Family Relationships Quarterly No. 5

Family Relationships Quarterly No. 5

AFRC Newsletter No. 5 — July 2007

In this issue


As I write this, it is National Families Week, which reminds us all of the important work not only that services and programs do to support families, but the great job that families do themselves in contributing to society and communities and raising the next generation. Families are complex, and myriad issues impact upon their functioning. We hope that the information provided by the AFRC goes some way not just to supporting practitioners and service providers, but also ultimately to helping families.

We're pleased to have articles from a number of eminent researchers published in this edition. Dr Nola Passmore, Associate Professor Judy Feeney and Alex Foulstone report on their research with adoptive families, and effects of the level of secrecy that operates within the family regarding the adoption. Emeritus Professor Pat Noller, an eminent figure in the field of family research, and Anita Blakely-Smith offer an insight into the impact of competition and comparison on adolescent siblings, including twins. This article provides information for practitioners regarding the power dynamics and motivations for certain behaviours in the lives of siblings.

Various other articles are included in this quarterly, with a conference report on the recent National Rural Health Conference, a report on a seminar discussing movement to outcomes-based approaches in programs and an article review on the outcomes of the National Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy. Our section on trends and statistics provides some information on how Australian families spend their time, and the latest News in Brief section is full of information on recent publications and resources.

We would like to remind readers that the Clearinghouse welcomes contributions for publication. Authors can send articles that describe current initiatives or policies, discuss aspects of family and relationship services practice, or highlight issues in responding to, or preventing, family and relationship difficulties. Please contact the Clearinghouse or 03 9214 7888 to discuss any ideas that you may have, or simply to provide feedback.

Elly Robinson
Australian Family Relationships Clearinghouse

Secrecy within adoptive families and its impact on adult adoptees

Nola Passmore, Judy Feeney and Alex Foulstone

For most of the twentieth century, Australian adoptions occurred within a closed system whereby adoption records were sealed and kept secret (Swain, 1992). The original birth certificate was amended so that it contained the adoptive parents' names (Brodzinsky, 2005) and there was a general belief that adoption should be just "like building a family biologically" (Hartman, 1993, p. 87). Many countries have since moved to various kinds of open adoption policies (Brodzinsky, 2005). Since legislative changes in Australia in the early 1990s, adoptees and birthmothers have been able to access identifying information once the adoptee reaches 18 years of age. For adoptions that occurred prior to these changes, information can still be accessed when the adoptee turns 18, though legislation in some states also allows either party to lodge a veto against the release of such information. As a result, some adoptees are still denied access to their own identity and background, thus continuing the legacy of secrecy from the closed era.

Brodzinsky (2005) has argued that it may not be whether the adoption took place in a closed or open system that is most important for adoptees' wellbeing, but rather the extent to which adoptive parents are open with their children regardless of how little or how much information they have available to them. A model of family adoption communication was developed by Wrobel, Kohler, Grotevant, and McRoy (2003) (the Family Adoption Communication Model: FAC) that outlines the different types of disclosure decisions that adoptive parents must make at various stages of their child's development. While this model is useful in describing different types of decisions regarding the disclosure or withholding of information, it does not look more specifically at the actual impact that openness or secrecy can have on the adoptee. As secrecy can undermine trust and intimacy within the adoptive family (Schooler & Norris, 2002), we were interested in further exploring the ways in which openness or secrecy within the adoptive family could impact on the lives of adults who had been adopted as children.

Our study

As part of a larger study, 144 adult adoptees completed a survey that included a number of background items and standardised questionnaires. Of most relevance to this article was an item that tapped the adoptive family's attitude towards discussing the topic of adoption, with responses ranging from open and honest discussion through to secrecy. Attachment and parental bonding were also assessed. All participants were born in Australia, had an Anglo-Australian background, and were adopted by non-relatives within two years of birth. At the time of the survey, they ranged in age from 18 to 66, with a mean age of 39.2 years. Most were female (76.1%), married or cohabiting (62%), and had completed some education after high school (79%). Approximately six months later, 138 of the original participants again completed the attachment measure, but also completed various interpersonal relationship measures. Fifty-seven of these participants were later interviewed in more depth regarding their interpersonal relationships and their adoption, search, and reunion experiences.

Our findings

Adoptees who had experienced greater secrecy within their adoptive families felt less emotionally close to their adoptive parents, perceived their adoptive parents as less caring and more controlling, and experienced greater loneliness within the family context. Secrecy within the adoptive family was also associated with general relationship variables such as social loneliness, risk in intimacy (i.e., the perceived risk of close relationships), and both anxious and avoidant attachment; though not associated with specific measures of romantic relationships such as romantic loneliness, trust in close relationships, relationship satisfaction or commitment.

Our interview data shed further light on some specific ways in which openness or secrecy within adoptive families affected the adoptees throughout their lives. Openness within adoptive families helped adoptees with (a) the resolution of adoption-related issues such as identity and belonging, (b) search and reunion experiences, and (c) relationships with others. For example, some participants noted that their adoptive parents' example of openness about the adoption had provided a good role model for their own interpersonal relationships. Conversely, secrecy and/or lies or misinformation on the part of the adoptive parents impacted negatively on adoptees in terms of their (a) identity, search, and reunion experiences; (b) relationship with their adoptive parents, and (c) relationships with other people. By making adoption a taboo topic, some adoptive parents denied their children information about their backgrounds. Such secrecy also led some adoptees to subsequently keep their own search and/or reunion a secret from their adoptive parents.

Adoptees who found out about their adoption later in life were especially likely to feel a sense of betrayal. For some, this lack of trust transferred to other relationships outside the family, though at least one participant noted that "the total cone of silence" surrounding her adoption had actually prompted her to be even more open in her own relationships, perhaps too open at times.

Implications for counselling

Adoptees who experienced secrecy and/or lies or misinformation in their adoptive families may need assistance in dealing with issues of trust and betrayal. In some cases, it may be possible to work with adoptees and their adoptive parents to rebuild supportive family ties. It is important for counsellors to help adoptees work through the negative impacts of the secrecy, while also remembering the issues that led to the withholding of information in the first place. In some cases, adoptive parents may have lied or maintained secrets as a means of keeping control, protecting themselves or their children, or hiding from the shame of infertility (Schooler & Norris, 2002). However, Schooler and Norris also note that "it was not unusual for agencies themselves to edit or even fabricate information that was told to the adoptive parents at the time of the adoption" (p. 5), so that they have also been betrayed.

Individual counselling may also assist adoptees in dealing with the ongoing negative impact of secrecy in their lives. Forgiveness of adoptive parents, birthparents, or "the system" may be a necessary step in helping the person move on (see forgiveness interventions described in Ferch, 1998 and Baskin & Enright, 2004). Those who find that trust issues with their adoptive parents have transferred into other adult relationships, such as romantic attachments, may also benefit from relationships counselling or couples therapy. For example, interventions based on attachment theory may be appropriate for couples experiencing trust issues (see Johnson & Whiffen, 2003).

Practitioners working with families who have younger adopted children may find Wrobel et al.'s (2003) FAC Model useful. This model provides a step-by-step process that explains the types of decisions adoptive parents make about disclosure at different stages of the child's development. At any stage, parents can share all known information while actively seeking more, share available information but without actively seeking more, share some information but not all, or withhold whatever information they know. The counsellor could help the adoptive parents clarify the implications of disclosing or withholding information at different stages.

As noted earlier, adoptees and birthmothers can now obtain identifying information once the adoptee turns 18. For those adoptions that occurred before the introduction of this legislation in the early 1990s, however, some state legislation still enables either party to place a veto on the release of such information. For those who search only to find that a veto has been lodged, the secrecy continues. Without access to the birthmother's information, the adoptee is usually cut off from information about the birthfather as well. The counsellor needs to be aware of the emotional minefield this can create. While adoptees may be devastated to find their information blocked, the birthmother's possible motives must also be understood. For example, at the time of many of these adoptions (i.e., 1940s to early 1970s), conceiving a child out of wedlock was seen as a shameful thing and unmarried mothers did not have as much support as they do today. When adoption consents were signed, birthmothers were assured that the information would never be revealed. In some cases, they have gone on to marry and have other children without telling their other family members about the relinquished child. Thus, it is understandable that some birthmothers would be reluctant or even fearful at the thought of their information being released. If adoptees are aware of such issues, it does not take away the desire to know more about their backgrounds or the hurt and anger at not being able to obtain their original birth certificates or other identifying information. However, it may help them to have a better understanding of the reasons behind such decisions.

