Family Relationships Quarterly No. 13

Family Relationships Quarterly No. 13

AFRC Newsletter No. 13 — September 2009


In this issue

Welcome to this edition of Family Relationships Quarterly, the newsletter of the Australian Family Relationships Clearinghouse.

We have a record number of articles in this edition of the newsletter, with something of interest to everyone. Two main articles examine aspects of post-separation services and service provision. Dr Susan Armstrong summarises literature related to the provision of culturally responsive family dispute resolution, and Dr Alan Campbell considers children's understandings of post-separation decision-making about them. Our other main article summarises literature relating to telephone counselling and therapy in family services.

There is no doubt that worsening economic conditions are having a considerable impact on many Australian families. A report by Access Economics, released in late 2008, forecasts the impact of the global financial crisis on the already stretched social service sector. The report summarises difficulties faced by families and the increase in demand for many different types of services, including housing, employment, emergency relief and counselling. Our article summarises the main points of this report.

Robyn Parker presents two program spotlights from the Gateway Community Health Service in Wodonga, Victoria. Getting Tough, Getting Together is a unique model of dealing with antisocial behaviour in schools, which combines restorative justice principles with family and community group conferencing. The Positive Parenting Telephone Service provides clients from rural and regional towns in the Hume region with access to parenting education.

In this edition's article on trends and statistics, Jennifer Baxter explores the sources of time pressure and finds that it can occur at various stages of life, with particular pressures being more prominent among some groups. Literature highlights include helping families after natural disasters and the effects of financial stress on families.

We hope that you enjoy this edition of Family Relationships Quarterly. Feedback is always welcome, please contact AFRC.

Elly Robinson
Manager, AFRC

Culturally responsive family dispute resolution in family relationship centres

Dr Susan Armstrong

Family relationship centres (FRCs) are required to liaise and work with local communities to provide services relevant to those communities. Among other things, FRC staff and processes must take account of and be sensitive to the cultural backgrounds of clients. This has led many FRCs to begin to develop innovative approaches to assist and provide family dispute resolution to Indigenous and culturally and linguistically diverse communities. The University of Western Sydney is a consortium partner with CatholicCare and Anglicare, which manage family relationship centres in Bankstown and Parramatta respectively. These agencies have initiated research, still in progress, to develop culturally responsive family dispute resolution (FDR).1 This paper will synthesise some of the issues identified in the literature to provide a framework for thinking about how FRCs, and other service providers in this sector, might provide culturally responsive FDR.

"Cultural responsiveness" in the context of service provision is the active process of seeking to accommodate the service to the client's cultural context, values and needs. The rationale for this is not only to ensure appropriate and effective service provision, but also to give practical effect to the goals of substantive equality and justice (Australian Law Reform Commission, 1992). As Ayelet Shacher has observed, this is a demanding task requiring the reconciliation of "potentially conflicting goals of respecting difference, protecting rights, facilitating equality, and nurturing our shared citizenship" (Shacher, 2001, p. 297).

There is significant potential to respond to a family's cultural context in family dispute resolution. This potential is grounded both in FRC operational requirements to engage with and respond appropriately to diverse clients, and in the very nature of processes such as FDR, which can be tailored to suit each family. The flexibility is facilitated in part by the statutory emphasis on the best interests of the child, and the principle that children have a right to enjoy their culture (including the right to enjoy that culture with other people who share that culture) (Family Law Act 1975 (Cth), s.60C(2)(e)). However there are also limits to this potential, including:

  • the readiness of families from culturally diverse backgrounds to engage with FRCs;
  • the increased prescriptiveness of the Act about the FDR process and the framework for reaching parenting agreements;
  • the challenges of developing cultural competence among a large number of family dispute resolution practitioners (FDRPs) with various levels of expertise who may be practising differing models of FDR; and
  • the operational context of FRCs where there are, in some centres, significant resource limitations and high demand for the free 3 hours of FDR.

There are a number of ways FRCs may provide culturally responsive services and family dispute resolution and many FRCs are exploring how best to respond to their particular communities. Different approaches to cultural responsiveness are considered below.

Culturally immersed practitioners

Many FRCs have sought to employ multi-lingual and ethnically diverse practitioners and staff. This practice enhances the possibility that FRC clients will be assisted by professionals who share or who are immersed in a common cultural context. Some FRCs have partnered with agencies such as migrant resource centres and, among other strategies, are training centre workers to be bilingual and bicultural mediators (Flahavin, 2008). In one evaluation of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family program, the availability of culturally immersed mediators received mixed responses. While nearly half the respondents indicated that having an Indigenous mediator made a difference, with one respondent stating that "it was so much easier to talk - we didn't have to lay out or the explain the unwritten Kooris laws" (Cuneen, Luff, Menzies, & Ralph, 2005), the other half said it made no difference. The evaluation of the program concluded that "it might be more important that the service is Indigenous rather than that the mediators be Aboriginal themselves" (Cuneen et al., 2005). An Indigenous mediation service can be identified by policies and processes adapted to the specific circumstances of Indigenous people, and by the field officers who are responsible for encouraging Aboriginal people to use the mediation program (Cuneen et al., 2005).

Culturally competent services, practitioners and processes

Culturally competent services

Sawrikar and Katz (2008) suggested that "culturally competent service providers are those who are aware of differences without making people feel different" (p. 14). They argued that cultural competence requires that service providers develop several capabilities:

  • staff should be aware of cultural norms, values, beliefs and practices within a cultural group;
  • they need to be able to respond sensitively to clients with an understanding of how cultural diversity expresses itself among individuals within a cultural group; and
  • staff should also be conscious of their own cultural norms and that of their professional practice (Sawrikar & Katz, 2008).

The little data we have on the engagement of culturally diverse families with the family law system suggests they are proportionally over-represented in litigated disputes concerning children, but under-represented as clients of family mediation (Hunter, 1999; Love, Moloney, & Fisher, 1995; Moloney, Fisher, Love, & Ferguson, 1996). This is confirmed by demographic data. While nationally 16 per cent of people speak a language other than English at home, only 8 per cent of FRC clients were born in countries where the lowest proportion of people speak English well2 (FaHCSIA, 2009; Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS], 2007). So where they have a choice, it appears that disputing parents from culturally diverse backgrounds do not generally seek the assistance of family law professionals, including mediators.

FRCs need to understand whether parents from specific cultural communities in their catchment area would be likely to use FRC services and how best to engage with them. This requires outreach to communities and other agencies in order to:

  • build trust and develop partnerships;
  • see if parallel community dispute resolution processes exist;
  • assess the need for further understanding of family law processes;
  • discuss how FRCs may assist separating parents in that community; and
  • decide what FRCs could do to facilitate this (e.g., information campaigns, further relationship building, training community members, etc).3

Sawrikar and Katz (2008) recommended that family service providers partner with organisations such as migrant resource centres to access advice about how to provide more holistic and appropriate support to culturally diverse families, and several FRCs have done this.

Culturally competent family dispute resolution practitioners

There is no requirement that family dispute resolution practitioners develop cultural competence, although more effective practitioners will do this. The FDRP registration requirements make awareness of cultural contexts optional.4 The Australian National Mediation Standards (Practice Standards), under which many practitioners will operate,5 are minimum standards that require mediators develop knowledge of "cross-cultural issues in mediation and dispute resolution", and be able to "support parties in assessing the feasibility and practicality of any proposed agreement" taking account of "cultural differences and where appropriate, the interests of any vulnerable stakeholders" (National Alternative Dispute Resolution Advisory Council, 2007, pp.10-12). To develop the cultural competency of their FDRPs, FRCs will need to devise an ongoing program of staff development which includes different forms and sources of cultural awareness training, develops ongoing relationships with local communities and agencies and encourages reflection on professional practice

Culturally competent processes in FRCs

Elements of a culturally responsive family dispute resolution process within Family Relationship Centres might include:


FRC operational guidelines instruct that intake staff must "take account of and be sensitive to the cultural backgrounds of clients" and identify any "barriers which need to be overcome before a client is able to benefit from the services offered" (Attorney General's Department, 2006, p.8). Fundamentally, intake staff must be able to focus on the client as an individual, with sufficient awareness of cultural contexts, their relevance and an ability to probe these. Intake officers should ask whether the client would benefit from the presence of family or other support. They need to recognise that second language competence may be compromised during times of stress and that an interpreter or cultural facilitator may assist. Ultimately however, language facility may be less significant in family disputes than "an awareness of shared cultural and religious perspectives" and an interpreter may not always accurately convey these (Dimopoulos, 1998, p.379).


Statutory rules require that before providing FDR, an FDRP must assess the parties' suitability for FDR, taking into account the parties' capacity to freely negotiate in light of any history of violence, their health, safety, and equality of bargaining power, and "any other matter" considered relevant (Family Law Regulations 1984 (Cth). r. 62(2)). The cultural dimensions of potential gendered (and other) power differentials must be considered in assessing clients' capacity to freely negotiate. FDRPs need to be aware of the personal, cultural and religious, language and structural factors that may inhibit women from culturally diverse backgrounds identifying and disclosing violence, and should adapt screening tools and questioning accordingly (Mouzos & Makkai, 2004; Rees, 2004).

