Family Relationships Quarterly No. 18

Family Relationships Quarterly No. 18

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

With an increased emphasis on child-inclusive and child-focused practice in recent years, communicating with and engaging children of different ages and stages of development is a key skill in many family services. The first article in this edition provides some strategies for communicating with young people, including dealing with issues such as competence, coercion and confidentiality.

Two other feature articles focus on research projects that have examined different aspects of family relationships. Gery Karantzas and colleagues examined gender differences in romantic relationships and found that the use of couples, rather than individuals from different relationships, showed that there are few major gender differences - challenging the findings from past research on individuals. Briony Horsfall and Deborah Dempsey examined child care by grandparents via qualitative interviews.

Our program spotlight for this issue focuses on the Supporting Children after Separation program (WA). Other articles include a trends article on divorce and wellbeing in later life, a book review for "Call me Dad!", and literature highlights focusing on culturally and linguistically diverse families.

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

Elly Robinson, Manager AFRC

AFRC Newsletter
22 pp.

Communication with young people in a family services setting

by Elly Robinson and Robyn Miller

There has been an increased emphasis on child-inclusive and child-focused practice in family relationship service delivery in recent years. Yet there has been little discussion about how engaging with children may differ according to the age and developmental stage of the child (see Box 1). Engaging young people successfully in a family counselling setting, for example, will often require a skilled use of communication that incorporates an understanding of the intricate nature of adolescent development and how this relates to the issues for the family.

This article looks at some of the issues related to communicating with young people, and practice tips which may help to make the conversation run more smoothly. The article is adapted from sections of the Department of Human Services Specialist Practice Guide - Adolescents and Their Families <>.

Practitioners in family support services may need to engage with young people as part of a family counselling or support session, or as part of negotiating a parenting plan in the case of family breakdown. Adolescence is a time in which relationships with family change, as the adolescent becomes more autonomous and forms more intense friendships and partnerships outside of the home (Christie & Viner, 2005; Daniel, Wassell, & Gilligan, 1999). Yet family relationships remain critically important, and trauma or conflict within the family is likely to have an impact on young people that may not always be communicated in a straightforward way.

It is useful to understand the types of behaviours or actions that adolescents may engage in - and why they may engage in them - and offer open lines of communication to the young person. This may not only help the young person express their emotions, needs and desires, but can also help to model good communication skills to parents. We often ask questions in a way that can silence young people. We can also become so focused on getting a literal response that we miss the things that they are telling us through their behaviour or actions. The following tips may help workers to engage in more respectful and supportive conversations with young people that will better allow them to express themselves.

Box 1. Phases of growth in adolescence

A common way to differentiate the phases of growth in adolescence is by labelling these phases as early, middle and late adolescence. Less commonly, a pre-adolescence and youth/young adulthood phase are also identified at either end of the adolescent "spectrum" (Breinbauer & Maddaleno, 2005). Each of these phases is differentiated by the degree to which physical, sexual, emotional and social development has occurred. At each phase, interactions at school and home, as well as biological, socioeconomic, cultural and environmental factors, will influence development. For example, in Western society, puberty is often seen as the beginning of adolescence at around 11 to 12 years of age (biological marker) (Christie & Viner, 2005). A recent study shows that around half of Australian Year 12 students have experienced sexual intercourse (Smith, Agius, Mitchell, Barrett, & Pitts, 2009), indicating that sexual development accelerates in middle adolescence.

The "completion" of adolescence is less clearly marked, but may be characterised by things such as being able to drive or vote (cultural markers), or leaving the family home (social and environmental markers). More subtly, things such as cognitive and moral development are less "visible" markers of growth, and are more likely to test practitioners' abilities to judge competency to engage in aspects of service provision, such as decision-making around involvement in counselling, post-separation parenting arrangements and making positive social connections.

Engagement - How will I start?

  • Let the young person be the expert of his or her own world - it may help to consider initially working from a "one-down" position, that is, the worker as student. Remain open and curious.
  • Be creative. You can engage in conversation with a young person when sitting in a park or a cafe, shooting hoops, walking, patting a dog, driving in a car or hiding under a table. Movement, a change of scenery, companionship, and activities or behaviours that involve limited eye contact can help to encourage communication.
  • Be clear about your role and the reasons you are talking to them, but also talk about normal "safe" things, such as clothes, sport, music. Enjoy getting to know the young person.

Delivery - How should I ask questions?

  • Be authentic rather than "cool".
  • Honesty and straightforwardness is appreciated and appropriate. Ask the young person's permission to be "upfront"; respond to the non-verbal cues:

"Is it okay to tell you what I'm thinking?"

"Tell me if I got it wrong."

"Is this the wrong time to be having this conversation?"

"The look on your face says that ten minutes of this conversation is enough and then we'll get a milkshake - deal?"

  • Avoid using jargon.
  • Talk about the "talking about". Help the young person to have a sense of control about the timing and pace of difficult conversation.

"If we were to talk about when your mum and dad told you that they were separating, what would be hard about talking about it? What would be good about talking about it?"

"I reckon you might think that if we talked about the fighting and yelling at home it would get even louder inside your head ... or that the nightmares would be worse ..."

  • Try not to ask direct questions - use observations and give space for the young person to respond.

"Some kids hate talking about the bad or hard stuff but then once they do, they find that they sleep better."

"Seems like there's a lot of stuff bottled up inside you that just boils over and you're finding that pretty hard to cope with."

Technique - What else may help?

  • Let the young person know that you like him or her. Find something to like!
  • Plasticine or play dough can be useful at times for showing or modelling family events or as a soothing device to squeeze as they are talking about difficult things.
  • Similarly, things such as chewing gum, taking a break, eating chocolate, or getting a warm drink can help the young person manage an intense session.
  • Talk out loud about what you imagine they would say to you if they could.
  • Use existing props in the room, or non-verbal cues to answer questions.

Suggest to the young person who doesn't want to talk that if they shrug their right shoulder, this means "yes"; a left shrug means "no".

Use arm gestures to suggest how big the sad, angry or confused feelings might be.

Ask him or her to show you on the wall where the sad feelings would come up to, or how much of the room his or her anger would fill up.

Encourage the use of drawing, poetry, story writing or movement to enable the young person to externalise what has happened - for example, ask what his or her sadness would look like in a drawing.

Competence, coercion and confidentiality

The gradual transition of power for making decisions that affect their lives is an important part of adolescent development that prepares young people for independence. Parents and carers have a role in supporting young people to make this shift to independence, and professionals can support this. As young people develop autonomy and self-mastery, their views on decisions that affect them will need to be given more weight. However, this developmental shift is gradual, which means that issues such as competence, coercion and confidentiality need to be regularly considered in service delivery (Larcher, 2005). These issues become even more pertinent when a practitioner is required to work one-on-one with a young person.

Competence: Is the young person developmentally ready, willing and able to contribute to his/her own engagement with the service?

Competency includes an ability to understand:

  • simple terms;
  • the nature, purpose and necessity of proposed action and any alternatives that may be available;
  • the likely benefits and risks of the proposed action, and possible effects of non-action; and
  • how the information applies to the person (Viner, 2005).

Recent research on brain development in adolescence provides additional insight into what a young person may be competent to make decisions about and what may still be difficult for their age and stage of development (see Box 2). Competence may also be situation specific. For example, a young woman may perform well in her job but regresses in situations that require her to deal with conflict. In this sense, a young person may have the competence to make some basic decisions alone but may need support and help from parents or carers to make others.

Coercion: Is the young person making decisions of his or her own free will and upon consideration of all the information presented to them?

If you are providing the opportunity for young people to be involved in decision-making, it is important that they have time to consider information and feel that they are making an informed choice, free from external pressure (Viner, 2005). Failure to provide adequate time or facilities to receive and reflect on information may be a subtle form of coercion. Practitioners also need to consider whether the information has been understood, and the impact of cultural norms, such as traditional or cultural relationships between young people and authority figures (e.g., Aboriginal elders).

Confidentiality and information sharing: What happens to the information provided by the young person?