Finally, there are a number of excellent adoption support groups and post adoption counselling services that can assist adoptees, adoptive parents, and birthparents. We have noted a few of the main ones below, but there are also many others. Please see the extra links provided on these web sites. As openness becomes more and more a part of adoption policy, hopefully we can continue to reverse the negative effects of the secrets of the past and move towards a better future for all members of the adoption triangle.

Adoption resources

  • Adoption Research and Counselling Service (ARCS) Inc:
  • Jigsaw Queensland:
  • Post Adoption Resource Centre (PARC):

Contact details

A longer version of this article was presented at the APS Psychology of Relationships Interest Group 6th Annual Conference in Melbourne, 2006. A copy of that article can be obtained from Dr Nola Passmore, Psychology Department, University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba QLD 4350 or by emailing Nola Passmore.


  • Baskin, T. W., & Enright, R. D. (2004). Intervention studies on forgiveness: A meta-analysis. Journal of Counseling and Development, 82, 79-90.
  • Brodzinsky, D. M. (2005). Reconceptualizing openness in adoption: Implications for theory, research, and practice. In D. M. Brodzinsky & J. Palacios (Eds.), Psychological issues in adoption: Research and practice (pp. 145-166). Westport, CT: Praeger.
  • Ferch, S. R. (1998). Intentional forgiving as a counseling intervention. Journal of Counseling and Development, 76, 261-270.
  • Hartman, A. (1993). Secrecy in adoption. In E. Imber-Black (Ed.), Secrets in families and family therapy (pp. 86-105). New York: W. W. Norton.
  • Johnson, S. M., & Whiffen, V. E. (Eds.). (2003). Attachment processes in couple and family therapy. New York: Guilford Press.
  • Schooler, J. E., & Norris, B. L. (2002). Secrecy in adoption and the high cost it required. In J. E. Schooler & B. L. Norris (Eds.), Journeys after adoption: Understanding lifelong issues (pp. 3-15). Westport, CT: Bergin & Harvey.
  • Swain, S. (1992). Adoption: Was it ever thus? In P. & S. Swain (Eds.), To search for self: The experience of access to adoption information (pp. 2-16). Annandale, NSW: Federation Press.
  • Wrobel, G. M., Kohler, J. K., Grotevant, H. D., & McRoy, R. G. (2003). The Family Adoption Communication (FAC) Model: Identifying pathways of adoption-related communication. Adoption Quarterly, 7, 53-84.

Dr Nola Passmore is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Southern Queensland.
Associate Professor Judy Feeney, formerly of the University of Queensland, is a private research consultant.
Alex Foulstone is a doctoral student at the University of Queensland. 

Competition and comparison in the relationships of adolescent siblings and twins

Pat Noller and Anita Blakely-Smith

Given that around 80% of people grow up in families with siblings, understanding this relationship is very important. Yet, for many years the focus of researchers has been primarily on the overall differences between families, rather than exploring within-family differences more closely. In the study reported here, we explore reactions to competition and comparison in the sibling relationships of adolescents, including twins.

Theoretical perspective

The theoretical approach adopted for the study was the Self-Evaluation Model (SEM) of Tesser (1980; 1988) and the Extended SEM Model of Beach and Tesser (1993). According to the original SEM Model, reactions to competition and comparison are affected by how well one performs, the closeness of the relationship with the competitor and the relevance of the particular task or activity to the self-concept of those involved. Thus, stronger negative reactions and weaker positive reactions are expected when an individual is outperformed by a close other such as a sibling on an activity of central importance to his/her own self-concept.

Two processes are proposed as the means by which individuals maintain positive self-evaluations: comparison and reflection. The comparison process involves comparing one's performance as either better or worse than that of a close other. Self-evaluation is generally enhanced by outperforming a close other and negatively affected by being outperformed by him or her. The reflection process, on the other hand, involves maintaining one's self-evaluation by associating oneself with the accomplishments of a close other such as a sibling, and basking in the reflected glory of the close other's performance. This process is more likely when the activity is of low relevance to one's own self-concept.

Beach and Tesser (1993) developed the Extended SEM Model to take into account the investment that a person has in their relationship with their close other. They argued that individuals in close relationships seek to protect the evaluations of their close other, as well as their own. Thus, they won't necessarily feel negative when performing worse than their sibling, or positive when performing better. If they believe that success in the activity is very important to their sibling, they may feel empathic towards the sibling when they outperform them.


The sample consisted of 232 pairs of adolescent siblings and 123 pairs of adolescent twins. All siblings were aged between 13 and 17 years, of the same sex and still living at home with parents. Siblings were recruited through schools and university classes, and twins through the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) twin registry.

Data were collected using a retrospective questionnaire. Participants were asked individually to describe eight situations involving competition or comparison with their sibling or friend. The situations varied in terms of performance (better or worse), closeness (sibling or friend) and relevance (high relevance to self/low relevance to sibling, or low relevance to self/high relevance to sibling). After describing the situation, participants rated their emotional reactions (both positive and negative) to their competitor. They also rated the likelihood they would downplay the importance of their performance. Playing down failure is self-protective and most likely for activities of high relevance to the self. Playing down success protects the self-evaluation of one's competitor, and is most likely for activities of high relevance to the competitor. Participants then rated the likelihood that they would continue participating in the activity.


Affective reactions

Adolescent nontwin siblings. Siblings were more positive when outperformed by their sibling than their friend on a high self-relevance activity, although the SEM model predicts less positive reactions in this context. Perhaps at this age friends are seen as closer than siblings. Alternatively, siblings may be preserving the relationship with their sibling. This interpretation is supported by the finding of more negative feelings when they performed better than their sibling, suggesting empathy with their sibling and a desire to preserve their relationship.

Birth order also affected reactions to being outperformed by a sibling. Older siblings were more negative and less positive when outperformed by their younger siblings on tasks of high self-relevance than tasks of low self-relevance, whereas younger siblings were more negative when outperformed by their older sibling on tasks of low personal relevance than tasks of high personal relevance. Younger siblings seem able to cope better than older siblings with being beaten by their sibling, perhaps because they can attribute their sibling's superior performance to their older age. Younger siblings also have difficulty outperforming their older sibling, especially on activities of high relevance to the older sibling. They may see their superior performance as potentially damaging to the sibling bond, in line with the Extended SEM Model.

Adolescent twins. Twins reported feeling more positive and less negative when they performed better than their twin on high rather than low relevance tasks. They also felt more positive and less negative when they performed worse than their twin on tasks that were not self-defining, and even to enjoy their twin's success. When they were beaten by their twin on a task central to their own self-concept, however, they were self-protective, feeling more negative towards their twin.

Monozygotic (identical) twins reported more positive reactions to comparison and competition than dizygotic (non-identical) twins, irrespective of performance or relevance. Perhaps monozygotic twins believe their close relationship will buffer them against any negative effects of competition and comparison.

Similar to the nontwin siblings, younger twins were more positive than older twins when outperformed by their twin on highly self-relevant tasks. Younger twins were also more positive and less negative when outperformed by their twin rather than their friend on highly self-relevant activities, suggesting they can enjoy their twin's success. Perhaps because of their closeness, they see the twin's success as similar to their own. Older twins, however, find it easier to be beaten by their friend than their twin designated as younger. This finding is surprising, given that the younger twin may be only a few minutes younger.

Likelihood of downplaying the importance of performance

Adolescent siblings. Adolescent siblings reported being more likely to downplay success on tasks of high relevance to their sibling, and to downplay failure on tasks of high relevance to themselves. Thus their reactions were protective of themselves when they performed badly and protective of their sibling when they themselves performed well. In addition, younger siblings were more likely than older ones to be aware of their sibling's self-evaluation needs and to act in ways that protected them.

Adolescent twins. Twins were more likely to play down the significance of their failure than their success, particularly if they were older, thus protecting their own self-evaluation. Younger twins tended to downplay the significance of their success when they performed better than their older twin on an activity high in self-relevance rather than to downplay their failure when outperformed by their twin on such activities.