Preparing for the process

If clients are assessed as suitable, practitioners may need to consider a number of culturally relevant factors to "ensure that the family dispute resolution process is suited to the need of the parties involved" (Family Law Regulations 1984 (Cth). r. 64). These could include: cultural communication patterns; concepts of self, time and space; attitudes to the role, gender, age and cultural background of third parties; and approaches to conflict, problem solving and compromise (Boulle, 2001; Fisher & Brandon, 2009). FDRPs will need to ensure parties understand the FDR process, the role of the practitioner, and the self-determinative role of parties in FDR, particularly where mediation may be culturally unfamiliar. FDRPs should also inquire whether clients understand the best interests principle and explore cultural expectations of child-rearing and development (Family Court of Australia, 2008; Hand & Wise, 2006). Many FRCs require parties to attend group information sessions to encourage parents to focus on their children's needs, and the cultural fit and context of such programs and groups sessions will need to be explored with each party. These matters indicate that a longer period of preparation for the process may be needed where parties are from culturally diverse backgrounds.

The FDR process

Mediator neutrality rests on its claims to impartial and ethical practice and capacity to ensure fair process. Because of the broad range of FDRP statutory obligations created by the Family Law Act and Family Law Regulations, outlined below, FDRPs cannot necessarily assure clients of their impartiality in the sense of freedom from bias. They can, however, ensure fair management of the FDR process (Cooper & Field, 2008). This requires particular practitioner skill and vigilance in a cultural context. They must confirm parties' informed consent to the process and voluntary and informed agreement to the outcome; ensure equal time to speak and to be heard; monitor communication patterns; manage power imbalances; recognise vulnerabilities; and maintain safety protocols.

These demands are overlaid with obligations under the Family Law Act to inform parties that they "could consider" developing a parenting plan and the option of an arrangement where children spend equal time with each parent or substantial or significant time with each parent, unless this is not reasonably practicable or not in best interests of children (Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) s.63DA). The extent to which FDRPs routinely do this in practice is not known, as many of the disputes coming to FRCs are highly conflicted and may therefore be unsuitable for such arrangements. Practitioners need to balance these statutory expectations with the parties' cultural parenting practices, whilst ensuring any agreement they make is also in their children's best interests. This is a fluid concept, so practitioners have some latitude to reconcile the statutory emphases with their own evaluation of the most appropriate parenting arrangement for particular children following separation and any cultural parenting practices relevant to the family.

FDRPs are also required to facilitate an outcome which promotes a child's right to enjoy his or her culture (Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) s.60B(2)(e)). Research suggests that children from culturally diverse backgrounds often feel caught between cultures, and are concerned about conflicting cultural expectations (Chuan & Flynn, 2006; Kids Helpline, 2000). Where possible and appropriate, these issues should be explored with children and with parties. This might include inquiring about the role of the extended family and the significance of cultural events, and assisting parties to develop flexible, open arrangements about location, timing and length of visits and associated costs (Gibbs & McKenzie, 2006; see also Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) s.63DA(3)).

Culturally competent services and practitioners supporting informal community FDR processes

It may be that genuine responsiveness to culture in the context of FDR is best achieved by supporting or working with existing community dispute resolution practices. Informal dispute resolution systems, often based on community customs or familial relationships, may have a greater impact on the lives of those who use them than formal state-sanctioned systems (Macfarlane, 2007). Some FRCs are working with leaders from ethnically diverse communities to determine how the FRC can best support existing community dispute resolution processes for families. In another context, the Australian Human Rights Commission is currently exploring how quality frameworks might support alternative dispute resolution processes in some Australian faith communities (Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, 2008).


The literature suggests that accommodating culture in the resolution of parenting disputes will be a challenging and complex process. The possibilities outlined here are just that - possibilities. Experience and research may identify the value and limitations of particular approaches, but they will only ever be a guide to practice. Ultimately, the value and relevance of culturally responsive family dispute resolution will need to be worked out in collaboration with each family and its individual members.


  • Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2000). Family formation: Cultural diversity in marriages. In ABS. (2000). Australian social trends, 2000 (Cat. No. 4102.0). Retrieved 16 July 2009, from <>
  • Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2007). Culture and recreation: Cultural diversity. In ABS. (2007). Year book Australia, 2007 (Cat. No.1301.0). Retrieved 16 July 2009, from <>
  • Attorney General's Department. (2006). Screening and assessment in the Family Relationship Centres and the Family Relationship Advice Line: Practice framework and guidelines. Canberra: Australian Catholic University.
  • Australian Law Reform Commission. (1992). Multiculturalism and the law. Sydney: AGPS.
  • Boulle, L. (2001). Mediation: Skills and technique. Sydney: Butterworths.
  • Chuan, C., & Flynn, C. (2006). Children and young people of culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds in out-of-home care in NSW: Support strategies, challenges and issues. Sydney: Association of Children's Welfare Agencies.
  • Cooper, D., & Field, R. (2008). The family dispute resolution of parenting matters in Australia: An analysis of the notion of an "independent" practitioner. Queensland University of Technology Law Journal, 8, 158-175.
  • Cuneen, C., Luff, J., Menzies, K., & Ralph, N. (2005). Indigenous family mediation: The New South Wales ATSIFAM Program. Australian Indigenous Law Reporter, 1.Retrieved 16 July 2009, from <>
  • Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. (2009). FRC clients seen, 2007-2008. Report generated by FRSP Online Support April 2009.
  • Dimopoulos, M. (1998, April). Mediating difference: Utilising cross-cultural training skills to work more effectively with diverse groups. Paper presented at the 4th National Mediation Conference, Melbourne.
  • Family Court of Australia. (2008). Families and the law in Australia: The Family Court working together with new and emerging communities. Canberra: Maria Dimopoulos.
  • Flahavin, M. (2008, November). Cross-cultural exploration of mediation: Collective wisdom. Paper presented at the Family Relationship Services Australia National Conference, Cairns.
  • Fisher L., & Brandon M. (2009). Mediating with families. Sydney: Lawbook Co.
  • Gibbs, A., & McKenzie, M. (2006). Supervised contact: The views of parents and staff at three Barnardos contact centres in the southern region of New Zealand. Wellington: Families Commission.
  • Hand, K., & Wise, S. (2006). Parenting partnerships in culturally diverse child care settings: a care provider perspective (Research Paper No. 36). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.
  • Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. (2008). Intersections between the law, religion and human rights: A national roundtable dialogue. Retrieved 19 March 2009, from <>
  • Hunter, R. (1999). Family law case profiles. Sydney: Justice Research Centre.
  • Kids Help Line. (2000). Issues and concerns facing young people of non-English speaking backgrounds: An analysis of Kids Help Line calls. Brisbane: Author.
  • Love, A., Moloney, L., & Fisher, T. (1995). Federally funded family mediation in Melbourne: Outcomes, costs and client satisfaction. Melbourne: National Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, La Trobe University.
  • Macfarlane, J. (2007). Working towards restorative justice in Ethiopia: Integrating traditional conflict resolution systems with the formal legal system. Cardozo Journal of Conflict Resolution, 8, 487-508.
  • Moloney, L., Fisher, T., Love, A., & Ferguson, S. (1996). Managing differences. Federally funded family mediation in Sydney: Outcomes, costs and client satisfaction. Melbourne: National Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, La Trobe University.
  • Mouzos, J., & Makkai, T. (2004). Women's experiences of male violence: Findings from the Australian component of the International Violence Against Women Survey (IVAWS). Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology. Retrieved 16 July 2009, from <>
  • National Alternative Dispute Resolution Advisory Council. (2007). Australian National Mediator Standards: Practice Standards. For mediators operating under the national mediator accreditation system.Retrieved 1 September from <>
  • Rees, S. (2004). Human rights and the significance of psychosocial and cultural issues in domestic violence policy and intervention for refugee women. Australian Journal of Human Rights, 10(1). Retrieved 16 July 2009, from <>
  • Sawrikar, P., & Katz, I. (2008). Enhancing family and relationship service accessibility and delivery to culturally and linguistically diverse families in Australia (AFRC Issues Paper No. 3). Retrieved 16 July 2009, from <>
  • Shacher, A. (2001). Two critiques of multiculturalism. Cardozo Law Journal, 23, 253-297.

Dr Susan Armstrong is Senior Lecturer at the School of Law, University of Western Sydney. 

Families, social welfare services and the global financial crisis

Elly Robinson

The recent turmoil on the global financial stage has seen significant changes to the Australian economic outlook. In November 2008, Access Economics released an issues paper commissioned by Anglicare Australia, Catholic Social Services Australia, The Salvation Army and UnitingCare Australia titled The Impact of the Global Financial Crisis on Social Services in Australia (Access Economics, 2008). This article summarises the main points raised in this paper.


A survey conducted by the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) showed that, prior to the current financial crisis, services were already operating substantially above capacity in 2006-07 (ACOSS, 2008). The demand was being driven in part by high rent and mortgage payments and rising food and fuel costs. These factors also contributed to a new type of client presenting to services - low and middle-income earners facing severe financial stress. The current scenario of falling interest rates and lower inflation, leading to slow economic growth and as a result, increased unemployment, is proposed in the paper to potentially lead to a further demand for the already stretched social services system.

