Issue 76

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Family Matters No. 76, 2007

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Families caring

"Families care" highlighting the range of different ways that families care for each other.

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Executive Editor: Dr Daryl Higgins

Editorial panel: Matthew Gray, Alan Hayes, Daryl Higgins, Robert Johnstone, Boris Kaspiev, Sue Tait and Ruth Weston

Editor: Ellen Fish

Cover art: David Larwill, The Juggle, 2007, Acrylic on linen, 125 x 110cm. Private Collection. Image Courtesy of Tim Olsen Gallery, Sydney.

Publication details

Family Matters No. 76
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, June 2007, 100 pp.
1030-2646 (print) 1832-8318 (online)

Copyright information


Families caring: Diverse care work of families in Australia

Daryl Higgins

This editorial presents an overview of this Family Matters edition, which highlights the different ways in which families engage in caring for family members and the issues they face. The articles in this edition further research knowledge of the nature, extent, and impact of formal and informal caring, and investigate child care, caring for people with disabilities, caring for adults who have been sexually assaulted, and caring for children who have suffered abuse or neglect.

The Families Caring for a Person with a Disability Study and the social lives of carers

Ben Edwards, Daryl Higgins and Norbert Zmijewski

The Families Caring for a Person with a Disability Study is a collaborative project between the Australian Institute of Family Studies and the Australian Government Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, in which 1002 Australian carers were interviewed on the physical, emotional, social, family relationship, financial, and labour force impacts of caring. This article introduces the study, describing its aims and methodology, and presents initial findings on the social lives of carers. Though face to face social contact among carers is broadly comparable to that of the general population, some groups of carers experience much lower contact. The study considers risk factors, such as poor health and family members with high needs disabilities, and explores factors in the desire for more social contact.

Crisis or commotion? An objective look at evidence on caregiving in families

Cathy Hales

There are nearly 500,000 primary carers in Australia, who provide informal care to disabled or aged family members. This article summarises Australian data on the prevalence, role, motivations, assistance needs, and relationship effects of providing informal care. The different studies included in this article highlight the nature of role, responsibility, and obligation, and the importance of supportive and financial assistance. The article concludes with policy implications in the face of an ageing population and conflicting employment and caring demands.

Families' care work during the transition from school to post-school for children with severe disabilities

Suellen Murray

Family members provide the vast majority of care for young people with disabilities. This article considers the care provided by parents during a child's transition from school, based on in-depth interviews with mothers of eight young women aged 16-24 years, with severe or profound disabilities, from regional areas of Tasmania and suburban areas of Victoria. The mothers describe their efforts to find suitable day programs and the changes in government health and financial services offered once the child is considered to be of adult age. Unlike non-disabled young people leaving school, severely disabled young people and their families do not experience a transition as such, but rather a continuation of care and dependence.

Caring for carers: The financial strain of caring

Joan Hughes

Informal care of family members comes at a significant cost in lost income and employment opportunities, with only some assistance from allowances and pensions. Surveys have found that many carers have difficulties in meeting living expenses or the extra medical costs. This article outlines the views of Carers Australia, a peak representative body, on policies and incentives to improve the financial status and labour force choices of carers. These include increasing government funded income support, establishing a superannuation scheme for carers, funding respite care, and promoting carer-friendly workplace policies.

Disability and family carers

Ian Spicer

This article summarises many of the issues faced by families during lifelong care of family members with disabilities. Issues include the effect on other relationships, competing caring roles, social isolation, reduced labour force participation, increased expenditures, care planning, limited respite services, and longer life expectancy of disabled family members due to advances in medical and other services and the impact on ageing parents - all of which emphasise the need for support and alternative care arrangements for these at risk families.

How four year-olds spend their day: Insights into the caring contexts of young children

Jennifer Baxter and Alan Hayes

The ways children spend their time both reflect and contribute to developmental changes and developmental differences. This article analyses the time use data of 4-5 year olds from Growing Up in Australia: the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children study, to describe the children's overall activity patterns, and to examine whether time use is affected by social, physical, and emotional development outcomes, parent education and employment, or family size and form. Time use data is presented for time spent on personal care and eating, television watching, exercise, achievement-oriented play, social and organised activities, travel, sleeping and resting. The findings show that children spend much of their time in playing, personal care, and social and organised activities. Age, gender, family size, maternal employment, and parental education affected time use. The analyses in this paper are based on a single wave of data and as the longitudinal study progesses it will be possible to explore the relationships more fully and to examine questions, such as, whether parenting style mediates some of these relationships and to what extent, the impact of parental presence or absence, and to location - home versus outside home.

