and the maximum partnered rate was $456.80 per fortnight. Income testing arrangements mean that carers who participate in the workforce may have their Carer Payment reduced when their income level reaches a prescribed level, and the payment can stop altogether if the carer earns more than the upper level of the income test. Carer Allowance is a supplementary payment available to people who provide daily care and attention in a private home to a person who has a disability, severe medical condition or who is frail aged. Carer Allowance is not taxable or subject to an income and assets test. It can be paid in addition to Carer Payment or other social security income support payment. At 20 March 2008, the rate of payment was $100.60 per fortnight.

2 This report is available online at

3 In the FCPDS, close to half of the people with a disability had some form of physical disability (47.4%), and 14.5% were in the multiple disability category. Sixteen per cent of people with a disability had an intellectual/learning disability, while 11.2% had a psychiatric disability. Only 4.9% of people with a disability had a sensory or speech impairment, and 2.8% had acquired brain injury.

4 In the FCPDS, 26% of carers had been caring for 13 years or more, and 6% for 20 years or more. Carers’ experiences of a depressive episode were asked about retrospectively over the entire period of care.

5 Some data was difficult to obtain due to the nature of the calls. Table totals therefore may vary due to missing data.

6 The Family Law Act 1975 allowed divorce based on only one ground - "irretrievable breakdown" - as measured by at least 12 months of separation, thereby removing the need to prove "fault" or to wait for five years of separation (both requirements of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1959, which came into operation in 1961). Unhappily married people were more likely to claim desertion or adultery than wait until five years had elapsed.

7 It is beyond the scope of this article to examine these issues (for reviews, see Amato, 2000, 2001, 2005; Amato & Cheadle, 2008; Rodgers & Prior, 1998).

8 HILDA is funded by the Australian Government through the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA). It is managed by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research at the University of Melbourne.

9 The two statements were embedded in a list of statements tapping attitudes to various matters. We therefore checked for the possibility that agreement with both statements, disagreement with both statements, and use of mid-point against both statements reflected a tendency to respond in the same way across all statements in the total set, regardless of their content. Such tendencies were unusual and had a negligible impact on the overall pattern of results.

10 Of course, there may be others who held precisely the same views and disagreed (rather than agreed) with the statement that marriage is a lifetime relationship because of their concerns about the wellbeing of family members should the marital relationship become irretrievably unhappy. That is, our classification regarding the proportion of respondents expressing "qualified acceptance" should be considered a rough approximation based on ratings provided for two statements only.

11 This analysis is based on HILDA Wave 1. The proportions of men who had experienced two or more partners (whether married or cohabiting) were: 29-32% of those in their thirties, forties and fifties, and 11-22% of younger and older groups. For women, the respective percentages were 27-29% and 13-21%.

12 Deputy Chief Justice Faulks is from the Family Court of Australia, Professor Helen Rhoades is from the Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne, and Ian Kennedy AM is Chair of the Family Law Section, Law Council of Australia.

Publication details

AFRC Newsletter
No. 11
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, March 2009.
29 pp.

Publication meta

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