Impacts of financial crisis on families

The Access Economics report suggests that some of the potential impacts of the current financial crisis on low-income households include:

  • the risk of unemployment and its impact on mortgagers;
  • a shift to an emphasis on part-time/casual work and greater competition from newly unemployed for jobs;
  • sustained housing cost increases, including significant increase in rents, added to an existing high level of consumer debt, particularly credit card debt;
  • a need for low income earners, forced to drop out of the private rental market, to seek access to already stretched emergency and public housing;
  • short-term continuation of high cost-of-living; and
  • new restrictions to lending practices leading to increased difficulty in accessing credit.

Impact on services

The implication of these impacts, according to Access Economics, is that growing financial and social stresses will lead to an increased demand on social welfare services, with a change in the nature of the demands adding to service pressures. In particular, the strain will be most evident for housing and homelessness services. Increases in homelessness are likely to occur as unemployment rises.

Other areas of social service provision likely to be impacted upon include emergency relief, as well as financial and employment services. With links between income, employment status and mental stress/illness well established in the literature, it is likely that the demand for counselling services will also rise. The ability of services to meet needs in some areas may also be affected directly by the economic downturn, for example, job placement as a result of slower employment growth and self-funded services as service providers are directly hit by financial market losses.

Policy responses

The Access Economics paper argues for policy responses that are aimed at strengthening the social safety net and addressing cost-of-living pressures such as ongoing high private rents. Reduced availability of jobs also requires different approaches to policies targeting the unemployed, focusing on increases in each individual's opportunity and capacity to work in a job-seeking environment where those at the end of the queue are less likely to receive job offers. Most importantly, though, is recognition that investment in high quality social services plays an integral part in reducing long-term social costs associated with unemployment and supporting the overall productivity of an economy.


  • Access Economics. (2008). The impact of the global financial crisis on social services in Australia. Retrieved 16 April 2009 from <>
  • Australian Council of Social Services. (2008). Australian Community Sector Survey, Report 2008. Retrieved 1 May 2009, from <>

Other related reports

James, C. (2009). What do we know about the impact of recessions on family relationships? London: Family & Parenting Institute. Retrieved 5 June 2009, from <>

Parker & Partners. (2009). Relationship health and support services in the global economic crisis: Social research survey of households with children 2009. Report commissioned by Family Relationship Services Australia. Retrieved 5 June 2009, from: <>

See also Literature Highlights in this edition of Family Relationships Quarterly.

Elly Robinson is the Manager of the Australian Family Relationships Clearinghouse

"and there's no real way that you could ... make it totally fair": Children's understandings of post-separation decision-making about them

Dr Alan Campbell

"The Voice of the Child in Family Law: Whose Right? Who's Right?" is a recent study of children's perceptions of their participation in decisions made about them following their parents' separation. It explored children's perceptions of their rights and "best interests" in family law issues and how they thought decisions might best be made to include them. The research was informed by the development of child-inclusive practice in this country and by concerns about the place of children's voices in family law decision-making.

Sixteen children and young people, aged between 7 and 17 years, each participated in an in-depth interview that focused on their experiences and perceptions of their rights and "best interests", decision-making processes, and arrangements that affected them following their parents' separation.6 This article will discuss the children's perceptions about how decisions were made immediately after separation, their own participation in these decisions and their thoughts about the concept of equal parenting time. The article complements an earlier piece (Campbell, 2008), in which I discussed the children's understandings of their rights and the concept of "best interests". A fuller understanding of how these concepts fit with children's decision-making might perhaps be gained by reading that article alongside this.

In their descriptions of their parents' decision-making processes immediately following separation, the children interviewed indicated that they were rarely consulted. This does not seem unusual; a British study found that when parents separated they most often did not communicate with children about what was occurring (Dunn & Deater-Deckard, 2001). In my study, the majority of the children perceived that at separation, their parents' decisions were made without apparent deliberation and reflected traditional gender roles rather than planning for a long-term future. For example:

Nick7 (13): I can't exactly remember, I think that was a decision cos we were so young, it was better that we lived with Mum or something, I can't remember, but ...

Laurence (16): Um, Mum and Dad went to the Family Court, but not so much about um, custody of the kids. It was pretty much always ... like it was just kind of seemed  ... normal that ... we would live with Mum.

One child, 9-year-old Ellen, argued that gender might have been a deciding factor in her parents' decisions about the residence of her brother and herself. She reported that, at separation, her mother:

Ellen (9): ... took me.

Q: She took you?

Ellen (9): Yeah. Probably cos I'm a girl and he's [her brother] a boy.

For one of the children, the concept of living with his father after separation seemed quite inappropriate:

Callum (10): My friend lives with his dad and I find that a bit weird somehow. With his two brothers. It's just all boys ... You see ... I don't know why, but you should live with your mum, or and your dad, but you should live with your mum, mostly. I don't know why, but.

In some cases, children perceived that arrangements for their post-separation residence were based on what their parents did, again reflecting traditional gender roles. Nick, for example, provided a further reason for having resided with his mother post-separation:

Nick (13): Oh, I remember another reason was ... cos Dad ... he's wool classing, and cos that involves like staying at a shed for seven days at a time and ... that'd mean he wouldn't be able to look after us, so it was more sense as well, to stay with Mum.

Taylor (1996) argued that children develop understandings about gender roles early in life. These understandings may influence the ways in which they think about arrangements following separation. This does not mean, though, that children believe that their parents should decide on arrangements for them without consulting them. In their research on decision-making with children in care, Thomas and O'Kane (1998) reported that while children considered it important to be listened to, they did not necessarily want to make decisions alone. Nor did they want adults to decide on issues that directly affected children without consulting with them. The comments made by the children in my study somewhat mirrored those made by the children in Thomas and O'Kane's work:

Nick (13): I think if ... children ... speak out their opinions can be heard, and sometimes a lot of children's opinions are more logical or sometimes sensible than a lot of ones that adults might have.

Kane (13): Yeah, I think ... kids should be involved from the start. If you're gonna do something that affects them, and yeah, they should have some say of how it's, how it looks and stuff.

For some children, having their opinions heard was especially significant. Fran and her siblings were prevented from accompanying their mother when she left the family home. Fran expressed some anger about this decision:

Fran (17): Well we should have been allowed to make our decision because we obviously knew that we did not want to stay with Dad, and we were just basically forced by him to live there and I don't think that's very fair.

Following separation, some children felt torn between their parents, wanting to ensure that they were able to spend time with each. For some, this meant equal parenting time:

Amy (9): I'd maybe want to see my dad every week and my mum every week. Like my dad one week and then the next week my mum, like that, so they're equal.

Children's comments suggested their need to be "fair" to their parents perhaps more than to themselves. For example, 10-year-old Daniel reported that he and his parents went to see a professional to decide on where he might live. His comment suggested the need to consider fairness towards his parents:

Daniel (10): So, the person who we went to ... they decided to do the switching over weeks one ... cos it's fairer.

When I talked with him, Daniel had been moving between both parents' homes on a weekly basis for about two years. I asked him how that had been for him, to which he replied that it was "OK", but that he had decided not to take his pet mice with him to his father's because they ended up in the back of the car with his father's work tools. Daniel expressed some concern now about his mice when he was visiting his father. He wondered whether they were being fed and taken into the house at night, and whether his mother was talking to them in the same way Daniel did. He wasn't about to change his living arrangements, however, believing that they were "fair" to both his parents. This indicated to me that he was making strong sacrifices to ensure that his parents were happy. Sometimes, though, the children were concerned about their own situation. For example, 9-year-old Ellen commented:

Ellen (9): It's not very fair, because, um, if [I] don't get to see him in the week, like, it's not really fair, cos you only get to see him twice every week, or every second week.

For Ellen, the times she can see her father affected her wish to spend positive time with him. She expressed a need to try to see him more often. But this is always difficult. Some of the older participants in my study commented on how difficult it can be to meet everyone's needs:

Laurence (16): I don't think that there's really a way that you could solve it completely. Like, satisfactorily ... cos there's always going to have to be a time when you're not with like, one or the other parent, so there's no way that you could make it completely to work ... and there's no real way that you could ... that I could think of anyway, that you could make it totally fair.

The world of family law is complex and cloudy. There is never a "perfect" arrangement that will meet the needs of all family members. When we work with families post-separation, we are often confronted with issues of attachment and strong emotions, which may cloud our understanding of the best arrangements for the children involved. Children's needs to be "fair" to their parents post-separation suggest that they will sometimes make significant sacrifices to try to ensure fairness: not for themselves, but for their parents. While adult professionals must ensure that post-separation arrangements address children's best interests, this can sometimes prove difficult due to children's needs to be fair to all and parents' competing understandings of what constitutes "fairness". While the concept of equal parenting time may be eminently appropriate for some children and their parents, the findings of this study indicate that there are complex and often competing arguments both for and against the concept of equal parenting time. Due to the small sample size, the issues raised in this study may not be able to be generalised, and further research is needed. The study however indicates that family law professionals may need to carefully consider these arguments in detail in attempting to reach decisions that most appropriately meet the best interests of the children at the centre of family law disputes.


