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LIBERAL AND NATIONAL PARTIES

THE PROVISION OF FAMILY SERVICES

CONSULTATION PAPER With Compliments

Dr JOHN HEWSON LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

KEVIN ANDREWS, M.P. FEDERAL MEMBER FOR MENZIES P.O. BOX 460, DONCASTER, 3108 TELEPHONE: 03 848 9900

FAX: 03 848 2741

THE PROVISION OF FAMILY SERVICES

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Changes affecting Australian families

o The composition of Australian families

o Economic policies and families

2. Family support

o The importance of family

o The role of prevention

3. Family support services

o Marriage education

o Marriage counselling

o Family mediation

o Parent Adolescent mediation

o Family skills education

4. Families and children

o Child support

o The rights of the child

o Youth homelessness

5. Families and women

o Family violence

o Separated Families

6. Family promotion and research

o Institute of Family Studies

o International Year of the Family 1994

o Government focus on families

EXECUTIVE

SUMMARY

THE FAMILY IN AUSTRALIAN SOCIETY

Many changes have occurred in Australia since the end of World War 11. The face of society has changed. We have been enriched by expanding educational opportunities, a new generation of migrants, and a higher standard of living than previous generations.

But Australians have also suffered, particularly in the past decade, with high unemployment, a burgeoning foreign debt, record personal and business bankruptcies and a fall in real earnings.

These changes have affected all Australian families.

THE COMPOSITION OF AUSTRALIAN FAMILIES

The changes to the composition of Australian families have a number of consequences for the development of public policy. These may be summarised as:

1. Family life remains an important reality for the majority of Australians, although the number who never marry is expected to return to pre World War 11 levels by the end of the decade.

2. The majority of persons who marry will remain married to the same partner, although the number who divorce remains much higher than two decades ago.

3. The number of sole parent families is likely to remain about 10 per cent of families, of which the great majority (87 per cent) of lone parents are women.

4. The majority of Australian children will be raised in a family in which their parents are married, although many will experience the effects of separation and divorce during their childhood.

5. First children will be born when their parents are older than in the past and are likely to have only one to two siblings.

6. About half of women will participate in the paid labour force, increasingly in part-time employment. While many

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women work through desire, many also work because of

economic necessity, and often in lowly paid jobs.

ECONOMIC POLICIES AND FAMILIES

Many Australian families have suffered worsening economic conditions over the past decade.

In 1982-83, the income of the top one per cent of income earners equalled the total earnings of the bottom 11 per cent. By 1988-89 the top one per cent were earning an amount equal to the total incomes of the bottom 21 per cent.

Other studies have found that families earning between $20,000 and $40,000 a year have suffered a 20 per cent drop in their share of national income since 1975, while well-off families have increased their share by 10 per cent.

Department of Social Security research, which counts disposable income as average weekly earnings plus rebates and family allowances less tax and the Medicare levy, presents a stark picture of how middle Australia has suffered.

A single income couple with two children on average weekly earnings is nearly five per cent worse off over the life of the Hawke Government.

A two income couple with two children on twice average weekly earnings is nearly three per cent worse off.

A single income couple with four children on twice average weekly earnings is more than six per cent worse off.

Those on $19,000 a year or less are generally better off, as are those on $150,000 a year or more. But most people earning between these extremes are significantly worse-off. There has been a massive redirection of income away from the great majority of the families of Australia.

The bottom line, after all the Government's rhetoric about "compassion", is that the real money in the pockets of the typical Australian family is now $20 a week less than under the Fraser Government.

Most remarkable of all, given that we are talking about the policies of a Labor government, in the period between 1983 and 1989, 10 per cent of the national income was taken away from the workers. This, as the report of the Australian Catholic Bishops Common Wealth for the Common Good notes, was 'a massive redistribution between the social classes'.

At least 50 per cent of sole parent families in Australia which are headed by women live in poverty. While the percentage of women in the work force has increased,

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many women have gone into the work force to do the lowly paid jobs. In the last

10 to 20 years there has been no corresponding increase in the number of senior or highly paid positions held by women. Only 3 per cent of the members of Australia's top 158 company boards are women.

Then there are the more than 200,000 households who are waiting for public housing. For people on average weekly earnings, the cost of entry to home ownership doubled between 1983 and 1988. The Brotherhood of St Laurence estimates that 100,000 people live in caravan parks because they cannot afford to live anywhere else.

There is the 11 per cent of our work force who are officially unemployed.

Our gross foreign debt has grown from $15 billion in 1981 to $201 billion in 1992.

Recent statistics reveal that 680,000 Australian children live in homes where no-one has a job.

For average Australians, the accepted ingredients of a secure life are slipping out of reach. For growing numbers of Australians, the essence of personal security, a job, has been plucked away.

FAMILY SUPPORT

The Impo rtance of Family

Although there are many different senses in which the word 'family' can be employed, there are certain basic facts about our lives which are universal. We all enter life by the same event; and leave by another. We all have along period of

dependence and vulnerability in childhood and if we survive to see it, old age. We all require nourishment, drink and physical protection. Generally too, we aspire to the social, to the community.

As Martin Luther-King said: "The institution of the family is decisive in determining not only if a person has the capacity to love another individual but in the larger sense whether he is capable of loving. ...The whole of society rests on this foundation for stability, understanding and social peace."

In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the United Nations declared: "The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state."

What is family?

The view that it no longer makes sense to speak about 'the family" but about "families" can be accepted without rejecting the central importance of family in

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society.

We are reminded that every individual has a family (of origin at least); the 'family' changes throughout the life course and changes through history as social circumstances change; and family does not stop at the front door.

Family in the life cycle

One way of approaching public policy issues pertaining to the family is to consider the life cycle through which families move, for example, leaving home, getting married, learning to live together, parenting the first child, living with an adolescent,

launching children and the empty nest, retirement, and old age.

A central task of families relates to children. This is a key objective of family policy. Various programs sponsored by the Commonwealth pertain to different stages of the life-cycle.

Community and families

The place ' of the community and the family are central to the liberal philosophy founded on the freedom of the individual:

There is a further dimension of the freedom we are determined to restore to Australians, Beyond the commercial marketplace, there is a whole sphere of private life where relations between people are based on affection, altruism and voluntary association. It is here - in the families, churches,

clubs and local activities of Australians - that the foundations of community are laid down. It is here that the real networks of mutual support, of welfare and sustenance, exist.

Individualism and families

In his The Forgo tten People broadcast to the Australian people in 1942, Robert Menzies said that the real life of the nation is to be found in the homes of people who are nameless and unadvertised, and who, whatever their individual religious conviction or dogma, see in their children their greatest contribution to the immortality of their race. The home is the foundation of sanity and sobriety; it is the indispensable condition of continuity; its health determines the health. of society as a whole.

To assert the importance of family life, especially in the formative early years of childhood, is not to reject those individuals whose family life is not traditional.

However, the family remains important in the satisfaction of the basic needs of the early stages of human life. The sense of stability and love provided by family are central to the socialisation of individuals.

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Similarly, and despite misgivings and dissatisfactions of various kinds, marriage

continues to be the norm for most men and women in our society. Indeed modern marriage, with its focus on personal fulfilment and not simply procreation and the raising of children, validates individuals through the relationship.

In this context, a dichotomy between individual freedom and family is false. To the contrary, "the family ...is the necessary social context for the emergence of the autonomous individuals who are the empirical foundation of political democracy."

Nor can we forget the extent to which the ideal of family life remains valid for Australians. While less people marry and weddings occur at a later age, nonetheless the ideal retains strong support.

Moreover, the National Social Science Survey found that marriage remained a central ingredient of a satisfying life and the most widely desired lifestyle.

This is not to project the so-called 'traditional family' comprising husband, wife and two children as the only viable family. Rather, it is to recognise the central importance of families to society.

The Role of Prevention

If family remains the crucible in which individual autonomy and freedom are encouraged and shaped, albeit in some instances imperfectly, then concern for policies which support family must be a key element of democratic liberalism. Conversely, policies which undermine families, reduce their independence and encourage their reliance upon the state ultimately threaten democracy itself. For these reasons alone, Government should seek to support family, not displace it.

Further, the human and economic consequences of family dysfunction and breakdown urge a response.

The cost of family breakdown

Each year, more than 40,000 marriages end through separation and divorce. In 1991, the number of divorces represented 40 % of the total number of weddings in Australia.

Fifty per cent of all separations occur within the first seven years of marriage -leaving in many cases a woman struggling to raise a young family on a social security pension. In July 1991, 183,000 formerly married persons were in receipt of the sole parent pension. It has been estimated that marriage breakdown costs Australia $3000 million annually. The Australian Institute of Family Studies

estimated in 1989 that each separation cost society some $12,000.

