Issue 80

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Family Matters No. 80, 2008

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Family dimensions

Balancing work and family; protecting and promoting children's wellbeing; involving fathers in child and family services; a history of the Australian social security system

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Executive Editor: Lixia Qu

Editorial panel: Ben Edwards, Matthew Gray, Alan Hayes, Daryl Higgins, Prue Holzer, Rae Kaspiew, Diana Smart, Ruth Weston

Editor: Lan Wang

Cover art: The Family Matters 80 cover painting is by Ricardo Angelo, represented by Pollock Gallery, Landscape Wonderland, oil on canvas 51 x 60 cm. Private collection.

Publication details

Family Matters No. 80
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, September 2008, 72 pp.
1030-2646 (print) 1832-8318 (online)

Copyright information


Work and family balance: Issues in research and policy

Lixia Qu

This article provides an overview of the articles featured in this edition of Family Matters. The edition presents papers with a focus on issues of balancing work and family, as well as papers on protecting and promoting children’s wellbeing. While the papers cover a range of different issues and adopt a variety of perspectives, all the discussions highlight important impacts that government policies have on individuals, children, parents or families.

Matching work and family commitments: Australian outcomes in a comparative perspective

Willem Adema and Peter Whiteford

This article summarises the main conclusions of the synthesis report of the OECD’s 2002–07 Babies and Bosses series, and also highlights how Australia compares with other OECD countries in terms of family policies and their outcomes. The report found that if parents have to choose between earning money and looking after their children, the result is that there would be too few babies and too little employment. Australia scores well in family spending and has a redistributive tax/benefit system, but its focus is largely on cash transfers rather than child and out-of-school-hours care. Policies aimed at sole parents have moved towards promoting self-sufficiency; nevertheless, there remain gaps in support. The report concludes that family policies in OECD countries are often not well integrated and indeed are sometimes in conflict, which leads to a waste of money and leaves the pursuit of a coherent family policy across the early life course a distant dream. This paper was presented in the Work and Family Panel session at the Australian Institute of Family Studies Conference in Melbourne, 9–11 July 2008.

Breastfeeding, employment and leave: An analysis of mothers in Growing Up in Australia

Jennifer Baxter

This article explores the relationship between breastfeeding and employment. A focus is given to the fact that some women do manage to combine employment and breastfeeding—a return to work does not always result in a stop to breastfeeding. The analyses explore which job characteristics are associated with a higher likelihood of continuing to breastfeed, looking at hours of work, flexibility of hours, whether self–employed and occupation group. The paper also compares the breastfeeding rates of women on leave with other women who are back at work, and those not working but not on leave. Other characteristics, including childcare use and maternal education are also examined in terms of their relationship with breastfeeding. The article uses the breastfeeding data from Wave 1 of the Growing Up in Australia study, based on mothers of infants aged four to 12 months.

What kinds of jobs help carers combine care and employment?

Trish Hill, Cathy Thomson, Michael Bittman and Megan Griffiths

This paper provides information about what job characteristics promote or inhibit maintaining employment while caring. Using a nationally representative longitudinal data set—the Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey—the paper traces the effects of the onset of care on labour force participation. This study used multivariate techniques to analyse five clusters of influences that might affect carer employment: the intensity of care responsibilities; the employees’ own characteristics; the characteristics of their employment; their workplace arrangements; and the employee’s rating of the stress, satisfaction and security associated with their job. The results showed that moderate to intensive caring responsibilities militate against maintaining labour force participation in the face of caring responsibility. Working as a casual employee, in a job without supervisory responsibilities, in smaller firms, with poor leave arrangements, no flexibility in hours and low job security all decrease the probability that carers remain in employment.

Multiple partnerships and children’s wellbeing

Andrew Cherlin

This paper examines the emerging phenomenon of multiple partnerships. It is found that what has really propelled the growth in the proportion of people who have three or more partnerships is the great rise in cohabitation, which began in the last quarter of the 20th century and continues today. The author argues that the phenomenon of multiple partnerships may matter for family policy because of its potential effects on children. While many cohabiting partnerships may prove satisfactory to the adults concerned, the speed with which some adults proceed from partnership to dissolution to repartnering may not be optimal for any children involved. This paper was presented in a keynote session at the Australian Institute of Family Studies Conference in Melbourne, 9–11 July 2008.

Engaging fathers in child and family services: Participation, perceptions and good practice

Claire Berlyn, Sarah Wise and Grace Soriano

This article reports findings from the Engaging Fathers in the Stronger Families and Communities Strategy study, a component of the national evaluation of the Stronger Families and Communities Strategy (SFCS) conducted by the Social and Policy Research Centre at the University of New South Wales and the Institute. This study explores the nature and context of fathers’ engagement with child and family services. In-depth interviews were conducted with service managers and project facilitators from a sample of SFCS-funded services and programs, and focus groups were held with fathers accessing services. It was found that positive father engagement in services is most likely where: the worker is a male and a father himself; is liked and trusted; and creates dialogue by sharing personal experiences. Fathers tended to be alienated by “experts” and highly structured program formats, and preferred informal peer discussions and “hands-on” program activities. A number of useful strategies for engaging with fathers and barriers that impact on their participation were also identified.  

Enhancing service systems for protecting children: Promoting child wellbeing and child protection reform in Australia

Daryl Higgins and Ilan Katz

In this article, the authors argue that it is not sufficient to simply “bolt on” preventive programs to the current child protection processes. Rather it is important to completely rethink the role and function of the child protection system within the wider range of policies and programs aimed at promoting the wellbeing of children. This is of particular importance in Indigenous communities, because of the over-representation of Indigenous children in child protection activity, and because of the potential for community-owned and community-led initiatives to support the health, wellbeing and safety of Indigenous children in culturally safe ways. It is also not enough to move from one structure to another. The fundamental issues are not structural but relate to the functions and the culture of the child protection system. It is argued that adopting the framework identified in the 2008 FaHCSIA discussion paper, Australia’s Children: Safe and Well. A National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children, would provide the opportunity for Australia to become the pioneer for new ways of ensuring the protection and wellbeing of children. A significant, incremental injection of resources into services at all levels is required.  

History of social security in Australia

Andrew Herscovitch and David Stanton

Australia’s national system of social security reached its centenary in June 2008. This article provides a broad overview of how social security has developed in Australia over the last 100 years or so and reflects on how the system has come to be as it is now. Although much has changed in that time, there are strong elements of continuity as well—particularly the prevalence of means tests, the use of funding from general revenue, and the strong emphasis on participation. It is noted that Australian model of social security differs markedly from the international norm. Nevertheless, it has proven to be remarkably resilient since its inception a century ago such that arrangements akin to social insurance (the usual model elsewhere) have, as a result, mainly developed in the private sector. Maximising economic and social participation has also been a cornerstone of Australia’s system. The authors speculate that, given the relative stability demonstrated by the system so far, 100 years from now the essential elements of Australia’s social security system may well remain intact.