Likelihood of continuing the activity

Adolescent siblings. Adolescent siblings were more likely to continue activities if they performed better and the activity was of high personal relevance, but there were no effects related to closeness. In addition, older siblings were more likely to continue highly self-relevant activities than were younger siblings, suggesting that older siblings have more power in the relationship.

Adolescent twins. Findings for adolescent twins were affected by relevance and performance as was true for the siblings. Older twins seemed to have more power and continue their favoured activities irrespective of any likely impact on their twin. Younger twins, on the other hand, were more likely to continue activities where they performed better than their friend rather than those where they performed better than their sibling. Again, it seems that younger twins work at preserving the relationship with their twin and their twin's positive self-evaluation.


The most interesting aspect of these findings is the dynamic that develops between the sibling and twin pairs. The older sibling, even in twins, seems to have more power in the relationship, whereas the younger sibling is continually working to preserve their relationship with the older one. This dynamic can be seen in the affective reactions, with the younger siblings showing empathy towards the older sibling when they outperform them, and older siblings having greater difficulty being beaten by their younger sibling. Younger siblings also played down their success when they outperformed their older sibling and were generally more aware of their older sibling's self-evaluation needs. Older siblings also were more likely to report that they would continue their favoured activities, without any concern for the impact on their twin or sibling. Younger siblings were not comfortable continuing activities where they performed better than their sibling or twin. Thus both members of the dyad seem to be participating in this dynamic, with the older being allowed more power and the younger ceding activities to the older one and engaging in behaviours that protect their sibling's self-evaluation needs.


  • Beach, S. R. H., & Tesser, A. (1993). Decision-making power and marital satisfaction: A self-evaluation maintenance perspective. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 12, 471-494.
  • Tesser, A. (1980). Self-esteem maintenance in family dynamics. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 39, 77-91.
  • Tesser, A. (1988). Towards a self-evaluation maintenance model of social behaviour. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.) Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (Vol. 21, pp.181-227). New York: Academic Press.

Pat Noller is Emeritus Professor in the School of Psychology, University of Queensland.
Anita Blakeley-Smith worked on these data for her PhD awarded in 2006.

Conference report: 9th National Rural Health Conference

Standing up for rural health: Learning from the past, action for the future
7-10 March 2007, Albury, NSW

Robyn Parker

The program for the National Rural Health Conference was as varied as the range of disciplines and professions represented by the more than 1,100 delegates. The four days of proceedings were overseen with great humour by MC Julie McCrossin, who ensured that the keynote speakers and audience questions, performances, award presentations, book and documentary launches were accorded their due time and significance.

The conference theme of 'learning from the past and action for the future' was reflected in the diverse range of keynote presentations, which offered thoughtful and thought-provoking ideas, experiences, and evidence regarding policies and practices in the healthcare system, rural and remote workforce issues, and examples of effective and successful collaboration across discipline and geographic boundaries.

The conference is primarily concerned with the broader issues of physical and mental health and wellbeing in rural and remote areas, and as such did not have a specific focus on rural and remote families per se. However, the benefits for families are implicit in the aims of many of the programs outlined by delegates and were noted where feedback was obtained and evaluations conducted.

Among the keynote addresses were:

  • a review of major themes from the past eight National Rural Health Conferences (over a period of 17 years) and their impact on government policy in terms of funds allocated to rural health issues (Steve Clark, Queensland Institute of Medical Research and past Chair of the National Rural Health Alliance (NRHA));
  • a reflection on social and demographic changes and transitions in regional Australia that impact on health and wellbeing by Rhonda Galbally AO (CEO, Ms Galbally also discussed the role of community groups in enhancing the resilience of community members, through their capacity to increase an individual's sense of control, of belonging, and of hope;
  • a discussion of the nature and scope of the rural health challenge, recent achievements in this sector, and future challenges in developing a healthcare system geared to providing services with the capacity to adapt to the changing needs of patients and healthcare professionals (Philip Davies, Department of Health and Ageing); and
  • a report on a multidisciplinary, cross-border model of cancer care including medical services, family support, respite care, and support groups. The presentation highlighted the critical importance of preparedness to work through obstacles to coordinated service provision in areas where arbitrary borders hinder effective service provision (Kerry Strauch, Upper Hume Community Health Service and Nikki Melville, Bogong Regional GP Training Network).

Paper presentations covered a wide range of physical and mental health-related topics, and specific domains such as parenting. Many sessions comprised outlines of programs developed, tested and sometimes evaluated in rural or remote communities. Groups targeted by programs include men and women, adults and children, youth, farmers and farming families, and many focused specifically on Aboriginal individuals, families and communities.

Development of the programs was typically grounded in community development principles and originated in the communities in which they eventually operated - local responses to local needs. While some of the conditions and constraints affecting service provision in rural and remote areas are unique, many of the issues faced by providers in launching programs and the strategies used to overcome obstacles are instructive for providers of family-related services in all parts of the country.

Several papers reported on research studies undertaken in rural and remote communities. A number examined issues related to governance and workforce recruitment and retention. Summaries of these will be listed on the Clearinghouse Resources page. Many of the keynote papers and other presentations are available to download from the National Rural Health Alliance conference website (

Arts-in-Health was a key theme of the conference, with concurrent sessions throughout the program demonstrating how the arts can positively affect health and wellbeing. As part of the program, there were several theatrical and musical performances throughout the conference, including short plays, the Flying Fruit Fly Circus, and a choir comprising conference delegates.

The NRHA conference is not only a forum for the presentation and discussion of research and practice. It is a forum through which members of the rural health sector can contribute to the revision and development of health practice and policy across rural Australia. Throughout the course of the conference, delegates are encouraged to help generate recommendations relating to rural and remote health policy and practice, that are then sent to individuals and organisations with the capacity to act on them. Agencies may adopt or incorporate those that relate to their own activities into their programs and/or infrastructure. The NRHA monitors uptake of recommendations from past conferences. The impact of these recommendations has been seen in a variety of outcomes, such as the establishment of effective programs in new regions, in scholarships for allied health and dentistry practitioners, in more strategic rural health research, greater attention to health issues and practice in the more remote regions of the country, and in contributions to discussion and action on workforce issues.

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

New industry representative body

An update from the Australian Government Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs

A new representative body for the Family Relationship Services Program

Over the past six months, the three former industry representative bodies for the Family Relationship Services Program (FRSP) have been collaborating to establish a single representative body for the FRSP. It is hoped the new body, Family Relationship Services Australia (FRSA), will provide a collective voice for the family relationship sector and will lead the sector during this time of change and expansion.

On 8 March 2007, FRSA was incorporated as a company limited by guarantee with the following objects:

  1. To provide an independent representative body to contribute and respond to the initiatives and policy of Government and others in regard to the Family Relationships Services Program (FRSP or its successors) and associated issues to advance the wellbeing of individuals and families in the community;
  2. To act as a conduit of information between the FRSP sector and Government on FRSP policy, program management and service delivery developments;
  3. To represent to other organisations and Government the needs and interests of members in relation to key priorities and emerging issues;
  4. To foster the development of policy, strategic planning and evaluation toward improved services and activities, to facilitate the delivery of high quality family relationships services focused on outcomes for individuals and families;
  5. To facilitate FRSP sector development and the interests of members.

The Inaugural Board of FRSA has overseen the establishment of the new body in consultation with the broader FRSP funded sector. The governance and membership structure has received strong endorsement from the sector.

FRSA Membership invitations were circulated in late May and applications are currently being processed. Full members joining during June will be able to take part in the election of the new Board of Directors in July. The new Board will be formally announced at the Second Biennial FRSP Conference to be held on 1-2 August.

In anticipation of FRSA soon becoming operational, a recruitment process is now underway to appoint an Executive Director for FRSA. Work is also being done to physically establish the secretariat in Canberra.

If you would like a copy of FRSA's latest Consultation Paper or Membership Application Form, please email FRSA.

For more information, please email FRSPe-News. 

Article review

The decline in Australian young male suicide

Reviewed by Elly Robinson

Morrell, S., Page, A. & Taylor, R. (2007). The decline in Australian young male suicide. Social Science & Medicine, 64, 747-754.