The importance of caring for children in Australian society

Fiona Stanley

This article calls for child welfare to be at the forefront of civilised society. The author discusses Australia's low ranking in child well being and the concept of "Modernity's paradox", where child outcomes and youth problems are worsening despite rising economic prosperity. However, these outcomes can be avoided and are successfully addressed in other countries whose policies focus more on family support, valuing parenthood (eg. with good parental leave provisions), early childhood services and on reducing inequalties.

It's about time: Key findings from the women, men, work and family project

John von Doussa

In 2007, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission released the final paper in its two-year investigation into balancing paid work and family responsibilities - "It's about time: Women, men, work and family". This article summarises the key findings of experiences in the home and the workplace, illustrated with quotes from focus group participants. Time management pressure, pay equity, parental leave, and sharing unpaid and paid work are discussed. Women still continue to carry the burden of aged parent care, child care, and housework, but those men who choose part time work or to stay at home so as not to miss out on family life report facing discrimination and prejudice. This article concludes by outlining the Commission's legislative proposals to support working and caring across the life cycle, including a proposed Family Responsibilities and Carers' Rights Act.

Caring about sexual assault: The effects of sexual assault on families, and the effects on victim/survivors of family responses to sexual assault

Zoë Morrison

Sexual assault effects families and communities, as well as the victim. This article considers the effects on the families of adult sexual assault victims, and how the reactions and responses of family members can help or hinder the victim's recovery. The trauma of sexual assault can have emotional, physical, social, and financial effects on the victim, which can affect those who care for them and lead to secondary traumatisation. Research indicates that trauma impacts differently upon specific family members, such as intimate partners, parents, and children. Negative responses by family members or the community can further traumatise the victim, and affect whether the victim seeks help or discloses the crime. The article concludes by outlining actions and behaviours for family members that can help the victim and themselves in the aftermath.

"Basically it's a recognition issue": Validating foster parent identities

Damien Riggs, Martha Augoustinos and Paul Delfabbro

It is widely recognised that support, financial assistance, and ongoing training are important resources provided to foster carers in Australia. While acknowledging the importance of these resources, this article suggests that there is also a need for other forms of recognition in the lives of foster carers. One of these, it is suggested, pertains to issues of identity and the attendant recognition of carers as parents.

Grandparents raising grandchildren because of alcohol and other drug issues

Emma Baldock

In 2003, there were 22,500 families in Australia where grandparents were raising grandchildren. Many of these are due to substance abuse problems by the children's parents. This article explores the issues faced by these grandparents, which include health and ageing related issues, impacts on family relationships, legal and custody problems, social isolation, lifestyle upheaval, physical and emotional stress, and financial hardship and disadvantage. The children and their parents are also affected. In response, the article outlines the policy and service recommendations of the Canberra Mothercraft Society, which include early intervention and government financial assistance.

Grandparent-headed families in Australia

Barbara Horner, Jill Downie, David Hay and Helen Wichmann

Grandparent-headed families are increasingly prevalent in Australia and are one of the fastest growing forms of out-of-home care of children with the public welfare system. However, there is minimal information regarding the characteristics and experiences of Australian grandparent-headed families who assume care through the intervention of child protection services, or those who arrange parental care of their grandchildren privately. Evidence is needed on which to build a policy or service framework to address the health and wellbeing of these grandparents, and ensure quality and safe care of children and young people who are no longer able to live with their biological parent(s).

That elusive but essential element beyond sound legislation, policy and theoretical perspectives

Bernie Geary

The primary focus of this article is to present the critical elements of a quality service to highly vulnerable children who require the state to act as parent for various periods of time. The author reviews recent developments in policy development and notes that the professional sector associated with family support, child protection and state care now recognises the need for knowledge of a range of theories and disciplines and how they might interrelate.