Australian Defence Force Families Mobility and Dislocation Study: Public report


You are in an archived section of the AIFS website 


Content type
Research report

February 1994

This historical publication is only available as a PDF document and does not meet the latest web accessibility standards.

If you wish to access this publication in another format, please contact us and we will try to procure one for you.


The Families Mobility and Dislocation Study (FMDS) represents part of the Australian Defence Force's (ADF) ongoing commitment to ameliorate family disadvantage arising out of Service requirements. The study explores the extent of mobility and dislocation experienced by members of the ADF, and the effects on child care, children's education and spousal employment. Data are compared with data from four Melbourne local government area samples involved in the Australian Institute of Family Studies Australian Living Standards Study. Recommendations are made, and a brief ADF response to the report is included. The author's conclusion is that, while it would not appear that any wholesale restructuring is required of the ADF's provision of family support services, additional responsibilities could be undertaken by service providers which would enhance the quality of Service life.

Table of Contents

  • Contents
  • Families Mobility and Dislocation Study 
  • Introduction
    • Project administration
    • Fieldwork
    • Key definitions
    • Australian Institute of Family Studies Australian living Standards Study
  • The ADF Family
  • Mobility and Dislocation in the ADF: Dimensions of Disruption
  • Family Support Services Child Care
  • Partners' Employment
  • Health
  • Coping
  • Views of Dependent Children Retention Intention
  • Conclusions and Recommendations
    • Partners' Employment
    • Child Care
    • Workloads
    • Medical Records
    • Advance Visits
    • Reunion Visits
    • House-to-House Removals
    • A National Curriculum
    • Female Retention
    • Further Research
  • The ADF Response to the FMDS Report


17 December 1993

Following consideration of the Report on the 1991 ADF Families Census it was decided that a follow-up study should be conducted to examine the effects of ADF families mobility and dislocation, and to propose options to alleviate the adverse effects associated with Service life. This study 
is known as the ADF Families Mobility and Dislocation Study (FMDS).

The first phase of FMDS, completed in October 1992, involved the conduct of Focus Groups to assist in developing a questionnaire to be used in Phase 2. The second phase of the Study involved our field consultant conducting 1260 face-to-face interviews with ADF families around Australia. The field activity was successfully completed on 30 April 1993 and the transcribed data was then passed to the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) for detailed analysis. The AIFS submitted their FMDS Stage 2. Report in November 1993.

I am pleased to report that the FMDS· provides a generally positive outlook on how ADF members and their families cope with the vagaries of the Service lifestyle. This is not to suggest that there are not significant irritants and problems; however, the Report indicates that there are no major deficiencies in family support service delivery.

This report to ADF members and their families provides a synopsis of the results of FMDS. For the first time we have a corporate overview of what ADF families think about a wide range of issues that relate to aspects of mobility and dislocation inherent in the Service lifestyle. As such the Report is a valuable piece of social research that will assist the ADF to improve the scope, efficiency and effectiveness of the services it delivers to ADF families.

I take this opportunity to thank all those who participated in the Study both in the Stage 1 Focus Group activity, and to those families who agreed to be interviewed during Stage 2. You have all made a positive contribution to improving conditions for all of us and our families.

Major General 
Assistant Chief of Defence Force - Personnel 

Families Mobility and Dislocation Study

From the data examined in this study, it would appear that the typical ADF family is satisfied with Service life. It is a family which copes with the disruption caused by ADF mobility, separations and rigorous day-to-day work requirements. Nonetheless, the conditions of Service life impose real hardships than can and should be addressed by the ADF. While it would not appear that any wholesale restructuring is required of the ADF's provision of family support services, additional responsibilities could be undertaken by service providers which would enhance the quality of Service life.

I would like to acknowledge AGB Australia's contribution to the research reported herein, particularly the fieldwork and data preparation. I would also like to acknowledge the contribution made by Dr Peter McDonald, Acting Director of the Australian Institute of Family Studies, and the contributions of other members of the institute's staff, notably Viviana Lazzarini's assistance with data analysis and preparation of this report. I would also like to express my appreciation to Colonel CK Gillman- Wells, Headquarters Australian Defence Force, for his assistance throughout this exercise. Last, but certainly not least, I would like to thank all o f those Defence Force families who gave their time to participate in this study.

Gregg Snider 
February 1994


In recent years, the government has put in place a range of initiatives to improve the overall lifestyle of Australian Defence Force (ADF) members and their families.