Other costs can only be indicated.

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Family breakdown and children

It is estimated that 55 per cent of the divorces in 1990 involved one or more children, that is, 45,000 children were left in single parent homes that year. Since 1975, more than 700,000 children have been deprived of the care of one parent for some part of their lives. By the end of the decade, this figure will have risen to over a million children.

In its report Our Homeless Children , the Inquiry into Youth Homelessness identified family breakdown as a major cause of many of an estimated 80,000 street kids leaving home.

Apart from the economic cost to society, there is the price of longer term psychological harm.

In a long term study of the effects of separation and divorce on children, Judith Wallerstein declared: "It would be hard to find any other group of children - except perhaps the victims of a natural disaster - who suffered such a rate of serious psychological problems".

Family separation and poverty

Although an appropriate method of measuring poverty has been debated in Australia since the work of the Henderson Report, recent data indicates increases in child and family poverty.

In the overview to 1986 Social Security Review, Professor Cass noted that over the previous decade the proportion of children in poverty increased from 8 per cent to 19 per cent. Between 1972-73 and 1981-82, poverty rates for female-headed single parent families increased from 38 per cent to 50 per cent; for male-headed single parent families the increase was from 16 per cent to 19 per cent; and for married couples with three or more children the increase was from 7 per cent to 19 per cent.

An Australian Institute of Family Studies researcher noted:

The most obvious reason for financial loss upon separation was that, whether they wanted the separation or not, fathers took with them the major income earning asset of the household (their careers), and tended to pay maintenance according to a 'going rate' rather than

according to their capacity to pay.

By far the most common arrangement is for children to continue to live with their mothers following separation. While Child Support legislation and the sole-parent pension may alleviate the financial consequences of separation research in Australia, Great Britain. and the United States indicates that poverty traps occur,

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resulting in likely career disadvantages for the children, thereby increasing their

chances of living in poverty when adults.

Even where mothers later remarry, the economic consequences for children are uncertain:

Little is known of the repercussions of shorter-term spells in poverty or near-poverty for children whose mothers later re-partner. Further, if repartnering is the only means by which these mothers can release their children from financial deprivation, some may well become

pressured into taking this step. The ramifications of such hasty decisions for the sake of the children could be immense.

Benefits of family

Conversely, there are many benefits of family to society, the absence of which imposes costs on the community and government, often to an unquantifiable extent.

As Moira Eastman writes:

Families are one of the strongest influences on the growth of human competence. They have an overwhelming impact on the development of intelligence and success in school, on mental and emotional health, on social skills, and even on physical health.

Family and education

While a series of studies have demonstrated the important influence of family on childhood development and the gaining of competence, other research has pointed to the crucial role of family in later educational achievement.

Family and health

Healthy families also contribute to healthy communities. As Eastman concludes her review of the research:

There can be little doubt that family factors are significant contributors to the health of individuals and communities. One of the most striking findings is the hard evidence supporting an observation family therapists have reported for years. What affects one member affects all. The dynamics within a family can either protect and heal or

undermine and make sick. Social skills and competence is yet another area where the impact of family of origin and family of choice can be seen.

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Conclusion

Families remain important for Australians as a source of comfort, support, security and human dignity. Ultimately they also provide the framework in which democracy and liberty can flourish.

FAMILY SUPPORT SERVICES

The Commonwealth Government through the Office of Legal Aid and Family Services supports a range of family support programs.

MARRIAGE EDUCATION

Australian Governments have provided subsidies to approved marriage education organisations since 1976. These organisations usually provide formal programs, often conducted over a weekend or series of weekends or evenings, usually for engaged couples. As the peak national bodies for marriage education in Australia have stated: marriage education is an educative process occurring between one or more adult educators and one, or a group of, adult couples.

Marriage education differs from marriage counselling in that it focuses on the development of appropriate knowledge, skills and attitudes to build and, maintain relationships, as opposed to counselling which has as its primary orientation the solution of specific emotional problems presented by the clients.

As such, marriage education offers the opportunity to couples to develop essential skills for the growth of their relationships.

There are several major factors shaping marriage today: the certainty of contraception; changed pathways to marriage; improved education and increased labor force participation by women; and legal requirements that both parents be responsible for their children.

A major research project involving surveys of some 1,700 participants from programs throughout Australia reinforced the perceived effectiveness of marriage education.

In summary:

83 per cent of couples reported learning new skills as a result of attending a program;

42 per cent of couples said their ideas about marriage had changed a great deal;

. One-third of . couples said their program had raised new issues for

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themselves;

Five per cent of couples either cancelled or postponed their wedding after attending a program;

91 per cent of couples reported after attending a program that they would seek professional help if problems arose in their marriage; and

Nearly 80 per cent of couples rated their program as good or excellent. (The one small group who expressed dissatisfaction were couples 30 and over who had been living together).

Only some 10 per cent of the 113-117,000 couples marrying each year in Australia participate in marriage education.

Approximately 43 per cent of marriages are secular, for most of which the couples undertake no marriage preparation. Approximately 20 per cent of couples marrying in a church undertake marriage education.

Section 42 of the Marriage Act 1961 requires notice in writing of the intended marriage to be given to the celebrant not earlier than 6 months and not later than 1 month before the date of the marriage. Until recently, the earliest notification had been 3 months.

As a consequence, couples intending to marry often did not attend upon the celebrant until 3 months before the wedding, at which time, a marriage preparation course was suggested. Anecdotal evidence suggests that this practice remains commonplace. The 1992 National Study found that although the couples had known each other for 3 years on average, they attended a program on average only 5 months prior to their wedding.

Two problems arise from this practice. First, courses are often booked out up to three months in advance, resulting in couples attending a course close to the wedding. As a consequence, the likelihood of adequate reflection upon and discussion about their relationship is lessened and the value of marriage education diminished. Marriage educators have encouraged earlier attendance at programs, but the period has increased only a little.

Commonwealth funding for marriage education is just $1.18 million - less than $10 per marriage. Yet family breakdown is estimated to cost some $3,000 million a year.

MARRIAGE COUNSEWNG

Since 1960, the Australian Government has provided subsidies to marriage counselling organisations.

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The unifying concept underlying marital therapy is the emphasis on treating

problems within the context of the relationship. One of the objectives of providing funding pursuant to the Family Law Act 1975 was to provide an alternative to divorce.

A major study undertaken by the Australian Institute of Family Studies in 1989 concluded that "counselling appears to be highly effective for the majority of clients who come to improve their relationship or manage to prevent breakdown."

Marriage counselling is funded by both federal government grants to approved agencies and by the agencies themselves.

Detailed statistics about the number of persons attending counselling sessions each year have not been made available by the Attorney-General's Department.

Concerns have been expressed about the appropriate timing of counselling. The fact that some 40 per cent of all separations occur in the first five years of marriage suggests that there may be an under-utilisation of counselling in the crucial early years of marriage. If true, this may reflect community perceptions about

counselling and have implications for policy.

A number of barriers to effective counselling have been observed, including a general lack of knowledge about the subject and unwillingness to learn about matters involving intimate personal relationships. Women tend to seek help more

than men and are more likely to initiate counselling.

FAMILY MEDIATION

Following a report of the Family Law Council, the Commonwealth commenced the funding of a number of organisations to provide family mediation services in 1984.

Mediation is generally accepted as a process by which the participants, together with the assistance of a neutral third person or persons, systematically isolate dispute issues, in order to develop options, consider alternatives and reach a consensual settlement that will accommodate their needs. Mediation is a process which emphasises the participants' own responsibilities for making decisions that

affect their lives.

Within the context of family disputes, mediation can be used for spousal, parent-adolescent, and separation disputes. However, some confusion about the precise role for mediation remains.

In 1990, a new Family Court mediation service was announced.

A number of concerns have been raised about mediation. The first is whether mediation is an appropriate mechanism for the resolution of conflict. The second is whether mediation has been promoted primarily for reasons of cost efficiency.

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There remains considerable dispute about the real costs of mediation.

A third

area of concern is about claims that mediation is self-empowering.

The Family Law Council has concluded that the development of mediation should be reviewed after a trial period. The inquiry by the Parliamentary Joint Select Committee into the Family Law Act supported the better promotion of mediation

services.

The Family Law Council has recommended that there should be no expansion of funded mediation services for the present.

PARENT ADOLESCENT MEDIATION

The Report of the National Inquiry into Homeless Children in Australia, Our

Homeless Children , emphasised the link between youth homelessness and family conflict and breakdown.

It recommended that a network of support services to strengthen families and reduce the need for welfare intervention leading to substitute care arrangements be further developed.

