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Family Matters article

May 2018

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To celebrate this 100th issue of Family Matters, this article looks back at the journal's history and highlights some of the most notable stories.

The first issue of Family Matters, or the Institute of Family Studies Newsletter, as it was then known, was published in a black and white, A4 format in September 1980, when Genghis Khan's Moscow topped the charts and Robert Redford's Ordinary People was playing at the drive-in. Just over 36 years later, we celebrate the 100th issue, Family Matters' last in print. We look back at its history and highlight some of our most notable stories.

The newsletter's early years

Between Issues 2 and 18, the newsletter took on a square format and introduced a single colour. The content was comprised mainly of short items about the activities of the Institute and its staff, with more substantive articles appearing intermittently. Divorce and its effect on families was a hot topic in those first few years - hardly surprising given that AIFS was founded by the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth), which pioneered no-fault divorce in Australia. Staff participation at conferences, reports from seminars and meetings, staff profiles and book reviews made up the bulk of the pages.

Things were going smoothly until shortly after the Institute's fifth anniversary, when budget cuts meant that Issues 14 and 15 had to be drastically reduced. Once the funding was restored, the scope of the newsletter was also restored, and with the following issues, the newsletter became a greater mouthpiece for the Institute.

The birth of Family Matters

In the wake of this uncertain time, there was an editorial shift in the direction of the newsletter. Issue 19 was overhauled to a larger A4 format, the paper stock was improved and the name rebadged to Family Matters. It is from this issue that we'll highlight some of the articles
of AIFS' flagship publication. Family Matters has been a peer-reviewed publication since 1997. While there are many articles we could have included, these articles show how inclusive and forward-thinking AIFS was for the time, how societal norms about topics such as gender roles and sexuality have changed, and how AIFS contributed to important policy and research flashpoints.

Our highlights

Migrant dreams

"Ethnic Family Decision Making and Youth Destination" by Robyn Hartley (Issue 19, October 1987) was a report on a recently completed study commissioned by the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Multicultural and Migrant Education (MACMME) about "factors in family decision-making which influence student retention at school, choice of post-school destination, and aspirations of students and parents from non-English speaking backgrounds". "Students felt very much on their own in making decisions about their futures, particularly when parents felt that they could not help very much and teachers were not very encouraging."

Mums and work

"Mothers in the Workforce" by Helen Glezer (Issue 21, August 1988) shares insights from AIFS Maternity Leave Study "into why some mothers decide to return to work and others choose to remain at home after the birth of a child". "Just under half the women agree that a woman should give up her job if it inconveniences her husband and children."

Divorce and children

In "How is it Going to Affect the kids? Parents' Views of Their Children's Wellbeing After Marriage Breakdown" by Ruth Weston (Issue 27, 1990), 523 divorced parents were surveyed for AIFS' Parents and Children after Marriage Breakdown Study. An interesting trend was found among separated fathers who no longer lived with their children, "the importance of children's wellbeing to non-resident fathers dissipated, reflecting the adjustment of these men to the loss of their children."

Are young people ready to say I do?

"What Marriage Means to Young Adults in the 1990s" by Christine Millward (Issue 29, August 1991) was a review of findings from AIFS' 1990 Becoming Adult study, which interviewed 138 23-year-olds. "Women seemed more likely than men (39% compared with 22%) to envisage marrying within the next two years when they were aged 24 to 25."

Child care for children's futures

"Child Care in a Caring Society" by Harry McGurk (Issue 46, April 1997) came in the wake of "proposals for quite radical changes to the funding of child care". The article argues for a balance between thinking child care was a service to meet parents' work needs, and as an investment in and for children. "The focus of child care should be on the creation of social environments and exchanges that secure the current happiness and wellbeing of all children and nurture their developmental futures."

Recognising rainbow families

"Legal Recognition of Gay and Lesbian Families" by Jenni Millbank (Issue 55, March 2000) suggests that lesbian and gay claims to relationship recognition are transforming both what we think of as family, and the domain of family law. "I believe that laws about family exercise an enormous influence over us at times of greatest crisis in our lives (such as death and relationship break-up) and that influence is most felt by those whom the law excludes."

Indigenous families

Family Matters Issue 75 (September, 2006) was published with the theme "Indigenous Families", covering a wide range of issues relevant to current policy debates and program development. Some of these articles include "The Intergenerational Effects of Forced Separation on the Social and Emotional Wellbeing of Aboriginal Children and Young People", "Protecting Indigenous Children", and "Workin' Together: Indigenous Perspectives on Community Development".

Caring for victims of sexual assault

"Caring About Sexual Assault: The Effects of Sexual Assault on Families, and the Effects on Victim/Survivors of Family Responses to Sexual Assault" by Zoë Morrison (Issue 76, June 2007) considers the effects on the families of adult sexual assault victims, and how the reactions and responses of family members can help or hinder the victim's recovery. "In the field of trauma research, witnessing the trauma of a family member or 'significant other' is recognised as traumatic within its own right, creating 'secondary victims' of traumas including sexual assault (Figley & Kleber, 1995)."

Bringing cooperation to separation

"The AIFS Evaluation of the 2006 Family Law Reforms: A Summary" by Rae Kaspiew, Matthew Gray, Ruth Weston, Lawrie Moloney, Kelly Hand, Lixia Qu and the Family Law Evaluation Team (Issue 86, March 2011). In 2006, the government amended the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) and increased funding for new and expanded family relationship services. The aim of the reforms was to bring about "generational change in family law" and a "cultural shift" in the management of separation, "away from litigation and towards cooperative parenting". The evaluation was based on an extensive research program and provides a comprehensive evidence base on the operation of the family law system.

Fathering today

"Fathering in Australia Among Couple Families with Young Children: Research Highlights" by Jennifer Baxter and Diana Smart (Issue 88, August 2011) reports on aims to increase understanding of the ways in which fathers in couple families who are parents of young children contribute to family life. "Fathers' mental health was also strongly related to children's socio-emotional outcomes. In addition, better mental health was associated with a stronger co-parental relationship and more positive parenting practices."

Changing families

"Trends in Family Transitions, Forms and Functioning: Essential Issues for Policy Development and Legislation" by Ruth Weston and Lixia Qu (Issue 95, December 2014) looks at the various ways in which families have changed over the decades in Australia. It discusses trends in marriage, divorce and cohabitation, and the resulting rise in new forms of families, such as grandparent-headed families, same-sex parented families, couples living apart together, and shared care. "For most of the 20th century, almost all heterosexual couples married then moved in together, whereas the reverse is true today: most couples who marry have already been living with each other for some time."

To read these and other articles from the rich Family Matters archive (from Issue 27 onward) go to the AIFS website.