Issue 37

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Family Matters No. 37, 1994

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Many faces of families

This issue of Family Matters features articles on the nine priority issues of the International Year of the Family.

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

Editorial Assistant

Sandra Marsden

Publications Committee

Helen Brownlee, Robyn Hartley, Peter McDonald, Meredith Michie, Liz Sharman and Ilene Wolcott.

Publication details

Family Matters No. 37
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, April 1994, 108 pp.
1030-2646 (print) 1832-8318 (online)

Copyright information


International Year of the Family: What are the Issues?

Peter McDonald

Having discussed the importance of the family to the individual's development and the difficulties associated with formulating family policy, the author presents summaries of the key articles in this issue of 'Family Matters'. The various authors have been asked to address possible directions for Australia in relation to a range of issues that are related to families. The issues as addressed are those identified as priority issues by the National Council for the International Year of the Family. They are family diversity, economic value of unpaid work, integration of private and social responsibility, disadvantaged families, workers with family responsibilities, sharing paid work and family life, human rights, family crisis and family violence.

The many faces of families: Diversity among Australian families and its implications

Robyn Hartley and Peter McDonald

Diversity is the focus of the first 'key issue' designated by the National Council for the International Year of the Family in Australia. The full statement is: 'To recognise the diversity of families in Australia in terms of their composition, culture and race and to celebrate their central contribution to Australia's social and economic welfare and cultural heritage.' This paper outlines the many faces of Australian families but argues that diversity is much more than simply a matter for recognition and celebration. Recognition of diversity is an essential first step in gaining an understanding of Australian family life, but unless that understanding is translated through policy into real improvements in the lives of all Australians, there is no cause for celebration. 'The challenge is to design policies for families which have the best possible balance between recognition of diversity, fairness, and administrative efficiency'.

Sharing the pleasures and pains of family life

Graeme Russell

This article addresses a priority issue identified by the National Council for the International Year of the Family: 'the need to promote gender issues and explore ways in which men and women can share more equally in the various responsibilities and pleasures of family life'. There are still significant gaps between women and men in terms of their involvement in family life, the tasks they perform and the responsibilities they take. Yet, both women and men express a desire for greater equality in family life. It is evident that in terms of attitudes and beliefs, the problem cannot simply be conceptualised in terms of women wanting men to share more equally and men being reluctant to do so. The challenge now is to develop policies and practices based on a presumption of shared responsibility between men and women, and a presumption that there are potential benefits for men as well as women, and for families and the community if there is greater gender equality in the responsibilities and pleasures of family life. These are the issues that are explored in this paper. (Introduction, edited)

Integrating private and social responsibilities: Better partnerships between families, governments and communities

Bettina Cass

'Why recognise 1994 as the International Year of the Family in Australia? The most compelling reason is that the year provides a major opportunity to build and strengthen partnerships between families, governments at all levels, community organisations, business and unions in order to support and share the responsibility of care for children and other family members made vulnerable by illness, disability or old age. The objective is a better distribution of resources and opportunities to improve living standards and quality of life, strengthening the essential interdependence of families, communities and government policies, thereby integrating private responsibility and social responsibility'. This theme of building better partnerships between families, governments and communities is a priority issue identified by the National Council for the International Year of the Family. The author focuses on instances of the merging of private and social responsibilities - these are partnerships which support the care of children, frail elderly people and people with disabilities. She also discusses the theme adopted by the National Council: 'Supporting the many faces of families', pointing out that although there is great diversity in family composition, there is an essential similarity in the roles and functions of families. 'The heart of the matter is that families are generations of caring'.

Families and financial disadvantage

Alison McClelland

The circumstances and needs of disadvantaged families are a priority issue for the International Year of the Family. The source of disadvantage identified by the National Council for the International Year of the Family include unemployment, working families with low incomes, non English speaking background, sole parenthood, Aboriginality, disability or chronic illness and locational disadvantage. This paper is the first of four articles in this issue of 'Family Matters' which focus on disadvantaged families. The author examines families with an unemployed member (especially where the head is unemployed), low paid families, sole parent families and families from non English speaking backgrounds. She argues that it is critical that IYF encourages a far more equitable sharing of the necessary short-term costs of helping family members obtain employment and of supporting families. 'Australians must be prepared to pay the levels of taxation that will enable us to take the decisive action to reduce unemployment while not reducing services to disadvantaged families. Over the past years the relatively low levels of taxation have declined further to historically low levels, and Australia has dropped to being the lowest taxed country of the OECD. At a time of high need and high unemployment for many, and affluence for others, this is neither economically nor socially responsible'.