In response, the Commonwealth allocated $900,000 to eight organisations to conduct Adolescent Mediation and Family Therapy services aimed at "resolution of conflicts between young people and their parents or care-givers to prevent young people leaving home before they developed the skills and gained the financial and emotional independence to do so."

The Commonwealth Attorney-General's Department has commissioned the Australian Institute of Family Studies to conduct and evaluation of the project.

FAMILY SIULLS EDUCATION

Family skills and parenting education programs have been provided by government and non-government organisations for some time in Australia. A variety of approaches to parent education have been utilised. The

Commonwealth's Family Skills Training Programme is based on a model of adult education.

Although satisfaction with existing services has been noted by a number of reports, it has also been observed that 'there appears to be a gap in the delivery of effective parenting information to lower socio-economic groups."

A recent report noted:

With the exception of Victoria and Western Australia, there has been no significant attempt by State authorities to ascertain the level of availability of parent education.... nor does there appear to be any significant interest in parenting education as a whole.

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Programs consist of a combination of volunteer networks and some education and

community service agencies.

In response to a perceived community need to provide parent education that is directed at and relevant to disadvantaged families, the Commonwealth funded the Family Skills Training Program in 1991.

Ten programs have been funded to the extent of $520,000 in 1992. A manual of Core-materials and a video Kids Need All the Help Parents Can Get have been developed.

To date there is no national strategy for parent education.

FAMILIES AND CHILDREN

CHILD SUPPORT

Attitudinal changes and the introduction of the Supporting Mother's Benefit have contributed to a sharp rise in the number of single parent families. Between 1974 and June 1991, sole parent families increased as a proportion of families from 9.2% to 16.3%. Only 20% of these were young unmarried mothers.

As around two-thirds of these seek social security for at least a period, the costs to government have been huge, rising from $160 million in 1973-74 to $2,900 million in 1991-92.

Under the court system, financial support for children had become virtually a voluntary payment.

The stated objectives of the Child Support Scheme were:

1. That non-custodial parents should share the cost of their children according to their capacity to pay;

2. That adequate support be available for all children of separated parents.

3. That Commonwealth expenditure be limited to what is necessary to ensure that those needs be met.

4. To ensure that neither parent is discouraged from participating in the workforce; and

5. That the overall arrangements should be simple, flexible, efficient and respect personal privacy.

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According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, before the scheme, only

24% of all potentially eligible women were receiving regular maintenance payments in 1982. The amount paid has increased from an average of $27 for each child pre-scheme to $50 in 1991/92. While the number of non-custodial parents paying maintenance had increased, the extent remains unsatisfactory.

The Child Support Agency has been the subject of widespread complaint, including a series of complaints by the Commonwealth Ombudsman.

Custodial parents point to delays, discriminatory attitudes, inadequate communication, slow enforcement, inflexibility, failure to exercise powers, and continuing violence.

Non -custodial parents complain about the maintenance formula in particular.

RIGHTS OF THE CHILD

The International Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted unanimously by the United Nations General Assembly in 1989. It was ratified by Australia on 18 December 1990. A reservation was made by Australia to the Article pertaining to the standards for separate detention of adult and juvenile offenders. The

Commonwealth had reached the conclusion, after consultation with the States, that Australian laws generally conformed with the Convention.

Nonetheless, it has been suggested that areas of social security and income support, childwelfare, and juvenile justice require monitoring.

Concern had been expressed also that some Articles of the Convention do not adequately recognise the rights and responsibilities of parents towards their children and may diminish the parent/child relationship.

YOUTH HOMELESSNESS

In October 1987 an inquiry into youth homelessness was begun by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission following some previous reports about the problem.

The Commonwealth responded to a Senate Report with the Youth Services Scheme the emphasis of which was to provide short term accommodation. The scheme was incorporated into the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program in 1985. In 1987, Prime Minister Hawke announced the Family Assistance Package.

The Burdekin Report stated that the likely number of homeless youth across Australia to be 50,000 to 70,000.

The causes of youth homelessness include the breakdown of the family, abuse, neglect or rejection, poverty, lack of support for families and youth unemployment.

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Although the Federal Government announced a youth homelessness package in

the 1989 Budget, Commissioner Burdekin found 18 months later that States had been slow to take up and match federal funds or develop appropriate programs.

The Burdekin Report urged the Federal Government to re-enter the field of preventative and family support services.

FAMILIES AND WOMEN

FAMILY VIOLENCE

Violence in the family such as child abuse, wife-beating and incest is a sign of a dysfunctional family. It is overwhelmingly a case of male violence against female partners and dependant children.

A number of factors contribute to family violence including community attitudes. Dissatisfaction with the reaction by police and other professionals has been noted also in a number of studies.

The importance of the family as the key force for the socialisation of children is underlined by violence in the family. While studies indicate that one in three marriages in certain communities contain episodes of violence, little is known of the precise prevalence of violence against women in the home.

However, there is a correlation between aggressive parents and aggressive children. It is also alleged that the inconsistent or erratic use of physical discipline fosters aggression in children.

There are suggestions that violence in the media stimulates aggression.

Despite the incidence of family violence, there is evidence that women have difficulty dealing with the problem. This may result from lack of financial resources, a commitment to relationships, fear and passivity.

While a range of government initiatives have been undertaken to address the issue, a number of problems have been identified, including insufficient crisis accommodation, lack of co-ordination of services, attitudes of police and others and failure to enforce protection orders.

SEPARATED FAMILIES

Between 1974 and 1986 the number of sole parent families in Australia increased by 75 per cent. Sole parent families represented 14.4 per cent of all Australian families with dependent children in 1985, compared with 9.2 per cent in 1974.

When women become single parents, they are likely to experience financial

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hardship.

Hence the feminisation of poverty which has developed since the seventies in tandem with the increase in mother-only headed families.

Sole parenting is predominantly the result of family breakdown. Divorce has been associated with a range of negative outcomes for children, although marital conflict in intact homes, especially if persistent, may have equally harmful effects on children.

Research suggests that poverty is likely to result in career disadvantages for children, so increasing the likehood that the children will themselves be impoverished in adulthood.

In December 1991, there were 275,991 sole parent pensioners in Australia, 95 per cent of whom were female, only 4 per cent of whom were teenagers, and 30 per cent of whom had been receiving the pension for more than 12 months and had a younger child over six.

Sole mothers are more likely to be participating in full-time work and married mothers in part-time work. The lowest work participation rates are among the youngest and oldest groups of lone mothers and among those with children under school age. Both married and sole mothers have lower levels of qualifications than their male counterparts with children under 15, sole mothers are still less qualified than married mothers.

Of those sole parents in 1988 who were neither employed or formally unemployed but wanted to work, 5 per cent had never been in a job before and 43 per cent had left their last job 5 or more years ago.

For broad policy strategies dealing with mother-only families have been adopted in advanced industrial societies. Under the British model, a national uniform policy of financial assistance for all poor families provides a guaranteed minimum income for all the poor. This permits women raising children by themselves to stay at home.

In Norway, cash benefits specifically for all single mothers enable them to stay at home to raise children until they attend school.

In France, modest cash benefits are provided to all families with children are supplemented for families with very young children so that one parent may remain at home.

Under the Swedish model, single families are enabled to work and carry out parental responsibilities. This involves policies aimed at facilitating participation in the workforce through economic benefits and social supports.

The Australian response has been a combination of family payments, pensions, tax measures, and the Jobs, Education and Training program.

While transitional support for a sole mother after marriage breakdown in important

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to minimise family disruption, an over-extended transitional phase may create

welfare dependency and a poverty trap which has detrimental effects on the development of the children.

Education, training and employment are required to help women back into the workforce along with a solid social infrastructure.

FAMILY PROMOTION AND RESEARCH

INSTFRJTE OF FAMILY STUDIES

The Australian Institute of Family Studies opened in 1980 to study and evaluate matters which affect the social and economic well-being of all Australian families; to inform Government and other bodies concerned with family well-being and the public about issues relating to Institute findings; to promote the development - of improved methods of family support, including measures which prevent family

disruption and promote marital and family stability; and to publish and otherwise disseminate the findings of Institute and other family research.

INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF THE FAMILY

1994 has been designated as the International Year of the Family by the United Nations Organisation. The slogan for the year is: Building the Smallest Democracy In the Heart of Society.

The key U.N. objectives for 1994 are to increase policy makers' awareness of family issues and to ensure that all policies promote family wellbeing and strengthen family support.

It is hoped the Year will encourage families to participate in the decisions that affect them, discourage family dependence on the State, enhance families autonomy and encourage more responsible parenthood. Close attention will be paid to the changing status of women.