The Families Mobility and Dislocation Study (FMDS) represents part of the ADF's ongoing commitment to ameliorate family disadvantage arising out of Service requirements. Designed primarily to provide recommendations that may readily be implemented, are affordable and are sufficiently flexible to adapt to short- and mid-term shifts in the locations of ADF families, FMDS:

  • is not an examination of Service salaries, allowances or conditions;
  • is based on the assumption that, where practicable, Service-related family problems should be overcome rather than addressed through financial compensation (financial compensation, where other solutions are not practicable, falls within the coverage of the Service Allowance); and
  • assumes that even if Service families are generally capable of coping with Service-related family disadvantage, the ADF is not relieved of its responsibilities to minimise such disadvantage as is brought about by conditions of Service employment.

An ADF obligation to attempt to redress Service-related family disadvantage arises, among other things, out of:

  • Australia's commitments under International Labour Organisation Convention 156 on Workers with Family Responsibilities (IL0156);
  • Australian Government commitments to work-based child care, equal employment opportunity and industrial equity; and
  • recognition that the satisfaction of ADF family needs facilitates such aspects of ADF mission preparedness as recruitment, retention, readiness, performance and morale.

Families mobility and dislocation study

FMDS arose out of a recommendation of the report of the ADF 1991 Families Census, that a follow-up needs study ,be conducted in two stages: first, focus group discussion with ADF parents (FMDS1); and, second, face-to-face inter- views with 1200 ADF families with children (FMDS2) - 

The effects of mobility and short-term dislocation on child care, children's education and spousal employment... have not been examined in an Australian context. at least. that is. the extent of mobility and dislocation experienced by members of the ADP. 
It is not just that decisions must be made by ADF families to balance their income. work and child care interests. but that mobility and short term dislocation complicate the decision-making process. Given the absence of any comparable occupational grouping in the population. the only way to examine properly the impact of job-related mobility and dislocation on the work and family relationship within the ADF is to carry out specific needs research with ADF families.

FMDS1, carried out by AlFS, was conducted between June and September 1992.

FMDS2 questionnaire design and sample selection followed shortly thereafter. Fieldwork was carried out in March 1993, with 1262 interviews con- ducted with ADF members with dependent children and their families.

Project administration

FMDS2 was carried out jointly by AlFS and AGB McNair (AGB), with both organisations working together on questionnaire design, but with subsequent responsibility separated into field work-to-data preparation carried out by AGB, and with data analysis and reporting carried out by AlFS. Close liaison throughout was maintained with the Director Research Projects, Defence Force Personnel Policy Branch, Colonel CK Gillman-Wells. Periodic meetings were held with the FMDS Steering Committee made up of representatives of HQADF, each of the Services, ADFILS and other Departmental elements as required.


The initial target sample size was 1200 ADF members with dependent children.

For privacy reasons, potential respondents were not approached directly for interview. Instead, an initial sample of 2648 ADF members was randomly selected from individual Service data files (this number was selected to allow for potential sample loss through such factors as refusal to participate, unavailability, or no longer having dependent children at the time of con- tact). Numbers selected from each Service were in proportion to the Service populations at the time of the 1991 Census (i.e. in proportion to the numbers of members with dependent children).

Those selected in the initial sample were mailed a letter (to the unit address) seeking their participation, their residential address and a contact phone number. Appointments were made with those indicating their willingness to participate and who remained in scope (i.e. still a full-time member of the ADF with at least one dependent children living at home [or away at boarding school and home during the holidays]). Sampling procedures precluded separate, individual, participation of both Serving members in dual ADF families.

Interviews were held, on average, from two-to-three months after the initial mailout. Completed interviews were held with 1262 ADF members with dependent children.

Five different questionnaire forms were developed and administered:

  1. A 'household form' designed basically to capture information about the composition of the household;
  2. A form designed to be completed by either (or both if present) the person selected in the sample or the partner of that person, designed primarily to assess the family's use of ADF or community support services;
  3. A form to be completed by the ADF member selected in the sample;
  4. A form to be completed by the partner of the ADF member selected in the sample seeking information not only about his or her own circumstances, but also various aspects of children's education and child care; and
  5. A self-completion form for dependent children 14 years and over seeking information primarily on how they have coped with various aspects of Service life.