Confidentiality is rated very highly, considered very important by adolescents and is crucial to practice (Viner, 2005). Young people have a right to confidentiality and where it is limited, to have those limits clearly explained. Clarity regarding confidentiality policies and practices, including across services, needs to be established. A young person's involvement with a range of services is not in itself a justification for information sharing between practitioners.

Box 2. Brain development

Recent research indicates that there is a development and strengthening of the areas of the brain that involve self-regulation (of behaviours and emotions) during adolescence and early adulthood (Steinberg, 2009). The parts of the brain influencing levels of mature judgement, long-term planning, consideration of the consequences of (and alternatives to) behaviour and self-regulation are still developing into the early twenties (Patton & Viner, 2007). Therefore, brain immaturity may impact on a young person's emotional and impulse control. An example of this is when a young person can sometimes later explain exactly why something happened in the way it did, but couldn't make the connection at the time of the event. Brain growth research gives us new insight into a biological basis for adolescent behaviours, which may help parents, carers and practitioners understand adolescent behaviour. It also provides some guidance regarding a young person's capacity to make his or her own decisions (competency).


Young people are in a unique period of development that encompasses their increasing individuation from parents and desire to make their own personal decisions. This may be reflected in family counselling or similar sessions, and effective communication with the young person can help them to engage in the process of change. Respecting the young person's feelings, needs and desires in a way that is appropriate to their developmental stage will help to build good working therapeutic relationships with young people, and additionally may serve to model effective communication skills to parents. Considerations of competency, the subtle effects of coercion and confidentiality will also help in times where a young person wishes to engage in one-to-one communication in a counselling or similar setting.


  • Breinbauer, C., & Maddaleno, M. (2005). Youth: Choices and change. Promoting healthy behaviors in adolescents. Washington, D.C.: Pan American Health Organization.
  • Christie, D., & Viner, R. (2005). Adolescent development. In R. Viner (Ed.), ABC of adolescence. London: Blackwell Publishing.
  • Daniel, B., Wassell, S., & Gilligan, R. (1999). Child development for child care and protection workers. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
  • Larcher, V. (2005). Consent, competence and confidentiality. In R.Viner (Ed.), ABC of adolescence. London: Blackwell Publishing.Patton, G., & Viner, R. (2007). Pubertal transitions in health. The Lancet, 369, 1130-1139.
  • Smith, A., Agius, P., Mitchell, A., Barrett, C., & Pitts, M. (2009). Secondary students and sexual health 2008 (Monograph Series No. 70). Melbourne: Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health & Society, La Trobe University.
  • Steinberg, L. (2009). Should the science of adolescent brain development inform public policy? American Psychologist, 64(8), 739-750.
  • Viner, R. (2005). ABC of adolescence. London: Blackwell Publishing.

Elly Robinson is the Manager of Australian Family Relationships Clearinghouse and the National Child Protection Clearinghouse.

Robyn Miller is the Principal Practitioner for the Children Youth and Families Division of the Victorian Government, Department of Human Services.

Investigating gender differences in romantic relationships

by Gery Karantzas, Celia Goncalves, Judith Feeney and Marita McCabe

There exists a plethora of research suggesting that men and women perceive and act differently in romantic relationships. However, this claim has been challenged in recent years with studies of couples reporting a lack of gender differences. In this paper, Karantzas and his colleagues build on this emerging inconsistency in the relationships research field by reporting on a recent study of Australian married and cohabiting couples that suggests that gender differences may in fact have been overstated in relationship research.

Gender differences have been widely researched and reported in relationship research. Much of this research was inspired by the provocative work of Jessie Bernard (1972) whose book, The Future of Marriage, argued that men and women hold very different enduring beliefs and expectations about marriage. Bernard argued that the differences were so stark between men and women that all marriages consist of two relationships: "his" and "hers". Since Bernard's publication, both scientific (e.g., Implett & Peplau, 2006; Schmidt, 2002) and pop culture (e.g., Gray, 1992, 2008) writings have consistently highlighted the disparate ways that men and women think and feel about relationships, and the way the genders behave towards one another (e.g., Regan & Berscheid, 1996; Rosen-Gradon, Myers, & Hattie, 2004; Winstead, Derlega, & Rose, 1997; Wood, 1996). The aim of much of this research has been to understand the origins and manifestation of these gender distinctions, to provide strategies for how couples can work on appreciating partner differences, and in doing so, learn how to make relationships "work".

Nevertheless, contrasting research suggests that while men and women may behave differently in relationships, their underlying needs, wants and perspectives may not be so different; especially for those couples in committed relationships (e.g., Hendrick, Hendrick, & Adler, 1998; Karney & Bradbury, 1995). For instance, in a longitudinal study of couples, Kurdek (2005) found few marked differences over time in men and women's ratings of marital satisfaction, social support and spousal interactions. Moreover, the strength of the associations between these factors was similar for men and women. Kurdek (2005) and Parker (2007) both highlighted that the reason for these disparate findings relates to the level of analysis at which the research was conducted. Specifically, much relationship research has failed to analyse the responses of couples (i.e., the couple as the unit of analysis). Rather, the majority of studies have compared the responses of men and women from different relationships (i.e., the individual as the unit of analysis).

Thus, it is unclear if these gender differences are due to actual differences between men and women, or the result of comparing men and women from different relationships. These arguments are echoed by Kenny, Kashy, and Cook (2006) who suggested that generalisations about differences between the genders are often inappropriately made to couples when the analysis has in fact been conducted on individuals. It makes sense then that looking at differences between members of existing couples rather than partners from different relationships would help to develop a clearer understanding of the effects of gender on relationships.

In the present study, gender differences within enduring and committed romantic relationships were examined by comparing men and women in relationships across a wide array of factors known to directly or indirectly influence relationship satisfaction: attachment style, trust, provision of partner support (sometimes referred to as caregiving), the use of destructive conflict-centred communication strategies (such as coercion and withdrawal), intimacy and relationship satisfaction (for a comprehensive rationale for the investigation of these relationship factors see Karantzas, Feeney, Goncalves, & McCabe, 2010).


Seventy-five couples (75 men and 75 women) involved in a cohabiting or marital relationship were recruited across metropolitan Melbourne through the relationship education courses of Centacare and Humaneed - two Australia-wide relationship education and counselling organisations. Participants in these courses ranged in age from 19-73 years, and over 95% of participants were Anglo-Australian. Sixty-two percent were married, while the remainder of the couples were in cohabiting relationships. Relationship length ranged from 10 months to 50 years and 6 months, with a mean of 15.04 years.


Each member of the participating couples individually completed a questionnaire providing information on: demographics; attachment style; provision of partner support; trust; destructive conflict-centred communication; intimacy; and relationship satisfaction. (Refer to Box 1 for further details on the measures used.)

Box 1. Study methodology

  • Demographic information was recorded regarding participants' age, gender, ethnic background, relationship status and relationship length.
  • Attachment style was assessed using the Attachment Style Questionnaire (ASQ; Feeney, Noller & Hanrahan, 1994; Karantzas, Feeney, & Wilkinson, in press). Items from this measure can be used to generate scores on the two primary dimensions of attachment - avoidance and anxiety. All items are rated along a 6-point scale ranging from 1 (totally disagree) to 6 (totally agree). Higher scores on each dimension indicate greater attachment avoidance and anxiety respectively.
  • The provision of partner support was measured using the Caregiving Questionnaire (CQ; Kunce & Shaver, 1994) The CQ consists of items relating to different styles of caregiving in romantic dyads. Items are rated on a 6-point scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 6 (strongly agree). A total caregiving index was calculated with higher scores indicating the provision of sensitive, responsive and non-compulsive partner support.
  • Trust was assessed using the Rempel and Holmes (1986) Trust Scale. Items are rated along a 7-point scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree) with higher scores indicating greater trust.
  • Destructive conflict-centered communication was measured using the Communication Patterns Questionnaire (CPQ, Christensen, 1988). Items on the CPQ are rated on a 9-point scale ranging from 1 (very unlikely) to 9 (very likely). The scale was computed such that higher scores indicate more destructive conflict-centred communication.
  • The Marital Intimacy Questionnaire (MIQ, Van den Broucke, Vertommen, & Vandereycken, 1995) was used to measure intimacy. The items are rated on a 10-point scale, from 1 (strongly disagree) to 10 (strongly agree), with higher scores indicating greater intimacy.
  • The Dyadic Adjustment Scale - Short Form (DAS-7, Sharpley & Cross, 1982) was used to assess relationship satisfaction. The scale consists of two 3-item subscales (couple consensus and cohesion) rated on various 6-point scales, while the final item is a measure of general satisfaction rated on a 7-point scale. The items can be summed to produce a total score, with higher scores indicating greater relationship satisfaction.