The rights of indigenous peoples in the International Year of the Family

Mick Dodson

This article, the second of four papers focusing on disadvantaged families in this issue of 'Family Matters', begins by examining the historical relationship between the state and indigenous peoples of Australia. The author asserts that the transition of authority from indigenous families to the colonising state has occurred through the unilateral seizure of power and uninvited encroachment of the state, resulting in the disempowerment and impoverishment of indigenous peoples. While not forgetting history, the author points out that the focus must be on the contemporary situation. He looks at current sites of conflict, the most disturbing being the role of the state in the welfare of children. In the past indigenous children were removed from their families on moral grounds. Today they are removed on the grounds of neglect or juvenile justice, explains the author. What should be done then in 1994, International Year of the Family? The author concludes that 'if this country is genuinely to move towards a just relationship between its indigenous and non-indigenous peoples, the dynamic of that relationship must shift from patronage, control and interference, to support, cooperation and respect.'

Supporting people with a disability and their families

Peter Fisher

This is the third of a four part series examining the priority issue of disadvantaged families. In particular, this paper focuses on supporting those people who have a disability. To achieve its aim of increasing opportunities for people with disabilities to undertake employment with a fair wage, the Commonwealth government has introduced two complementary types of services. The first, Competitive Employment, Training and Placement Services, are specialist job placement agencies that help people with a disability, usually with lower support needs, into open employment at award wages. The second type, Supported Employment Services, support people who need substantial ongoing support to obtain and retain paid employment where open employment is presently unlikely. The overall purpose of these schemes is to enable families to have choices about options available to them and for the presence of a disability not to be a barrier in their economic, educational, career and recreational decisions.

Regional disadvantage and unemployment

Christine Kilmartin

In this fourth article focusing on disadvantaged families in this issue of Family Matters, the author looks at rural and urban areas where families are experiencing regional disadvantage, particularly because of limited work opportunities. The article begins by alerting designers of policy to the fact that the 'region' of disadvantage can be very small. Consequently the criteria used for funding can exclude regions with concentrated pockets of disadvantage because the balance of the region outweighs the smaller areas of disadvantage. Next, the author discusses regional employment and unemployment and methods of tackling unemployment when it is concentrated in regions. A table shows areas of Australia which have a long-term unemployment rate of 5 per cent or higher. Regional employment initiatives of the Office of Labour Market Adjustment and other bodies are also discussed. Finally, the author recommends encouraging a human-resource-sharing relationship between well resourced areas and ones suffering from a lack of diversity and employment opportunities.

The Value of Care and Nurture Provided by Unpaid Household Work

Duncan Ironmonger

The National Council for the International Year of the Family has set as a priority the acknowledgement of the economic value of the caring and nurturing provided by unpaid household work. Undoubtedly the value added in the household is as important for our wellbeing as the value added by the work for which we are paid. The problem is that the regular official statistics of work and production deny the value or even the existence of unpaid work. This paper examines what we now know about the place of unpaid household work in the economy, uses internationally comparable survey data to estimate the relative magnitudes of the millions of hours of paid, unpaid and total work, puts a dollar value on Gross Household Produce (the value added by unpaid household work), looks more closely at who provides care and nurture in households, and suggests some urgent issues for statistics and policy that we should begin to tackle in 1994. (Author)

Responding to Family Crisis: Past and Future Roles of the Professional Helper

Lawrie Moloney

A key issue identified by the National Council for the International Year of the Family is that of addressing the needs of families facing personal crisis. This article addresses the personal nature of family crisis and the extent to which personal helping services have shown themselves capable of responding to such crises. It argues first that in responding to crises, professional counsellors and therapists have generally been more concerned with individuals than families; and second, that family therapy, itself a response to the inadequacy of such a focus, has only in the past few years evolved to a point where it comfortably accommodates both the family system and the people within it. (Author)

Developing coherent community support networks

David Eldridge

This article discusses one of the nine priority issues identified by the National Council of the International Year of the Family: To address the needs of families facing personal crises, including grief and loss, troubled relationships, alcohol and drug abuse and natural disasters. It is a companion article to an article by Lawrie Moloney on the responses to personal crises by therapists and professional counsellors which appears in this issue of Family Matters. Eldridge's article looks at the broader context and focuses upon the impact on families of structural inequalities and social change. It is not so concerned with the crises but the development of coherent community support networks, particularly for families. The author argues that: 'Informal supports within families and local communities, networks of local community services and government programs all contribute to the well being of families. When families are experiencing crises these supports can assist in many ways. Unfortunately, they do not always work in the best interests of some families. We need to address fragmented social policies and encourage the development of cohesive policies at a national, state and local level. These should then provide the framework for the planning and delivery of well focused, accessible and affordable programs to local communities'.

