Issue 85

Family Matters No. 85, 2010

Journal issue feature image

Violence, abuse and neglect

Family Matters No. 85 focuses on the theme of violence, abuse and neglect covering such topics as connections between childhood family experiences and wellbeing in early adulthood; young people with parents who use alcohol or other drugs; family violence; sexual assault victim/survivors' criminal justice needs; family contact for infants in out-of-home care; kinship care; teenagers contributing to household work; collaborative law; dispute resolution choices.

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Executive Editor: Leah Bromfield

Editorial panel: Jennifer Baxter, Leah Bromfield, Matthew Gray, Alan Hayes, Daryl Higgins, Briony Horsfall, Alister Lamont, Lixia Qu, Antonia Quadara, Elly Robinson, Diana Smart

Editor: Lan Wang

Cover art: The Family Matters 85 cover painting is by Henryk Szydlowski, Night in the Honey Eaters Valley, oil painting on canvas, 75 x 60 cm. Courtesy of Gunyulgup Galleries.

Publication details

Family Matters No. 85
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, September 2010, 83 pp.
1030-2646 (print) 1832-8318 (online)

Copyright information


Family is for life: Connections between childhood family experiences and wellbeing in early adulthood

Rhys Price-Robertson, Diana Smart and Leah Bromfield

A large body of international research has shown that the experiences of childhood can exert an enduring influence on an individual?s life. However, there is a dearth of recent Australian research demonstrating connections between childhood experiences within the family, and outcomes in adulthood. The current study provides prevalence figures for a range of childhood familial experiences (both positive and adverse), and examines the associations between these experiences and psychosocial outcomes in young adulthood. The sample comprised 1,000 participants of the Australian Temperament Project, a longitudinal study of children?s development that commenced in 1983 and has collected 14 waves of data over the first 24 years of life. Key findings suggest that positive development (or ?doing well?) in young adulthood relies on the active investment of caregivers? love, affection and encouragement during childhood, rather than simply the absence of adverse experiences. They also indicate that although young adult survivors of childhood maltreatment may be faring adequately in the social sphere, they are still much more likely than others to suffer from internalising problems such as depression and anxiety.

Who cares?: Young people with parents who use alcohol or other drugs talk about their experiences with services

Tim Moore, Debbie Noble-Carr and Morag McArthur

Over the past 10 years there has been an increasing interest in the lives of children in families affected by parental alcohol or other drug use. What remains relatively unexplored is how children and young people experience these lives and the way in which they are supported by the broad service system. This paper reports on a project conducted in the Australian Capital Territory where young people talked about their lives. It stresses the importance of recognising that children and young people can be affected by their parents? alcohol or other drug use, and that it is important to spend time talking with them to gauge their needs and wishes and to adopt a collaborative and family-focused approach to responding to the needs of all members within the family unit.

"What is the justice system willing to offer?": Understanding sexual assault victim/survivors' criminal justice needs

Haley Clark

In April 2009, the Australian Government declared a ?zero tolerance? position on violence against women and children, and acknowledged that, ?The Laws must be strong enough to hold perpetrators to account and offer justice and safety for victims and their families?. Indeed, there is increasing emphasis on responding to the needs of victim/survivors of sexual assault within Australian criminal justice systems. This has been demonstrated through myriad procedural and substantive law reforms that have been introduced over the past 40 years. Nonetheless, research continues to demonstrate that prosecution and conviction rates for sexual offences are not increasing, and that criminal justice system procedures are distressing and traumatising for victim/survivors. Understanding what victim/survivors see as justice and what they consider to be fair procedures are key to developing procedures to meet their needs. Drawing on the narratives of 22 victim/survivors of sexual assault, this article identifies what justice means to these victim/survivors and discusses four key aspects that relate to their procedural justice needs?information, validation, voice and control. The article considers how these can be applied to system procedures to promote meaningful and worthwhile justice system responses for victim/survivors of sexual assault.