  • Campbell, A., (2008). The right to be heard: Australian children's views about their involvement in decision-making following parental separation. Child Care in Practice, 14(3), 237-255.
  • Dunn, J., & Deater-Deckard, K. (2001). Children's views of their changing families. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
  • Taylor, M. G., (1996). The development of children's beliefs about social and biological aspects of gender differences. Child Development, 67(4), 1555-1571.
  • Thomas, N., & O'Kane, C. (1998). When children's wishes and feelings clash with their "best interests". International Journal of Children's Rights, 6, 137-154.

Dr Alan Campbell is Program Director in the School of Social Work and Social Policy at the University of South Australia.

Telephone counselling and therapy in family relationship services

Elly Robinson

Issues such as long waiting lists and work demands may often restrict the engagement of potential clients in face-to-face counselling. The use of telecommunications to either supplement or wholly provide counselling or therapy is one way of increasing service provision. This article is a brief summary of the use of telephone services in counselling and therapy, with an emphasis on family work, and is a companion piece to a forthcoming AFRC Briefing Paper on online therapy and counselling in family and dispute resolution work.


Early use of the telephone in counselling and therapy was limited to crisis intervention and/or hotlines. For example, Lifeline was established in 1963 and continues to operate from 60 locations throughout Australia.8 In the 1970s, telephone therapy was proposed as an adjunct to traditional therapy, and by the mid-80s it was suggested as a primary treatment medium (Reese, Conoley, & Brossart, 2006). Along with Lifeline, services such as Kids Helpline (established in 1991) and Mensline (established in 2001) have become well-known providers of telephone counselling, along with several other less prominent or more issue-focused telephone counselling services provided by both organisations and individual counsellors.

How is the telephone used in counselling?

Use of the telephone in counselling or therapy may include sessions that are entirely conducted via telephone, or combined with face-to-face therapy, or as an adjunct to self-directed interventions. The longevity of the counselling delivery (crisis vs. ongoing) and the type of interaction (recorded vs. live) also differentiate the types of service provision (Coman, Burrows & Evans, 2001). Telephone helplines are one of the most commonly available uses of the telephone for health and wellbeing issues, such as parenting,9 mental health10 and drug and alcohol issues.11 In terms of counselling techniques, Coman et al. (2001) suggest that person-centred counselling practice and cognitive and behavioural techniques adapt well to the telephone-based setting.

Benefits to the use of telecommunications in counselling work include increased accessibility (e.g., for rural/remote clients, single or at-home parents, people with a disability), convenience, increased anonymity, increased affordability and potential availability at any time of day. Challenges include a lack of visual and non-verbal clues, diminished capacity to deal with crises and a lack of therapist training (Coman et al., 2001; Reese et al., 2006). Some of these issues have been considered in research, examples of which are summarised below.

Research on telephone counselling

The predominant source of research into the use of telephone and online counselling is Kids Helpline, an Australian-based telephone, online and email counselling service for 5-25-year-olds.12 In 2007, almost 309,000 telephone and online interactions were provided by Kids Helpline, with counsellors engaged in more than 53,000 counselling sessions (Kids Helpline, 2007). The independence and anonymity afforded to young people when accessing help by telephone or the internet make it a particularly attractive option for adolescents who are experiencing difficulties and are reluctant to seek face-to-face help (Kelly & Jorm, 2007). Barriers to young people accessing face-to-face health care include time, cost, travel, and the nature of issues in adolescence (King et al., 2006).

Family relationships were the main issue of concern for children and young people contacting Kids Helpline in 2007. Some issues were more likely to be presented in telephone counselling (family relationships, partner relationships) than online counselling (self-image, eating and weight issues, mental health, suicidal thoughts, deliberate self-harm). The proposed reason for this difference is the greater degree of comfort, related to anonymity, that online counselling provides to young people when disclosing issues that may feel shameful (Kids Helpline, 2007).

Reese et al. (2006) surveyed 186 adult clients of a private telephone counselling agency that served as an employee assistance program. Participants reported a variety of problems, including panic attacks, depression, anxiety, stress, anger management and family/relationship difficulties, with the majority (70%) reporting more than one problem. Ninety-six percent of participants indicated their willingness to seek telephone counselling again, whereas 63% of participants reported a willingness to seek face-to-face counselling. Of those who had received face-to-face counselling before, 58% reported liking telephone counselling better for convenience and comfort, and felt less intimidated and able to talk more openly.

Reese et al. (2006) found that the therapist's inability to see the client actually increased the client's sense of control over the therapeutic process, rather than any problems identified associated with not being able to see the therapist. Those who preferred face-to-face counselling gave reasons such as the lack of visual cues, that the sessions felt less personal and less real. The authors suggest that the future of telephone counselling appears favourable, and may need to be considered as an option due to convenience and accessibility.

The possibility that some family members are unable to be present for face-to-face therapy means that there may be a choice between no family involvement and family involvement by phone (Hines, 1994). Hines suggested reframing the shortcomings of telephone use, by viewing telephone counselling as providing a rich, new context for family therapy. Learning to utilise what is present, seeking verbal clarification, learning to read speech patterns (e.g., tone of voice, volume, word choice, who speaks to whom and when, changes in inflections) and encouraging family members to put nonverbal reactions into words are all important ways of increasing the effectiveness of the telephone medium. Suggestions provided by Hines (1994) to help conduct a family therapy session by phone are shown in Box 1.

Box 1: Suggestions to help conduct family therapy by telephone

  • Assess family members' general use of the phone and feelings about its use.
  • Determine who uses phone most and least often, who likes and doesn't like phone, patterns of phone versus face-to-face communication.
  • Address other issues, for example fee arrangements (including payment of long distance calls), confidentiality, contract for small number of sessions to begin with.
  • Take a "one down" position more often, that is, a position that allows the practitioner to become the learner and the client the expert on the issues in his/her life.
  • Involve everyone in the decision-making around what will be discussed in the next session.
  • Explain to family members what to expect.
  • Acknowledgement the shortcomings of phone counselling if and when appropriate.
  • Listen for family dynamics - who speaks or doesn't speak to whom during session, who agrees or disagrees with whom, changes in tone of voice, ask if they speak to each other like this normally.
  • Agree on how angry feelings are handled - when it is okay to leave the phone session and if so, a commitment to come back as soon as possible.
  • Find a time that works for all and if possible, schedule the session at the same time each week. Allow family to converse outside of sessions.


The use of telephones both as an adjunct to counselling and as a stand alone service offers much in the way of convenience and access for those otherwise unable or reluctant to access face-to-face counselling. There is a need for both therapist and client comfort with the medium, and an ability to work with the shortfalls present due to a lack of non-verbal cues and other communication factors. Further consideration of the use of telecommunications in counselling and therapy, including family and dispute resolution work, will be considered in the forthcoming AFRC Briefing Paper No. 15.


  • Coman, G., Burrows, G., & Evans, B. (2001). Telephone counselling in Australia: applications and considerations for use. British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 29 (1), 247-258.
  • Hines, M. (1994). Using the telephone in family therapy. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 20(2), 175.
  • Kelly, C., & Jorm, A. (2007). Stigma and mood disorders. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 20, 13-16.
  • Kids Helpline. (2007). Kids Helpline 2007 overview: Issues concerning children and young people. Brisbane: Kids Helpline.
  • King, R., Bambling, M., Lloyd, C., Gomurra, R., Smith, S., Reid, W., & Wegner, K. (2006). Online counselling: The motives and experiences of young people who choose the Internet instead of face to face or telephone counselling. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, 6(3), 169-174.
  • Reese, R., Conoley, C., & Brossart, D. (2006). The attractiveness of telephone counseling: An empirical investigation of client perceptions. Journal of Counseling and Development, 84, 54-60.

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

Program spotlight

Getting Tough or Getting Together: A model of engagement

Robyn Parker

A group of professionals in the Wodonga region in north east Victoria have formed a partnership to deliver a unique model of improving young peoples' engagement with school and the community and providing support services to their families. To find out more, Robyn Parker talked with members of the network of professionals who run the program: Shandell Blythe (Gateway Community Health); Leading Senior Constable Kevin Mack (Youth Resource Officer, Victoria Police); Margaret Hunter (Gateway Community Health); and Alyson Miller (Assistant Principal, Wodonga Middle Years Campus).

The limited effectiveness of established methods of dealing with antisocial behaviour in schools, such as suspension or exclusion, has led to the adoption of alternative ways of resolving conflict or repairing harm caused by the actions of one student against another. One alternative, the use of restorative practices, is well embedded in some schools. The "restorative practices" framework emerged from the field of restorative justice, in which the victim and the offender are placed at the centre of the criminal justice process. In a typical "restorative justice" process the parties affected by harmful behaviour meet in order to seek a common understanding of what has happened and to reach an agreement as to how best to deal with the aftermath. Restorative practices are an application of this model to fields outside of criminal justice (Watchel & McCold, 2004).

