Issue 65

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Family Matters No. 65, 2003

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In the best interests of children

This issue of Family Matters includes a number of papers which address aspects of children's well being and factors which can pose challenges to their healthy development. 

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Publications committee: David de Vaus, Jan Duffie, Matthew Gray, Meredith Michie, Catherine Rosenbrock, Ann Sanson, Ruth Weston

Editor: Meredith Michie

Cover art: Ethel Spowers (Australia 1890-1947), Fox and geese 1933, linocut, printed in colour. National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

Publication details

Family Matters No. 65
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, September 2003, 80 pp.
1030-2646 (print) 1832-8318 (online)

Copyright information


Listening to children: Developing a child-centred approach to childhood poverty in the UK

Tess Ridge

This article reports the research findings from the Child-centred Approach to Childhood Poverty and Social Exclusion Study. This is a study of low income children in the United Kingdom that explored the issues and concerns that low income children themselves identified as meaningful. The article looks at the rationale behind the study and the value of conducting child-centred research with children. It details findings in three main areas of interest: children's economic and material lives; school and social relationships; and children's self-reflections on their lives and experiences. The article concludes with some overarching themes that have emerged from the study.

Family transitions among Australia's children

David de Vaus and Matthew Gray

This article describes the extent to which Australian children experience family disruption caused by a change in their parents' marital / relationship status, and estimates the extent to which children live their childhood in particular living arrangements - in intact families, lone-parent families, and step or blended families. The approach adopted takes account of the dynamic nature of family living arrangements, rather than measuring living arrangements using single point in time, static measures. The analysis is based on data collected in the first wave of the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics (HILDA) survey conducted in 2001. Overall, this research indicates that the large majority of children spend most of their childhood in an intact family. Relatively few experience multiple transitions. For those who do face family disruptions, and multiple disruptions in particular, the challenge is to identify ways of assisting them and their parents in managing these transitions as well as possible and in ways that minimise the risk of negative outcomes.

In the news: Compensation for the cost of raising children born as a result of medical negligence

Katherine O'Neill

The High Court's decision in Cattanach v Melchior (July 2003) and some of the issues raised by this case are examined in this article. It is the first Australian case to hold that parents can claim from a negligent party the ordinary cost of raising a healthy child born as a result of negligence. The author provides a summary of this case and notes that the Queensland Government has announced its intention to change the law.

Minding the children during school holidays

Lixia Qu

The need for non-parental child care is an obvious and central outcome of the increased workforce participation of mothers. Given that school-age children generally have considerably longer holidays than their parents, many parents may face difficulties in organising supervision for their children for large slices of time during the year. How do they handle this problem? This article uses data from the first wave of the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) to examine the different non-parental care arrangements received by school-aged children under 15 years when their parents are working.

Family law update: Family law and child protection

Matthew Osborne

At the request of the Attorney-General, the Family Law Council has considered options for reform relating to the efficient and effective integrated delivery of child and family law services in relation to the care and protection of children. This summary of the Council's final report, Family Law and Child Protection (2002) sets out its background and main recommendations.

'Downtime' for children on the Internet: Recognising a new form of child abuse

Janet Stanley

The author argues that the community has a responsibility to protect children from abusive experiences through the Internet, especially those children whose parents are unable or unwilling to protect them. Internet risks to children are discussed, as are are types of children likely to be at risk, and the importance of recognising and responding to Internet abuse is highlighted. What is required is more research, and comprehensive prevention and intervention strategies to protect all children who use the Internet, and particularly those who may be most vulnerable to experiencing this form of abuse.

Helping families cope: A fresh look at parent effectiveness training

Christine Wood and John Davidson

Australian parents are concerned about their relationships with their children, as well as with ways of managing children's behaviours. What is the nature of these concerns, and did enrolling in a Parent Effectiveness Training (PET) course make a difference? This article describes two aspects of a controlled evaluation of twenty five Parent Effectiveness Training courses conducted by eleven qualified instructors in six Australian states. The first aspect of the study examined the issues that parents perceived in their management of their children's behaviour. The second examined the changes in parenting skills of the parents who completed a PET course and compared them with a group of 81 controls.

Premarital cohabitation and subsequent marital stability

David de Vaus, Lixia Qu and Ruth Weston

Is it a good idea for couples who intend to get married to live together first? The findings have been mixed. This article re-examines the links between premarital cohabitation and the stability of the subsequent marriage. The sample was derived from three national random sample surveys: wave one (2001) of the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey, conducted by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research; the Australian Life Course Survey (ALCS), conducted by the Australian Institute of Family Studies in 1996; and wave one of the Negotiating the Life Course Survey (NLCS), conducted by the Australian National University in 1997.

Family and community life: Exploring the decline thesis

Jody Hughes and Wendy Stone

This paper first sets out the dominant thesis about how the changes that have occurred in family life may be linked to the quality of community life. This thesis, which the authors call the 'family decline thesis', suggests that the changes that have occurred in family life have led to the breakdown of community life, including levels of group membership, and trust and reciprocity in communities. The paper then describes findings from analyses of survey data which examined how levels of community group membership, trust and reciprocity relate to some of the key family characteristics associated with family change - including family type, marital status, household employment, and attitudes about relationships and gender roles. Overall, the authors found support for some aspects of the decline thesis, but also several important variations and qualifications to the thesis that are highlighted.

Shared parenting: The views of separated parents with 50:50 care arrangements

Bruce Smyth, Catherine Caruana and Anna Ferro

What are the motives, arrangements, and reflections of separated parents who spend equal time with their children? This paper aims to provide some insights by drawing on qualitative data derived from a series of focus groups. Participants were recruited through a story in a Melbourne newspaper combined with snowball sampling. Responses are analysed of 12 separated or divorced parents, each of whom had an equal (or near-equal) shared care arrangement. Key themes that emerged from the data are summarised, and a number of conditions - relational and structural - that appear conducive to making shared care a viable option for separated parents are identified.

Bargaining over children: From presumptive practices to child-focused litigation

Lawrie Moloney

The current Parliamentary Inquiry into a 'rebuttable presumption' of 50:50 residency taps an aspiration by many children and adults for more meaningful child parent engagement following separation and divorce. But rather than endorse pre-emptive assumptions about family structure, the inquiry should begin with the child's interests and work outwards, argues the author of this article. Discussion includes presumptive and non-presumptive decision-making processes; key patterns of post-separation parenting; the continuing legacy of the motherhood principle; options for parenting plans for school age children; key systemic problems in maintaining a true non-presumptive stance; and what constitutes good practice from a child's perspective. The author states that the proposed 50:50 residence presumption is largely adult oriented, inappropriately focused on structure and, for most separating families, unrealistic. If the proposal was meant to be largely aspirational, and if it succeeds in focusing attention on the fact that too many children miss out on receiving what both parents or other significant carers can offer them after separation, then the inquiry will have been a worthwhile development, the author concludes.