The suicide of young people has a unique impact on society, due to the vulnerability of the age group and the sense that many of the risk factors leading to young people's suicide are modifiable, given time. With a continually rising youth suicide rate in the mid-1990s, governments were catapulted into action to address what seemed to be a suicide phenomenon among young people. The Mental Health Branch of the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care responded by establishing the National Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy (NYSPS), with $31 million distributed across 88 different projects and activities between 1995-1998.

The NYSPS was based on an understanding that youth suicide was a complex event with biopsychosocial causes. Responses needed to be wide-ranging and all-inclusive, addressing physical, social and cultural factors along with individual and family factors. The goals of the NYSPS were to:

  • prevent premature death from suicide among young people;
  • reduce rates of injury and self-harm;
  • reduce the incidence and prevalence of suicidal ideation and behaviour; and
  • enhance resilience, resourcefulness, respect and interconnectedness for young people, families and communities.

The Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) (2000) conducted the evaluation of the strategy (see and concluded that many of the activities initiated under the NYSPS activities were appropriate to the achievement of its goals. At the time of the AIFS evaluation, however, there were no data available to indicate whether or not the NYSPS had led to or been associated with any significant health and wellbeing outcomes for young people at a population level. The Strategy itself was seen as representing only the early stage of a long-term process of reform, whereas changes attributed to the Strategy would not be evident for a considerable time.

Seven years later, Morrell, Page and Taylor's (2007) article sets out to consider the subsequent drop in young male suicide rates after the implementation of the NYSPS and whether it can be plausibly associated with NYSPS strategies. Previous work by Morrell, Taylor, Quine, and Kerr (1993) had found a strong serial correlation between the rate ratio of 20-24 year old male unemployment to total unemployment, and the rate ratio of 20-24 year old male suicide to total (age-standardised) male suicide. At the time, the link between the two was interpreted as an outcome of the marginalisation of young unemployed men.

Morrell et al. (2007) proposed that if a decline in young male suicide occurred, but unemployment rates also declined, it would indicate that improved employment prospects contributed to the reduction in suicides (although causation would not be proved). If a decline in young male suicide rates was, on the other hand, accompanied by a reduction in the relationship between unemployment and suicide, this would fulfil a necessary condition to suggest a causal effect of the Strategy.

Using statistical techniques that study time series, the researchers found that the Strategy was statistically significantly associated with the suicide rate ratio for 20-24 year-old young men, but not with the unemployment rate ratio. No effects were found for young women, mainly due to the low numbers of suicides that make it hard to prove any statistical effect. The authors propose, therefore, that the long-standing link between unemployment and suicide in young men was broken by the NYSPS, rather than it simply being a random event in time.

Additionally, Morrell et al. (2007) suggest that the Strategy had an added impact on method of suicide. Suicide methods that required more thought before implementation, such as hanging or carbon monoxide poisoning, also declined post-Strategy. Morrell et al. (2007) propose that this could be as a result of interventions that incorporated techniques such as cognitive behaviour therapy, which may have time to take effect when thoughts of planned suicide occur, as opposed to more impulsive methods of suicide, such as methods using firearms.

Morrell et al. (2007) suggest that lower levels of unemployment may still explain some of the changes in the suicide rate for young men, or that young men became better equipped via their interactions with services to cope with events such as unemployment. Further evidence would need to be found before the Strategy could be said to have caused, or been responsible for, the decline in young male suicide, but the article concludes that the NYSPS was "plausibly" associated with the post-1997 fall in young male suicide rates.

Since the late 1990s, the NYSPS has been extended to include all age groups and renamed the National Suicide Prevention Strategy (NSPS) ( Suicide rates for both men and women, particularly young males in the 15-24 year old age group have continued to decline, with the age-standardised suicide rate for all males in 2003 lower than in any of the previous ten years (ABS, 2004).

While it is too early to tell if any cohort effects are present (ie. if individuals born in a particular year or years have rates of suicide particular to that cohort) (Snowdon & Hunt, 2002), this may indicate that the Strategy, in its new form, is having a positive effect on suicide rates across all ages, although further research is needed to confirm this. Morrell et al.'s (2007) study does, however, appear to indicate that comprehensive and broad-based preventative and early intervention programs, which address the range of factors that lead to complex behaviours, can be effective.


  • Australian Institute of Family Studies (2000). Valuing Young Lives: Evaluation of the National Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy. Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.
  • Morrell, S., Page, A. & Taylor, R. (2007). The decline in Australian young male suicide. Social Science & Medicine, 64, 747-754.
  • Morrell, S., Taylor, R., Quine, S. & Kerr, C. (1993). Suicide and unemployment in Australia 1907-1990. Social Science & Medicine, 36(6), 749-756.
  • Snowdon, J. & Hunt, G. (2002). Age, period and cohort effects on suicide rates in Australia, 1919-1999. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 105, 265-270.

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

Family statistics and trends

A snapshot of how Australian families spend their time

Jennifer Baxter, Matthew Gray, and Alan Hayes

Social, economic and technological change has altered the way in which families spend time together. Important changes include increases in maternal employment, part-time employment and the number of people living alone. There have also been higher levels of geographic mobility, lower fertility rates and the development of affordable communication technology such as the mobile phone, email and the internet.

To support the 2007 National Families Week, the Australian Institute of Family Studies has prepared this snapshot of the time that families spend together. The aim of the 2007 National Families Week is to encourage families to take the time to do things together that will improve their physical and emotional wellbeing.

The statistics presented in this snapshot are derived from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey, Growing Up in Australia: the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) and the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1997 Time Use Survey.

Family time and life cycle stage

How time is spent varies greatly according to the stage of the lifecycle. Figure 1 shows the amount of time spent over a week in paid employment, doing household work, parenting and playing with children, for men and women in a number of different types of families. Categories reported in these analyses were those who are childless and aged less than 50 years, those with resident children aged less than 5 years, those with resident children aged 5-14 years and those who have children aged over 15 years. On average:

  • childless women aged less than 50 spend 31 hours in paid employment and 9 hours doing housework;
  • mothers spend much less time in paid employment than childless women;
  • mothers with a pre-school aged child are in paid employment for 11 hours and those with a child aged 5-14 years do 20 hours paid employment;
  • mothers spend far more time doing housework than childless women. Mothers with a child under 5 spend 23 hours a week doing housework and those with a youngest child 5-14 years old spend 20 hours a week;
  • mothers with a child under 5 spend a very significant amount of time parenting and playing with children (38 hours a week). Those with a youngest child 5-14 years old spend 16 hours parenting;
  • childless men aged less than 50 spend over 37 hours a week in paid employment and 6 hours doing housework;
  • fathers with a child under five spend 43 hours in paid employment, 6 hours doing housework and 16 hours parenting and playing with children; and
  • time use patterns of parents of older children are markedly different. This in part reflects the age of these parents.

Figure 1. Time use, life cycle stage, 2004

Figure 2. Unpaid work for non-resident family over an average two days by gender and age for Australia, 1997 (%)

Source: de Vaus, Gray and Stanton (2003)

Feeling rushed or pressed for time

Always or often feeling rushed and pressed for time (time pressure) can be a source of stress for families. This section uses data from the 2004 HILDA survey on the extent to which people living in different types of families experience time pressure.

  • men and women with a dependent child in the family (41% of men and 51% of women) are more likely to experience time pressure than those without a dependent child (28% of men and 33% of women);
  • parents with children aged under 5 are the most likely to feel time pressure (48% of fathers and 58% of mothers);
  • 44% of fathers and 52% of mothers with a youngest child 5-9 years old feel time pressure; and
  • 43% of fathers and 50% of mothers with a youngest child 15-19 years old feel time pressure.

Children's time use

Growing Up in Australia: the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) provides a window into how young children spend their time. The statistics on children's time use were collected from Wave 1 of LSAC in 2004, and are for time while the child is awake.

Pre-school aged children's time with their parents

The amount of time that children spend with their mother decreases over the first few years of life.

Infants spend, on average:

  • 7 hours 48 minutes with their mother and 2 hours 57 minutes with their father, on weekdays; and
  • 7 hours 55 minutes with their mother and 5 hours 27 minutes with their father, on weekends.