GOVERNMENT FOCUS ON FAMILIES

Programs relating to families are administered by a variety of Commonwealth and State Departments and agencies and by a range of voluntary and welfare bodies. However, there is little co-ordination between the various agencies sponsoring programs.

Two Federal Ministers have responsibilities relating specifically to family, namely, the Minister for Family Support (within the Social Security portfolio) and the Minister for the Aged, Family and Health Services (within the Health, Housing and Community Services portfolio).

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The office of Legal Aid and Family Services within the Attorney General's

Department is responsible for funding of service providers of marriage eduction, marriage counselling, family mediation, adolescent mediation and family therapy, and family skills training.

Voluntary and family agencies provide an enormous range of services to Australian families. Some are funded under Commonwealth and State programs, many others are not.

The Federal Opposition has announced that in government it will establish an Office of the Family and subject all Cabinet submissions to a Family Impact Statement.

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SOME ISSUES FOR CONSIDERATION

FAMILY SUPPORT SERVICES

MARRIAGE EDUCATION

Given only some 10 per cent of couples currently participate in marriage preparation, mostly through church agencies, what policies should be implemented to encourage participation?

How should marriage education be funded adequately?

Should notification periods for marriage be extended?

Should civil celebrants be required to encourage marriage preparation?

MARRIAGE COUNSELLING

The Family Court Service is almost entirely devoted to conciliation, although the definition of counselling in the Family Law Act includes both reconciliation and the conciliation of the process of separation. Should this reality, and the differences between the two forms of counselling

be clarified?

Counselling provided by the Family Court is free of charge but reconciliation counselling provided by agencies attracts a fee. Does this discrepancy reflect justifiable priorities?

Funding of services is based on the mapping of needs in particular areas. Are needs being met? Is the policy clearly applied?

Are the needs of rural couples sufficiently met?

Agencies report waiting periods of 6-8 weeks for counselling. How can these periods be reduced?

Marriage counselling has traditionally been undertaken in the context of the marital relationship, and funding provided accordingly. Should this focus be preserved?

Anecdotal evidence suggests that counselling is used by the middle-classes. Is there a need to direct funds for counselling more specifically?

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FAMILY MEDIATION

Is family mediation essentially a part of the legal process relating to separation and divorce?

Should there be a clear distinction between family and divorce mediation?

Who should provide mediation?

What standards, training and monitoring should be required by the Government?

PARENT ADOLESCENT MEDIATION

On what basis should Parent-Adolescent mediation services be funded?

How do we measure effectiveness of the programs?

Should the process be linked to education and skills training?

What is the Commonwealth's responsibility?

What should be the Commonwealth's objectives?

What co-ordination of services should exist?

Is the process directed at the intact, though partially dysfunctional, family? Should this be reflected in policy?

FAMILY SKILLS EDUCATION

To what extent should family skills programs be developed?

What is the role of the Commonwealth in the provision of family skills and parenting programs?

Should programs be linked specifically to a national response to child abuse?

Can programs be coordinated with other family service programs such as marriage education?

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FAMILIES AND CHILDREN

CHILD SUPPORT

• Should payments by non-custodial parents be made in another manner, for example, directly into a bank account?

• How should recalcitrant non-payers be treated?

• What administrative arrangements should be implemented within the Child Support Agency to improve the operation of the scheme?

• How should family responsibilities of first and second families be assessed for the purposes of the scheme?

THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD

How can the Commonwealth best encourage parental responsibilities and enhance the rights of children?

YOUTH HOMELESSNESS

Are current programs aimed at the prevention and relief of youth homelessness effective?

What other action could the Commonwealth take to deal with youth homelessness?

Is the balance between refuges and other longer term accommodation adequate?

FAMILIES AND WOMEN

FAMILY VIOLENCE

How can the Commonwealth best discourage the use of family violence?

What is the role of the media in the discouragement of violence?

How can individuals, professionals and the community be better educated about violence?

Is the enforcement of anti-violence adequate?

20

SEPARATED FAMILIES

Are current programs adequate for the support of separated families.

Should Government policy encourage sole parents to return to the workforce.

What Government measures will best address the issues raised by the existence of sole parents?

Should the position of separated families and other families be equated in Government policy?

FAMILY PROMOTION AND RESEARCH

• How can the Commonwealth Government better consider families in the formulation of policies and the delivery of programs?

• Can Government programs relating to families be better coordinated?

• What should be the role of the proposed Office of the Family.

4

21

A

THE FAMILY IN AUSTRALIAN SOCIETY

Many changes have occurred in Australia since the end of World War 11. The face of society has , changed. We have been enriched by expanding educational opportunities, a new generation of migrants, and a higher standard of living than previous generations.

But we have also suffered, particularly in the past decade, with high unemployment, a burgeoning foreign debt, record personal and business bankruptcies and a fall in real earnings.

These changes have affected all Australian families.

The purpose of this chapter is to describe briefly some of the changes which have affected Australian families. Two types of changes are described. Firstly, changes to the composition of Australian families; and, secondly, the impact of economic policies on families.

THE COMPOSITION OF AUSTRALIAN FAMILIES

The Labor Force

Major changes in the composition of the labor force in the past three decades have had significant impact on families. Leaving aside the high levels of unemployment of the past two years, significant changes are evident.

Many of these changes reflect the participation of women in the workforce and the changing face of work.

In 1966, 29 per cent of married women worked. By 1986, this figure had risen to 47 per cent and last year it reached 52.6 per cent. The participation rate for single women has remained at about 50 per cent over the same period. By contrast, the rate for men fell from 84 per cent in 1966 to 74 per cent last year.

Not only has the participation rate of women in the workforce grown while that of men has declined relatively, the areas of work in which women have been employed are in the fields upon which the economy has become increasingly reliant.

Thus total employment in community services - health, education, welfare, religious and other community services grew by 147 per cent between 1966 and 1986 -from 486,000 to 1,204,000 - and is now 17.7 per cent of total employment. While this growth partially reflects the increasing role of government in our lives, 65 per cent of the workforce are women and 42 per cent are married women. Today 30 per cent of all employed women work in the community services sector.

These changes also reflected the dramatic increase in the educational achievements of young women in the 1960s. As one commentator has written:

Through higher education, women increased their knowledge base

and their intellectual equipment for understanding the modern world and their possibilities in it.'

Similarly, wholesale and retail employment grew by 42 per cent over two decades from 994,000 to 1,141,000 to represent 20 per cent of the total workforce, 45 per cent of whom are women. Women also comprise 56 per cent of the recreational workforce and almost 50 per cent of the finance and property workforce.

These are dramatic changes in our lifetime which have considerable ramifications for Australian families.

By contrast, employment in the traditionally dominated manufacturing workforce fell by 7 per cent from 1,233,000 in 1966 to 1,146,000 in 1986 and now represents just 16 per cent of the total workforce. Yet even in this sector of the economy, women now make up almost one-third of the workforce.

Workforce participation also reflects the flexibility required by women. Whereas the proportion of men in part time work increased from just 3.5 per cent in 1966 to 5 per cent in 1986, the proportion of married women increased from 35.9 per cent to 47.6 per cent over the same period.

But unpaid work continues to fall disproportionably to women. A recent paper by Michael Brittan found that women do 70 per cent of 'hidden' labour, that is, unpaid labour. As a consequence, in families where paid work is available, and an increasing number of women work outside the home, but they continue to remain responsible for domestic activities.

In her paper to this year's national Liberal Womens Convention, Jeanne Strachan, highlighted some consequences for women and families:

They are, if they work, by necessity isolated from community life. Traditionally the school and children's sporting lives provide the link which welds the community together and enables families with similar interests within a community to meet. Working mothers do not have

the opportunity because they are never at school they cannot do tuck shop duty or spend time away from the household chores on a Saturday morning watching their children's sport.2

For an increasing number of women, there is no choice about staying at home, and that has become increasingly so in the last decade. Of those women who

' D. Ladbrook, 'Challenges to Marriages in the Nineties: What We can learn from Frogs and crabs', Mimeo.

2

J. Strachan, 'Women and Changing Attitudes', National Womens Convention,

Sydney, July 1992.

2

work, more than half with taxable incomes earn less than $21,000, while two-thirds

of men earn more than $21,000.

Strachan identified three different groups of working mothers. Firstly "I was once a full-time mother", usually over 40, who had been home for most of the school years and has gone back into the workforce "for financial reasons to provide the family with extras, but not for the family's survival". Secondly, the home at 4 pm workers. The third group Strachan called 'the victim workers - the women who, for whatever

reason, have no choice as to whether to work or not, and yet have pre-school age children ".3

These changes deserve recognition and consideration especially as the National

Agenda for Women stated that women should have a real choice about the form of work they undertake.