To examine whether men and women in couples differed in their perceptions of attachment style, provision of partner support, trust, the use of destructive conflict-centred communication, intimacy and relationship satisfaction, we tested the differences between the mean scores on these factors for men compared to women. We also examined whether men and women's perceptions differed as a function of relationship length and relationship status (i.e., cohabiting versus married). Importantly, when conducting these analyses we accounted for the relatedness of the data (i.e., that the men and women were in relationships with each other).1 No significant differences between couple members were found.

Men and women reported low levels of attachment insecurity, with means for anxiety and avoidance falling below the mid-point of the scale range. Similarly, both men and women reported low use of destructive conflict-centred communication. In contrast, couples reported high levels of the provision of partner support, trust and intimacy, and moderate relationship satisfaction. When examining the effects of relationship length and status on these variables, we found three significant associations. Firstly, relationship length was positively associated with commitment for both men and women. Secondly, relationship status was also positively correlated with commitment for men and women, suggesting that for both genders, commitment was higher for married compared to cohabiting couples. We also investigated for each couple if the difference in men and women's perceptions was a function of their relationship status and length. For example, would romantic partners that have been together for only 10 months, show bigger differences in relationship perceptions and attitudes compared to couples that have been together for 20 or more years? This correlation analysis revealed that differences between partners' perceptions were not associated with either relationship length or status.


The lack of gender differences reported in this study is in line with recent couple research (Burleson, 2003; Kurdek, 2005). These results are further supported by Karantzas et al. (2010) in which the authors developed and tested a model of relationship functioning and examined the strength of the relationships between the variables reported on in this paper, analysing the data at the couple level. In that study, no significant differences were found in the strength of the relationships between the variables for either gender. In sum, this recent research supports the claim that when investigating individuals involved in satisfying long-term relationships (i.e., not couples or dyads) gender differences may be overstated. Using dyads in couple research fails to support major gender differences.

Two possible reasons can be proposed for the lack of gender differences. On the one hand, the couples in our sample may have consisted of relationship partners who were initially attracted to one another because of the similarities they shared regarding their relationship beliefs, attitudes, values and ways of behaving. On the other hand, it may be that each member of the couple held quite different relationship attitudes and beliefs during the early stages of the relationship, but over time, the cognitions and behaviours of the partners converged. Having said this, our analyses of whether partner perceptions differed as a function of relationship length and status seem to provide support for the first of these reasons. We found no evidence in the present sample that partners started out with different beliefs and attitudes regarding their relationships. Rather, couples seemed to share very similar views from the beginning. Nor were the differences between partners greater for cohabiting compared to married couples. We did however find that relationship commitment increased for both men and women as a function of relationship length and relationship status. These findings support previous research that has found both genders to feel more committed to their relationships with the passing of time, and as couples' transition from a status of dating and cohabitation to marriage (e.g., Bouchard, Lachance, & Goguen, 2008; Young & Acitelli, 1998).

However, two methodological issues may also contribute to the study findings. Firstly, we emphasise that our data are cross-sectional and more longitudinal studies are required to determine whether changes occur over the course of a relationship that shape the extent to which partners' beliefs, attitudes and behaviours converge. Secondly, study participants were sampled from those attending a relationship education course: these couples might be systematically different from other couples. Specifically, these couples may be more likely to view their relationships in similar ways and therefore demonstrate greater motivation to attend relationship education and to complete the dyadic surveys.

Our findings have implications for relationship educators and counsellors. Various relationship education courses emphasise the notion that men and women view relationships differently; that is, there are "his" and "her" views of relationships. For instance, much is made of the way that men and women differ in terms of how they communicate in relationships. While we do acknowledge that gender differences have been found in relationship research in the past, we ask that educators and therapists rethink the extent to which differences between men and women are as common as first thought.

These findings also highlight the importance of considering the like nature of men and women involved in committed and enduring relationships. We therefore encourage relationship educators and counsellors to consider emphasising these similarities to couples as it may well be that a couple's awareness of their similarities acts as the glue that binds them together.

Furthermore, our findings suggest that any differences that may be identified between relationship partners should not be merely put down to stereotyped differences between the genders. Consequently, educators and therapists may need to think twice in proposing to couples that the source of their relationship differences is primarily the result of men and women thinking differently about relationships. Rather, points of difference for couples may be due to other reasons, such as people's differing personalities or cultural backgrounds. Thus, we encourage the continued use of inventories such as PREPARE-ENRICH (Olsen, 1996), by educators and therapists. Since these inventories can help pinpoint issues where partners differ, they provide an evidence-base from which professionals can provide appropriate advice and interventions to assist couples in working though relationship differences that may be causing problems for couples.

In closing, the existence of a "his" and "her" marriage depends on one's perspective. As Implett and Peplau (2006) put it:

In everyday life, men and women often engage in quite different activities ... At a more basic level, however, men and women are remarkably similar - both fall in love, form enduring attachments, suffer the pain of loneliness, and benefit from social support. (p. 287)

Could it be that men and women are not from different planets after all?


  • Bernard, J. (1972). The future of marriage. New York: Bantam Books.
  • Bouchard, G., Lachance-Grzela, M., & Goguen, A. (2008). Timing of the transition to motherhood and union quality: The moderator role of union length. Personal Relationships, 15, 71-80.
  • Burleson, B. (2003). The experience and effects of emotional support: What the study of cultural and gender differences can tell us about close relationships, emotion, and interpersonal communication. Personal Relationships, 10, 1-23.
  • Christensen, A. (1988). Dysfunctional interaction patterns in couples. In P. Noller & M. A. Fitzpatrick (Eds.), Perspectives in marital interaction (pp. 31-52). Philadelphia, PA: Multilingual Matters.
  • Feeney, J. A., Noller, P., & Hanrahan, M. (1994). Assessing adult attachment. In M. B. Sperling & W. H. Berman (Eds.), Attachment in adults: Clinical and developmental perspectives (pp. 128-152). New York: Guilford Press.
  • Gray, J. (1992). Men are from Mars, women are from Venus. New York: HarperCollins.
  • Gray, J. (2008). Why Mars and Venus collide. New York: HarperCollins.
  • Hendrick, S. S., Hendrick, C., & Adler, N. L. (1988). Romantic relationships: Love, satisfaction, and staying together. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58, 937-957.
  • Impett, E. A., & Peplau, L. A. (2006). "His" and "her" relationships: A review of the empirical evidence. In A. Vangelisti & D. Perlman (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of personal relationships (pp. 273-291). New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Karantzas, G. C., Feeney, J. A., Goncalves, C., & McCabe, M. P. (2010). Towards an integrative model of relationship functioning. Manuscript submitted for publication.
  • Karantzas, G. C., Feeney, J. A., & Wilkinson, R. B. (2010). Does less mean more? A confirmatory factor analytic study of the Attachment Style Questionnaire and the Attachment Style Questionnaire - Short Form. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 27, 749-780.
  • Karney, B. R., & Bradbury, T. N. (1995). The longitudinal course of marital quality and stability: A review of theory, method, and research. Psychological Bulletin, 118, 3-34.
  • Kenny, D.A., Kashy, D.A., & Cook, W.L. (2006). Dyadic data analysis. New York: Guildford Press.
  • Kunce, L. J., & Shaver, P. R. (1994). An attachment-theoretical approach to caregiving in romantic relationships. In K. Bartholomew & D. Perlman (Eds.), Advances in personal relationships: Attachment processes in adulthood (Vol. 5, pp. 205-237). London: Jessica Kingsley.
  • Kurdek, L. (2005). Gender and marital satisfaction early in marriage: A growth curve approach. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67, 68-84.
  • Olson, D.H. (1996). The PREPARE/ENRICH counselors' manual. Minneapolis, MN: Life Innovations Inc.
  • Parker, R. (2007). Gender and marital satisfaction early in marriage. Family Relationships Quarterly, 4, 11-13.
  • Regan, P.C., & Berscheid, E. (1996). Beliefs about the state, goals and objects of sexual desire. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 22, 110-120.
  • Rempel, J. K., & Holmes, J. G. (1986). How do I trust thee? Psychology Today, 20(2), 28-34.
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  • Winstead, B.A., Derlega, V.J., & Rose, S. (1997). Gender and close relationships. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • Wood, J.T. (1996). Gendered relationships. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield.
  • Young, A. M., & Acitelli, L. K. (1998). The role of attachment style and relationship status of the perceiver in the perceptions of romantic partner. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 15, 161-173.