Human rights, families and community interests

Moira Rayner

'To recognise the rights of families and all family members, including children, young people, and the aged' is one of the priority issues identified by the National Council for the International Year of the Family. This article addresses this issue against the background of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and in the context of the International Year of the Family. The author states that 'Human rights claims are simply ethical statements about the essential quality of human life which are believed to be so universal in character that they transcend national, geographic and religious boundaries. They are about the recognition of the inherent worth and dignity of every human being.' She argues that families have duties to perform and responsibilities to their individual members. 'If the family is to serve its purpose, its members must promote the rights of the individual members, defining what it expects of those individuals in return, and explicitly protecting their self-respect and the personal dignity of every member'. Her conclusion is that 'There is no room for moralising or sentimental attachment to a mythical 'ideal' family type, or debates about dividing up some pie of rights among families, adults and children. The interests of the community demands respect for the rights of all'.

Child support: A step towards changing parenting after separation

Kate Funder

In the context of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, this article looks critically at the attitudes of Australians to the payment of child maintenance and the introduction of the Child Support Scheme. We must, argues the author, change the culture of parenting so that paying child support is no longer controversial. The language of family law must change, as must the process by which parents rearrange their parenting. In parenting, financial support of children should be seen as integral, and not as a separate category. The right of the child to be heard in relation to financial arrangements is advocated. The author concludes by suggesting that we need to normalise parenting after separation, and that to do this requires will, legislation and resources in the service of parents and their children.

Achieving a family supportive workplace and community

Ilene Wolcott

This article examines the priority issue 'To promote policies which recognise and support the choices which families are making in combining work and family care' identified by the National Council for the International Year of the Family. The author looks at how family responsibilities can affect business productivity and competitiveness; the options necessary to enable workers with family responsibilities to reconcile occupational and family life; legislative / government, union and employer responses to assisting workers with family responsibilities; changes in workplace structure and culture; and creating a climate conducive to encouraging fathers and mothers to share child rearing responsibilities more equally.

Child abuse and neglect: Incidence and prevention

Marianne James

This article focuses on one of the priority issues identified by the National Council for the International Year of the Family - to address the problems of family violence. The author examines what the various forms of child abuse are, the prevalence and incidence of child abuse, child abuse homicide, causes and effects of child abuse and neglect, the abusers, and preventative measures. The author argues that 'effective child abuse prevention must develop from a strong child, family and services base. Unless children and families have adequate housing, health, education and income security, efforts to prevent child abuse will be hindered. Government, community and individual attitudes also need to reflect the value and importance of children in Australian society.'

Violence against women in the home: How far have we come? How far to go?

Patricia Easteal

One of the priority issues identified by the National Council for the International Year of the Family is the need to tackle family violence and abuse. This article, the second of three articles focusing on family violence in this issue of Family Matters, examines violence against women in the home. It was prepared by the author for the Office of the Status of Women. Issues addressed include definitions of violence against women, incidence, the under reporting of domestic violence, and causes of, or contributing factors to violence such as the nature of Australian society and its attitudes, alcohol abuse and the attitudes of police, doctors, judges, lawyers, social workers and ministers of religion. Next, the author reviews what measures have been taken to ameliorate the situation and what work remains to be done. Areas discussed include legislative changes covering domestic violence; marital rape and family law; public education and changing attitudes; mediation; support services for survivors including women from hard to reach groups such as women from non English speaking backgrounds, women in remote areas and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island women; perpetrator programs; monitoring research; data collection; and education and training for practitioners.

Abuse and Neglect of Older People

Marianne James

This article is the third of three articles which examine family violence and abuse. This issue has been identified as a priority issue by the National Council for the International Year of the Family. Here the author looks at elder abuse. The article covers definitions of the forms of elder abuse including psychological abuse, economic abuse, physical abuse and neglect, the incidence of abuse, legislation, detection, intervention and prevention. She explains that abuse is more likely to occur 'first, as the relations between the older person and the carer become more intimate and, secondly, as the older person's daily needs begin to significantly distort a carer's time schedule and personal space requirements'.