Issue 84

Family Matters No. 84, 2010

Journal issue feature image

Family and place

Family Matters No. 84 focuses on aspects of place, including neighbourhood effects and the measurement of locational disadvantage, and how place-based programs can ameliorate the impacts of disadvantage on children, families and communities.

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Executive Editor: Alan Hayes

Editorial panel: Jennifer Baxter, Leah Bromfield, Catherine Caruana, Ben Edwards, Matthew Gray, Alan Hayes, Daryl Higgins, Rae Kaspiew, Brigit Maguire, Diana Smart, Amanda Whiting

Editor: Lan Wang

Cover art: The Family Matters 84 cover painting is by Kathryn Uther, Edge of Town, mixed media, 39 x 50 cm. Courtesy of Gallery Blackheath.

Publication details

Family Matters No. 84
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, May 2010, 100 pp.
1030-2646 (print) 1832-8318 (online)

Copyright information


Neighbourhood influences on young children's emotional and behavioural problems

Ben Edwards and Leah Bromfield

Place can facilitate opportunities or constrain and limit individuals, their families and communities. Although there is evidence to suggest that growing up in more disadvantaged neighbourhoods affects Australian children, little is known about what explains differences in the outcomes of children living in disadvantaged and advantaged neighbourhoods. In this article, Ben Edwards and Leah Bromfield examine the role that perception of neighbourhood safety and neighbourhood social capital play in explaining the differences in hyperactivity, peer problems and emotional symptoms for children living in socio-economically disadvantaged neighbourhoods compared to advantaged ones.

Placed-based approaches to addressing disadvantage: Linking science and policy

Ian Byron

The broad socio-economic environment that shapes Australian communities has undergone rapid and significant change over the past several decades. Its impact on communities and their ability to adapt to these changes has varied considerably, and there is a growing body of evidence highlighting that social and economic disadvantage is not evenly distributed, but concentrated in particular places. In line with this evidence, governments have increasingly adopted place-based policies to address disadvantage. Research on the spatial distribution of disadvantage has been instrumental in setting this policy direction. Yet, drawing on two examples, namely the impact of scale and population mobility, this paper argues there is a need to ensure that the approaches used to identify and track changes in areas of concentrated disadvantage are very closely aligned to any potential policy response.

Circles of Care: The struggle to strengthen child developmental systems through the Pathways to Prevention Project

Kate Freiberg, Ross Homel and Sara Branch

The Pathways to Prevention project has been a groundbreaking Australian initiative that uses ecological theory to focus on place-based approaches to addressing disadvantage. It attempts to take into account the complex interwoven relationships of vulnerability and risk on the one hand, and resilience and protection on the other. This article by Freiberg, Homel, and Branch describes the further development of the intervention project in Inala, a suburb of Brisbane, Queensland. It specifically focuses on Circles of Care, a new approach to encouraging a closer synergy among families, schools and community agencies to facilitate positive developmental outcomes for children at risk. Grounded in developmental systems theory, the article addresses issues of very practical relevance to those delivering place-based interventions.

The national evaluation of the Communities for Children initiative

Kristy Muir, Ilan Katz, Ben Edwards, Matthew Gray, Sarah Wise, Alan Hayes and the Stronger Families and Communities Strategy Evaluation Team

This paper considers place-based approaches to support families and facilitate the development of their children, by summarising the findings from the evaluation of Communities for Children (CfC), an initiative under the Australian Government’s Stronger Familles and Communities Strategy (SFCS). The model evaluated has at its heart the coordination of the delivery of services provided by agencies that have contact with children who live in areas at considerably higher risk of disadvantage. The key role in achieving a coordinated approach to service delivery in each of the 45 sites funded under the CfC initiative was assigned to a non-government (not-for-profit) organisation (the “facilitating partner”). For the first time in Australia, the evaluation provided clear evidence of the early impacts of a large-scale, place-based approach to early intervention that is focused on families with young children. In addition to presenting the results of the impact analyses, the authors explore the key elements contributing to the success of CfC.