Key definitions

Because the sampling base was ADF members with dependent children, rather than ADF families per se, a certain proportion of those selected in the sample had partners who were themselves ADF members. Throughout this report it has, therefore, been necessary to be able to distinguish between those serving members selected for the sample, and those serving members who were partners of those selected for the sample:

The 'selected person' is the ADF member with dependent children selected for the FMDS2 sample.

The 'partner' is the partner of the selected person, whether or not he or she is also a serving member.

Australian Institute of Family Studies Australian Living Standards Study

The ALSS involves both face-to-face and self-completion interviews with about 500 families in each of 12 different localities across Australia. There are some 11 family questionnaire modules in all- about the family and about individual family members - although in most cases the families have been asked to return only 5 or 6. Information on living standards has been obtained on 14 spheres of life: health, employment, housing, economic resources, transport, education, recreation, the physical environment, security, community services, social and political participation, access to information, family relationships and personal well being. While, prior to development and conduct of FMDS2, other possible sources of comparative data were considered, in the end the only available study of sufficient breadth canvassing as wide a range of family well being issues as are of concern to FMDS is the Australian Living Standards Study. At the time of the analysis presented in this report, collected and cleaned data were available from the four Melbourne local government area samples: Berwick, Box Hill, Melbourne and Werribee. For most purposes of comparative analysis throughout this report data obtained from those four areas will be used.


In terms of household types, ADF families have at least one significant difference from that of the Australian population as a whole: they are known to have at least one member in full-time employment. Sampling, therefore, for FMDS2 was not the same as sampling Australian households as a whole, where it is not known a priori if there are any persons in full-time employment. For comparison with ALSS data, particularly that involving partners' employment, it was necessary to construct a sub-sample randomly selected to reflect the gender patterns of those in full-time employment. Where general questions are examined for comparative purposes in this report. ALSS data may refer simply to the children of a family or to parents or to parents' views. In other cases a parallel distinction is made between 'selected persons' and 'partners' as has been done for FMDS2.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The conclusions and recommendations which follow derive, in many cases, from data analysis presented in more than one section of the report. Their organisation, therefore, does not mirror the organisation of the summary of findings just presented.

Partners' Employment

There is higher unemployment among ADF partners than among the partners of those in full-time civilian employment. This unemployment is made up of two identifiable components: a short-term, pre- and post-removal withdrawal from the workforce followed by a period of unemployment while seeking work at the new location; and a longer-term unemployment reason-· ably attributed by many FMDS2 respondents to the length of time they and prospective employers expect them to be in the area.

In her 1986 report, Supporting Service Families, Sue Hamilton recommended, among other things, that ADFILS 'include a number of spouse employment officers, with at least one such position in each area where there is a major base or group of small bases. The role of these people would be to maintain a register of spouses seeking work in the area, and to be a first contact point for spouses who know they are to be posted there and wish to obtain work. Spouse employment officers would also familiarise themselves with the local employment market and make contact with major employers in the area and groups such as the Chamber of Commerce.' (Hamilton, 1986, p. 43.) This recommendation has yet to be implemented. Nonetheless, the functions of Ms Hamilton's proposed spouse employment officers need to be carried out. Therefore, it is recommended that

the ADF give greater emphasis to partners' employment by providing assistance at the regional and local level, maintaining registers of those seeking work, maintaining familiarity with the local employment market and actively maintaining contact with employers in the area. Consideration might be given to adding this responsibility to the duties of Family Liaison Officers

One-quarter of ADF members' partners classified as not being in the workforce and one third of the unemployed reported that they were not currently licensed to provide Family Day Care but that they would be interested in becoming licensed. If one half of those classified as unemployed were to become licensed and provided such care at least on a part-time basis, unemployment among partners would drop from twelve to ten per cent. This would not lower partner unemployment to the rate found in the ALSS Melbourne samples, but it would halve the difference.

While current thinking about child care argues for a more educative role for child carers than that typically provided by Family Day Carers (and, indeed, many formal centres), the greater availability of qualified Family Day carers would nonetheless represent an advancement on the current situation where so many ADF parents use the services of unqualified child carers.

In addition, using qualified child carers, rather than paid babysitters, would attract greater child care fee relief for some ADF families already in receipt of fee relief, and some fee relief for others receiving none at present.

DHA have provided informal advice that most of their housing stock already satisfies family day care licensing requirements and that, in most circumstances, they are prepared to upgrade housing where necessary. For most ADF partners in DHA housing, at least, current licensing requirements in the States would require only the acquisition of first aid qualifications. It is, therefore, recommended that

the ADF should facilitate the provision of first aid training in order to qualify ADF partners as registered Family Day Carers. This should be undertaken at the Regional and local level, possibly utilising existing Community Development Officers and Family Liaison Officers.

