Issue 59

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Family Matters No. 59, 2001

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Family structures, family processes - supporting children and their families

This edition of Family Matters presents a diverse body of research on children and their family contexts.

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Editor: Meredith Michie

Coordinator of parenting and children research articles: Ann Sanson

Publications committee: Matthew Gray, Meredith Michie, Catherine Rosenbrock, Ann Sanson, David Stanton and Ruth Weston

Cover art: Ethel Spowers 1890-1947 Australia, Children's hoops 1936 (detail), National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Publication details

Family Matters No. 59
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, June 2001, 92 pp.
1030-2646 (print) 1832-8318 (online)

Copyright information


Children and their family contexts: Overview and introduction

Ann Sanson and Virginia Lewis

This edition of Family Matters highlights a diverse body of research on children in their family contexts. It is stimulated by the recognition that a 'one size fits all' conception of family is no longer tenable, and that understanding and supporting children's development in the current wide array of family forms is needed. This introductory article reviews attempts to disentangle the effects on children of family form or family structure from the effects of intra family and extra family processes. It sets the scene for the subsequent papers in this edition, where the common underlying concern is how children and their families and parents can best be supported, whatever their family form and context to provide for children's healthy development.

Children's social competence

Diana Smart and Ann Sanson

The learning of social skills and socially acceptable behaviours is one of the most important tasks of childhood. Children's social competence is the outcome of a complex mix of child, family and environmental influences. Temperament and behaviour are two of the child factors that have been linked to later social competence and well being. In this article, the authors examine how children's characteristics, their temperament and behaviour, and the 'fit' between parent and child from early in life, might influence social competence in late childhood, at eleven to twelve years of age.

A framework for responding to vulnerable children and their families

Sarah Wise

In the United Kingdom, there has been an explicit move towards greater emphasis on providing family support when there is concern about a child's welfare. Experience suggests that effective assessment is the foundation upon which to configure the effective delivery of services to children and families. Continuing previous research (1999) at the Australian Institute of Family Studies on the outcomes of the UK 'Looking After Children' approach in out of home care in Victoria, the author discusses the value of the UK Children in Need assessment framework for Victorian Family Services. This approach aims to provide effective and comprehensive services to vulnerable families as early as possible within a child focused service model.

Family and work: The family's perspective

Virginia Lewis, Jacqueline Tudball and Kelly Hand

One aspect of the changing context in which many children live today relates to the fact that many parents will have a paid job in addition to their parenting commitments. What is the experience of children with working parents? How do children feel about the amount of time that their parents work, and the amount of time that they spend with their children? This article reports on a recent study commissioned by the Department of Family and Community Services and the Marriage and Family Council.

School experiences of the children of lesbian and gay parents

Vivien Ray and Robin Gregory

Research suggests that the children of gay and lesbian parents have similar psychological adjustments to those children growing up in more traditional family structures. Nevertheless, these children may face some particular challenges. In this article the authors explore the school experiences of a small sample of children of gay and lesbian parents. They identify some common difficulties that these children confront, and suggest some possible aproaches to overcoming them.

Forgotten families: The impacts of imprisonment

Ann Cunningham

It is widely acknowledged that children and parents are affected by family separation in many ways. When the circumstances of the separation are traumatic, impacts can be intensified and need to be addressed sensitively to minimise any long term negative effects. This article explores what happens when a family is separated as the result of the incarceration of a parent.

The UK Sure Start Program

June Statham and Naomi Eisenstadt

The Sure Start program in the United Kingdom is an early intervention program supporting children under four and their families. It aims to improve the health and well being of children in disadvantaged areas so that they are ready to thrive when they start school. The article describes the background to the Sure Start program, what it offers, and what it aims to achieve. It then reviews the early experience of program implementation to draw out some initial lessons for policy makers who may be thinking of developing similar initiatives.

Matching parenting to child temperament: Influences on early childhood behavioural problems

Sheryl Hemphill and Ann Sanson

Childhood behavioural problems have been defined in many ways, but in the context of this article, they refer to 'acting out' behaviours, such as aggressive behaviour and non compliance. In order to identify children at risk of difficulties, and to intervene effectively, an understanding of the factors influencing the development of children's behavioural problems is vital. Two of the main factors implicated in the development of behavioural problems are child temperament and parenting. This article describes the results of the Social Development Project, a study that aims to investigate the role of temperament, parenting and social context in the development of behavioural and emotional problems. Recent findings from the project suggest that temperament and parenting style are important influences on child adjustment, and that the best style of parenting may differ for children with different temperaments.

Parenting in the Torres Strait Islands

Trevor Batrouney and Grace Soriano

The Buai Sei Boey Wagel Project was part of the Australian Institute of Family Studies' Parenting-21 study that explored how parents were raising children who will live most of their lives in the twenty-first century. The authors report on this project which explored the practices of Torres Strait Islander parents in bringing up their children, and the beliefs, attitudes and values which underlie these practices. The importance of this study lies in the special place of Indigenous communities in Australia, the need to differentiate between Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, and the need to focus on the impact of socio economic changes on families and parenting.

Working with families to promote healthy adolescent development

John Toumbourou and Elizabeth Gregg

There has been a change in recent years concerning attitudes about intervention for families with adolescent children. A perception that adolescence was 'too late' for family intervention has gradually shifted as evidence has accumulated suggesting that interventions through this period can contribute to healthy youth development. This paper explores the evidence for family focused adolescent health promotion.

Post-divorce patterns of parenting

Bruce Smyth, Grania Sheehan and Belinda Fehlberg

There has been an increasing emphasis on the importance of shared responsibility for children after parental separation. This is evidenced by changes to the Family Law Act which among other things, replaced the language of 'guardianship', 'custody' and 'access' with the less proprietorial 'residence' and 'contact'. This article summarises findings of a survey of post divorce parenting patterns prior to the changes. Data are drawn from the Australian Divorce Transitions Project, a national random telephone survey of 650 divorced Australians conducted by the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Family law - Researching the Family Law Reform Act: A case of selective attention?

In this article, the author reviews a major report on the operation of the first three years of the Family Law Reform Act 1995 by Helen Rhoades, Reg Graycar and Margaret Harrison, the summary of which was published in the previous edition of Family Matters (no.58). He summarises and reviews the authors' assessment of the social pressures that led to the Reform Act, the research methodology and sampling procedures employed by the authors to determine the extent to which the aims of the Act have been met, and the authors' summary of the results. This is followed by a response from the report's authors, in which they comment on the criticisms of their research, focusing particularly on their methodology and the implication that it lacks rigour.

Family law - Researching the Family Law Reform: The authors respond

An edited version of the Executive Summary of the report, The Family Law Reform Act 1995: The First Three Years, by the authors was published in the previous edition of Family Matters (no.58). This edition of Family Matters contains an article by Lawrie Moloney and a letter from Patrick Parkinson in which they review the report and provide criticisms of the authors' methodology, implying that it lacks rigour. The authors provide general responses about their qualitative research and address some of the individual matters raised by both Moloney and Parkinson concerning issues of enhancing outcomes for children post separation, the decision not to include 'the voices of children' and the balance in the number of men and women interviewed.

Opinion - The challenge of caring for children

Tim Costello

The social context for children and their families has fast been changing. Families now come in many shapes and sizes; it is becoming the norm for both parents to work outside the home; and the nature of the support to families given by the state has changed. It thus seems timely to take a step back and reflect on how well society is meeting children's needs and/or ensuring that families are being supported in their capacity to meet them. In this article the author provides a broad perspective on the family's position in society today.