Population Growth

The total fertility rate has continued to fall during the past three decades. In 1990, the net reproduction rate was 0.91, approximately 9 per cent below replacement level. This contrasts with the period 1947-60, during which Australia's net reproduction rate increased from 1.4 to 1.7. By 1976 Australia's net reproduction

rate had fallen below replacement level, where it has remained ever since.

These changes have a number of consequences for Australians and Australian families.

First, the Australian population has been growing steadily older. In 1901 only 4 per cent of the population was 65 or older. By 1947, it had doubled to 8 per cent, and by 1996 it is expected to reach 12 per cent. On current trends, 21.5 per cent of the population will be 65 plus by 2031.

Despite this increase, one popular myth should be exposed. Concerns that a smaller and smaller workforce will have to support a larger and larger retired population over-look the fact that the proportion of the population in the work force is expected to increase in the next two decades.

These changes have important consequences for our concept of family. As AIFS Deputy Director, Peter McDonald, wrote recently:

The idealised family morality which we carry with us is that of the isolated nuclear family. This idealised morality together with demographic definitions of families has led us to believe that we are a

society which has spurned the extended family, that once the umbilical cord of co-residence is cut, relatives just like anybody else in

3 Ibid .

the community - people we try to avoid helping.4

But McDonald indicates:

An emphasis on support networks as a defining characteristic of families, however, indicates that most of us have very close bonds with family members with whom we do not live, that the extended family is alive and well. Indeed, if it were not so, the number of

unsupported people on our streets would be far greater than it i5.5

Secondly, the children of the post-war baby boom began moving into their

reproductive years in the late 1960s, but the women have had fewer children than their mothers, and many have chosen to have no children at all. Those that do have children tend to have them later. These changes largely reflected the emerging reproductive technologies, first the contraceptive pill which Australian women were among the quickest in the world to accept, and secondly tubal

ligation and vasectomy.

Family formation and dissolution

Although the number of marriages in Australia each year is continuing to increase (from less.than 80,000 in 1960 to nearly 120,000 in 1990), the crude marriage rate has declined, and with the exception of females aged 25-29 years, first marriage rates have declined sharply. This decline reflects a trend towards later marriage.

There is also a return to the pre-World War 11 proportions of men and women who never marry. In 1934, 18 per cent of women turning 35 had not married, but this figure fell to 5 per cent by 1972. The proportion is expected to increase to about 20 per cent by the end of the decade.

Throughout the 1960s the divorce rate rose to reach 4 per cent 1,000 married women, but climbed sharply to 19 per 1,000 in 1976 following the introduction of the Family Law Act . By 1979, the rate had fallen to 11 divorces per 1,000 married females and since remained at that level.

Over the 20 years there has been a marked change in the pattern of divorces with respect to duration of marriage. Prior to 1976, about 10 per cent of divorces dissolved marriages of less than 5 years duration and around 25 per cent dissolved marriages of 20 years of longer. Since then the pattern has changed with around 20 per cent of divorces occurring to marriages of less than 5 years duration. Throughout the 1980s the median duration of marriage has been a little over 10 years. Indeed 50 per cent of all separations occur within seven years of

4

P McDonald, 'Extended Family in Australia', Family Matters No 32 August 1992, 4,9.

5 Id.

4

the wedding.

Each year, more than 40,000 marriages in Australia are dissolved. In 1990, the number of divorces represented 36.45 per cent of the total number of weddings in Australia that year.

It is estimated that 55 per cent of the divorces in 1990 involved one or more children, that is some 45,000 children. Since 1975, more than 700,000 children have been deprived of the care of one parent for some part of their lives. By the end of the decade, this figure will have reached over one million children.

Prior to the major increase in divorce, the incidence of re-marriage was relatively low. In 1971, less than 14 per cent of marriages involved remarriage for one or both partners. By 1981 however, this had risen to 32 per cent and has remained around that level since. However, the separation and divorce rate for remarriages is higher than first marriages.

The number of couples living in de facto relationships has also increased from less than one per cent in 1971 to five per cent of all families in the 1986 census.

Household composition

These changes are reflected also in the composition of Australian households.

Despite claims to the contrary, family households remain the popular norm for Australians. There were 4.2 million families in Australia at the time of the 1986 census. The great majority (86 per cent) were couple families, 6 per cent of which were de facto couples. Just over half of all couple families had dependant children, and, of these, approximately 90 per cent had children aged 14 years or less.

The number of one-parent families increased sharply between 1976 and 1981, and more slowly between 1981 and 1986. The slowing of the rate of growth reflects the stabilisation of the divorce rate since the late 1970s.

Almost two-thirds of lone parents were either divorced or separated and only about 20 per cent had never married. In 1991, 87 per cent of lone parents were women.

Looked at from another perspective, 81.3 per cent of dependent children live with married parents in 1986; 12.3 per cent with a sole parent; 4.7 with a stepparent; and 1.7 per cent with parents in a de facto relationship.

While the composition of families has not changed radically, the labor force participation of parents has. In 1988, only 39 per cent of two-parent families with dependent children comprised a husband in the paid workforce and a wife working at home.

5

Summary

The changes to the composition of Australian families have a number of consequences for the development of public policy. These may be summarised as:

1. Family life remains an important reality for the majority of Australians, although the number who never marry is expected to return to pre World War 11 levels by the end of the decade.

2. The majority of persons who marry will remain married to the same partner, although the number who divorce remains much higher than two decades ago.

3. The number of sole parent families is likely to remain about 10 per cent of families, of which the great majority (87 per cent) of lone parents are women.

4. The majority of Australian children will be raised in a family in which their parents are married, although many will experience the effects of separation and divorce during their childhood.

5. First children will be born when their parents are older than in the past and are likely to have only one to two siblings.

6. About half of women will participate in the paid labour force, increasingly in part-time employment. While many women work through desire, many also work because of economic necessity, and often in lowly paid jobs.

ECONOMIC POLICIES AND FAMILIES

It is often claimed that Australian families have suffered worsening economic conditions over the past decade. For the great majority, this claim is true.

In 1982-83 the income of the top one per cent of income earners equalled the total earnings of the bottom 11 per cent. By 1988-89 the top one per cent were earning an amount equal to the total incomes of the bottom 21 per cent. That is the conclusion of the Macquarie University researcher Marc Lombard, who completed a study of Australian Taxation Office figures.

There are other corroborative studies. A study by Phil Raskall, as part of the inequality project conducted by the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, found that families earning between $20,000 and $40,000 a year have been the big losers. They have suffered a 20 per cent drop in their

ray

share of national income since 1975, while well-off families have increased their

share by 10 per cent.

A study by Dr Ann Harding, of the Department of Social Security, shows that under the Hawke Government the incomes of most social security recipients increased by a much higher percentage than the incomes of most wage and salary earners. But most of these people remain in the poor category, even after receiving the

increase. Robert Gregory, Professor of Economics at the ANU Research School of Social Sciences, has found that the number of low and high income earners in this country has grown significantly, while the number of middle income earners has fallen.

Department of Social Security research, which counts disposable income as average weekly earnings plus rebates and family allowances less tax and the Medicare levy, presents a stark picture of how Middle Australia has suffered.

A single income couple with two children on average weekly earnings is nearly five per cent worse off over the life of the Hawke Government.

A two income couple with two children on twice average weekly earnings is nearly three per cent worse off.

A single income couple with four children on twice average weekly earnings is more than six per cent worse off.

Those on $19,000 a year or less are generally better off, as are those on $150,000 a year or more. But most people earning between these extremes are significantly worse-off. There has been a massive redirection of income away from the great majority of the families of Australia.

The bottom line, after all the Government's rhetoric and "compassion", is that the real money in the pockets of the typical Australian family is now $20 a week less than under the Fraser Government.

7

LABORS WINNERS AND LOSERS

Real Disposable Income 1883-91 Single Income Couple - Two Children

10 Per cent change

8

8

4

2

0

-2

-4

-6 —4.7

-5.3 -5.6

l 00%. 15O 200;. 300:. 400. 6C0n

per cent of AWE

Sou. • --:H&rdinC h Landt: Dept Social Sec

The figures cited above do not take housing costs into account. The inclusion of

housing costs reveals an even grimmer predicament.

In March 1983, a single income couple with two children under 13 on average weekly earnings had $264 a week disposable income. Home loan repayments then averaged $81 a week leaving $163 (or 62 per cent of after tax income) in the pockets of an average family.

In June 1991, the same family had $432 a week disposable income but home loan repayments averaged $217 a week. An average family - if it was still able to support an average home loan - had just $215 (or under 50 per cent of after tax

income) in its pocket after mortgage payments. After inflation, such a family is actually $65 a week or more than 20 per cent worse off.

