Sole-parent families: Beyond the stereotypes

Sole-parent families: Beyond the stereotypes

Media release — 23 June 2009

Sole-parent families are on the rise in Australia but many single mothers don’t match the stereotypical view of unwed, young and welfare-dependent, according to the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

By 2026 Australia is forecast to have almost 1.2 million sole-parent households – an increase of 42 percent since 2001.

“Being in a sole parent family doesn’t necessarily lead to adverse outcomes for children,” Institute Director, Professor Alan Hayes, said.

“Where child and parent health is good, where there’s enough income and stable housing, and where there’s an extended family or social network, the risk of poor outcomes is lessened.”

An article published today in the Institute’s flagship journal Family Matters argues it’s not necessarily the family structure itself that makes a good home environment, but a core set of parenting practices that influence child outcomes, regardless of the family make-up.

“Research suggests that two key things strengthen sole parent families: support from extended family and friends and a positive co-parenting arrangement,” said the article’s author Elly Robinson, the Manager of the Australian Family Relationships Clearinghouse.

“What matters is low conflict between the parents, good communication and nurturing, and authoritative parenting from at least one parent - these things are important no matter what the family structure is.

“We have to get past the idea that sole mothers in particular are somehow to blame for poor outcomes for children and are less desirable community members,” Ms Robinson said.

“The stereotypical idea of a young mum on welfare needs to be challenged. Evidence suggests that many women go on to make successful new families as well as establishing themselves in work,” she said.

However she acknowledged that increasing pressures in the current economic climate – such as housing and financial crises – are likely to hit sole-parents hard.

“It’s time to ask how sole parents can be supported to offer the caring and connected relationships that children need amid all these very adult challenges.

“It may be that if a parent is struggling, other adults in the child’s life should be encouraged to take on a significant role.

“Maintaining a sense of balance is also important - we know excessive television watching is considered to have a negative impact on children, but if is the only time where a sole parent can get things done, that may be what needs to happen,” she said.

Author of the paper is Elly Robinson, Research Fellow, Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Family Matters, no. 82, 2009 - table of contents and abstracts

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