In order to provide national coordination and communication between those responsible for assisting with partners' employment, it is recommended that

the ADF examine the need for the central coordination of spouse employment, including the option of establishing a civilian coordinator in HQADF.

Another partial solution to both short- and long-term unemployment among ADF members' partners would be to provide for their preferential employment in civilian positions in the Defence Force or the Department of Defence. HQADF have advised that this proposition has been put to the appropriate authorities and rejected on grounds of industrial equity. The ADF, however, are progressively contracting out a range of services previously carried out by the ADF itself. While the same objections raised about preferential treatment for ADF partners' employment by the Australian Government might apply to contractors to the ADF, they are not all bound by comparable industrial legislation. A case can be made, therefore, that

the ADF explore means whereby civilian contractors to the ADF could be encouraged to provide employment for the partners of ADF members.

Child Care

ADF families utilise greater amounts of child care, both formal and informal, than do civilian parents. Arising naturally out of the greater distance from extended family members than typical civilian parents, ADF parents are less likely to utilise extended family members for the provision of their child care (except during school holidays for primary school children). In order to cope with the absence of familial child care support, ADF families turn to friends or neighbours and paid babysitters (friends, neighbours and paid babysitters unlikely - given ADF family mobility - to have been known to the family for long periods).

The ADF already has taken a leading role in the funding and establishment of employer sponsored child care. Six work-related long day care centres with a total of 230 places have already been established at RAAF Richmond, Holsworthy, Enoggera, HMAS Endeavour, HMAS Albatross, and HMAS Cerberus. A further three centres - at RAAF Williamstown, Townsville and Amberly - should be in operation by mid-1994, providing an additional 135 places.

It is understood also that the ADF purchases child care places where necessary and, to the extent that funding is available, in civilian child care centres.

ADFILS maintains a permanent part-time position of Child Care Adviser, responsible for managing the Defence work-related child· care program.

Recognising the significant steps already taken, it is recommended that

continuing support be provided, and enhanced if possible, for current ADF child care functions.

Given the year-to-year variation in the child care requirements of different families posted to any particular area, it is reasonable to argue the need for closer monitoring at the local level of the child care requirements of ADF families, particularly their unmet needs. It is recommended, therefore, that in addition to maintenance of the ADFILS position of Child Care Adviser

a register should be maintained at the local level of ADF families with unmet child care needs, and of child care services available in the community (both ADF and civilian). Consideration might be given to adding this responsibility to the duties of Family Liaison Officers together with the responsibility for providing information to ADF families about available child care services.


Recognising the additional responsibilities for partners' employment and child care recommended above, it is also recommended that

the ADF conduct a review of the present and proposed workloads (and classifications) of Family Liaison Officers to determine if their employment should remain on a permanent part-time basis or should be made full time.

Recognising that different skills may from time to time be required in different local areas, it is possible that the position of FLO may be one for job sharing.

Given the overlapping roles of various ADF family support services and positions (Community Development Officers, Army Community Services, Regional Education Development Officers, PSOs, etc.), and the proposed expansion of these services, it would be appropriate and timely for

the ADF to give consideration to conducting a review of present and proposed family support service delivery, with emphasis on coordination and cooperation at the regional and local level.

Medical Records

A substantial proportion of ADF families do not carry civilian medical records with them from post-to-post or arrange for their transfer. Not only do they have a legal right to have their records transferred but the utility of having complete medical records at all times is obvious. It is, therefore, recommended that

the ADF should make families aware of their rights to civilian medical records upon removal and should actively promote the desirability of their transfer. This could become a responsibility of Family Liaison Officers.

Advance Visits

In some cases family members are provided the opportunity to make advance visits to areas into which the ADF member is to be posted. Those who have had such visits indicate that they were useful to the process of settling in. Such visits, however, are, under current arrangements, somewhat discretionary. It is recommended, therefore, that

advance familiarisation visits to areas of future posting be made an entitlement of Service and should be actively encouraged.

The cost implication of this recommendation would need to be examined. However, the benefits to families are evident from FMDS2 data.