In 1983, the average Australian home cost $62,000 which was four times average annual earnings. By 1991, the average home costs $139,000 which is 5.5 years' average earnings. The home loan affordability index has leapt from 19.3 to 32.5 over the period which means that a combination of high prices and high interest rates has put buying a home beyond the reach of average wage earners.

In March 1983, a Holden Commodore cost $10,952 which was 37 weeks' average earnings. By 1991, a Commodore costs $23,592 which is 49 weeks' average earnings.

8

In 1984, when basic family private health cover cost $6.33 a week, the average

family spent about $17 a week on health and education, or under five per cent of total income. Now that basic private insurance cost $15 a week, the average family spends more than $33 a week on health and education, or nearly six per cent of total income.

Most remarkable of all, given that we are talking about the policies of a Labor government, in the period between 1983 and 1989, 10 per cent of the national income was taken away from the workers. This, as the report (Australian Catholic Bishops/ Common Wealth for the Common Good) notes, was 'a massive redistribution between the social classes'. The reason is that wage restraint has kept down the incomes of workers while there has been no restraint on incomes from profits, rents and interest. High rents only exacerbated the problems of workers.

The consequence is that in the last 10 years Australia has become less equal than the United Kingdom. Of eight developed countries, we are now only more equal than Germany and the United States. Peter Saunders, the director of the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, concluded that the

share of income going to the 60 per cent of families in the middle to low bracket in Australia was smaller than in any other countries he studied.

At least 50 per cent of sole parent families in Australia which are headed by women live in poverty. While the percentage of women in the work force has increased, women have gone into the work force to do the lowly paid jobs. In the last 10 to 20 years there has been no corresponding increase in the number of senior or

highly paid positions held by women. Only 3 per cent of the members of Australia's top 158 company boards are women.

Then there are the more than 200,000 households who are waiting for public housing. For people on average weekly earnings, the cost of entry to home ownership doubled between 1983 and 1988. The Brotherhood of St Laurence estimates that 100,00 people live in caravan parks because they cannot afford to live anywhere else. There is the 11 per cent of our work force who are unemployed. Our gross foreign debt has grown from $15 billion in 1981 to $183 billion in 1992.

The latest statistics reveal that 680,000 Australian children live in homes where no-one has a job.

Others have insisted that the Australian welfare state has been detrimental to the interests of two-parent families with children. According to Tapper, the 1987 fiscal incidence study by the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that there is no net assistance from government to families with dependent children. s Similarly, Alan Jordan's study The Common Treasur y suggests that families with children enjoy a

6 Alan Tapper, The family in the Welfare State , Allen and Unwin, 1990. F01

real standard of living about three-fifths of that of the rest of the adult working

population.'

For average Australians, the accepted ingredients of a secure life are slipping, out of reach. For growing numbers of Australians, the essence of personal security, a job, has been plucked away.

Alan Jordan, The Common Treasu ry: The Distribution of Income to Families and Households, Social Security Review, Canberra, AGPS, 1987. See, also (.Castles, "Government welfare outlays: Who Benefits? Who pays?, Canberra Bulletin of Public Administration 1987, 47-57, Table A.

10

FAMILY SUPPORT

The Importance of Family

It has been popular from time to time to ascribe to the family the ills of modern life. Edmund Leach possibly summed up the sentiments of a generation of commentators when he said in his BBC Reith Lectures in 1967:

Far from being the basis of the good society, the family, with its narrow privacy and tawdry secrets, is the source of all our discontents.'

Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed this criticism in 1965:

For a number of years a good many writers have tartly denigrated the role of the family. Some has asserted the family will disappear in 50 years: others have argued its preservation is hopeless because sex is now used for recreation rather than procreation. One writer summed up the prevailing contemptuous attitude with the statement that "Family life is obviously a study in lunacy."

Some 30 years ago Malinowski refuted these pessimistic and negative appraisals with the striking statement, "The family, that is, the group consisting of mother, father and child, still remains the main educational agency of mankind. Modern psychologists agree that parenthood as the dominant influence of infancy forms the character of the individual and at the same time shapes his social attitudes and thus places its imprint upon the constitution of the whole society."

I endorse these conclusions and would emphasise one in particular. Family life not only educates in general but its quality ultimately determines the individual's capacity to love.2

Although there are many different senses in which the word "family" can be employed, there are certain basic facts about our lives which are universal. We all enter life by the same event; and leave by another. We all have a long period of dependence and vulnerability in childhood and if we survive to see it, old age. We all require nourishment, drink and physical protection. Generally too, we aspire to

the social, to the community. It was Cicero who wrote in the context of another culture:

Edmund Leach, Reith Lectures, 1967, B.B.C. London 2 Martin Luther King Jr., Address at Abbott House, Westchester County, New

York October 1965.

"

We have a natural propensity to love our fellow mani3

and

"What is more agreeable than one's home ?i4

Others have explored the same notion more recently. Thus Martin Luther-King said:

The institution of the family is decisive in determining not only if a person has the capacity to love another individual but in the larger sense whether he is capable of loving.. ..The whole of society rests on this foundation for stability, understanding and social peace.i5

Religious leaders have spoken of the family. Pope Leo XIII stressed the centrality of the family in society, saying, "A society very small, one must admit, but nonetheless a true society and one older than any state."s

But the family is not restricted to religious notions. In its Universal Declaration of Human Rights , the. United Nations declared:

The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state.'

The Definition of Family

As the family became the focus of more attention in recent decades, the question of how to define the family became an issue in itself.

It has often been observed that human beings have difficulty defining the subjects that are closest to them. One does not feel the need to define what one takes for granted every day. Of all those subjects, as far as social institutions are concerned, the family is closest, most taken for granted (as the English word "familiar" eloquently expresses), and therefore

rarely defined. As the family becomes a political issue, however, it is "raised into consciousness" - that is, made the focus of deliberate attention and

3 Marcus Tullius Cicero, de Leciibus i, 43 4 Marcus Tullius Cicero, Ad Familiares IV, 8. 5

Martin Luther King Jr., Speech at Westchester County, New York, October

1965.

6 Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (1891) Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

2

reflection - and in this process definition becomes necessary.

We have

seen the importance of labels and definitions in the case of "gender roles". It should not surprise anyone that the question of how to define the family -which means, basically, how one is going to speak about it - has been entangled in acrimonious and ideologically charged debates.$

The debate partially reflected the different visions of the family:

In one vision, the bourgeois family is a natural unit of parents and children, united by love, mutual respect, trust, and fidelity, based on religiously inspired values and giving a distinct moral quality to this basic unit of social life. In the other vision, the bourgeois family is a narrowly constraining cage, turning its members into mere instruments of production, profoundly destructive of the personalities of women and children (and, perhaps to a lesser degree, of men), and generally cutting off its members from participation on the larger concerns of society.9

In addition, there was a recognition that the generalised notion of the family -husband, wife and children - did not accurately reflect a variety of different family structures. Thus commentators sought to talk about families and suggest that a definition is impossible:

...the family cannot be defined by fixed criteria, such as kinship and co-residence. Rather the family is a social ordering of kinship and co-residence.10

If the family could not be defined, how could a family policy? But as Daniel Patrick Moynihan responded:

A fair point. Yet experience suggests that policy will emerge, given a conducive institutional setting; perhaps more accurately, policy will be discerned and in some rough way assessed. Does the United States have a trade policy? It has many. Let the secretary of agriculture propose to subsidise farm exports, and the U.S. trade representative soon enough will make a judgment of the policy implications. A civil rights policy? A fiscal policy? An environmental policy? Institutions attend to such matters. Usually several; commonly with conflicting views. But the subject is not

8 B & P Berger, The War over the Famil y , Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1983, New York, 59.

9 Id; 107 10 Michael Gilding, The Making and Breaking of the Australian Famil y , Allen & Unwin, 1991, Sydney, 8.

3

W

simply overlooked; it is somebody's business...."

Indeed different views about family are worthy of consideration. On one hand, the concern that the institutionalisation and generalisation of government programs is to the detriment of families should be addressed. Similarly, the view that less traditional arrangements, often born of necessity rather than desire, be recognised for policy purposes are justified and understandable. The object of public policy

should be to address these concerns without encouraging the polarisation of views.

Thus the problem of definition for anthropologists and sociologists can be addressed. The consensus that it no longer makes sense to speak about "the family" but about"families" 12can be accepted without rejecting the central importance of family in society.

In a recent paper, Dr Don Edgar, Director of the Australian Institute of Family Studies, suggested three aspects of "family" which avoided some of the definitional problems.13 In summary:

First, we must remind people that 'every individual has a family' (of origin at least);

'The family' changes throughout the life course and changes through history as social circumstances change; and

the family 'does not stop at the front door.'

