Issue 87

Family Matters No. 87, 2011

Journal issue feature image

Sustaining families in challenging times

Family Matters No. 87 focuses on the theme of Sustaining families in challenging times covering such topics as who's really time poor; children in poverty; UK family policy, lone mothers and paid work; families at risk; living-apart-together (LAT) relationships; and past adoption practices

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Executive Editor: Lixia Qu

Editorial panel: Michael Alexander, Jennifer Baxter, Leah Bromfield, Matthew Gray, Alan Hayes, Kelly Hand, Daryl Higgins, Lawrie Moloney, Lixia Qu, Elly Robinson, Jacqui Stewart, Ruth Weston

Editor: Lan Wang

Cover art: The Family Matters 87 cover painting is by Craig Handley, waiting for davo, oil painting on canvas. Courtesy of Richard Martin Art, Sydney.

Publication details

Family Matters No. 87
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, April 2011, 68 pp.
1030-2646 (print) 1832-8318 (online)

Copyright information


Who's really time poor?

Robert Goodin

Australia is blessed with time use data that constitute the gold standard worldwide. Social researchers make heavy use of that data, which helps us see important dimensions to social disadvantage that are elided by statistics reporting financial flows alone. People can be ?time-poor?, just as they can be ?money-poor?; and those two groups are very often not the same. However, social researchers ought to take care in interpreting that data. In particular, people use their time in the way they do out of choice or out of necessity. In his keynote presentation to the 11th AIFS Conference, 2010, the author proposes a way of measuring how much time people strictly need to spend on various activities of daily life. He shows the importance of making this distinction by reference to groups that are the most and the least advantaged, in terms of this measure of ?discretionary time?. A person in a dual-income household without children and a lone mother would appear to be equally time-poor on naive time use measures of ?free time?. But they lie at the very opposite ends of the spectrum when time use is calibrated in terms of our measure of needs-based ?discretionary time? instead.

Children in poverty: Can public policy alleviate the consequences?

Aletha Huston

Child poverty is a persistent problem in the developed world, particularly the United States, even though the US population enjoys an unprecedented standard of material wellbeing. In recent years, two US policies to address child poverty have been supported by evidence: early intervention to improve the health and development of young children, and employment-based financial incentives and work supports for low-income parents. Benefits for children from both types of policy are well-supported by high-quality research, but they have not eliminated poverty or its consequences for children. We can do a better job by examining implicit and explicit theories of change, specifically definitions of poverty and hypotheses about the causes of poverty. Defining poverty as social exclusion rather than as a lack of income or material resources offers a lens that leads to a broader and potentially more effective range of policy solutions. Considering social and economic structural conditions as well as individual behaviour as interacting causes of poverty suggests policies directed to altering causal agents in the society and to changing individuals. A theory of change derived from social exclusion leads to goals for children that include not only improved human capital, but assurance of wellbeing and basic rights.

Desperately seeking security: UK family policy, lone mothers and paid work

Jane Millar

This article draws on longitudinal qualitative research to examine the labour market experiences of lone mothers over a period of four to five years. These lone mothers are very much the "hard-working families" that the British welfare state is being reformed and reshaped to support. The work-as-welfare agenda?making people better off, promoting choice and independence?offers the promise of a better quality of life through engagement in the working world. These women made the commitment to work with exactly those goals in mind?to create better lives for themselves and their families. But, even after four to five years, many were still struggling to achieve an adequate and secure standard of living in work. They found that there were limited opportunities to increase income and that the wages/tax credits package did not always provide financial security. The level of financial support for British working families is falling, with substantial cuts in benefits, tax credits, services and public sector jobs. The nature of that financial support is also likely to change radically. But if benefits for working families are lower, then it is all the more important that the support available is reliable, stable and secure.

Think Family: A new approach to families at risk

Naomi Eisenstadt

This paper outlines a new framework?Think Family?which includes a coordinated support system, a focus on the needs of all family members, building on family strengths, and the provision of tailored support. In her brief account of a short history of public service reforms in Britain, she stresses that a minority tend to miss out, despite the fact that each reform has benefited many people?s lives. More importantly, the minority who have missed out have had difficulties that are increasingly complex and experienced on multiple fronts. She suggests that disadvantages tend to ?clump together? and interact with each other, and thus often lead to poor outcomes for children. While society has become more prosperous, the gap between the top and bottom of the social gradient has widened. Without policy intervention, disadvantaged families would fall further behind; thus, Eisenstadt argues that social policies need ?a more nuanced approach? and maintains that good policy practices tend to focus on a particular group and have a lead professional working with each family. This means that such professionals must have a small case load to enable them to concentrate on and build a strong and continuing relationship with just a few families. While developing such practices may entail higher costs, not doing so will result in even higher social cost through poor outcomes for children across generations. In promoting the Think Family approach, Eisenstadt stresses the importance of cooperation and information sharing between services, which is critical in the climate of reduced public spending.

Living-apart-together (LAT) relationships in Australia

Anna Reimondos, Ann Evans and Edith Gray

Contemporary research on the nature and pattern of relationship formation and dissolution has almost exclusively focused on unions such as cohabitation and marriage in which the two partners share a common household. However, changing demographic trends mean that a substantial proportion of the population does not live with a romantic partner. In this paper, the authors describe the characteristics of individuals in non-residential unions and investigate whether these unions are a stepping stone towards cohabitation, or whether they are more permanent arrangements. Using data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey, it is estimated that 24% of the population aged 18 and over that is not cohabiting or married identify themselves as being in an intimate ongoing relationship. While non-residential unions are most prevalent among young people, they are experienced by individuals at all stages of the life course, including single parents and previously married people. While the younger generations frequently anticipate moving into a common residence with their partner in the future, among the older generations, living apart from a partner appears to be a more permanent arrangement, allowing for a combination of both intimacy and autonomy.

Unfit mothers ... unjust practices?: Key issues from Australian research on the impact of past adoption practices

Daryl Higgins

Although reliable figures are not available, in the decades prior to the mid-1970s, it was common in Australia for babies of unwed mothers to be adopted. There is a wealth of material on adoption in Australia—including individual historical records, analyses of historical practices, case studies, expert opinions, personal testimony provided to two parliamentary inquiries—but limited empirical research on the issue of past adoption practices and its impact on those involved.