Four to five year olds spend, on average:

  • 6 hours 50 minutes with their mother and 2 hours 48 minutes with their father, on weekdays; and
  • 7 hours 54 minutes with their mother and 5 hours 59 minutes with their father, on weekends.

Part of the reduction in time that mothers spend with their child is a result of increases in maternal employment and the almost universal participation of 4-5 year olds in some form of early education (child care, pre-school or school):

  • 38% of mothers with an infant are employed; and
  • 54% of mothers with a 4-5 year old are employed.

For 4-5 year olds:

  • 74% are in school or pre-school
  • 22% attend child care (and not school or pre-school).

In contrast, the employment rates of fathers with an infant and those with a 4-5 year old are both over 90%.

The impact of parental employment on time with pre-school children

Figure 3 shows the amount of time pre-school aged children spend with their mother according to the mother's hours of work. Figure 4 shows the relationship for men between working hours and time spent with young children.

On weekdays:

  • not-employed mothers with an infant spend on average 8 hours 59 minutes with the child;
  • mothers working short part-time hours spend only slightly less time with their infant (about half an hour per day);
  • the time mothers spend with their infant decreases as the number of hours worked increases. Full-time employed mothers with an infant spend an average of 6 hours 1 minute with the infant - three hours per day less than non-working mothers; and
  • not-employed mothers with a 4-5 year old spend, on average, 6 hours 38 minutes per day with their child while the child is awake. Those working full-time spend 4 hours 17 minutes per day with their child.

The time that parents spend with their young children on weekends does not vary much according to the number of hours worked by the parent.

Figure 3. Time pre-school children spend with their mother on weekdays by age of child and mothers' working hours

Figure 3. Time pre-school children spend with their mother on weekdays by age of child and mothers' working hours

Source: LSAC, Wave 1, 2004

Figure 4. Time pre-school children spend with their father on weekdays by age of child and fathers' working hours

Figure 4. Time pre-school children spend with their father on weekdays by age of child and fathers' working hours

Source: LSAC, Wave 1, 2004

Children and family time

Four to five year-old children share in a large range of activities with other family members.

Over a one week period:

  • 45% were read to by a family member on 6 or 7 days, 30% were read to on 3 to 5 days, 21% on 1 or 2 days and 4% were not read to at all;
  • 90% had participated in musical activities or dance with a family member;
  • 89% had spent some time with a family member while involved in everyday activities such as cooking or caring for pets; and
  • 89% had played games outdoors or exercised with a family member.

While children spend less time with their mother when their mother spends longer in paid employment, this does not necessarily mean that children of employed mothers have fewer opportunities to share activities with family members. Four to five year olds with an employed mother were as likely to be read to on 6 or 7 days a week by a family member as were children with not-employed mothers. The proportions read to every day are:

  • 42% with not-employed mothers;
  • 50% with mothers working 1-24 hours a week;
  • 47% with mothers working 25-34 hours; and
  • 42% with mothers working full time (35 hours or more).

Time together is not just about doing things and going places. The quality of relationships and interactions is crucial to the health and development of children. Mothers are more likely than fathers to report often experiencing warm relationships with their pre-school aged child. The following shows the percentage saying they always or almost always:

  • expressed affection physically
    • with their infant: mothers 85% and fathers 65%; and
    • with their 4-5 year old: mothers 80% and fathers 52%.
  • had warm encounters with their child
    • with their infant: mothers 51% and fathers 26%; and
    • with their 4-5 year old: mothers 40% and fathers 20%.
  • enjoyed listening to or doing things with their child
    • with their infant: mothers 60% and fathers 43%; and
    • with their 4-5 year old: mothers 44% and fathers 28%.

Contact with extended family

Families with young children often have contact with their extended family. Parents had frequent contact with other family members, whether by seeing them directly, phoning or emailing them. Among mothers of 4-5 year olds:

  • 28% were in touch with their own parents every day and 52% at least every week;
  • those who had siblings were often in contact with them (11% every day and 43% at least once a week); and
  • they were much less likely to be in touch with their in-laws (8% every day and 40% at least every week).

Among the 4-5 year old children:

  • of those who have grandparents, 12% see them every day, 45% at least every week, 18% at least every month, 22% less often than monthly and only 3% have no contact with them; and
  • of those who have uncles or aunts, 5% see them every day, 30% at least every week, 31% monthly, 32% less often than once a month and only 2% have no contact with them.


The time that families spend together is crucial. While people often express a concern that modern life is resulting in families spending less time together than in the past, this snapshot suggests that the picture is much more complex. Although many parents of young children experience time pressure, families are spending a lot of time together and most have substantial contact with extended family networks. Most children do a wide range of activities with their family, including reading books, playing outside and participating in musical activities. The challenge for society is to ensure that families continue to be able to spend time together, especially as the patterns of labour force participation of men and women continue to change.


  • Australian Bureau of Statistics. (1998). How Australians use their time, 1997 (Cat. No. 4153.0). Canberra: Author.
  • de Vaus, D., Gray, M., & Stanton, D. (2003). Measuring the value of unpaid household, caring and voluntary work of older Australians (Research Paper No. 34). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies. Retrieved 28 June 2007, from
  • The HILDA survey is funded by the Australian Government through the Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. It is managed by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, in collaboration with the Australian Institute of Family Studies and the Australian Council for Educational Research. For further information:
  • Growing Up in Australia: the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children was initiated and funded as part of the Australian Government's Stronger Families and Communities Strategy by the Australian Government Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. The study is being undertaken in partnership with the Australian Institute of Family Studies, with advice being provided by a consortium of leading researchers at research institutions and universities throughout Australia. For further information:

This article is also available as a Fact Sheet:

Dr Jennifer Baxter is a Research Fellow at the Australian Institute of Family Studies.
Dr Matthew Gray is Deputy Director (Research) at the Australian Institute of Family Studies.
Professor Alan Hayes is the Director of the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Seminar report

Moving Towards an Outcomes Based Approach

The early years: From research to policy to practice seminar
Shepparton, Vic., 19 March 2007

Ren Adams

"Moving Towards an Outcomes Based Approach" was the first of four unique seminars planned for 2007 in the series funded by the R. E. Ross Trust ( and presented by the Centre for Community Child Health, Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne ( This report focuses on the main presentation at the seminar.

One of the difficulties for organisations providing early childhood services has been in determining whether or not the service is actually achieving better outcomes for children. If service providers do not have a clear understanding of the outcomes they intend to achieve, it becomes increasingly difficult to accurately determine the success of these services. 'Starting with the end in mind' is a mantra that forms the basis of many outcomes-based approaches. The Moving Towards an Outcomes Based Approach seminar sought to provide a better understanding of the need for these approaches, how service providers could go about understanding and adopting such approaches, and to highlight some forthcoming resources to assist in community engagement and evaluation.

The main presentation by Dr Tim Moore, Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Community Child Health, offered a rationale for moving towards outcomes-based approaches and a useful 5-step framework for adopting these methods. The rationale for adopting an outcomes-based approach to providing services begins by looking at why outcomes are important.

According to Dr Moore "if we are not clear about the outcomes we are aiming for, then:

  • we will be less likely to achieve desired outcomes
  • we will be unable to judge the efficacy of the service we provide
  • we will be less likely to choose a methodology that is known to be effective in achieving desirable outcomes and
  • we may persist with approaches and goals that are not achieving anything."

Dr Moore pointed out that human service providers have had a tendency to focus more on the delivery of the actual service than on the difference that the service makes. It is this confusion between the means and the ends that can prevent the asking of crucial questions such as 'what kind of change are we seeking?' and 'exactly how does the service we provide achieve that change?' Governments have faced similar challenges when funding human services and have begun moving from output-focused funding models towards those that identify expected outcomes only in recent years.1

The outcomes-based model presented by Dr Moore cites the Results-Based Accountability (RBA) model of Friedman (2005)2 that starts with the desired ends and works backward towards the means to achieve them. The model presented by Dr Moore asks the question 'What is involved in adopting a results-based approach?' The five steps are:

  1. Identifying the outcomes sought;
  2. Translating outcomes into specific objectives;
  3. Selecting strategies for achieving these objectives on the basis of program logic and evidence-based practice;
  4. Translating strategies into specific activities or programs; and
  5. Identifying indicators to measure the progress made.

