Issue 33

You are in an archived section of the AIFS website.

Family Matters No. 33, 1992

Journal issue feature image

Children's Rights: Children's Voices, Adults' Choices

In this issue of Family Matters, we tackle a difficult and emotive topic, that of children's rights.  Because reactions to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the child have been so extreme, and often misinformed, we present a variety of viewpoints and a range of information in the hope of clarifying the issues.

Articles in this issue of Family Matters are only available as PDF documents and do not meet the latest web accessibility standards. If you are unable to access any of the articles in this issue of Family Matters please contact us and we will endeavour to provide the article/s you need in a format that you can use.


Meredith Michie

Publications Committee

Helen Brownlee, Don Edgar, Peter McDonald, Meredith Michie, Gay Ochiltree, Liz Sharman and Ilene Wolcott.

Publication details

Family Matters No. 33
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, December 1992, 64 pp.
1030-2646 (print) 1832-8318 (online)

Copyright information


Children's voices, adults' choices: Children's rights to legal representation

Moira Rayner

The author discusses children's participation in decision making and notes that it is not so much that children cannot speak for themselves as that they cannot be 'heard'. The traditions of our legal system assume that they are not able to protect or promote their own interests. She discusses the role of lawyers as child advocates and argues that any system which does not give children an effective opportunity to be heard is not a just one, that no laws can compensate for a lack of recognition of the right to be heard, and that the basis of decision-making for children needs to be founded on respect. Examining the issue of child advocacy as a human right within the context of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, she concludes that we must remove the legal and administrative barriers which keep children silent, and equip them with the means of protecting their own rights to dignity, respect and personal integrity.

The child's right to know both parents: Enforcement of child access

Kate Funder

This article reports on a seminar, Enforcement of Access, organised by the Family Law and Psychology Association of Australia, held in Melbourne on 3 October 1992. Aspects discussed by speakers and canvassed in this article included dilemmas of the law; child welfare; threats to fragile relationships between parents, and between parent and child; the entanglement of parents' rights and responsibilities; practitioners' responsibilities; parental emotions; facilitated access; legal language.

What unemployment means: Young people and their families

Robyn Hartley

The author examines the impact of sustained high levels of unemployment on young people's pathways to adulthood and on their families. Discussion includes leaving home and forming relationships; being unemployed and living at home with parents; lack of parental support; government initiatives.

A safe place for children: Views from the outer suburbs

Helen Brownlee and Peter McDonald

The Australian Institute of Family Studies' Living Standards Study addresses levels of safety for both children and adults. This article reports results of interviews with 427 families with children in the local government area of Berwick, an outer suburban area situated 30-40 kilometres to the south-east of the city centre of Melbourne. Parents' concerns about child safety covered a number of safety issues depending on the age of the child. They included fear of abduction, fear of violence by older children or by gangs of children of the same age, fear of safety on the roads, and fear of safety on public transport. Implications of findings for building better cities are discussed, as is the issue of dealing with perpetrators of attacks on children.


Children's welfare, rights and the legal system

Margaret Harrison

The author identifies various categories of legislative intervention in the parent-child relationship, and addresses concerns about the purpose, nature and process of such intervention, its perceived or anticipated outcomes for children and the 'rights' of parents where orders are made. Discussion includes legislative diversity in Australia; the role of international law; indirect impacts of legal systems; the role of the media; child sexual abuse and the law; the issue of children's evidence.


Childhood in its social context: The under-socialised child?

Don Edgar

The author writes that when we speak of the rights of the child we must remember that rights are conveyed by a particular society in a particular time. Rights are set in place by the agreement of society based on their current understanding of what is good and of what can be afforded, so when we speak of childhood we are speaking not of individual children so much as of a social status conferred by a given society on a group defined usually by their age and state of dependency upon adults. The author draws on a series of reports from the European Centre based in Vienna, called 'Childhood as a Social Phenomenon', commenting on the different historical and social conditions revealed in the separate country reports which structure the nature of childhood in each country. He comments on reports from Norway, Italy, Scotland, and Israel. Issues highlighted include demographic trends, social change, socialisation of children, respect for the rights of the child, and children's values and responsibilities.


Adolescent children and their parents

Ruth Weston and Christine Millward

How often do parents and adolescent children argue, and what do they argue about? Do they like each other? How do they view their relationships with one another? The authors report findings based on reports of 193 adolescent school students, 60 adolescent school leavers and their parents living in Berwick, Victoria, who participated in the Australian Institute of Family Studies' Australian Living Standards Study. The conclusion reached is that Berwick parents and their adolescent children appear to get on well together - indeed, this is one of the most satisfactory aspects of their lives. Relationships were intrinsically positive and arguments infrequent. There is no evidence to suggest that in the majority of cases where arguments did occur they were serious enough to damage family relationships.


What's new in family law? : Children's rights and parental responsibilities

Margaret Harrison

The author reports on three papers on children's rights and parental responsibilities presented at the fifth National Family Law Conference hosted by the Family Law Section of the Law Council of Australia in Perth in September 1992. Alan Ward of the English High Court of Justice spoke on the major features and philosophy of the United Kingdom Children Act 1989. Jim O'Donovan of the Family Court of New Zealand discussed care and protection issues under New Zealand's Children, Young Person's and their Families Act 1989. Finally, Eric Baker of the Family Court of Australia outlined recent Family Law Act amendments regarding the welfare of children.

Long-term relationships between parents

Kate Funder

In this report from the Australian Institute of Family Studies' major study of parents and children after marriage breakdown, parents' feelings towards each other, the quality of their communication and the extent to which they share parenting are discussed. The findings point to the general recovery of parents from the high conflict of the crisis. Even cases in which early and continuing conflict has been high can later have satisfactory outcomes all round. Two possibilities are suggested by the long-term view of parental relationships after separation. One is that help and advice be scheduled at later times - after the storm, so to speak. The second is that diverse approaches be used.

Families, work and industrial relations

Ilene Wolcott

In this overview of changes to the familiar and traditional pathways to work and family life, the author notes that the prospect of full employment may be an illusion. If so, then alternative approaches to joblessness are necessary if people, especially the young (but also retirees), are to maintain their self-esteem as contributing members of the larger community. Work place changes that have already occurred, as well as those foreshadowed in new industrial relations legislation, have the capacity either to threaten hard-earned basic working conditions or provide increased opportunities to balance work, family and community life.

Self care for school aged children

Gay Ochiltree

As the number of women in the workforce has increased in the 1980s and 1990s, out-of-school-hours care has become just as important for school aged children as other forms of child care are for pre-school children. For various reasons, however, some school aged children care for themselves at home alone. The author of this article looks at recent research that challenges some of the popular wisdom about the effects on children of coming home after school to an empty house. She also makes reference to programs for home-alone children, such as Telecom Australia's Call Control, Kids Help Line, and US programs for 'latch-key' children.