Children's exposure to parental and familial adversities

Sarah Olesen, Elspeth Macdonald, Beverley Raphael and Peter Butterworth

Clinical, community and retrospective studies are consistent in reporting the detrimental consequences of childhood adversity, including parental or family difficulties. The full extent of childhood adversity is difficult to estimate, however, due to a dearth of relevant information in general population surveys. This study estimated Australian children’s exposure to a range of parental and familial adversities using data from a national household survey. Parents’ responses from the Household, Income, and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey were used to estimate the number and proportion of families and children who were exposed to thirteen adversities. It was found that a substantial proportion of Australian children experience these adversities. For example, parents in 22.4% and 28.8% of families reported financial hardships and long-term health conditions respectively. Further, approximately one-fifth of children were exposed to three or more of the stressors we considered, indicating the tendency for adversities to co-occur. This study endorses the usefulness of household surveys to explore this issue, while highlighting the need for more comprehensive data collection at the population level. Such information can be used to better identify families in the general community who are at risk of poor social and health outcomes, including those who may not readily take up existing services.

Exploring the promises and possibilities for children's participation in Family Relationship Centres

Anne Graham and Robyn Fitzgerald

This paper reports some key findings from a recent study that explored how children’s participation is understood and facilitated in one Family Relationship Centre (FRC). These findings point to the central importance of recognition and respect for children in post-separation decision-making processes; supporting and developing the achievements of FRCs in promoting the wellbeing of children through their participation; addressing ambiguities in the way children’s participation is described and practised in family dispute resolution; attending to the tentative relationship between the protection of children and their participation in post-separation decision-making; and continuing to refine procedures and processes around child consultations, given the value placed on these by children and parents. These findings also signal the need for further research and evaluation that closely examines the meaning, purpose and processes associated with children’s participation in family dispute resolution processes.

Genuine effort in family dispute resolution

Hilary Astor

This article examines possible difficulties related to the concept of genuine effort in family dispute resolution (FDR), as spelled out in the Family law Amendment (Shared Parental Responsibility) Act 2006. Astor outlines some definitional problems and suggests that in order to assess whether a genuine effort has been made, practitioners need to focus on observed behaviour rather than on the parties’ presumed state of mind. They may also need to take into account a range of other circumstances that may affect individuals, such as their mental health, addictions and other factors. The author concludes that although it is early to make a clear judgement, the genuine effort provisions in the Act may not be working effectively.

Legal recognition of Sharia law: Is this the right direction for Australian family matters?

Ann Black

Increasingly, Muslims have been making their homes in secular countries in the West. Their religion, Islam, which means submission to God, lays down a comprehensive code for life known as the Sharia, which has laws governing most aspects of a Muslim’s daily life, including detailed laws on family and relationships. Muslims in secular nations still try to live by these laws but at times encounter difficulties when Islamic law is not readily reconciled with state law. Hence, there have been recurring requests, including in Australia, for formal state recognition to be given to Islamic law, especially for family law matters involving Muslims. Just as Canada, Britain and the nations of Europe grapple with this issue, so too is Australia. Muslims and non-Muslims divide on the issue. This article assesses the premise for Australia’s “one law for all” approach and canvasses the case for and against official legal recognition being given to aspects of Islamic law as the applicable law for Muslims in family law matters. It concludes that, on balance, the status quo should prevail.

Child support and Welfare to Work reforms: The economic consequences for single-parent families

Tracey Summerfield, Lisa Young, Jade Harman and Paul Flatau

The 2006–08 reforms of Australia’s social security and child support schemes saw significant changes to the income support eligibility requirements for single resident parents (mostly women) as well as to the calculation of child support. This paper models and examines the combined economic effect of the reforms on the assessed rates of child support, and on the disposable income and effective marginal tax rates of single parents. The modelling indicates that, for the scenarios examined, single resident parents fulfilling basic work requirements under the social security reforms will be financially worse off than before the combined reforms, with improvements in net disposable income only occurring for single parents who can achieve national average earnings or better. The paper goes on to discuss the policy and practical implications arising from these combined effects, particularly for the most affected groups: women and children. In particular, the authors discuss: the financial disincentives for single parents to work arising from these changes; the impact on the care of children; what “fairer” sharing of the costs of children between parents means in practice; how parenting practices and traditional divisions of paid work interact with these financial reforms; and the opportunities for carer parents to achieve improved financial situations under the changes.

Picking up the pieces: Family functioning in the aftermath of natural disaster

Catherine Caruana

This article is a literature review of research regarding the responses of individuals, families and communities to catastrophic events. The author focuses on the likely short- and long-term effects of the adversities that follow such events, and particularly considers the impacts on children and adolescents, as well as the potential for “spill-over” to those not directly affected by the crisis or catastrophe. The author notes that families have the potential to be both a site of transmission of such effects and the locus of recovery.