Family and Community Group Conferencing is another approach  (see Case Study). It is an established family-centred, strengths-focused, culturally sensitive and community-based approach to family decision-making and case planning. It helps to engage and empower families to make decisions that protect and support their children.13 In the Getting Tough or Getting Together context, appropriate members of the community are also recruited as support for the family. Professionals play a critical role facilitating the decision-making process through information, resources and expertise.

In a small number of schools in the Wodonga region restorative practices have been combined with Family and Community Group Conferencing, provided to schools in the Upper Hume region through the School Focused Youth Service. This has created a unique strengths-based program in which the focus is not only on the individual and the antisocial behaviour but also on the broader context in which the behaviour occurred. The student and their family play a central role in a decision-making process that is supportive rather than punitive.


The integration of restorative practices and family and community group conferencing into the Getting Tough or Getting Together program emerged when it was observed that the same student was the focus of both a restorative conference and a family and community group conference on the same day. It was quickly realised that integrating the two approaches offered the potential to maximise the benefits to the student, school and community, as well as make efficient use of the resources available through the school and community agencies.

One of the driving forces behind the Getting Tough or Getting Together model is Judy Davis, coordinator of the School Focused Youth Service. Her role is to facilitate strong, sustainable partnerships between local schools, families and the community to improve the capacity of service organisations and schools to respond effectively to youth crime, disengagement and truancy and the increasingly complex needs of families presenting to services. The family and community group conferencing approach aims to create a supportive environment in which decisions can be made and their outcomes sustained. It involves consultation with all parties who have an interest in the wellbeing of the young person, a meeting to discuss proposed ways of identifying and addressing current issues for the individual and the family, and the development and implementation of a plan of action.

The merger of two local secondary colleges was also a catalyst for bringing these two complementary practices together. In the face of an increase in antisocial behaviour both within the school and in the community, the school and the police recognised the need to take a more united approach. Staff members at the school were already trained in restorative principles, and it had become the foundation of their methods of student management. One of the indicators of its success is the acceptance by the student body who, when a conflict arises, often ask staff to "hold a restorative" to help them resolve the issue before it escalates. Adding family and community group conferencing to this process created the potential for sustainable change not only for the student and their family, but also for the school and the community.

What distinguishes Getting Tough or Getting Together from the typical application of Family and Community Group Conferencing is the level of commitment, coordination and sharing of information and resources among the members of the partnership. The police, schools, health and community service agencies all work in concert to secure whatever complementary support and resources are needed to assist the student and their family. There are no service provision "silos" in the partnership, so the agencies are able to work with each other to ensure the best possible outcomes for the student and their family.

Currently, three primary and two secondary schools in the region employ the Getting Tough or Getting Together model.

The program

The aims of the program are to:

  • prevent exclusion from school for disruptive students;
  • keep them engaged in school activities or identify and implement suitable alternatives;
  • help them maintain healthy engagement with their family and the community; and
  • provide access to relevant services for the family.

Typically, an incident at school triggers a restorative conference aimed at securing an apology from the offender and repairing the harm to the victim. During the process of extensive consultation leading up to the restorative conference the Convenor tries to identify the factors that contributed to the incident or aspects of the student's life that may be impacting on his or her behaviour at school. Based on what is learned, the Convenor may then decide that the addition of a Family and Community Group Conference will be of benefit to the student and his or her family. After further consultation a conference will be held, attended by the student, family members, representatives of the school, police, and family relationship service providers, and other members of the student's extended family or friends or the community (for example, a sports coach) who have agreed to participate and who will take an active role in supporting the student. The Convenor of the restorative conference at the school may not necessarily be the Convenor of the Family and Community Group Conference. The network of partners to the program is able to draw on a pool of facilitators as required.

All parties to the Family and Community Group Conference are required to maintain strict confidentiality since, during a conference, a range of issues such as family breakdown or violence may be uncovered. Ways of dealing with whatever issues emerge are examined during the conference and a plan of action drawn up. Counselling or mediation might be arranged for the whole family, or just for the parents. Family friends or community members in attendance may offer alternative accommodation or to spend time with the young person to provide respite for both the young person and their family. A sports coach may offer to mentor the student and give them a greater role or responsibility in the club. It may be determined that the student would benefit from attending a different school, attending part time, or going to TAFE. Commitment to each component of the plan is secured. The coordinated and cooperative nature of the response from the partners in Getting Tough or Getting Together is critical in securing the various supports and resources.

Family and Community Group conferences are extremely time intensive. The Convenor and those professionals and others who participate undertake a great deal of consultation, planning and preparation. Follow up conferences might also be scheduled to build on the original plan and support the continued engagement of the student with their family and school, and prevent further incidents.


Combining restorative principles with family and community group conferencing allowed the formation of a strong partnership of professionals and community members able to facilitate sustainable change in the lives of individuals, families and communities. One school in the area has seen improvements in student behaviour and in relations with parents. There are fewer expulsions and suspensions, less criminal activity and less truancy. School staff have received requests for other school-related assistance from parents who, prior to participating in the Getting Tough or Getting Together process, were mistrustful of the school and had very little positive interaction with staff. The process also helps parents understand the effect of their behaviour on their children and helps parents and families identify and receive a range of support services. Benefits have also flowed on to service providers, with better coordination and utilisation of services. The program is strongly supported by the Centre for Adolescent Health, and the network has begun a research and evaluation partnership with Deakin University and the Australian Catholic University. While existing data are preliminary, the indications are that the program has the potential to bring about significant, sustainable positive change for young people and their families.

Case study

Jake (not his real name), a 15 year old, is involved in the serious assault of another student, breaking his nose. A restorative conference is held at the school to address the harm and secure an apology from Jake to the other young person. During the preparation for the restorative meeting the Convenors learn that Jake has been exposed to family violence while his parents lived together. They also learn that, due to the assault, he is to be "exited" from the school for the remainder of the year.

Jake's parents are currently separated and experience conflict in their communication around the children and how they spend time with either parent. The father is frustrated in his relationship with his son and is at the point of asking him to leave home and possibly move into alternative accommodation.

A family and community group conference is held after the restorative conference to make decisions as to how Jake will be engaged with his learning while not attending school. The conference is attended by the police, the assistant school Principal, community agency supports, Jake's two siblings, his parents, his boxing coach and a family friend who offers for Jake to spend respite time with his family as opposed to leaving home. The parents put aside their differences to develop plans of support for Jake.

Planned outcomes

Short term:

  • Jake apologises to the young person he assaulted.
  • Jake commits to undertaking work at home to carry him through to the end of the school year.
  • Jake commits to using his boxing skills wisely and not engage in violence.
  • Jake has opened up an opportunity to spend time with his mother (something he is keen to progress).
  • Jake is to spend time with his family friend and will remain living at home.
Long term:
  • Jake to return to school and transition to the Senior School.


Shandell Blythe
Family Conference Convenor, Resolve
Gateway Community Health Service, Wodonga
Phone: (02) 6022 8888


  • Watchel, T., & McCold, P. (2004, August). From restorative justice to restorative practices: Expanding the paradigm. Paper presented at the International Institute for Restorative Practices 5th International Conference on Conferencing, Circles and other Restorative Practices, Vancouver, Canada.

Restorative practices resources

International Institute of Restorative Practices

The International Institute for Restorative Practices is dedicated to the advanced education of professionals at the graduate level and to the conduct of research that can develop the growing field of restorative practices, with the goal of positively influencing human behaviour and strengthening civil society throughout the world. The site includes an online searchable database of articles and conference papers on restorative practices. There is also access to a network of professionals interested in restorative practices via an e-forum. To find out more, visit <>.

Schools in Action

An inner city primary school included the use of restorative practices as part of a wider strategy to improve cooperation and participation among students, teachers, parents and the community.

Developing restorative practices in schools: Flavour of the month or saviour of the system?(2003). Wendy Drewery & John Winslade. School of Education, University of Waikato, New Zealand.

This paper reports on two projects on restorative conferencing in schools undertaken by a team at the University of Waikato for the Ministry of Education, under the rubric of the Suspension Reduction Initiative. The projects included developing and trialling processes for suspension hearings using restorative conferencing and principles from restorative justice. Objectives of both projects were related to the desire to reduce numbers of suspensions and exclusions, particularly of Maori children. This paper reports on these two projects, and reflects on some of the questions they raised. The report is available at <>.

Family & community group conferencing resources

Family group conferencing in Australia 15 years on (Child Abuse Prevention Issues No. 27). (2008). Nathan Harris. Melbourne: National Child Protection Clearinghouse, Australian Insitutue of Family Studies.

This paper examines the degree of implementation and use of conferencing in Australian states and territories in the area of child protection. The paper is available at <>.

The ACT Department of Disability, Housing and Community Services Family Engagement Unit provides information on family group conferencing, standards for their conduct, and a literature review. These resources can be found at <>.

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

Program spotlight

Positive Parenting Telephone Service

Robyn Parker

Access to parent education can be problematic for families living outside of metropolitan or regional cities, and some parents may prefer or be better suited to a one-on-one rather than a group format. The Positive Parenting Telephone Service, an adaptation of the Triple P Program14 provided by Gateway Community Health,15 offers an effective and accessible alternative. Robyn Parker talked to the managers of the service.