In this context, it_ may be easier to say what is not a family than what is a family. From the perspective of public policy, families have different stages, each of which requires a different response from the Government.

The family in the life cycle

One way of approaching public policy issues pertaining to the family is to consider the life cycle through which families move. Researchers into the family have used a family life cycle as a framework to identify various stages of development, for example:

Cited in M. Eastman, Family the vital factor , Collins Dove, 1989, Melbourne, 213,

12 B.J. Adams. The Family: A Sociological Interpretation Rand & McNally, 1975, Chicago; I.L. Reiss,. Family Systems in America , Dryden, 1976, Hinsdale III.

13 D.Edgar, 'Conceptualising Family Life and Family Policies,' Family Ma tters No 32, August 1992, 28.

4

1.

Leaving home - where the tasks to be achieved are establishing personal independence and beginning an emotional separation from parents;

2. Getting married - which involves establishing an intimate relationship with one's spouse and the further development of the emotional separation from parents;

3. Learning to live together - which involves dividing the various marital roles and establishing a new, more independent relationship with family;

4. Parenting the first child - including the opening of the family to include a new member and dividing the parenting roles;

5. Living with the adolescent - including the increasing of the flexibility of the family boundaries to allow the adolescent to move in and out of the family system and the re-focussing on mid-life marital and career issues;

6. Launching children: the empty nest - involving the multitudes of exits from and entries into the family system, and the adjusting to the ending of parenting roles;

7. Retirement - including adjusting to the ending of wage-earning roles and developing new relationships with children, grandchildren, and each other; and

8. Old age - including the dealing with lessening abilities and greater dependence on others, and dealing with the losses of friends, family members and eventually, each other.14

These categories can be used to examine public policy towards families.

The life cycle approach also reflects a Family Policy Framework of the Quebec government in Canada, developed by Champagne-Gilbert 15 and being applied widely in Europe through the European Council and the International Union of Family Organizations.

Briefly, the Quebec report focuses on the central task of families - that of raising

14 E. Bader, 'A Visitor's Report: Working with Families' Threshold No 22, June 1988, 9-10.

15 M.Champagne-Gilbert, Repo rt of the Commi ttee for Consultation on Family Policy . Part Two. Collective Suppo rt Recommended for Quebec parents. Government of Quebec, 1986

2. Getting Married

3. Learning to live together

children - as the key objective of a family policy orientation. It side steps the definitional problem by insisting on this main function of families rather than any particular structural form of the family. The definition on which they believe a family orientation should be based is as follows:

The earliest of all our social groups, the first among our institutions, the family performs the functions that are the source of the development of people and of our collective existence:

Therefore, whatever the ties that bind their members, Quebec families have the right, throughout the various cycles of life, to appropriate collective support, by the mere fact of what parents accomplish in raising children for whom they are responsible in the eyes of society and the law.16

Government intervention must therefore focus on 'the triangle formed by the family, the school and the work place, at the core of which are the parents'. Family policy is seen as 'a quality of life policy for families, and is fundamental different from all forms of policies having to do with population or designed to encourage an

increase in the birthrate'."

Commonwealth Government programs for families

Although identification of Commonwealth Government programs for families depends in part on how 'family' is defined, which varies according to the objective of the program, the following table provides a general view of the available programs within a life-cycle framework.

Life cycle stage 1. Leaving home

4. Parenting the first and subsequent child

Programs Health promotion, including family planning Education Income Support

. Marriage education

Marriage education and counselling

Family skills training Childcare • Family Allowances Sole Parent pension & training

16 Ibid.. Vol. 11, 37 17 See D.Edgar,' A Decade of Family Research - And the Next?', Family Matters , No 26, April 1990,8'

A

Child support

5. Living with the adolescent

6. Launching children

7. Retirement

8. Old Age

Parent-adolescent mediation Health promotion

. Education Income Support

. Income support

Income support Healthcare

These categories are obviously arbitrary and incomplete. In fact the Department of Health, Housing and Community Services is currently compiling a report on all State and Commonwealth programs for families.

Other programs reach across stages in the life cycle, for example, programs pertaining to separation and divorce.

In addition, there are programs directed at particular groups, for example, support for aboriginal families, migrants, defence force personnel, and overseas diplomatic staff. There are also programs directed at monitoring and researching policy such as the Australian Institute of Family Studies and the office of Status for. Women.

Even a brief survey indicates the absence of any overall co-ordination of programs aimed at or affecting families.

Community and families

The place of the community and the family are central to the liberal philosophy founded on the freedom of the individual:

There is a further dimension of the freedom we are determined to restore to Australians, Beyond the commercial marketplace, there is a whole sphere of private life where relations between people are based on affection, altruism and voluntary association. It is here - in the families, churches, clubs and

local activities of Australians - that the foundations of community are laid down. It is here that the real networks of mutual support, of welfare and sustenance, exist. 18

The family serves an important role as a mediating structure between the individual

and the society in which he lives; as a means of communication, of support and strength between himself and those around whom he could not or would not come intimately in contact with; the provision of a small cell in which one person can react with the whole of society with assuredness and certainty.

18

Fiahtback! - It's Your Australia. 27

7

Mediating structures are those institutions which stand between the individual in the

private sphere and the large institutions of the public sphere. Their importance can be more fully gauged when we consider that modernisation has brought about a dichotomisation of social life. Put more simply, the dichotomy is between the

megastructures and private life. These two spheres of modern society are experienced by the individual in very different ways. The megastructures are remote, often hard to understand, impersonal and ipso facto unsatisfactory as sources for individual meaning and identity. By contrast, private life is experienced as the single most important area for the discovery and actualisation of meaning and identity.

As long as the individual can find meaning and identity in her private life, she can manage to put up with the meaningless and dis-identifying world of the megastructures. As long as private life does not alienate the individual, then the megastructures are at least tolerable. That situation becomes intolerable if "home", that refuge of stability and value in an alien world, ceases to be a refuge - when,

say, my spouse leaves me, my children take on lifestyles that are strange and unacceptable to me, my church becomes incomprehensible, my neighbourhood becomes a place of danger and so forth. The best defences against a threat are those institutions, however, weakened, which still give a measure of stability to

private life. These are the mediating structures of family, church, voluntary association and neighbourhood.19

Individualism and families

The freedom of the individual is central to the notion of liberalism: As Robert Menzies once said:

...the test of civilisation is freedom, freedom of the spirit and of the mind and of the body.2°

It is sometimes suggested that this freedom is qualified or limited by the restraints of family but even Menzies urged his listeners to n avoid the common fallacy of supposing that freedom and discipline are inconsistent. n21

In his The Forgo tten People broadcast to Australians in 1942, Menzies recalled the importance of family life:

I do not believe that the real life of this nation is to be found either in great luxury hotels and the petty gossip of so called fashionable suburbs, or in the

19 See Peter L. Berger and Richard Neuhaus, To Empower People American Enterprise Institute, Washington DC. 1977.

20 R.G. Menzies Speech is of time , Cassell & Co. 1958. London, 211. 21 Id, 219

8

officialdom of organised masses. It is to be found in the homes of people

who are nameless and unadvertised, and who, whatever their individual religious conviction or dogma, see in their children their greatest contribution to the immortality of their race. The home is the foundation of sanity and sobriety; it is the indispensable condition of continuity; its health determines the health of society as a whole.22

To assert the importance of family life, especially in the formative early years of childhood, is not to reject those individuals whose family life is untraditional. Nor is it to view the family only in absolute ideologically conservative terms.

However, the family remains important in the satisfaction of the basic needs of the early stages of human life. The sense of stability and love provided by family are central to the socialisation of individuals. Although there remains debate about how these imperatives are best achieved, their importance for the development of

II

free individuals cannot be denied.

Similarly, and despite misgivings and dissatisfactions of various kinds, marriage continues to be the norm for most men and women in our society. Indeed modern marriage, with its focus on personal fulfilment and not simply procreation and the raising of children, validates individuals through the relationship. As

recent authors noted:

We believe that there is no viable alternative to the bourgeois family for the raising of children who will have a good chance of becoming responsible and autonomous individuals, nor do we see alternative arrangements by which adults, from youth to old age, will be given a

stable context for the affirmation of themselves and their values.23

In this context, a dichotomy between individual freedom and family is false. To the contrary , "the family ...is the necessa ry social context for the emergence of the autonomous individuals who are the empirical foundation of political democracy.i24

The concept is not new. It was Aristotle's view that if children did not love their parents and family members, they would love no-one but themselves: an important statement about the relationship between the family and society. The nurturing of love, stability and trust of others within family life cannot be underestimated for society.

