Issue 81

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Family Matters No. 81, 2009

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Making ends meet

Aspirations for work and family; working poor in Australia; flexible work arrangements; supporting children at risk of abuse and neglect; the CDEP scheme; parenting skills; grandparents and grandchildren

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Executive Editor: Lixia Qu

Editorial panel: Jennifer Baxter, Ben Edwards, Matthew Gray, Alan Hayes, Daryl Higgins, Boyd Hunter, Ruth Weston

Editor: Lan Wang

Cover art: The Family Matters 81 cover painting is by Christina Cordero, Allegorical Composition, 2008, soft and hardground etching, aquatint, ink edition 15, 15 x 23 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Australian Galleries.

Publication details

Family Matters No. 81
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, March 2009, 68 pp.
1030-2646 (print) 1832-8318 (online)

Copyright information


Young Australian women's aspirations for work and family

Melissa Johnstone and Christina Lee

Drawing upon data collected from the first three waves of the younger cohort of the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health (ALSWH), this article investigates the work and family aspirations held by young Australian women, the consistency of these aspirations over time, and socio-demographic markers of differences between women with varying aspirations. The majority of young Australian women aspired to a stable relationship, at least one child, and some form of paid work, demonstrating that balancing paid work and family will continue to be important to young Australian women. Aspirations for marriage, two children and full-time paid employment were the most common responses, although some inconsistency in employment and motherhood aspirations was observed across waves. Socio-demographic variables, including area of residence, educational qualification and occupational category, were significant predictors of subsequent aspirations.

Working poor in Australia: An analysis of poverty among families in which a member is employed

Alicia Payne

This article presents an analysis of poverty among households where at least one member is employed part- or full-time, based on the most recent ABS Survey of Income and Housing (2005-06), and using the OECD half-median household disposable income poverty line. Although Australia's traditions of wage regulation and a safety net of government income support mean that paid employment is generally a guarantee against being in poverty, poverty persisted for around 3% of people in households where someone was employed, over the period 1997-2006. Comparing households in which someone is employed that were below the poverty line with all people in poverty in 2005-06, this analysis finds that the "working poor" have different characteristics to the overall subset of people in poverty. The majority of working poor households include couples with children. Furthermore, people living in these households are also more likely than other poor households to primarily source their income from wages and salary and have higher educational qualification. Conversely, they are less likely to have any recipients of government benefits in the household.

Flexible work arrangements: New Zealand families and their experiences with flexible work

Lindy Fursman and Nita Zodgekar

The demand for quality flexible work is increasing as more people engage in further education and training, more women take up paid work, skill shortages grow and the population ages. However, there has been limited research in New Zealand on the family factors that influence the amount or type of flexibility needed to support families in different circumstances, or on the impact that flexible work arrangements can have on families. This paper presents research the New Zealand Families Commission undertook in 2007-08 to explore how flexible working arrangements can best support family wellbeing and what the barriers and success factors are relating to the take-up of flexible working arrangements. The findings revealed a range of impacts that varying degrees of workplace flexibility can have on families, and explored how these differ over a range of family types. A mixed method approach was adopted using 11 focus groups, 15 case study narratives and a 15-minute telephone survey of 1,000 people. Focus groups and narratives enabled us to explore the influences that affect people's decisions to take up flexible work arrangements, and identified issues that are genuinely important to families as they balance paid work and family responsibilities. The quantitative research complemented the qualitative findings by allowing us to obtain population estimates of some of the trends found in the qualitative work. The comprehensive nature of this study is providing the Families Commission with a robust evidence base for developing targeted advocacy to support families to make choices about balancing their involvement in paid work and family life. 

"Think child, think family": How adult specialist services can support children at risk of abuse and neglect

Dorothy Scott

Traditionally, adult-focused services in fields such as drug and alcohol treatment, mental health, corrections, domestic violence, refugee resettlement, disability and emergency housing have untapped potential to improve the safety and wellbeing of Australia's most vulnerable children. Given the powerful evidence that now exists on the serious immediate and long-term risks posed to children from parental substance dependence, mental health problems and domestic violence, and the high prevalence of such problems among families involved with statutory child protection systems, it is vital to tap this potential. There are enough promising examples in most of these adult-focused service sectors to demonstrate that it is possible to respond to the parental roles of adult clients and to the needs of their children. The current policy climate in Australia is ripe for building the capacity of adult-focused services to become "child and parent sensitive". Building the knowledge base to support such models of service delivery, and to facilitate the "scaling up" of cost-effective approaches, should be a major national priority in relation to social inclusion.

A half-hearted defence of the CDEP scheme

Boyd Hunter

The Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) scheme was developed as a response to the perceived social threat of "sit-down money" to Indigenous communities in the 1970s. Ironically, the scheme is now being criticised as being one of the main factors driving the social effects of prolonged welfare dependence. This paper updates the Office of Evaluation and Audit 1997 report that evaluated the scheme. While this paper shows that the CDEP scheme has a significant effect of reducing social pathologies, vis-à-vis unemployment, the positive effect of the scheme is generally substantially less than the protective effect of having mainstream (non-CDEP) scheme employment. Consequently, it is the lack of mainstream employment options, rather than the presence of the CDEP scheme that drives the social pathologies identified in recent public debate. Notwithstanding the evident community development associated with the CDEP scheme, it cannot be the whole answer for disadvantaged Indigenous communities, which also need a mixture of economic development, infrastructure spending, and bottom-up policy initiatives. Another policy option might be to facilitate mobility where the prospect for regional growth is limited; however, it should be noted that incentives for individuals to move are altered when the other development policies work.

Family statistics and trends: Opinions of parents on the acquisition of parenting and relationship skills

Lixia Qu and Ruth Weston

This article presents parents' opinions regarding relationship and parenting skills, based on analysis of the 2006 General Population of Parents Survey. Parents were more likely to reject than agree with the statements: "The skills needed to maintain a good relationship with their partner come naturally to most people" and "The skills needed to be a good parent come naturally to most people". The results suggested that people are likely to modify their views about relationship and parenting skills through experience. However, it should be noted that young parents may not hold the opinions of older parents when they reach the age of the older parents. Whatever the level of change that we might expect from today's young parents, a substantial proportion of these parents appear to be unaware of the importance of experience, and most probably of relationship and parenting education programs, for the development of relationship and parenting skills.

Relationships between grandparents and grandchildren

Ruth Weston and Lixia Qu

This article explores the closeness of relationships between grandchildren and their paternal and maternal grandparents, as well as the impact of separation on these relationships, as perceived by the children's parents. The analysis is based on the General Population of Parents Survey (GPPS). The majority of parents described the relationship between their children and their grandparents as "close" or "very close", with relationships with maternal grandparents being more likely than those with paternal grandparents to be portrayed as "very close". Respondents' perceived relationships between their own parents and children differed according to whether they had separated from their children's other parent, and whether they were living with the children. At least half the separated fathers and mothers maintained that the relationship between their own parents and the children had not changed since they and their partner had separated. However, non-resident fathers were more likely to suggest that relationships between their own parents and children had become more distant than closer, while the reverse applied to resident fathers and resident mothers.