Figure 1: Outcomes-based model

Figure 1: Outcomes-based model

The first step of identifying outcomes involves recognition of the distinction between the services received and the benefits gained from them. In framing outcomes for services, Dr Moore highlights the importance of questioning the overall effect being sought; the end result; the ultimate purpose; and why the service is being offered. Additionally, it was pointed out that 'outcome statements should not refer to or describe the services to be provided'.

The translation of outcomes into objectives is the second step of the model, where Dr Moore defines objectives as 'the specific targets that need to be met in order for an outcome to be achieved'. Often multiple objectives are identified at this stage and they need to be both measurable and achievable. Furthermore, it is vital that strategies developed to meet these objectives, step three of the model, are both logically connected to the outcomes and can be proven to be effective.

To demonstrate a logical connection, the use of either a theory of change3 or program logic4 is suggested. Concurrently, to determine whether a practice is effective requires an evidence-based practice5 approach. Dr Moore presents two rationales for evidence-based practice. First, without evidence to support service development, the choice of strategies used will likely be influenced by factors such as habit or custom, unproven assumptions and community expectations. Second, the current thinking is that effective services are those that 'are based on clear, scientifically-validated theoretical frameworks and methodologies which articulate how the services that are delivered achieve the desired outcomes'.

In a drastic change from traditional service-based approaches, the translation of strategies into specific activities (the actual service) is the last element to be specified in the outcomes-based approach. Working back from the expected outcomes, this fourth step of the model presented by Dr Moore should result in services being specifically geared with the end result in mind. Finally, in the fifth step of the model, indicators should be identified that will enable service providers to actually assess whether or not the outcome is likely to be achieved. The criteria offered for the selection of indicators were ones that: (i) are relevant and representative; (ii) easily understood; (iii) are measurable, reliable and consistent; and (iv) demonstrate change.

Dr Moore continued the presentation by looking at implementing an outcomes-based approach and describing facets of the evaluation of outcomes-based approaches. An exploration into levels of accountability led to a discussion of ways that local services could align themselves with state and national strategies. Examples of programs that have used outcomes-based approaches include the Communities for Children program ( (Australian Government Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs) and Best Start ( (Victorian Department of Human Services).

Subsequent presentations in the seminar provided overviews of two new resources that have been developed by the Centre for Community Child Health ( to assist service providers. These resources, the Community Evaluation Resource and the Community Engagement Resource, should be available from the Centre in the coming months.

In response to demand, the "Moving Towards an Outcomes Based Approach" seminar was repeated in Melbourne on 30 April, with dates being finalised for further presentations of the seminar in the Victorian rural cities of Ballarat and Bendigo.

Ren Adams is a Project Officer with the Australian Family Relationships Clearinghouse.

News in brief

Coming soon

AFRC Issues Paper No. 1, Child inclusion as a principle and as evidence-based practice: Applications to family law services and related sectors. Dr Jennifer McIntosh, Family Transitions, Melbourne.

An evidence base is growing around the potential benefits to many separated parents of engaging in a focused dispute resolution forum that assists them to hear and consider their children's experience and needs within a brief, therapeutic mediation process. Dr Jennifer McIntosh outlines the child inclusive dispute resolution practice model in this paper, and describes two successful applications of the child inclusive model, with their data showing the potential of "children's voices" to realign parental states of mind, to elicit higher levels of cooperation and shared decision making. Wider application of this work is discussed, as well as considerations for staffing and supporting a child inclusive team.

New AFRC publications

Briefing Paper No 5, Building relationships between parents and carers in early childhood. Sarah Wise, Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Harmony between the way that parents and early childhood professionals raise children is an important dimension of child care quality aimed at enhancing child wellbeing. The foundation for this harmony is positive and trusting relationships between the two parties. Yet, research conducted at the Australian Institute of Family Studies and elsewhere suggests that carers do not always initiate practices to share caregiving information with parents, and that conflict with parents in matters of children's care are commonplace, particularly in culturally diverse early childhood settings. The current paper outlines several strategies that professionals may employ to support and strengthen parent/carer partnerships.

New Australian Institute of Family Studies publications

Research Report No. 15, Allegations of family violence and child abuse in family law children's proceedings. Lawrie Moloney, Bruce Smyth, Ruth Weston, Nicholas Richardson, Lixia Qu, and Matthew Gray, Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Using court files from the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Magistrates Court, this report examines the incidence, responses to, and implications of allegations of family violence and child abuse in family law children's proceedings. The report is available from:

Family Matters No. 76

The forthcoming issue of Family Matters focuses on three aspects of caring - for people with a disability, for children, and in response to violence or neglect. The articles comprise research reports and viewpoints on how families engage in caring, its nature, provision and impact. Information about Family Matters can be found at:

Other reports and publications

Community building through intergenerational exchange programs. Report to the National Youth Affairs Research Scheme (NYARS).

Efforts to connect young people to their community are being assisted by the emergence of intergenerational practice, in which multiple generations come together for mutual benefit. As well as benefits for both groups in terms of greater self-worth and reduced loneliness and isolation, younger people show improvements in health and school attendance, a greater sense of civic and community responsibility, and greater respect for other peoples' histories. Older people benefit from reflecting on and sharing their life experiences, receiving respect and recognition, learning about young people, receiving practical assistance, and improved resilience. This report outlines the key learnings from the existing research literature, consultations, interviews and focus groups with experts, young and older people, field visits and case studies about the benefits of intergenerational exchange programs. The study was conducted by researchers from Murdoch University. It is available at:$file/community_building.pdf

For more information about NYARS, visit

Grandparenting: Present and Future. Families Australia Family Issues Series No. 2. January 2007.

This paper reports on the outcomes of an Expert Forum, consultations with stakeholder groups and focus group discussions with grandparents associated with the Marymead Family and Children's Centre in Canberra, conducted by Families Australia in late 2006. The findings highlight the issues for grandparents caring for grandchildren and provides 29 recommendations designed to address the financial, social and emotional challenges faced by both grandparents and their grandchildren.

Families Australia is the national peak not-for-profit organisation dedicated to promoting the needs and interests of families. Reports are available at:

Finding a better way: A bold departure from the traditional common law approach to the conduct of legal proceedings. Margaret Harrison, Family Court of Australia. April 2007.

Family Law in Australia is undergoing significant changes in the way in which cases appearing before the Court are conducted. This report outlines the origins and development of the new Less Adversarial Trial program, and how it has been influenced by the English adversarial and European inquisatorial systems. The full report is available from:

Young People's Health: What's it going to take

Papers and presentations from the 5th Australian and New Zealand Adolescent Health Conference, 13-15 November 2006, Sydney, are now available online at

Sessions at the conference addressed the themes of risk and protective factors; neurobiology of the adolescent brain; family, community and cultural influences; impact of media and technology on young people; and research, policy and practice responses. Delegates were drawn from medical, nursing and allied health workers in hospitals, communities and rural and remote regions, youth and mental health workers, the education, and the research and policy sectors. A report of this conference appears in Family Relationships Quarterly No. 3 ( The next conference, with the theme of Research into Practice, Evidence into Policy, will take place in Christchurch, New Zealand, 24-26 September 2007. For information, go to

Work and family balance in regional Victoria: A pilot project

While there has been considerable research into families' efforts to manage their paid work and family responsibilities, little of this attention has been directed towards families in regional areas. This pilot project began in February 2006. Analysis of Australian Bureau of Statistics and other relevant data, and consultations with a range of stakeholders were undertaken in four regional locations: Bendigo, Horsham, Colac, and Latrobe City. Forums were then conducted in each location to feed back the project findings and provide opportunities for community input into the ways in which regional families could be supported in managing their work and family commitments. The report discusses the need for a regional approach to balancing work and family commitments, the implications for regional families of changes to labour regulation in Australia, and outlines a series of 'Options for Action' that governments at all levels, in collaboration with businesses, unions and community organisations might draw on to improve support to families in combining their work and family responsibilities.