The Positive Parenting Telephone Service (PPTS) program16 provides clients who are unable or reluctant to participate in on-site group parenting education with access to an established, evidence-based parenting program. The program is underpinned by a comprehensive kit and one-on-one support from a parent educator. While there is a charge of $30 to cover materials and postage17 the weekly telephone calls (via which the service is provided) are made to a freecall number, allowing families from anywhere in the Hume region, whether in small rural towns or larger regional towns, to access the service.

The program

Parents who register for the program receive a workbook to guide them through the program. At agreed upon times, parents make weekly phone calls to the freecall number to discuss their concerns about their child's behaviour and, guided by the facilitator, develop adaptive responses. Although guided by an educator, the Positive Parenting Telephone Service involves a high degree of reflection and self-direction by the parent. The educator works with the parent through - and often after - the entire program. The 10 weekly sessions cover causes and management of child behaviour problems, skills and strategies for encouraging children and helping them develop new skills and behaviours, promoting children's development and developing positive relationships with them, and maintaining the changes and setting goals for the future. As families become more complex, staff are finding that some families require more than the standard 10 sessions or will make contact outside of the scheduled sessions. This complexity is also being reflected in an increase in session times as educators are finding that some parents need time to vent or debrief about some issues before they can proceed with the session.

The first three sessions of the program are generally covered in order, but parents are able to control some later parts of the program by choosing, for instance, to spend more or less time focusing on a particular issue or practicing a particular skill or strategy. There is sufficient flexibility in the program to allow an educator to focus on what is important for the parent at any given time, while the parent also has some control over the depth of their experience.

The staff

Positive Parenting Telephone Service staff members are highly trained with a blend of skills as both educators and counsellors. At times their role is one of a supportive listener rather than an educator or counsellor. The staff management system includes both supervision and mentoring, which is considered especially important in light of the increasing complexity of the families and the problems that they present with. Staff have observed that the numbers of the court-mandated clients and blended families are growing, as is the occurrence of child protection issues. Educators find Positive Parenting Telephone Service a very rewarding program to be involved in, from both a professional and personal point of view, as feedback from families about the positive changes to their lives occurs at most sessions.

Advantages of telephone-based service delivery

Participating in the program via the telephone offers advantages for the client. For some, a phone service overcomes access difficulties associated with the need to travel into a regional centre. For others, being able to do the program from their home avoids the stigma associated with help seeking - the client is not at risk of being seen visiting the agency by members of the community. This may include professionals themselves, who may feel that others expect them to have this parenting knowledge already. The telephone modality allows them to get the assistance they need without attending a group program with members of the community who may also be their own clients.

One of the obstacles to client access that the service has been able to overcome has been difficulty with call charges. The service utilises a free call number so that clients are not charged for the cost of the call, thus enabling clients to access the service throughout the Hume region. However, increasing numbers of clients do not have a landline telephone. In the past the cost of running the program to clients with mobile phones was prohibitive. At times clients had to go to someone else's home or to a public phone box, exacerbating the problems of access - the very barrier the program tries to address. This problem has recently been rectified with the freecall service now available from mobile telephones as well as landlines.

Client dropout

Clients who drop out of the program can require considerable resources in terms of time and cost. The service has developed a policy to deal with clients who have three unexplained missed calls. A letter is sent to the client inviting them to exit the service, perhaps suggesting that this is not the best time to try to participate in the program. Alternative programs or services will be suggested to try to keep the client linked in with their community and other support services, or a follow up call will be made at a later date to re-enrol the parents when their circumstances allow for their commitment to the program. The service remains flexible in how they manage such clients, because clients will usually have valid explanations for missing calls. The reasons given by clients for missing a session are recorded and monitored, since the information may point to a problem with a particular educator or a part of the program itself.


Demographic data are routinely collected, allowing service managers to identify a range of client characteristics such as the proportion who have healthcare cards (30%), are sole parent families (28%), or live outside major townships in the catchment area (65%), as well as other family types or experiences including domestic violence, gambling, and disability.

The Positive Parenting Telephone Service was evaluated in collaboration with the Parenting Research Centre18 in 2001. Pre- and post-program questionnaires were used to gather information on a range of measures including: disruptive behaviour; parental efficacy and conflict over parenting issues; and depression, anxiety and stress. The service was again evaluated in 2005 as part of a postgraduate degree. This study built on the original design by including a third data collection, in which participants completed the pre- and post-program measures between 6 and 24 months after the program. This time, as well as asking about child behaviour, the questionnaire covered areas such as income, employment, education, couple relationship issues, and emotional wellbeing.

Both studies found reductions in dysfunctional parenting practices, disruptive behaviour, parental conflict over parenting issues, stress, anxiety and depression. Parental efficacy and satisfaction improved. The changes were largely maintained over time, although there were some slight but non-significant increases in some measures over the follow up period. Although the Triple P program has been evaluated against control groups, the Positive Parenting Telephone Service program has not as yet undergone the extra rigour of a randomised control trial. However, the service is well-placed to conduct a more rigorous examination of the program when resources permit, as management recognises the value of, and has demonstrated their willingness to conduct, research and program evaluation, and mechanisms are already in place for gathering data.

Feedback is also received from clients throughout the program. This provides facilitators with opportunities to adapt a session. For instance, if a newly-learned strategy or tactic did not work as well as expected the facilitator can help the parent examine why this may have happened and develop a new strategy or approach. The fact that clients also contact facilitators even after they have completed the program points to the quality of the relationship developed between parent and facilitator over the course of the program.

Some of the more telling feedback often relates to outcomes not routinely measured. Anecdotally, parents report that overcoming problem behaviours has led to them broadening their social networks. Following the program, parents who were previously reluctant to take their child into social situations are able to feel confident about the child's behaviour in, for example, attending a playgroup. The increased social interaction and access to social support provide benefits for both parents and children.

Final comments

Positive Parenting Telephone Service is an effective intervention providing clients with access to a well-established program in a flexible format that meets the needs of clients for whom participation in a group program is problematic. The adaptation of the group-delivered Triple P program to a telephone mode of delivery appears to have been reasonably successful, with quantitative and qualitative data pointing to benefits for intra-individual wellbeing as well as improving the social wellbeing of parents and their children.


Marg Hunter
Manager, Families, Relationships & Youth
Gateway Community Health,
155 High Street
Wodonga VIC 3689
Phone: (02) 6022 8888

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

Family statistics and trends

The sources of time pressure: Work, family and more

Dr Jennifer Baxter

Feelings of being rushed, stressed, harried or time pressured are prevalent across society, causing concern for how this experience of time impacts upon individuals' and family wellbeing (Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, 2007; Relationships Forum Australia, 2007). This article takes a look at who is experiencing time pressure, and also what reasons people give for that time pressure. While we commonly associate such feelings with juggling the commitments of work and family, managing this work-family balance is not the only source. This article highlights that time pressure can occur at various stages of life, with particular pressures, such as full-time study or family demands, being more prominent among some groups than others.

A specific focus of the article is to examine how time pressure differs for men and women. Difference according to age, hours of paid work and income, whether studying full-time, whether in a couple relationship, presence of children in the home and other caring responsibilities are also considered.

These analyses are derived from the 2006 Australian Time Use Survey, which is a representative survey of Australian households. Responses from 3,244 men and 3,658 women aged 15 years and over were available. In this survey, time use data were collected in daily diaries, and individual and family characteristics were collected in personal interviews. Within the diary was the question "How often do you feel rushed or pressed for time?" - with response categories of "always", "often", "sometimes", "rarely" and "never". Those who said they sometimes, often or always experienced this time pressure were asked "What are all the reasons you feel rushed?" with a list of nine possible reasons, including "other" (see Table 1). The actual time use data collected in the diaries have not been used here, but the focus is on these questions about peoples' experience of time pressure. Subjective measures such as these are useful, as how people experience time is likely to be a key factor in understanding how time use might affect someone's wellbeing. Such perceptions are also likely to be based on real elements of a person's life - whether in terms of caring responsibilities, work responsibilities or other aspects (Garhammer, 1998; Zuzanek, 1998).19

Rushed or pressed for time

The majority of men (80%) and women (84%) at least sometimes felt they were rushed or pressed for time - around 13% said they always were and 35% often were, with another 35% sometimes rushed or pressed for time. Females experienced slightly more time pressure than males overall (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Perceptions of being rushed or pressed for time, males and females, 2006

Figure 1. Perceptions of being rushed or pressed for time, males and females, 2006

Note: Excludes 223 men and 206 women who had missing information on this question. 
Source: Australian Time Use Survey (ABS, 2006)

Who was more likely to be time pressured?

To find out which men and women were the most likely to be time pressured, the likelihood of being always or often rushed or pressed for time - as opposed to being sometimes, rarely or never rushed or pressed for time - was compared for people with different characteristics.

The greatest differences in time pressure were found when comparing people according to their hours of paid work. Those who were not employed were the least likely to be time pressured, while those working the longest hours (50 or more per week) experienced the most time pressure.