Reunion Visits

Single serving members are entitled to annual reunion visits to their home or place of enlistment. Maintenance of links with extended family members are critical to the maintenance of family integrity. This is no less so for partnered members than for single members. It is, therefore, recommended that

entitlement to annual reunion visits be extended to partnered ADF l members, their partners and their dependent children to visit immediate family members.

Provision would, of course, need to be made for the possible designation of two different locations for such reunion visits where individual partners are from different locations. As with the previous recommendation, cost implications would need to be considered.

House-to-House Removals

Notwithstanding efforts already made to increase the numbers of ADF families making house-to-house removals, a significant proportion of families are still required to live in temporary accommodation for long periods. It is, therefore, recommended that

the ADF should continue to make efforts to reduce the amount of time ADF families must remain in temporary accommodation at the time of Service-related removals.

A National Curriculum

Pursuit of a consistent national curriculum is already government policy. Broader ranging than just for the ADF, its implementation is not a matter for the ADF. Nonetheless, it is appropriate that

the ADF continue at local, regional and national level to pursue the goal of a national curriculum, and that the ADF continue to support initiatives directed towards a national school curriculum.

Female Retention

A substantially larger proportion of female than male FMDS2 selected persons have indicated their intention of leaving the Service before having completed twenty years. Recognising the representativeness of the FMDS2 sample and the generality of its findings to the ADF as a whole, it would be appropriate that

the ADF note the greater proportion of female members than male members expecting to leave the ADF before twenty years' service. Given the training and recruitment cost implications of this, the ADF may wish to consider ways in which to redress this problem.

Further research

While the ADF should

continue to undertake research into the needs of serving members (including those with and without partners. and those with and without dependent children),

it must be noted that the large sampling requirements of survey research are such that the ADF runs a serious risk of being perceived as too meddlesome. While both the 1991ADF Families Census and this study have recommended continuing social research in the ADF, in order to avoid requiring ADF members to answer the same questions several times in several different contexts, [ ADF social research should be coordinated, if not controlled, by a sin -Jit must be noted that the large sampling requirements of survey research are such that the ADF runs a serious risk of being perceived as too meddlesome. While both the 1991ADF Families Census and this study have recommended continuing social research in the ADF, in order to avoid requiring ADF members to answer the same questions several times in several different contexts,

ADF social research should be coordinated, if not controlled, by a single central authority.

The ADF Response to the FMDS Report

The ADF welcomes the FMDS Report prepared by the Australian Institute of Family Studies in association with AGB McNair. The Report provides, for the first time, a corporate overview of what ADF members and their families think about a wide range of issues that relate to aspects of mobility and dislocation inherent in the Service lifestyle; as such the FMDS Report represents a significant piece of social research that will be of interest to all members of the ADF Corporate Family.

The Report, and its sixteen recommendations, was considered by the Defence Force Personnel Policy committee during December 1993. The Committee generally agreed with the major thrust of the Report.

The majority of the recommendations relate to the issues of ADF Spouse employment (Recommendations 1.2.3 and 4) and the need for a basic review of family support service delivery arrangements (Recommendations 6. 7. and 8) to ensure that such arrangements are well targeted and that delivery is effective and cost efficient. In addition the Report recommends continuing support be provided, and enhanced if possible. for current child care initiatives (Recommendations 5 and 6), and for development of a national school curriculum (Recommendation 13). Two of the recommendations relate to financial conditions of service (Recommendations 10 and 11) and these will be considered separately. Other recommendations being addressed cover matters such as access to civilian medical records (Recommendation 9), temporary accommodation (Recommendation 12) and future social research programs (Recommendations 14. 15 and 16).

In an effort to ensure a timely response to the principal initiatives proposed in the Report. the ADF has commissioned a major review of ADF family support service delivery arrangements which will commence in February 1994. This review is expected to be completed later this year.

In relation to spouse employment. the Report reinforces earlier findings that Service spouses are disadvantaged in the workplace and recommends that the ADF put in place mechanisms to assist spouses seeking employment. As a first step towards implementing recommendations in this regard. the ADF has already commissioned a consultant to carry out specific research into the particular mechanisms that might be put in place at different locations around Australia. The aim is to examine whether it is practicable to put in place arrangements at the regional and local level that are readily accessible and make maximum use of existing employment programs.

In summary, the ADF is pleased that the Report presents an essentially positive view of the way ADF families view the Service lifestyle, not withstanding the day-to-day problems and irritants. The ADF acknowledges its responsibilities as a caring employer and will continue to seek ways to improve conditions for members and their families.