Gery Karantzas & Celia Goncalves (Deakin University), Judith Feeney (University of Queensland), & Marita McCabe (Deakin University).


1. We also corrected for the number of comparisons we were making across our variables of interest.

Grandmothers and grandfathers looking after grandchildren: Recent Australian research

by Briony Horsfall and Deborah Dempsey

This article presents a snapshot of findings from a research project about the experiences of Australian grandparents who regularly care for grandchildren. The authors wish to thank the grandparents who generously shared their stories for this research.

The time grandparents share with grandchildren takes many forms. Grandchildcare is defined as time when grandparents are responsible for the care and wellbeing of grandchildren, usually in the absence of a parent. In some cases, a grandparent may be undertaking the tasks of grandchildcare alongside a parent. This is different to "seeing" grandchildren, which is characterised by social time without caregiving responsibilities, often in the company of parents.

This mixed-methodology research had two components. The first component involved a secondary analysis of data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey (HILDA) Release 7.1 A total of 3,277 grandparents were identified in the HILDA data set (1,343 grandfathers, 1,934 grandmothers). Part two of the research involved qualitative in-depth semi-structured interviews (n = 14) with six grandfathers and eight grandmothers who cared, to varying degrees, for at least one grandchild.

Differences between spending time seeing and caring for grandchildren

The vast majority of grandparents regularly see their grandchildren. Across the 3,277 grandparents who responded to the HILDA survey, 73% reported seeing a grandchild once a month or more frequently. Grandmothers were likely to see grandchildren significantly more often than grandfathers. Overall, 56% of grandmothers had seen a grandchild at least once a week compared to 49% of grandfathers.

Of the 1,702 grandparents who confirmed they had ever looked after a grandchild, 44% were doing grandchildcare once a week or more often. When comparing grandmothers and grandfathers, grandmothers provided grandchildcare significantly more frequently than grandfathers, with 47% of grandmothers doing grandchildcare at least once per week or more often, compared to 41% of grandfathers. As can be seen in Figure 1, grandmothers are more likely than grandfathers to perform grandchildcare daily or several times a week, while grandfathers were more likely than grandmothers to be doing care a few times a year or less often. These results show Australian grandmothers tend to see grandchildren and to look after grandchildren more often than grandfathers.

Figure 1. Frequency of grandchild care, by sex of grandparent

Figure 1. Frequency of grandchildcare by sex of grandparent

Further differences between grandmothers and grandfathers caring for grandchildren

Retirement status had some impact on the frequency of grandparents providing childcare. The most significant difference was between partly retired grandfathers and grandmothers. Of the grandmothers who considered themselves to be partly retired, 30% looked after a grandchild several times a week or more frequently whereas only 9% of partly retired grandfathers performed the same frequency of care. This suggests that, compared with grandfathers, having a paid work commitment does not equate to grandmothers doing less caregiving.

Relationship status was associated with grandfathers doing grandchildcare but not so for grandmothers. Being married/partnered, separated/divorced or widowed did not make a significant impact for grandmothers on the frequency of grandchildcare they provided. For grandfathers though, the presence of a wife facilitated their participation in care because married grandfathers were more likely to report frequently performing grandchildcare than divorced/separated or widowed grandfathers.

The extent to which grandmothers and grandfathers felt satisfied with their free time offered insight into the degree to which grandparents were able to enjoy leisure time as well as perform care and other commitments in life. Although most grandfathers (76%) and grandmothers (69%) who provided grandchildcare were generally satisfied with the amount of free time they have, a significantly greater proportion of grandmothers who did grandchildcare were partially satisfied or dissatisfied with their free time than grandfathers. This was especially so for grandmothers doing grandchildcare several times a week or more frequently.

Grandmothers who nurture

Grandmothers and grandfathers alike used the word "nurturing" to describe what it means to be a grandmother, whether that involves grandchildcare or not. Consistent with earlier research (Wearing & Wearing, 1996; Millward, 1997), grandmothers described themselves as doing the practical work of care and being primarily responsible for the grandchildren, even when their husbands are involved in care. Fiona, who has five grandchildren explained:

Look, he's around, especially because he's home now, but in a sense I take responsibility for looking after (grandchild). I say "come on Thursdays" and I take the responsibility for it. So he's here but I'm the basic caregiver.

A prominent theme across the interviews with grandmothers was the juggle of managing time and contact with grandchildren. Balancing the needs of grandchildren with domestic labour, paid work, caring for elderly parents and their own personal time was a challenge. For example, Carol, a grandmother to eight children, spoke about time management as part of her preparations for spending time with grandchildren and ensuring that their time together goes as smoothly as possible:

It's been a challenge from the point of view that it's not easy. I get the benefits I think by managing time. I'm a time management freak I think, but I, we, get so much more quality from the visit or outing if I know that it has been time managed.

The demand for grandchildcare, particularly for young children, was fuelled by a combination of social expectations to be a caregiver, the busy schedules of adult children who struggled to find suitable childcare and difficulty saying no when asked to provide care. All of the grandparents who were interviewed talked about contemporary grandparents, especially grandmothers, being expected to do grandchildcare and to be a strong source of support for adult children. This was perceived to be occurring to an extent far greater than in the past and could become quite burdensome. For instance, this pressure was experienced by Denise, a grandmother of three, who commented:

Sometimes it gets a bit over the top. Last week I did five days with the grandchildren. I was tired by the end of the week and I was ready for a day off.

According to Cheryl, the reluctance to refuse requests to do grandchildcare can sometimes be motivated by wanting "to be seen as always available and never saying no" to adult children and grandchildren. The perceived social expectation of doing grandchildcare complements the idea that nurturing grandchildren can be an extension of nurturing one's own children, thereby fulfilling maternal ideals about women.

Grandfathers getting involved

Contrasting earlier research by Cunningham-Burley (1984) and Scraton and Holland (2006) that suggested grandfathers were distant figures in grandchildren's lives, the grandfathers who participated in this research spoke enthusiastically about engaging with grandchildren. For example, Mark, a grandfather of seven, showed the picture books he makes with his grandchildren, he explained:

We've had a lot of stickers, all the favourite singers (pointing to Hannah Montana). I bought a lot of those and a couple of books and the grandchildren will come in and say "I want to do stickers" and we'll get the box of stickers out, so I stick stickers with them.

This was Mark's special activity that he enjoyed with grandchildren while providing care along with his wife.

In contrast to grandmothers, the role of grandfathers was, on the whole, not associated with the practical tasks inherent in caring for children. Instead, most of the grandfathers talked about doing things, like entertaining the grandchildren while their wife made dinner, as a way to support the care that their wife was performing. This reflected the greater likelihood of grandfathers participating in care more frequently if married, as found in the HILDA data. Peter, who has three grandchildren, described himself entertaining the grandchildren while his wife performed domestic labour or prepared a meal for the grandchildren:

She would often be cleaning up the house because my daughter, and son in law for that matter, are bloody hopeless with that. So she'll be doing a lot of that when I'll be playing with the kids. She'll be cooking or getting something ready so she'll be able to play with the kids too.

Across all the interviews, being a male role model and mentor to grandchildren strongly featured in the way both men and women talked about grandfathering, compared to the theme of nurturing in relation to grandmothering. As Robert, who has four grandchildren, explained:

Probably more so now than any other time in history, I think it's important that little boys in particular, but I presume little girls as well, actually do have a male role model. So often at school all the teachers are female, they spend infinitely more time with their mother than their father, and the role of the grandfather is there, I believe, largely to be a male role model.

Two grandfathers we spoke to provided grandchildcare on their own. Simon and John emphasised that caregiving was a conscious decision they had made, although each came to the decision from different life histories. Simon had strong egalitarian beliefs about gender roles and John had experienced being a primary carer to his own children. Overall, grandfathers appeared to have greater flexibility in care-giving compared with grandmothers.


Australia has amongst the lowest public expenditure on early childhood services across OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) nations (OECD, 2008) and this research has demonstrated that grandparents, especially a substantial proportion of grandmothers, are filling the shortfalls of formal childcare. Although there were a small number of interviews conducted with grandparents, the personal experiences of these grandparents shed some light on significant patterns emerging in the quantitative national survey data. Overall, this study revealed gender inequalities associated with doing grandchildcare which have the potential to impact on the lives of older women, particularly in relation to experiences of paid work, leisure time and expectations to provide care.

For practitioners working with families over the life course, it is important to recognise the potential costs of caring for grandchildren by older women. Adult children may need to be made aware of the significance of what they are asking of their parents, rather than assuming that they will be there to do what is expected. Grandparents, especially grandmothers, who may be unlikely to say no to unpaid care, when they can see the benefits to their adult children and grandchildren, could be supported in boundary setting. Furthermore, grandfathers who are clearly capable carers could be making a greater contribution to caregiving. As this research shows, grandparents continue to be a vital source of support for their adult children and grandchildren in modern family life.


  • Cunningham-Burley, S. (1984). "We don't talk about it ...": Issues of gender and method in the portrayal of grandfatherhood. Sociology, 18, 325-338.
  • Millward, C. (1997). Effects of gender and paid work on grandparenting. Family Matters, 46, 18-21.
  • Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. (2008). PF10: Public Spending on Childcare and Early Education, OECD Family database. Retrieved from <>
  • Scraton, S., & Holland, S. (2006). Grandfatherhood and leisure. Leisure Studies, 25(2), 233-250.
  • Wearing, B., & Wearing, C. (1996). Women breaking out: Changing discourses on grandmotherhood. Journal of Family Studies, 2, 165-177.

Briony Horsfall is a Research Officer at the Australian Institute of Family Studies and a PhD candidate in Sociology at Swinburne University of Technology. Dr Deborah Dempsey is a Lecturer in Sociology at Swinburne University of Technology. This research was undertaken during Ms Horsfall's honours thesis.


1. The HILDA project was initiated and is funded by the Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA ) and is managed by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economics and Social Research (MIAESR). The findings of this research and the views reported, however, are those of the authors and should not be attributed to either FaHCSIA or the MIAESR.

Supporting children after separation (Anglicare WA): Program spotlight

by Catherine Caruana

When separating parents seek the assistance of family support services, or interact with the family law system, the children, until relatively recently, have had little direct presence in the process. Child-inclusive and child-focused practice, in both mediation services and the conduct of litigation, have helped provide a voice for children in family law disputes (McIntosh, 2007). In doing so, it became increasingly apparent that the psychological and emotional support needs of children whose parents were separating, particularly in high-conflict families and those affected by violence, were not being met. In 2008, the Federal Attorney General's Department in conjunction with FaHCSIA announced funding for the establishment of 14 dedicated support services around Australia for the children of separating parents. Catherine Caruana interviewed Jennie Hannan, Executive Manager of Services, Anglicare WA, and Tunya Petridis, Children's Consultant with Anglicare WA's Supporting Children After Separation (SCAS) Program, to find out more about one of these relatively new services.1


Supporting Children After Separation Programs around the country aim to help children (aged from birth to 18 years) through the experience of their parent's separation, and in particular to:

  • adjust to the changes that arise from separation;
  • indentify and express their feelings and thoughts about the separation;
  • develop and enhance family relationships in what can be a difficult time; and
  • gain life skills and social skills that will enable them to build resilience to challenges in their lives (Anglicare WA, 2010).

The Supporting Children After Separation Program run by Anglicare WA evolved from another successful Anglicare WA initiative - the Parenting Orders Program, Mums and Dads Forever. In 2007 Anglicare WA conducted a children's pilot (as part of Mums and Dads Forever) which provided some counselling and group therapy specifically for children. Anglicare then went on to successfully tender for the Supporting Children After Separation Program in metropolitan Perth. The program was rolled out nationally in December 2008 and Anglicare WA began accepting clients in February 2009.

The program

The Anglicare WA program provides services to children via four streams. These include:

  • Schools program - educative workshops delivered in the school setting either as a one-off session, or over a number of weeks. The workshops are targeted at all children, and as such do not focus on separation specifically, but on a range of issues such as self-esteem, anger management, grief and loss, dealing with conflict, coping with strong emotions and managing stress and change. This program has proved very popular, with bookings some months in advance.
  • Group work with children - a psycho-educational program with age-specific groups of 0-5 years, 6-9 years, 9-12 years and teens. Over the course of six weekly sessions of 90 minutes, children are encouraged to explore their feelings about their parents' separation, using a "sideways" therapeutic model, that is, by sharing their experiences with children in similar circumstances. The aim is to normalise experiences of family breakdown, thereby minimising feelings of isolation. Taking a strengths-based approach, the groups provide a supportive environment for children to develop emotional awareness about what is happening in their families, and to develop coping strategies. The groups run continuously throughout school terms and in the school holidays.
  • In the 0-5 year old group, children attend with a parent. Run by Ngala (a Perth-based early parenting service) and facilitated by a psychologist with the assistance of childcare workers, this group uses attachment theory to help enhance the parent-child relationship and parental self-esteem. This is a particularly useful service for fathers who are estranged from their children.
  • Counselling service - the client group for this short- to medium-term, child-specific counselling service, is drawn primarily from children whose families are affected by a high level of conflict, domestic violence and/or other complex issues. This service also works as a referral gateway, offering additional assistance to children attending group sessions and referring to other specialist services, where required.
  • Camp program - a camp program, which aims to provide opportunities to develop physical skills and enhance self-esteem, was in development at the time of interview.

While interventions occur at the child, parent and family system level, approximately 95% of client work is done with children directly. Where appropriate, parents can be provided with feedback about outcomes from the group and individual sessions. However, like other Family Support Program providers, Supporting Children After Separation counsellors working individually with children are subject to the admissibility and confidentiality provisions under the Family Law Act 1975 and the program isn't court reportable.

Anglicare WA is in the process of developing a child-friendly website. There are plans to increase capacity to provide child-inclusive practice training for Family Dispute Resolution Practitioners. The SCAS service works very closely with the new Family Relationship Centres. All services are provided free of charge.

Pathway through service

When a contact is made at the service, the case is first allocated to one of the five offices covered by the service. An intake appointment is first organised with a counsellor and the parent during which screening for violence is undertaken, followed by an appointment with the child for assessment.2 Referrals are made where appropriate, either in the form of warm referrals (where the counsellor will make contact with the service provider in the presence of the client) to other Anglicare WA programs or other external providers. A decision is then made whether the child would benefit from attending the group sessions, or individual counselling. The majority of children first participate in the group program. However some children attend counselling prior to attending a group where it is felt it is needed. Where a child is on a waiting list for a group session, counselling can help keep them engaged with the service.

An attempt is always made to work with both parents, except where it would be dangerous to do so. However a child's participation in the program is not dependent on obtaining consent from both parents. If one parent objects to the child using the service, counsellors will work with that parent to reassure them about the child's involvement, but will generally proceed to see the child.

The majority of referrals come from Family Relationship Centres, schools, and the Family Court of Western Australia. When ordering parents to attend the Mums and Dads Forever program, the current practice of the court is to also make an order that the children attend the Supporting Children After Separation Program.


One of the challenges faced by Anglicare WA in running the SCAS Program is responding to the high demand for services with limited resources. The service is only funded to see children, therefore the work done with parents, which Anglicare WA considers essential, is not included in their reportable client statistics.

The needs of clients attending counselling have been found to be much more complex than anticipated. However the ready availability of other Anglicare WA programs, to which clients can be referred, has enhanced the service's capacity to respond - illustrating the importance of embedding services such as these within an agency that can provide other supporting services.

The difficulty in securing qualified and experienced staff, especially for a specialist service such as Supporting Children After Separation, is a significant issue in Western Australia. Anglicare WA provides staff with in-house training on a range of subjects, including assessment and screening, domestic violence, working with children, and child developmental theory. Supervision and professional development are prioritised. The service is well supported by good infrastructure provided by the parent organisation.


Anglicare WA view the Supporting Children After Separation Program as an innovative addition to Western Australia's family support services. The only other child-specific counselling service available in the region is that provided at the Child and Adolescent Mental Health service - a specialist service for children with serious mental health issues, run by the Department of Health. The fact that SCAS can be responsive to local needs, can provide prompt and appropriate referrals, and has a strong presence in schools, and during the holidays via the camp program, further extends its reach to children requiring support during a difficult time.


The SCAS service provided by Anglicare WA works to both fill a service gap for a particularly vulnerable client group, and to contribute to the work of other services in fostering a greater child focus in parents who are separating. An evaluation of the service by researchers at Edith Cowan University will contribute to our knowledge about the efficacy of services such as these in supporting children and young people through the difficult family transition of parental separation.


For further information please phone (08) 9263 2104, or visit the Anglicare WA website.


  • Anglicare WA. (2010). Separation services: Supporting Children After Separation Program. Retrieved from <>.
  • McIntosh, J. (2007). Child inclusion as a principle and as evidence-based practice: Applications to family law services and related sectors (AFRC Issues, No. 1). Melbourne: Australian Family Relationships Clearinghouse, Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Catherine Caruana is a Senior Research Officer with the Australian Family Relationships Clearinghouse.


1. This spotlight profiles only one of the 14 Supporting Children After Separation Programs around the country. The author is unable to comment on how the Anglicare WA service differs from other services.

2. When a child makes the first contact to the service (a situation which has not as yet arisen), agency policies relating to obtaining informed consent guide how the intake process proceeds.

Divorce and wellbeing in later life: Trends and statistics

by Catherine Caruana

While there has been much research focus on the short-term effects of marital breakdown, less is known about the long-term impact of divorce on social, emotional and financial wellbeing. Are people who have had an earlier experience of divorce more likely to be unhappier, poorer, sicker and lonelier in later life? A recent report published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS), provided a snapshot of the social and emotional legacy of marital breakdown on Australia's ageing population.


As the baby-boomer generation approaches retirement age, social researchers have the opportunity to investigate the long-term effects of certain aspects of social change occurring in Australia in the latter half of the 21st century. The swell in the divorce rate following the introduction of the no-fault system in 1975 has lead to a similar spike in the number of older Australians who have experienced divorce in their lifetime. The report Divorce and the Wellbeing of Older Australians (Gray, de Vaus, Qu, & Stanton, 2010),1 released by AIFS, presented findings on measures of wellbeing from a nationally representative sample of older Australians. This report complements earlier research by the same authors on the financial impact of divorce, (de Vaus, Gray, Qu, & Stanton, 2007). Together they demonstrate that the negative effects of divorce2 persist into later life, particularly for divorcees of either gender that remain single, and most pervasively for women.3


The study involved analysis of data from reports by survey participants from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey (HILDA)4 on a number of largely subjective measures of wellbeing, including social interaction and connectedness, perception of social support, physical and mental health, and life satisfaction. Comparisons were drawn between those in the sample who were divorced and single, divorced and remarried, and those that were married and had never divorced.5

The sample

The sample used in the current report consisted of participants in the HILDA survey aged 55-74 years who were married or who had previously been married. Of these, around one-quarter had experienced divorce (26.7% of males and 25.8% of females). Within this sub-group men were more likely to have remarried, with two-thirds having done so at the time of the survey, compared to around half of the women. In the sample, 62.5% of the men and 55.7% of the women were married and had never divorced, whereas 7.3% of men, and 4.6% of women had never married.


Social support

Responses to questions relating to the number of friends they have, being able to access help when needed and having someone to confide in were analysed to provide measures of perceived social support. Both men and women who remained single after their divorce had significantly lower levels of perceived social support, while there was little difference overall between those that had divorced and remarried and those that had remained married.

Life satisfaction

Analysis of ratings of levels of satisfaction regarding certain aspects of life (such as health, financial situation, home, neighbourhood, feeling safe, feeling part of their community, and the amount of free time they enjoyed) uncovered lower satisfaction with life overall for both women and men who had divorced and remained single. Single women in particular reported lower satisfaction across all dimensions. Women who had divorced but remarried scored less on life satisfaction ratings than women who had remained married and men who had divorced and remarried.


On a scale measuring three aspects of health - general health, vitality and mental health - a history of divorce appeared to have no effect on men's health. Divorced single women on the other hand, reported lower levels of vitality and physical and mental health than those who had remarried or who had never divorced. There were no significant differences found between the groups of older married women.

Social contact

Measures of social connection used in the survey included: getting together with friends and relatives living elsewhere at least once a week; being an active member of a sporting, hobby or community-based club or association; and spending time in voluntary or charity work. Divorced single men were significantly more likely to report getting together with friends and relatives at least once a week than men who were divorced and remarried, or married and never divorced. Given most of them lived alone, it is not surprising this group would be more likely to seek social contact outside the home. There were little differences between the groups of men in relation to the time they spent involved in club activities. However, for women, those who had been divorced and had remarried were significantly less likely to be an active member of a sporting, hobby or community-based club, or to spend time in voluntary or charity work, than those who remained single and those who remained married.

Financial impact

In any discussion about social and emotional wellbeing in later life, it is important to also consider financial status, as the two appear to be linked (Pinquart & Sörenson, 2002; Arber, 2004). An earlier study by the authors on the long-term financial impact of divorce (de Vaus et al., 2007), which used HILDA data from a slightly different sample at a different point of time, paints a similar picture of disadvantage flowing from divorce. Using a range of living standard measures such as income, superannuation, housing, assets, receipt of income support, perceived prosperity and financial hardship, the authors found that the experience of divorce also has a negative financial impact in later life, and that similarly, the financial deficits are substantially reduced by re-partnering.

Divorcees who remained single were substantially more likely to be in rental accommodation than those that were married, had lower levels of per capita household assets, were more likely to experience financial hardship, to receive income support and to report lower prosperity. On a number of measures, those that had divorced but remarried reported a financial status not dissimilar to the ever-married group.

A notable exception to this trend was that divorced single women were more likely than both ever-married women and remarried women to have superannuation (with the ever-married women the least likely to), though there was little difference across the three groups in relation to the amount of superannuation when it existed. Similarly, marital history did not appear to affect median incomes reported by women across the groups. However it is interesting to note that older women who remained single after divorce had a higher rate of outright home ownership than their male counterparts (49.4% compared with 40.9% of the male respondents).

Implications for practice and policy

The above-mentioned reports illustrate the importance of the role of marital history in emotional, social and financial wellbeing in later life and in determining current social trends. This is supported by a recent report on homelessness amongst older women (McFerran, 2010) which suggested that separation and divorce is one of the big drivers in the phenomenon of increased rates of single-person households and the decline in home ownership amongst older Australians. It is well understood that an ageing population will place greater demand on health and social services (Attorney General's Department, 2010). Coupled with consistently high divorce rates, policy-makers will increasingly be developing policy relevant to a growing population of older Australians, and more commonly older women, with particular vulnerability to social isolation, physical and mental ill health and financial insecurity.

Practitioners working with separating or separated families, may need to give greater consideration to the impact of separation and divorce on housing security, both in the immediate and long-term future, particularly for women.6 In their 2009 report, Beer and Faulkner talked about the policy challenge "of assisting people to retain owner occupation following divorce, rather than increasing the rate of entry [into the housing market]" (p. 101). This is a challenge that could equally be seen as relevant to family relationship practitioners working with separating families.

On a more general note, these findings suggest that service providers need to actively monitor the mental health of their older clients, an increasing number of which have the added responsibility of caring for their grandchildren (see Horsfall & Dempsey article in this edition). They should remain alert to the level of social support and social contacts available to older and single clients, and to their level of engagement in sports, hobbies, club activities and voluntary work. Working with clients to develop strategies that build and maintain social support, that help them identify their interests and access local information on ways to meet those interests, may help foster resilience in later life to the long-term negative effects of relationship breakdown, and to promote greater wellbeing among an ageing population.