Family violence: Key findings from the Evaluation of the 2006 Family Law Reforms

Rae Kaspiew, Matthew Gray, Ruth Weston, Lawrie Moloney, Kelly Hand, Lixia Qu and the Family Law Evaluation Team

The Australian Institute of Family Studies? (AIFS) Evaluation of the 2006 Family Law Reforms (Kaspiew et al., 2009) found that one of the central challenges facing the family law system is family violence. A substantial minority of separated parents reported having experienced physical violence, and over half reported having experienced emotional or physical violence. The data collected as part of the AIFS evaluation highlighted the difficulties faced by those working in the family law system (service system professionals, lawyers, court staff and judicial officers) when working with families affected by family violence. This article summarises the main points that arose from the evaluation. Challenging issues include identifying whether there is family violence, the nature of the violence, whether it is ongoing and the most appropriate responses. Dealing with family violence in the family law context is difficult because of its prevalence in separating families, combined with the fact that there is often little or no evidence because most family violence occurs behind ?closed doors?, without witnesses. It is also difficult because a parent may be too frightened of their ex-partner to tell anyone about the violence, let alone a court.

Developmentally sensitive parental contact for infants when families are separated

Cathy Humphreys and Meredith Kiraly

Infant development is inextricably linked to their attachment relationships. Providing firm, secure and functional attachment relationships through which infants can develop and thrive is critical to their current and future development. This paper reports on research that looked at the issue of family contact for infants in out-of-home care, particularly those where high-frequency family contact was being ordered by the Children?s Court and involved infants in a significant amount of travel away from their foster carer. It was found that there was no difference in this sample in the reunification rate when children were subject to high-frequency family contact compared to lower levels. Issues are raised about what constitutes arrangements that are sensitive to infant development and attachment needs, including not only infants in out-of-home care, but also where parents are separated and infants may be involved in travelling between their mothers and fathers. Discussion includes concern about such sensitive issues being the subject of highly adversarial proceedings, where it may be difficult to hold the infants? needs at the centre of decision-making.

Kinship care: A review of issues

Heather Boetto

This paper outlines the results of a literature review about the issues relevant to kinship care in Australia, with special reference to New South Wales. The importance of kinship care is highlighted as a result of current state and territory reform processes and the increasing prevalence of kinship care placements across Australia.  Review findings identify many key issues, including: the lack of structured frameworks to guide child welfare workers when working with children and young people placed in kinship care; the disadvantaged position of many kinship carers due to the prevalence of poverty, poor health, financial hardship and low education; the voices of children, young people and kinship carers who have articulated their needs and issues; the complex needs of children and young people in out-of-home care; issues relevant to Indigenous kinship care; the uniqueness of kinship care placements compared to other types of formal care arrangements; and the increasing role of non-government agencies in providing support to kinship care placements.  These issues indicate a need for changes to the processes and supportive functions of kinship care.

Do Australian teenagers contribute to household work?

Pavla Miller and Justin Bowd

Do Australian teenagers contribute to housework and child care? How do their contributions relate to the time use of their mothers and fathers, and the work that needs to get done? This paper is based on a re-analysis of national time use surveys conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 1992, 1997 and 2006. It examines the evidence the surveys provide about three samples of 15?19 year olds living in single-family households. Rather than deal with individuals in isolation (given the capacity for children and adults to substitute for each other), the study deals with whole households, and examines the distribution of tasks among co-resident family members The Australian time use surveys have provided material for many excellent studies of the distribution of domestic and caring labour between adults, and this paper represents the first systematic attempt to explore their relevance to teenagers as domestic workers and carers, and over time. The study is set in a larger context of emphasis on young people as workers and actors in their own right. The findings indicate that teenagers? contributions to their households varied significantly, but in aggregate were small and falling, both in absolute terms and as a proportion of their parents? contribution.

What is this thing called collaborative law?

Caroline Counsel

Over the last decade there has been considerable growth in both the different models of professional assisted dispute resolution available, and in the range of government, non-government and private sector agencies providing them. Awareness of the various options available to clients can assist practitioners working with separating couples to make more effective referrals. This article describes a form of lawyer-assisted family dispute resolution (FDR), known as collaborative practice. Prior to recent legislative amendments, the private negotiation of settlements in family law disputes was historically the domain of lawyers. Within the context of an adversarial legal system, such negotiations were typically conducted by letter, were positional and were informed by the ever-present threat of litigation. Collaborative family law practice creates a new role for lawyers that includes skills similar to those used in mediation, whereby lawyers work together (sometimes in conjunction with other collaboratively trained professionals) to facilitate child- and family-focused discussion between the parties, with the aim of reaching mutually acceptable negotiated settlements. It is a process involving confidential and transparent negotiations that take an interest-based, team approach, as opposed to one that is rights-based or adversarial.