Also, parents of children aged under 15 years experienced more time pressure overall than those without children or with older children, and within this group of parents more time pressure was experienced by those with the younger children (aged under 5, as compared to 5-14 years). This was true for men and women, although having children had a greater effect on women's time pressure. Further, those with other caring responsibilities were more likely to report being always or often time pressured, especially women.Time pressure was also evident within other groups. Men and women in couple relationships, rather than living alone, were more likely to experience time pressure. Full-time students also experienced more time pressure than those who were not studying. Men with relatively high incomes also tended to experience more time pressure than other men, no doubt related to the work-related pressures of earning these incomes. Looking at age differences, men and women aged 65 and over experienced considerably less time pressure than younger men and women.

Reasons for time pressure

People who were sometimes, often or always rushed or pressed for time were asked why they experienced this time pressure. Possible response options are shown in Table 1. The reason most often given was balancing work and family, with equal proportions of men and women giving this reason. However, "pressures of work and study" was more often given by males and "demands of family" was more likely to be given by women as the source of time pressure. Work and family were not the only reasons cited, with others also referring to having too much to do, taking too much on, not good at managing time, and so on.

Table 1. Reasons for feeling rushed or pressed for time, if at least sometimes time pressured
   Males Females
Balancing work and family
Pressure of work/study
Demands of family
Taking too much on
Too much to do/too many demands
Not good at managing time
Unpredictable working hours
Transport difficulties
Other reasons
Sample size

Source: Australian Time Use Survey, 2006

Who experiences what sort of time pressure?

Here, results are discussed for analyses that considered which characteristics of men and of women were associated with a higher likelihood of selecting each of the reasons for time pressure.

Not surprisingly, in examining which men and women were most likely to say that "balancing work and family" was a source of time pressure, the ages and presence of children made a difference. Those with a youngest child aged up to 14 years were more likely to experience this sort of time pressure than those with older children only. Men were more likely to give this response if they have children aged under 5 years than if their youngest child was aged 5-14 years, but for women, there were no differences between these groups (even if the analyses were restricted to employed women). Also, men and women who provided care to someone else were more likely than others to attribute their time pressure to the demands of balancing work and family. Women who had a low personal income were less likely to give this response (again, even if the analysis was restricted to employed women), while men with relatively high personal income were more likely to give this response. This response was most likely to be given by men and women in couple relationships, perhaps reflecting that balancing work and family is not only about having time with children, but also about having time with each other.

There were some similarities when considering who was most likely to say that "demands of family" was a source of time pressure, in that ages of children made a significant difference, as did having other caring responsibilities. Employment variables also mattered, as those who were not employed, or men in part-time employment, were more likely to give this response. For women, age differences were also apparent, with the youngest (15 to 24) and oldest (aged 65 and over) less likely than others to be time pressured because of demands of family.

Of course, for "pressure of work and study", those most likely to give this response were those working longer hours and full-time students. Others more likely to give this response were those with higher incomes and women with a long-term illness or disability. There were significant declines in this response among older men and women.

For men and women, difficulties in managing time was considerably more likely to be given as a reason for time pressure by the youngest and those who were not employed. This was also true of part-time employed men and men with a long-term illness or disability.

Among employed men and women, those working the longest hours were most likely to report "unpredictable working hours" as a source of time pressure. "Transport problems" were more likely to cause time pressure among young women or women with a long-term illness or disability. Also, not-employed men and women, and part-time employed men were more likely to say transport problems were a source of time pressure, while for women, those in couple relationships were significantly less likely to say transport problems caused time pressure.


Managing work-family balance is a significant source of time pressure, for parents and for those with other caring responsibilities. While men and women experienced this time pressure when they were responsible for children, as Table 1 shows, women were more likely to experience time pressure from the demands of family and men from the demands of work. This is consistent with previous research which has shown that women with children frequently experience time pressure because of the workload of paid and unpaid work that is often undertaken at this life cycle stage (Bittman & Rice, 2002; Gunthorpe & Lyons, 2004; Pocock, Skinner, & Williams, 2007). Research on work-family spillover has shown that men's experience of the tension between work and family is more likely to be attributed to their long paid-work hours (Pocock et al., 2007).

Other issues affected those outside the group of parents of young children. In particular, there is evidence that young men and women experience time pressure from work and also from study. In later life, it appears that time pressure eases off, as work commitments and the unpaid work associated with childrearing decline. However, other caring responsibilities and people's own health are likely to be issues affecting them at older ages, and such factors can be a significant source of time pressure.

These findings are important, not only in pointing out that time pressure is not just about balancing work and family for those with young children. Time pressure can be an issue for those without family responsibilities, as experienced by full-time students and those with significant work demands, for example. It can also exist for those not in paid employment, but managing other aspects of their life, including their caring responsibilities. Flow-on effects of time pressure can be significant, affecting individual and family wellbeing. Further work should consider how these experiences of time pressure translate into different outcomes for individual and family wellbeing.


  • Australian Bureau of Statistics (2006). Time Use Survey, Confidentialised Unit Record File, 2006 (Cat. No. 4152.0.55.001). Calculated using the Basic CURF on CD-ROM.
  • Bittman, M., & Rice, J. M. (2002). The spectre of overwork: An analysis of trends between 1974 and 1997. Labour and Industry, 12(3), 5-25.
  • Garhammer, M. (1998). Time pressure in modern Germany. Society and Leisure, 21(2), 327-352.
  • Gunthorpe, W., & Lyons, K. (2004). A predictive model of chronic time pressure in the Australian population: Implications for leisure research. Leisure Sciences, 26(2), 201-213.
  • Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. (2007). It's about time women, men, work and family: Final paper 2007. Retrieved 5 March 2009, from <>
  • Pocock, B., Skinner, N., & Williams, P. (2007). Work, life and time. The Australian work and life index 2007. Retrieved 5 March 2009, from <>
  • Relationships Forum Australia. (2007). An unexpected tragedy: Evidence for the connection between working patterns and family breakdown in Australia. Retrieved 5 March 2009, from <>
  • Zuzanek, J. (1998). Time use, time pressure, personal stress, mental health, and life satisfaction from a life cycle perspective. Journal of Occupational Science, 5(1), 26-39.

Dr Jennifer Baxter is a Research Fellow at the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Literature highlights

Helping families after natural disasters

Tackling tough times: Drought mental health initiative.Greig, J., Crockett, J., & Tonna, A. (2008). Auseinetter, 30, 6-8. Available online at <>

The Drought Mental Health Assistance Package (DMHAP) for New South Wales was announced by the state government in October 2006. Its aim was to deal with prolonged stress in rural communities affected by drought through increasing capacity in individuals, service providers and communities. Awareness of mental health issues and early intervention was raised through a range of activities, including: Mental Health First Aid workshops to improve individuals' ability to respond to their own and others' emerging mental health needs; Service Network meetings to improve links among service providers; community events, called Tackling Tough Times gatherings, to increase mental health literacy, reduce stigma and identify local pathways to care; and development of mental health resources for consumers and service providers working closely with Beyondblue. This article describes the implementation and outcomes of the DMHAP project and identifies factors critical to its success, particularly the active participation and collaboration of government and non-government sector organisations. It discusses how the 2007 DMHAP experience can inform the 2008 DMHAP project.

Solastalgia: The distress caused by environmental change. (2007). Albrecht, G., et al. Australasian Psychiatry, 15, s95-98.

As opposed to nostalgia - the melancholia or homesickness experience by people when they are separated from a loved home - solastalgia is the distress produced by the impact of environmental change on people while they are directly connected to their home environment. This paper focuses on two contexts in which researchers have found solastalgia to be evident: experiences of persistent drought in rural New South Wales, and the impact on individuals of a large open cut coal mine in the Upper Hunter Valley. The paper examines research into these lived experiences of drought and mining to explore the potential uses and applications of the concept of solastalgia for understanding the psychological impact of environmental changes worldwide that challenge sense of place and identity.

Drought and its effect on mental health: How GPs can help. (2007). Satore, G-M. Kelly, B., Stain, H. J. Australian Family Physician, 36(12), 990-993

Drought has been a major stressor affecting rural New South Wales communities since late 2001. While much is known about the effects on mental health of acute natural disasters, there is less research available on the effect to communities of chronic natural disasters. Of great concern for Australian rural communities is that independent of drought, the rate of suicide for some groups is higher in rural than urban communities, while access to mental health services is less. This article explores how general practitioners can identify and respond to the drought related mental health needs of farming residents. Early intervention is a critical task in improving the mental health of rural communities. Early intervention provided by GPs will be enhanced through: working closely with other community agencies to promote early effective intervention for mental health problems, improve access to advice and initial consultation, and facilitate urgent consultation when needed; increasing access to services for farmers and responding promptly to needs; and utilising the support of rural organisational workers.

Children's fears post September 11. (2006). Campbell, M., Gilmore, L. In: M. Katsikitis (ed.) Psychology bridging the Tasman: Science, culture and practice (Proceedings of the 2006 joint conference of the APS and NZPsS). Melbourne: Australian Psychological Society (pp. 55-59).