Nor can we forget the extent to which the ideal of family life remains valid for

22 R.G. Menzies Radio Broadcast 23 B & P. Berger, O cit, 167.

24 Id; 173

^7

Australians.

While less people marry and weddings occur at a later age, nonetheless the ideal retains strong support.

Moreover, the National Social Science Survey found that marriage remained a central ingredient of a satisfying life and the most widely desired lifestyle.25

This is not to project the so-called traditional family' comprising husband, wife and two children as the only viable family. Rather, it is to recognise the central importance of families to society.

The Role of Prevention

If family remains the crucible in which individual autonomy and freedom are encouraged and shaped, albeit in some instances imperfectly, then concern for policies which support family must be a key element of democratic liberalism.

Conversely,, policies which undermine families, reduce their independence and encourage their reliance upon the state ultimately threaten democracy itself. For this reasons alone, Government should seek to support family, not displace it.

Even if this fundamental philosophic position is not accepted, the human and economic consequences of family dysfunction and breakdown urge a response.

The cost of family breakdown

Each year, more than 40,000 marriages end through separation and divorce. In 1991, the number of divorces represented 40% of the total number of weddings in Australia.

Fifty per cent of all separations occur within the first seven years of marriage -leaving in many cases a woman struggling to raise a young family on a social security pension. 26 In July 1989, 163,000 formerly married persons were in receipt of the sole parent pension. It has been estimated that marriage breakdown costs Australia $3000 million annually. The Australian Institute of

Family Studies estimated in 1989 that each separation cost society some $12,000.

Other costs can only be indicated.

Family breakdown and children

It is estimated that 55 per cent of the divorces in 1990 involved one or more children, that is, 45,000 children were left in single parent homes that year. Since 1975, more than 700,000 children have been deprived of the care of one parent for

25

Adele Horn, "Wedded bliss a fact, survey finds" The Age 9 August 1990

26

See for example, ABS, Divorces

10

some part of their lives.

By the end of the decade, this figure will have risen to over a million children.

In its report Our Homeless Children , the Inquiry into Youth Homelessness identified family breakdown as a major cause of many of an estimated 80,000 street kids leaving home.27

Apart from the economic cost to society, there is the price of longer term psychological harm.

The debate about the long-term effects of divorce was touched off with the publication by Judith Wallerstein, a Californian psychologist of a book in 1989 described as the first ever long-term study of children and divorce. In the book, Second Chances: Men and Women and Children a Decade After Divorce , Wallerstein reported that many of the children of 60 middle-class divorced families from the San Francisco area studied over a 12 year period experienced difficulties

in education, social and inter-personal relationships.28

Many of the children felt intense rejection, anger and loneliness at the time of the divorce. While some of them resolved these problems over time, other children who had seemed to be adjusting well developed severe emotional reactions to the divorce 10 - 15 years later.

Wallerstein found that 10 years after their parents had divorced only 34 per cent of the children in the study were doing well. Another 37 per cent were depressed, could not concentrate in school, had trouble making friends and suffered a wide range of other behavioural problems. The remaining children were doing well in

some areas but faltering in others.

In a magazine article drawn from the book, Wallerstein described the 37 per cent figure as "a powerful statistic" and declared: "It would be hard to find any other group of children -. except perhaps the victims of a natural disaster - who suffered such a rate of serious psychological problems".2'

Others have argued that family breakdown inevitably leads to societal disintegration. A quarter of a century before the most recent race-riots in Los Angeles, Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote:.

27

Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Our Homeless Children , AG PS, Canberra, 1989, particularly paras. 8.20 - 8.23.

28

Judith S. Wallerstein & Sandra Blakeslee, Second Chances: Men. Women & Children a Decade After Divorce - Who Wins Who Loses -and why , Ticknor & Fields, 1989.

Judith S. Wallerstein, 'Children After Divorce: Wounds that Don't Heal' The New York Times Magazine , Jan. 22, 1989, 20.

11

From the wild Irish slums of the nineteenth century eastern seaboard,

to the riot-torn suburbs of Los Angeles, there is one unmistakable lesson in American history: a community that allows a large number of young men to grow up in broken families, dominated by women, never acquiring any stable relationship to male authority, never acquiring any set of rational expectations about the future - that community asks for and gets chaos.3o

Although Moynihan's reference was to race-troubled America, and he has since written "clearly, single-parent households can be a better, more healthful, more stable environment for children than the frequently violent, tortured alternative that leads to family breakdown in the first place", 31 his conclusions cannot simply be

dismissed as wanting in all validity.

A related issue for Australia is the so-called 'feminisation of poverty'.

Family separation and poverty

Although an appropriate method of measuring poverty has been debated in Australia since the work of the Henderson Report, 32 recent data indicates increases in child and family poverty.

In the overview to 1986 Social Security Review, Professor Cass noted that over the previous decade the proportion of children in poverty increased from 8 per cent to 19 per cent. Between 1972-73 and 1981-82, poverty rates for female-headed single parent families increased from 38 per cent to 50 per cent; for male-headed single parent families the increase was from 16 per cent to 19 per cent; and for married couples with three or more children the increase was from 7 per cent to 19 per cent.33

The same trends occurred elsewhere. During the 1970s, female-headed families became the majority of poor families with children in the United States. By 1980, the proportion was 56 per cent.34

30 DanieL Patrick Moynihan, America (1965) reprinted in Family and Nation , Harcourt, Brace, Javanovich, San Diego, 1986, 9.

31 Id

32

Commission of Inquiry into Poverty, Poverty in Australia AGPS, Canberra 1975 (the Henderson Report).

33 B. Cass, Income Support for Families with Children , Social Security Review Issues Paper No 1, AGPS, Canberra, 1986, 6-7.

34 Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Family and Nation , 46. 12

Studies undertaken by the Australian Institute of Family Studies reach similar

conclusions. As one researcher noted:

The most obvious reason for financial loss upon separation was that, whether they wanted the separation or not, fathers took with them the major income earning asset of the household (their careers), and tended to pay maintenance according to a 'going rate' rather than

according to their capacity to pay.35

By far the most common arrangement is for children to continue to live with their mothers following separation. 36 While Child Support legislation and the sole-parent pension may alleviate the financial consequences of separation, research in Australia, Great Britain and the United States indicates that poverty traps occur,

resulting in likely career disadvantages for the children, thereby increasing their chances of living in poverty when adults.37

Even where mothers later remarry, the economic consequences for children are uncertain:

Little is known of the repercussions of shorter-term spells in poverty or near-poverty for children whose mothers later re-partner. Further, if repartnering is the only means by which these mothers can release their children from financial deprivation, some may well become

pressured into taking this step. The ramifications of such hasty decisions for the sake of the children could be immense.38

Benefits of family

Conversely, there are many benefits of family to society, the absence of which imposes costs on the community and government, often to an unquantifiable

35

Ruth Weston, 'After Separation: Financial Wellbeing of Children and Parents' Family Matters No. 26, April 1990, 26.

36

Kate Funder, 'Children's Households and Families After Parental

Separation' Family Matters No. 23, April 1989, 47-48 37 C. Kilmartin & M. G. Wulff, 'Educational and labour force participation

of Australian people living in two-and one-parent families' Journal of the Australian Population Association (1984) 1, 121 - 139; and S. McLanahan, 'The integenerational consequences of divorce: the United States perspective' in M. Maclean and L.J. Weitzman (eds.)

Economic Consequences of Divorce , Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1991, 2850310.

38

Ruth Weston, 'New Families, New Finances' Family Ma tters , No. 31, April 1992, 29.

13

extent.

As Moira Eastman writes:

Families are one of the strongest influences on the growth of human competence. They have an overwhelming impact on the development of intelligence and success in school, on mental and emotional health, on social skills, and even on physical health.39

Family and education

While a series of studies have demonstrated the important influence of family on childhood development and the gaining of competence, 40 other research has pointed to the crucial role of family in later educational achievement.

In 1965, the Coleman Report, a massive survey of 570,000 students and 60,000 teachers in. 4,000 United States schools, found that schools do not overcome educational disadvantage and that "differences between schools account for only a small fraction of the differences in pupil achievement. i4l While differences exist

between schools, the Coleman Report found that family backgrounds, not school inputs, accounted for the significant differences in educational outcome. The first three findings were:

Family background has great importance for school achievement;

2. The relation of family background to achievement does not diminish over the years of school; and

3. Family background accounts for a substantial amount of the school-to-school variation in achievement and, therefore, variation in school facilities, curriculum and staff can only have a small, independent effect.

Subsequent research has reinforced the Coleman findings. 42 In the United

3s

M. Eastman, 'The Magical Power of Family ', Collins Dove, Melbourne, 1991, 5.

40

See for example B.L. White et al. The Origins of Human Competence , Lexington Books, