Issue 79

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Family Matters No. 79, 2008

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Parenting with care

The valuable work of Growing Up in Australia: the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC)

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Executive Editor: Diana Smart

Editorial panel: Matthew Gray, Alan Hayes, Daryl Higgins, Rae Kaspiew, Sebastian Misson, Diana Smart, Carol Soloff, Ruth Weston

Editor: Lan Wang

Cover art: Drawing by Genevieve, aged 7 years, 2007. ”This is me and my friend Sinna playing with my dog and cat.“ From the Growing Up in Australia (Longitudinal Study of Australian Children) 2007 Calendar. Drawing created by a study child from Growing Up in Australia.

Publication details

Family Matters No. 79
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, June 2008, 72 pp.
1030-2646 (print) 1832-8318 (online)

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Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children is now walking and talking

Matthew Gray and Diana Smart

This edition of Family Matters focuses on the valuable work of  Growing Up in Australia: the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children' (LSAC), which is managed by the Australian Institute of Family Studies and was initiated by the Federal Government's Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. LSAC is now into Wave 2, and the articles in this edition illustrate the range of topics that can be investigated with longitudinal data on child development. This introductory article summarises the edition, and presents an overview of LSAC, including its study design and sample, and the 14 key research questions which guide the study.

Does child care quality matter?: Associations between socio-emotional development and non-parental child care in a representative sample of Australian children

Linda Harrison

Drawing upon data from Wave 2 of Growing Up In Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC), this article investigates the relationship between hours spent in early child care, the quality of that care, and children's social and behavioural development. International studies have reported that early and extensive use of child care can produce adverse socio-emotional effects, but they have also noted the ameliorating effects and positive benefits of high quality programs. This article tests these findings, comparing social and behaviour problems for children in formal care, in informal care, in mixed formal and informal care, and not attending care child, for children in the LSAC study aged 2 to 3 years, as reported by parents and carers. The results for social competence and behaviour problems for each group are discussed, and comparisons made with the international child care systems and studies. Overall, the research found that child care had a positive rather than a negative effect on children's social and emotional wellbeing.

Shared parental responsibility: Stability of arrangements among separated Australian families of young children across two years

Ibolya Losoncz

Recent reforms to the family law and Child Support Scheme systems in Australia emphasise the importance of shared parental responsibility after separation and the best interests of the child, and stress the key themes of: joint financial responsibility; substantial child contact with each parent where possible; shared decision-making by parents; and, assistance to reduce conflict and improve communication between separated parents. This article investigates each of these key themes, comparing data from Waves 1 and 2 of Growing Up In Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC), concerning child support compliance, parent-child contact, shared decision-making, and parental conflict. The findings highlight the importance of post-separation working relationships between parents.

Parents' involvement in their children's education

Donna Berthelsen and Sue Walker

Engaging families in the education of their children is increasingly viewed as important, with research finding that children achieve more when schools and families work together. This paper investigates the relationship between parental involvement and children's learning competence, with an analysis of Wave 2 data from Growing Up in Australia: the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC), for children in Years 1 and 2 at school. Topics include parental expectations for their child's education, their satisfaction with schools and teachers, the amount of contact parents have with their child's school and teachers, and whether parental involvement can predict a child's learning competence. The analysis found that the teachers' judgement of parental involvement, rather than the parent's self-report, had the highest association with child competence levels, though this may not be a causal relationship. More generally, the results indicate relatively high levels of parent engagement across the cohort, and positive views of school support.

Parent-only care: A child care choice for working couple families?

Matthew Gray, Jennifer Baxter and Michael Alexander

The article looks at decisions by couples with young children as to whether one or both parents are in paid employment and how they deal with the question of who will care for their children. It found that a substantial minority of Australian working parents with very young children often organise their work so that they do not need to use non-parental care.  The paper uses 2004 data from the infant cohort of the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) to examine the use of non-parental child care and fathers' involvement in child care in families in which both parents work. The main focus is the degree to which dual-employed families use parent-only care, and whether there are certain family or job characteristics associated with a higher likelihood of using parent-only care. 

Do Australian children have more problems today than twenty years ago?

Diana Smart and Ann Sanson

The popular view that today's Australian children are faring worse than those of yesteryear can be investigated by comparing similar studies from now and from 20 years ago. Growing Up in Australia, the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) follows two cohorts -  infants, born 2003-2004, and preschool children, born 1999-2000. The Australian Temperament Project (ATP), still running today, began in 1983 with a cohort of Victorian infants, born 1982-1983. These two studies feature parallel data on temperament and behaviour, collected by teachers and parents. The findings indicate that the majority of both sets of children are developing well. Some differences between the two cohorts were found as reported by parents and teachers. The authors discuss the results and methodological differences, which could reflect awareness or tolerance of behaviour problems by parents and teachers, and changes in school and home environments. 

Work and family responsibilities through life

Jennifer Baxter and Matthew Gray

This article provides a snapshot of paid employment and working hours through life, charting the way people juggle work and family responsibilities across their life stage transitions. It features statistics on hours worked, maternal employment and age of youngest child, working hours of fathers with young children, self employment and working at home, and employment rates for males and females by age, comparing the 1996 and 2006 Census rates. The article is a reprint of a separately published fact sheet, produced in support of the 2008 National Families Week available on the Australian Institute Family Studies website.