New requirements for family dispute resolution

Two further changes to the Family Law system have been announced. From 1 July, except where family violence or child abuse are involved, Courts will only hear new applications for Parenting Orders in cases where a Family Dispute Resolution provider has issued a valid certificate confirming that the applicants have attempted dispute resolution. To be able to issue valid certificates, Family Dispute Resolution providers must be listed on a new Family Dispute Resolution Register. Other rules for accreditation are also to be introduced. Further information is available at

Sharing the learnings: Strengths based practice in children's services

Funded by Families First, Sharing the learnings is part of the Strengths Based Practice in Children's Services Project, developed in collaboration with The Benevolent Society and the Lady Gowrie Centre. The newsletter will showcase information and practical tools and resources based on the strengths based, family-centred approach to working with children. The newsletter can be found at: For further information about strengths based practice, resources and tools, visit the following links:


Practitioner resources: Policy and procedure templates

Services developing or reviewing their policies and procedures may be interested in a series of policy templates developed by NSW Family Services. The templates are available as booklets or CDs. Members of NSW Family Services can obtain the templates free of charge. Non-members can purchase the templates for $11 per booklet or $100 for a CD containing the 12 templates. Membership of NSW Family Services is open to all states and territories. Check the NSW Family Services website for more information: A brief description of the templates, as well as a range of other reports and resources, can be found at

Young Australians: Their health and wellbeing 2007. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

This is the third in a series of statistical reports on the health and wellbeing of young Australians aged 12-24 years. Data are presented on measures such as young peoples' health status, the family structures in which they live, the incidence of mental health problems, suicide, tobacco, alcohol and illicit substance use, homelessness, education and employment status. On most indicators, young people are shown to be doing well. However, there are a number of areas in which young peoples' wellbeing can be improved. The report is available from

Drug use in the family: Impacts and implications for children. Australian National Council on Drugs, November 2006.

This report draws on the literature on substance misuse in families and analyses of data from large-scale population surveys and other specialist databases to develop a set of principles for good practice for programs, those who conduct them, and those who fund them. Recommendations relating to data collection and future research, to ensuring programs meet the needs of children in families with substance misuse, for government policy and practice, and for addressing substance misuse in Indigenous communities are provided. The report is available from:

New relationship education resource: Keys to living together

The Australian Government Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs has recently produced a new suite of relationship education resources, Keys to living together. These interactive resources provide information, tips and practical activities to assist families in building stronger and healthier relationships. Each Keys to living together kit consists of a DVD and mini magazine. Currently there are three kits in the Keys to living together series:

Keys to living together: Taking the first step. This resource is for couples who are making a significant commitment to each other such as marriage, or moving in together.

Keys to living together: Instant families. This resource is for couples with children from previous relationships who are creating a new family together.

Keys to living together: Then we were three. This resource is for couples who have had or are having their first child.

Further kits are being developed. Kits can be obtained by calling 1800 050 009, or by emailing FaHCSIA.

Other clearinghouse publications and resources

Australian Domestic & Family Violence Clearinghouse (ADFVC)

Current ADFVC Publications

ADFVC Newsletter

ADFVC have released the Autumn issue of their quarterly Newsletter ( Articles include a discussion of a framework for meaningful service responses to the impact of family violence on children, with Australian examples of 'Good Practice' programs and a review of recent changes in domestic violence legislation.

Issues Paper 13, Domestic violence and child protection: Challenging directions for practice. Cathy Humphreys, School of Social Work, University of Melbourne.

Humphreys notes that referrals of children affected by domestic violence have incresed to the point where the statutory child protection system is vulnerable. This paper discusses the issues related to the implications and responses to this development. The report is available to download at:

National Child Protection Clearinghouse (NCPC)

Upcoming NCPC Publications

The National Child Protection Clearinghouse will be releasing the following publications electronically and in print in the coming months:

Child Abuse Prevention Issues No. 26. Australian out-of-home care research: Key messages and key learnings. Leah Bromfield & Alexandra Osborn.

This Issues paper is based on the Australian out-of-home care: Messages from research report (Bromfield, Higgins, Osborn, Panozzo, & Richardson, 2005) reviewing Australian out-of-home care research identified to determine:

  • what we know from Australian out-of-home care research;
  • the quality of the evidence-base;
  • research gaps and duplication (if any); and
  • priorities for future research.

The Issues paper provides a synopsis of the Australian out-of-home care evidence-base. A series of more detailed Research Briefs on specific topics will also be released with the Issues paper.

Child Abuse Prevention Newsletter 15(2)

Articles in this issue present findings from the NCPC evaluation and the Research Utilisation project, and examine promising practices for out of home care. A program for primary prevention of child sexual abuse is profiled, as is the Australian College of Child and Family Protection Practitioners.

In addition, a series of Research Briefs on specific aspects of out-of-home-care, such as foster families, cultural considerations, and professional issues, will be available only on the Clearinghouse website (

Communities and Families Clearinghouse Australia (CAFCA)

Practitioners will find an extensive set of resources relating to evaluation, parenting, early childhood, community development, and working with and supporting Indigenous families on the CAFCA website (

Literature highlights

Compiled by Joan Kelleher, Librarian

The following are a selection of resources received by the Australian Family Relationships Clearinghouse (AFRC) library collection. Print resources are available via the inter-library loan system. Contact your own library for details of this system. Electronic resources are available directly via the web address.

Adoptive families

Adoption and family therapy. (2003). Goodwach, R. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy, 24(2), 61-70.

The aim of this article is to sensitise family therapists to adoption. A major assertion of the paper is that adoptive families are different from biological families. The family therapy context is a natural framework for examining these issues, as adoption affects and alters both birth and adoptive families, and adoption-related problems occur within the context of the extended family system. The differences between intra-racial (socially-motivated) and inter-racial adoptions are discussed, as well as the differences between closed and open adoptions. The study of families affected by adoption provides a model for other family forms, such as stepfamilies, foster families and families who form through new birth technologies. (Journal abstract)

Adoption issues or just growing up? (2007). Harding, L. Adoption Australia, Autumn, 5-8.

Adopted children often use their adoption as a weapon against their adoptive parents when they start to express teenagers' rejection of family. This article discusses the psychology of this behaviour and then offers some strategies for dealing with it.

Bent but not broken: Building resilient adoptive families. (2006). Paddock, D. A. Adoption Australia, Winter, 13-16.

Adoption is created out of profound loss for all parties, yet the reverse of this is the resilience of adoptive families. This article discusses the many issues and potential trauma that adoptive families often face, and the resilience that develops and helps overcome this adversity. It summarises some recent research on resilience among children, attachment in adoption and how parents can help develop resilience in their children.

Grief and loss issues for adopted children: Caring adults can make a world of difference. (2006). Paddock, D. A. Adoption Australia, Winter, 17-18.

Adopted children often feel different, at fault, angry, frustrated, sad and anxious. These responses can become a problem when they affect the child's emotional development. This article recommends that adults validate the adopted child's experience and explore their feelings.

The importance of maintaining adoptive family support groups. (2005). Brown, J. Adoption Australia, Spring, 6-9.

For adopted children, issues involving adoption and race may appear to be resolved at one stage, only to resurface and peak later on. This article argues the importance of remaining connected to adoptive family support groups through the middle childhood years and beyond. It considers what makes these groups work, identifies things to keep in mind when forming and sustaining these groups, and recommends seeking advice from younger members when organising groups.

The inner world of the adopted child. (2006). Alexander, C. J. Adoption Australia, Autumn, 7-9.

Adopted children often manifest a range of psychological disorders and behavioural problems that differ from those of other children, and are overrepresented in mental health and correctional facilities. This article reviews developmental factors, aspects of family life and the role of anger in the emotional and behavioural problems of adopted children.

Why wasn't I told? Making sense of the late discovery of adoption. (2000). Perl, L. Bondi, NSW: Post Adoption Resource Centre, Benevolent Society of NSW.

This document describes a project which examined the effects of late discovery on adopted adults, based on a survey of people who had contacted the Post Adoption Resource Centre (PARC), a service of the Benevolent Society of NSW. The background to the study is outlined and the methodology discussed. The questionnaire and consent letter are presented in the appendices. Results are discussed with reference to: how the sample found out about the adoption; initial reaction; previous suspicions; informing the adoptive parents of the discovery; some reasons for never telling the adoptive parents; the effect on adoptive family relationships; contact with the birth family; impact of the reunion; late discovery as an ongoing issue; better not to know; a suitable age to tell; and advice for other late discovery adoptees.