Increasingly, the Internet and global media are exposing children to images of war, disaster and terrorism. Parents seem to be more protective of children because of their own increasing fears of child abduction, sexual abuse, drug use, bullying and internet paedophilia. Parents also seem to be more indulgent of children's unrealistic fears, often allowing them to avoid non-dangerous situations, being overprotective and encouraging less independence in their children. This paper reports on a study that investigated whether children today have more worries and fears than did previous generations of children. The Fear Schedule Survey-Revised (FSSC-R) was administered to 220 children aged between 6 and 12 years, and the results for self reported frequency, intensity and content of fears were compared with those of similar studies 10 and 20 years ago using the same instrument. The implications for helping parents understand and cope with children's fears are discussed.

It's really not easy to get help: Services to drought-affected families. (2007). Alston, M. Australian Social Work, 60(4), 421-435.

The present paper details the results of research conducted with drought affected farm families in New South Wales (NSW), Australia. The study reveals the significant health and welfare stresses experienced by families and the lack of access to services and support. The research was conducted in three sites in rural and remote areas of NSW in 2003. Farm family members, service providers and other community key informants were interviewed. The paper outlines ways that the social work profession can respond to significant natural disasters.

Community responses to bushfires: The role and nature of systems of primary sociality. (2007). Goodman, H., Healey, L., & Boulet, J. New Community Quarterly, 5(1), 11-25.

The importance of social networks in linking family, friends and neighbours are often ignored by emergency service operations in cases of bushfires and other threats to life. This article argues that multiple levels of sociality must be integrated in such situations, because local people's experiences and knowledge should inform the processes of the state's response. The article uses local people's experiences of the Wangary fire on the Lower Eyre Peninsula in January 2005 as evidence of the need to integrate technical resources, social resources and personal ecological awareness in order to improve fire and disaster preparedness and prevention. It focuses on the importance of primary sociality in living with and responding to natural threats.

Helping children to cope with media coverage of traumatic events. (2007). Tansey, S. Putting Children First, 21, 10-13. Available online at <>

Media coverage of tragic events in the community or further afield can affect children negatively. This article discusses the types of events reported in the media that may affect children, how they may be affected, how they can be protected from disturbing media reports, how to limit children's exposure to harmful media, Internet safety, supporting affected children, and appropriate exposure to media reported events. The discussion is directed at both parents and child care workers.

Managing critical events in children's services. (2006). Tansey, S. Putting Children First, 20, 16-19. Available online at <>

Child care services can reduce the negative impact of critical events, such as local or distant natural disasters, the death of a family member, or witnessing violence, by providing support to staff, children and their families during and after the event. Other services and professionals including emergency services, counsellors and health and safety authorities can help child care services manage critical events. This article presents advice on preventing critical events, preparing for a critical event, critical event management plans, and responding to critical events. It discusses how critical events can affect children and adults, the impact of events outside the service and supporting children and adults after critical events.

Stone in a pond: The ripple effect of mental health first aid education, on fire- and drought-affected rural communities. (2005). Malone, G., Ahrens, J., & Bourke, G. In: Program and Papers: 8th National Rural Health Conference, 10-13 March 2005, Alice Springs, Northern Territory. Deakin, ACT: National Rural Health Alliance. Available online at <>

The impact of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) education on fire and drought affected rural communities in north east Victoria is examined in this paper. The paper reports on research that investigated rural participants' perceptions of the impact that MHFA education has had on their roles, relationships and identity as individuals, within their families and in a broader community context. The paper discusses mental health in rural regions, the impact of drought and bushfires on the rural economy and the consequences for stress levels and subsequent mental health issues. It describes the MHFA course, reasons people attended, outcomes and themes of MHFA courses.

Supporting children through disasters. (2005). Elliott, A. Every Child, 11(3), 12.

News coverage of disasters can have a severe impact on children. This article discusses the effects on children of exposure to images of natural disasters or terrorist attacks, and suggests ways in which parents and educators can protect and support children through these events.

Effects of financial stress on families.

Financial stress: The hidden human cost. (2009). Wesley Mission. Sydney, NSW: Author. Available online at <>

This report provides important comparative results with Wesley Mission's 2006 report (see below). In late 2008, Wesley Mission carried out a survey to gauge the impact of financial stress on households across Sydney. The survey was carried out in the current worsening economic climate and this factor is apparent in the findings that show how the changing conditions are having an unmistakeable impact on Sydney households.

Financial stress and its impact on the individual, family and the community. (2006). Wesley Mission. Sydney, NSW: Author. Available online at <>

This report explores financial stress on Sydney households. It identifies how financial stress impacts on personal wellbeing, family interactions and community relations. The report links financial stress with factors such as marital breakdown, gambling, violence and substance abuse. It is based on a survey of 400 telephone interviews conducted by Urbis Keys Young in 2006.

Impact of financial hardship on parenting behaviour: Final report. (2006). Ng, C. Collingwood, Vic: Anglicare Victoria. Available online at <>

International research has demonstrated a link between economic hardship and parenting difficulties. This report presents the results of a pilot study seeking to determine whether the relationship between financial hardship and adverse parenting behaviour is also true for parents in Victoria. This behaviour may be manifested in parents being less responsive to children's needs, showing less affection to their children, and being inconsistent and more punitive in disciplining their children. Children may show the effects of this parenting behaviour by being more aggressive, hyperactive and being disciplined at school more frequently than other children. The report includes a literature review, a description of the study methodology and a discussion of its findings.

The flipside of Gen Y: Social background and full-time engagement; personal and financial stress; social inclusion; satisfaction with life. (2006). Long, M. Clayton, Vic: Centre for the Economics of Education and Training, Monash University. Available online at <>

Young Australians who are not in full time study and work experience more financial and personal stress and disappointments, have lower levels of participation and integration in many social activities, and are less satisfied with their lives. This report uses data from the 2002 General Social Survey and 2004 Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey to examine issues relating to young people and geography, household and social economic status, educational attainment, health, family relationships, engagement with wider social networks, educational opportunities and outcomes, employment, financial resources, living arrangements, personal safety, computer usage and access to transport, and young people's satisfaction with aspects of their lives.

Stability among low income families. (2006). Rawsthorne, M. Just Policy, 40, 25-31.

What are the experiences of low income families as they undergo family breakdown and repartnering? This study involved interviews with single and partnered women who were receiving parenting payments. The article discusses instability in low income families; the experience of events that caused stress within participants' relationships; the effects of domestic violence and financial crisis; and the influence of economics in relationship decisions.

Making marriage, domestic relationships and family work: Part XVIII. (2005). Burnard, D. Relatewell, 9(3), 8-13.

The effects of stress on marriage and family life are discussed in this article. The article looks at aspects of stress; causes of stress, including work related stress, financial causes of stress, modern lifestyle and stress, environmental causes; warning signals of stress; how to cope with and reduce stress; and preventative measures.

Review of evidence on the impact of economic downturn on disadvantaged groups (Working Paper No. 68). (2008). Bruce S., & Deirdre D. Department of Work and Pensions. Available online at <>

This UK desk-based research reviews the evidence on the impact of the recessions of the early 1970s, 1980s and 1990s on disadvantaged groups, ex-offenders and the self-employed. The review draws upon a variety of contemporary sources to identify key trends and findings and proposes some policy recommendations. The review was conducted by Bruce Stafford and Deirdre Duffy from the International Centre for Public and Social Policy, University of Nottingham.


1. If you are interested in this research please email Dr Susan Armstrong.

2. Place of birth is, of course, a very crude cultural indicator, as is language spoken. (See ABS, 2000).

3. See, for example, the strategies developed by the Family Court of Australia (2008).

4. The Graduate Diploma of Family Dispute Resolution offers eight "diversity and cultural context" electives from the Community Services Training Package. (Vocational Graduate Diploma of Family Dispute Resolution, Community Services and Health Industry Skills Council, Family Relationship Qualification Framework (2007)). See <>.

5. Only FDRPs registered on the Commonwealth Attorney-General Department’s Family Dispute Resolution Register may issue certificates under s.601 of the Family Law Act 1975. National Mediator Accreditation System accreditation does not give practitioners this ability.

6. The 7 girls and 9 boys were recruited via a snowball-sampling method from metropolitan Adelaide and Perth.

7. Participants names have been changed.

8. See <>.

9. For example, Parentline <>.

10. For example,Sane <>.

11. For example, Turning Point <>.

12. See <>

13. See <>

14. Triple P is a system of easy to implement, proven parenting solutions that helps solve current parenting problems and prevents future problems before they arise. See <>

15. Formerly known as the Upper Hume Community Health Service.

16. The program received the 2006 Victorian Public Health Spotlight Award for excellence in the Supporting Childhood Health and Wellbeing category.

17. This charge may be waived for some families.

18. Formerly the Victorian Parenting Centre <>

19. The analyses are based on the confidentialised basic unit record file (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2006). Person weights were applied in the calculations reported below. Multivariate analyses (logistic regression) were used to explore how responses varied with individuals’ characteristics. Results are available from the author.

Publication details

AFRC Newsletter
No. 13
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, September 2009.
26 pp.

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