  • Arber, S. (2004). Gender, marital status and ageing: Linking material, health and social resources. Journal of Aging Studies, 18, 91-108.
  • Attorney-General's Department. (2010). Australia to 2050: Future challenges. Canberra: Author.
  • Beer, A. & Faulkner, D. (2009). 21st century housing careers and Australia's housing future. (AHURI Final Report, no. 128). Melbourne: Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute:.
  • Cooney, T., & Dunne, K. (2001). Intimate relationships in later life: Current realities, future prospects. Journal of Family Issues, 22(7), 838-858.
  • de Graaf, P., & Fokkema, T. (2007). Contacts between divorced and non-divorced parents and their adult children in the Netherlands: An investment perspective. European Sociological Review, 23(2), 263-277.
  • de Vaus, D., Gray, M., Qu, L., & Stanton, D. (2007). The consequences of divorce for financial living standards in later life. Australian Institute of Family Studies: Melbourne.
  • Gray, M., de Vaus, D., Qu, L., & Stanton, D. (2010). Divorce and the wellbeing of older Australians. Australian Institute of Family Studies: Melbourne.
  • McFerran, L. (2010). It could be you: Female, single, older and homeless. Woolloomooloo, NSW: Homelessness NSW
  • Pezzin, L., & Schone, B. (1999). Parental marital disruption and intergenerational transfers: An analysis of lone elderly parents and their children. Demography, 36, 287-297.
  • Pinquart, M., & Sörenson, S. (2002). Influences of socioeconomic status, social network and competence on subjective wellbeing in later life. A meta-analysis. Psychology and Aging, 15(2), 187-224.
  • Rezac, S. (2002). Intergenerational assistance in Australian families: The role of parental family structure. Journal of Family Studies, 8, 24-37.
  • Robinson, E., & Adams, R. (2008). Housing stress and the mental health and wellbeing of families (AFRC Briefing No.12). Melbourne: Australian Family Relationships Clearinghouse. Retrieved from: <>
  • Solomou, W., Richards, M., Huppert, F., Brayne, C., & Morgan, K. (1998). Divorce, current marital status and wellbeing in an elderly population. International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family, 12, 323-344.

Catherine Caruana is a Senior Research Officer with the Australian Family Relationships Clearinghouse.


1. Divorce and the Wellbeing of Older Australians (Gray, de Vaus, Qu, & Stanton, 2010 <>

2. Those in the age range who had never been married but had separated from a de facto partner were not included in the analysis given the difficulty of determining the degree of "seriousness" of the relationship from the HILDA data.

3. This contradicts the findings from a number of earlier studies referred to by the authors that suggest that divorce has more of a negative effect on older men than older women, especially in relation to maintaining ties with members of extended family (Cooney & Dunne, 2001; de Graaf & Fokkema, 2007; Pezzin & Schone, 1999; Rezac, 2002; Solomou,Richards, Hupper, Brayne, & Morgan, 1998).

4. The HILDA project was initiated and is funded by the Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA ) and is managed by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economics and Social Research (MIAESR). The findings of this research and the views reported, however, are those of the authors and should not be attributed to either FaHCSIA or the MIAESR.

5. Further details regarding the methodology and limitations of the study  </>

6. For a discussion of the impact of housing insecurity on wellbeing, see Robinson & Adams (2008).

Call me Dad! Book review

Lancaster, S., Mooij, E., & Korn, S. (2009). Call me Dad! A manual for new fathers: From pre-birth to 12 months. Auckland, N.Z.: New Holland.

Reviewed by Mark Sipthorp

The transition from couple to family can be a difficult one. While there are many sources of information for new parents, particularly mothers, there are few resources aimed directly at smoothing the way for new dads. The following review, written by someone who has recently embraced fatherhood, assesses a recently published book for new fathers and finds it to be accessible, informative, and practical. Practitioners working with couples who are, or soon will be, new parents may find this book a useful resource for new dads and dads-to-be.

A lot of books have been written about pregnancy and giving birth and, to their credit, some of them even look at it from a father's point of view. But what happens next? In my search for information I found little that was written specifically for new dads about what to do and expect in the 12 months after the birth of my child. Call me Dad! is an excellent book. As well as practical advice on such things as the pregnancy experience (changes in your partner, antenatal classes, medical appointments and birth plans), the logistics of preparing for the arrival (deciding what to buy, where the baby will sleep, and who's going to look after the baby) and the birth experience, the book offers guidance for life after birth. Tips on ways to survive the first few mad days and weeks as a novice parent, on how to be a good support for your partner and on establishing routines for feeding, sleeping and hygiene can support dads in the sleep-deprived haze of new parenthood. The idea of preparing and freezing some meals before baby arrives would have been really useful to know before our lives were turned on their heads!

Before the birth, there are a lot of emotional things happening - as a soon-to-be dad you need to prepare yourself for this. Your pregnant partner may have mood swings and the book advises not to take it personally. After the birth, you need to understand that you are not the most important person in the house and that your role is to provide as much support and help as you can. Emotionally and physically things will be happening to you as well - you will get tired, feel overwhelmed at times and may feel you need time for yourself. As new fathers you should never feel too embarrassed to ask for help.

This book also has really helpful "Dad tips" throughout, including advice ranging from the need to keep your finger nails trimmed so you don't hurt the baby, to the usefulness of starting a baby journal (how long the baby sleeps and when, what time the baby was fed or had their nappy changed).

There is such a steep learning curve to face once you find out that your partner is pregnant. My wife and I brought a little girl into this world a year ago. Reading this book felt like I was reading about my own experience of being a new dad. It's probably true that most first time fathers-to-be don't know much about what lies ahead, except that soon there will be a little person around. The book works on a number of different levels. It gives a comprehensive look at what you are likely to experience, provides information on things you should know about, and is a good reference guide at moments of uncertainty. It is also fun and easy to read.

My wife goes to a mothers group meeting every week. For her it's a great help because she can check out any concerns about our child's progress with other mothers of children the same age. Getting their advice and hearing about their experiences makes her feel at ease. Things are different for dads. Many fathers work, especially when the child is young, and while we still want to be there and contribute as much as we can, sometimes the support that mothers seem to easily access is not available to new dads. Reading this book helped me feel more at ease about being a new dad. It includes the experiences of other new dads and how they faced their challenges, and their descriptions of what being a dad is like for them.

I would recommend this book to any new father or even fathers with small children as it provides useful information about children of varying ages from a father's point of view.

Call me Dad! is part of the AIFS library collection. Loans and photocopies of material from the Institute's Library are available via interlibrary loan. For information on how to access the AIFS collection, go to: <>.

Mark Sipthorp is a new dad, and also Data Manager on the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children at the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

What about me? Self care for workers in the family law context: Conference report

by Rebecca Eberle

One of the benefits of cross-disciplinary networks such as Family Law Pathways Networks is that they can address issues of concern to practitioners who, although working with families in diverse ways, are faced with similar professional and personal challenges. This is particularly so for family lawyers who, as a profession, do not have a tradition of structured supervision and de-briefing. The Albury-Wodonga Family Law Pathways Network conducted a one-day conference in mid-2010 that explored the issues of worker burnout, stress and vicarious trauma in the family law context. This report gives a brief insight into the day.

The idea for the conference theme came about at a Family Law Pathways Network Reference Group Meeting in June 2009. A local family lawyer who attended that meeting said that she felt almost "physically ill" when passing by the local Family Law Court registry due to the stress that her work was causing. Many other workers spoke about similar experiences of feeling overwhelmed and defenceless in the face of a never-ending tide of parents in high conflict.

Delegates from a range of organisations participated in the conference, including the Child Support Agency, Centrelink, Family Relationship Centres, Centacare, Upper Murray Family Care, Hume Riverina Community Legal Service, Gateway Community Health, Family Court staff and family lawyers, as well as staff from a women's refuge, a children's contact service and a parenting orders program. The program provided a mix of keynote addresses, a theatre group performance, networking and a presentation from the Family Court of Australia's Chief Justice, Diana Bryant.

Keynote speaker Caryn Walsh provided useful information about stress, burnout and vicarious trauma, as well as how workers and organisations can address these issues. Suggestions for service providers arising from a subsequent brainstorming session included:

  • ensure staff have access to regular and skillful supervision, as well as opportunities for formal and informal de-briefing;
  • engage in team building activities - services should consider having a day or session dedicated to activities that promote team work, preferably involving fun;
  • maintain professional development and training for staff, especially in relation to dealing with difficult situations;
  • ensure staff receive positive recognition for their hard work; and
  • engage a consultant periodically to check on individual stress levels of staff.

Self-care implies a degree of personal responsibility, and delegates were reminded of the importance of having "mental health" days, working from home occasionally, taking annual leave, having a massage and sharing lunch with colleagues.

The Playback Theatre performed using ideas, feelings and scenarios from the audience to re-enact their stories. The performance was heartfelt and really tapped into some of the emotions that are commonly felt by workers who give so much of themselves to their work while still maintaining busy home and family lives. Many audience members brought out the hankies as tears were shed!

This conference highlights the need for practitioners working with families in crisis, and their employers, to have strategies in place to monitor and address work-related stress. It also demonstrates that inter-disciplinary networking has the potential to benefit the professionals involved, as well as the clients they seek to help.

Rebecca Eberle is with the Albury Wodonga Family Law Pathways Network

Culturally and linguistically diverse families: Literature highlights

The following are a selection of resources from the Australian Institute of Family Studies library collection and other sources. Web addresses are included for electronic resources.

Compiled by Carole Jean, Librarian

Early intervention with refugee and newly arrived young people: The Centre for Multicultural Youth Issues (CMY) Reconnect Young Refugees and Newly Arrived Youth Support programs. (2009). Liddy, N. Parity, 22(2), 18-20.

Young people who are newly arrived migrants or refugees are at high risk of homelessness. The Centre for Multicultural Youth Issues operates two programs to reduce homelessness among these groups through culturally appropriate early intervention services for young people and their families. The Centre's Reconnect Young Refugees program and the Newly Arrived Youth Support Service early intervention strategies take a culturally responsive approach and seek to address the trauma of the refugee experience and demands of resettlement in Australia. The program model incorporates four central elements: working in the family context; individual support; family work; and community capacity building, including group work. This article describes the early intervention work carried out by these programs, the particular needs of refugee and migrant youth, and the importance of a culturally responsive approach to practice.

Culturally responsive family dispute resolution in family relationship centres. (2009). Armstrong, S. Family Relationships Quarterly, 13, 3-7. <>

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. Two FRCs with which the author is associated have initiated research, still in progress, to develop culturally responsive family dispute resolution (FDR). This paper synthesises 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.

Women's issues in a diverse Australia. (2008). Alloush, L. Australian Mosaic, 18(Apr), 46-47.

Migrant and refugee women face complex issues in addition to those common to other migrants. This article discusses impediments to the empowerment and social inclusion of young women of Arabic speaking background (ASB). Developmental and culturally specific issues for ASB women in Australia include negative body image, confusion about cultural and religious identity and intergenerational conflict. ASB youth often leave school early, and young women are often unmotivated to pursue further education or a career. Many marry early. Issues of gender and clothing can be barriers to the participation of ASB women in sport and recreation. The article discusses the work of the Victorian Arabic Social Services and the Anti-Racism Action Band with ASB youth. It recommends strategies to address the complex issues facing ASB women, including: career advisors program in schools; programs to increase parents' knowledge about the importance of education; gender specific leadership camps; free driving courses to reduce social isolation.

Fun Days Out: Normalising social experiences for refugee children. (2008).Hallahan, L., & Irizarry, C. Journal of Family Studies, 14(1), 124-130

A program called Fun Days Out, which offers normalising social experiences for refugee children, is presented and reviewed. The evidence for a recreational approach to recovery from trauma through community integration for refugee children in South Australia is examined. The study focuses on the literature about traumatised children, resilience, community development and relevant social work theory. The article concludes that the program foundations and operations are well-supported in the literature and calls for further research, especially program evaluation which measures the lasting impacts of intervention, as the basis for expansion in this model of working with vulnerable children and young people.

Infants in refugee and asylum-seeker families. (2008). Mares, S., Powrie, R. In: Williams, A. S., & Cowling, V. (eds), Infants of parents with mental illness (pp. 141-157). Bowen Hills, Qld: Australian Academic Press.

The circumstances of war, political persecution and forced migration experienced by refugees and asylum seekers imposes considerable stress on individual and family. The developmental risk and protective factors affecting infants and young children in families who seek refuge or asylum in countries other than their own are explored in this chapter. The chapter summarises the sparse empirical data and uses case studies to consider the implications for clinicians working with refugee infants and families in health and early childhood services. It discusses the influence of culture on parenting and on the expression, perception and treatment of mental illness. It considers the various phases of the refugee experience and their impact on the mental health of refugees. The effects of Australia's policies on asylum seekers are also discussed, comparing treatment of recent arrivals to the assistance provided to "boat people" in the 1970s and highlighting the difference in the levels of mental health issues. The chapter outlines the assessment of refugees, subsequent interventions and their effects.

What about the children? The voices of culturally and linguistically diverse children affected by family violence. (2008). Dawson, J. Melbourne: Immigrant Women's Domestic Violence Service.

As in all communities, migrant children in Australia may experience the problem of domestic violence. However, this problem is compounded for migrant children, who may be learning a new language, are removed from their community support networks, and may also be dealing with discrimination. This report highlights the particular issues and impacts of family violence in migrant families, including the effects on child development, anxiety, and self-esteem. The report also includes findings from bilingual, bicultural focus groups held by the Immigrant Women's Domestic Violence Service, which investigated the feelings and service needs of children from Chinese, Turkish, and Vietnamese families. The service delivery implications are discussed.

Culture and children's health-care: The lay of the land. (2007). Chalmers, S. Australian Mosaic, 15, 22-24.

Two projects undertaken by the Centre for Cultural Research at the University of Western Sydney have explored the relationship between children from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, parenting, health care and social well being. This article draws on data from these projects to discuss ethnicity as a sociocultural marker and to explain why health care in a multicultural Australia needs to be understood as part of a broader social system, influenced by a range of diverse elements such as the media, politics, gender relations and migration.

Working with families from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. (2007). Foster, S. Every Child, 13(4), 32-33.

The Let's Read program encourages parents to have fun reading with young children as a basis for literacy and school readiness. It is designed to be owned and implemented by the local community. This article considers the specific issues that migrant or cultural and linguistic groups might experience in using the Let's Read program. It explores the requirements of culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities, including: accommodating cultural similarities and differences in relation to language, literacy and education; community consultations about expectations in relation to literacy and reading aloud with a young child; and examination of Let's Read materials in relation to cultural suitability and acceptability.

Working with families from culturally and linguistically diverse communities in Queensland: An Australian exploratory study. 2007 . Kaur, J. Children Australia, 32(4),  17-24.

In Australia there is limited research and information regarding how Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) families are assessed within the child protection system. This paper explores assessment issues faced by child protection investigation officers when working with CALD families in the Queensland child protection system. The research examined the level of knowledge, training and experiences of child protection officers and whether they were 'culturally competent'. The study found that entry level officers did not receive adequate training and resources, and lacked CALD-specific knowledge on how to deal with cross cultural issues when working with CALD families. Respondents indicated that interpreters' services were effective during investigation and assessment of CALD families. The findings of this study highlight key concerns in the provision of child protection assessments, practice, policy and service delivery when working with CALD families.

The African Youth and Family Project: Exploring connections between young people and family, school and community services. (2007). Centre for Multicultural Youth Issues. <>

The report evaluates the African Youth and Family Project, which was developed in response to feedback from meetings between the Sudanese community, youth services and other community organisations in the City of Greater Dandenong about a range of issues. The project aimed to cultivate and strengthen reciprocal connection and understanding between African young people and their families, services and schools. It established a reference group, and a Youth Advisory Committee comprising young people from African background who guided the project via recreation and community forums. The process was modelled on an action research framework. The report concludes that the project's success and achievements surpassed all original expectations.