Intercountry adoptions

Overseas adoption in Australia: Report on the Inquiry into adoption of children from overseas. (2005). Australian Parliament. House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family and Community Affairs. Canberra, ACT: House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family and Human Services.

This report is about the policies and practices governing overseas adoption (referred to as intercountry adoption) in Australia. The history and statistics of intercountry adoption are provided. The legal framework for intercountry adoptions and the limited role of nongovernment organisations, the establishment of new programs overseas, and a comparison of the performance of the different states and territories are discussed.

Promoting a multiracial Australia: Population policy and intercountry adoption. (2005). Gerhmann, R. AQ: Journal of Contemporary Analysis, 77(4), 13-18.

Why have rates of intercountry adoption by Australians decreased in recent years? This article considers government policy on intercountry adoption in various Australian states and contrasts this with related policy in the United States. It discusses the particular slowness of the Australian process, misconceptions leading to an anti-adoption culture, and punitive financial costs and the adoption triangle of birth parents, adoptive parents and child. It outlines a proposal for reforming intercountry adoption.

Returning to the homeland: Why, when and how did it go? (2004). Matthews, A. Adoption Australia, Winter, 10-12.

Intercountry adoptees may want to return to their homeland for many reasons. The author considers when the optimal time to take the trip might be, why they should return, search and reunion issues to consider, and general considerations for adoptees and parents. She discusses several case studies of adoptees who returned to their birth countries.

Sibling relationships

Children's perceptions of their sibling relationships during parental separation and divorce. (2004). Sheehan, G., Darlington, Y., Noller, P., & Feeney, J. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 41(1-2), 69-94.

Does parental separation and divorce influence children's experiences of their sibling relationship? This article uses first wave data from a longitudinal study that investigated sibling relationships and adolescent adjustment to parental divorce. It tests the hypothesis that a highly stressful home environment may cause siblings to become closer than they otherwise would have. The article discusses types of sibling relationships in divorced and married families, differences between married and divorced families, separation and divorce as a catalyst for change in the nature of the sibling relationship, and implications for practice.

Facilitator manual: Groups for siblings of children with special needs. (2005). Nesa, M., & Strohm, K. Adelaide, SA: Siblings Australia.

Siblings of children with disabilities may be at greater risk of developing emotional and behavioural problems than other children. This manual presents a support program, Groups for Siblings of Children with Special Needs, devised for 8 to 12 year old siblings. It discusses sibling relationships, concerns of siblings and positive effects siblings may gain from having a brother or sister with special needs. It outlines the following aspects of the program design: program principles, program location, group composition, group leaders and co facilitator responsibilities. It explains principles of group work, group formats, promoting group cohesiveness, and managing disruptive behaviour. The manual is accompanied by a booklet for group participants.

Participant booklet for 8-12 year old siblings of children with special needs. (2005). Nesa, M., & Strohm, K. Adelaide, SA: Siblings Australia.

Having a brother or sister with a disability can sometimes be an extra challenge. This booklet is designed to be used with the program Groups for Siblings of Children with Special Needs. It has exercises that deal with getting to know the people in the group, differences and similarities among siblings, support networks, problem solving, wiping out worries, and leaving the group stronger and supported. An accompanying facilitator manual has been indexed separately.

Sibling effects, environmental influences, and university attendance: A follow-up study. (2004). Marjoribanks, K. Psychological Reports, 95(3), 1267-1270.

This study, which examines relations between sibling variables (number of children in the family, birth order position), and university attendance, is a follow up to a 2002 study that examined relations among sibling variables, environmental influences and school dropout. The study, which uses data from the Longitudinal Survey of Australian Youth (LSAY), also takes into account differences in family social class, ethnicity and family and school learning environments. Findings indicate that young adults from Asian, Middle Eastern and middle class families were less likely to drop out of school and more likely to attend a university than were young Australians from Anglo- Australian, English, European and working class backgrounds. And secondly, that after taking into account differences in family background and learning environment measures, there continued to be a small but significant relationship between the number of children in a family, birth order position, and the likelihood that young people would drop out of school or attend university.

Sibling relationships of anxious children: A preliminary investigation. (2002). Fox, T. L., Barrett, P. M., & Shortt, A. L. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 31(3), 375-383.

Researchers now view sibling relationships as one of the most potentially important influences on a child's development. They can protect against or increase chances of depression, antisocial and other externalising disorders. Research into child anxiety has largely focussed on the child and the parents, rather than looking separately at sibling relationships. The authors present findings of a study into the sibling relationships of anxious children. Some behaviours analysed include: degrees of warmth and closeness; conflict, status and power; hostility; control of sibling; and task maintenance.

South Australian Sibling Project: Report 2000. (2000). Strohm, K. Adelaide, S: Women and Children's Hospital, Division of Mental Health.

In April 1999, the South Australian Sibling Project was established in the Department of Psychological Medicine at the Women's and Children's Hospital, to develop and coordinate services for siblings of people with disabilities or chronic illness. The activities undertaken by the South Australian Sibling Project during the year 2000 are described in this report which provides details of future directions and discusses some of the issues involved in the support of siblings. Issues discussed include: clinical services to individual families which include a child with a disability; presentations to parent groups; workshops for siblings; support to organisations that provide services to families; raising awareness of sibling issues, including contribution to training of professionals; policy that reflects a commitment to the mental health needs of siblings; project funding; risk factors for siblings; sibling support; the National Mental Health Strategy; and what siblings need.

Supporting siblings within families to reduce problematic youth substance use and prevent youth homelessness. (2001). Cernaz, J., Toumbourou, J. W., & Hodges, C. Parity, 14(8), 67-69.

The authors discuss the development of services that consider the role of family support in the prevention and treatment of substance abuse among young people. They describe the Sibling Peer Support Project which was run by the Centre for Adolescent Health in collaboration with the North East Drug and Alcohol Service. The project established peer support groups with the aims of reducing isolation, developing problem solving skills, providing accurate information about substance abuse, minimising harm and gaining information on the impact on siblings of substance use. The authors' experience with the project suggested that important early intervention and treatment opportunities can be gained through appropriate service delivery to siblings. They consider that by extending family services to include the needs of siblings, substance abuse may be reduced and family connections strengthened, thus helping to reduce youth homelessness.

Supporting siblings: When a brother or sister has a disability or a chronic illness. (2003). Smith, M., & Lloyd, M. Armadale, Vic: Association for Children with a Disability.

Current research into the experiences of siblings of children with a disability or a chronic illness is outlined in this report. The first section of the report, 'Sibling experiences from childhood to adolescence', covers emotional and behavioural responses of siblings described within the context of various stages of child development. In the second section, 'Family and social influences on sibling adjustment', sibling experiences within the context of the family and social environment are explored.

The forgotten siblings. (2007). Young, S. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy, 28(1), 21-27.

In this article, the author argues that the qualities and dynamics of sibling relationships may have been overlooked in family therapy. Sibling relationships are a significant feature in the emotional life of children, where children practise identity and can learn how to be one in a group. The author concludes that family therapy treatment may not make enough use of the dynamic of the sibling relationship. (Journal abstract, edited)

The sudden and unexpected death of a sibling and its impact on surviving children and adolescents: A family perspective. (2002). Biggs, C. T. Grief Matters, 5(2), 31-34.

When a child dies suddenly and unexpectedly, so shocking and painful is the loss that grief devastates the family and threatens to tear it apart. The way that surviving children and adolescents grieve cannot be understood without examining the impact of such a loss on the whole family. This paper examines the effect of such a death on the family system and its parental, marital, sibling and parent-child subsystems. The review of the literature suggests that openly expressing thoughts and feelings, tolerating different grieving styles, remaining flexible, and caring and supporting one another enable a family to live with the change the death inflicts on their lives. (Journal abstract)


1 The National Agenda for Early Childhood has resulted in four key action areas. See


3 See

4 See

5 See

Publication details

AFRC Newsletter
No. 5
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, July 2007.
26 pp.

Publication meta

Need some help?

CFCA offers a free research and information helpdesk for child, family and community welfare practitioners, service providers, researchers and policy makers through the CFCA News.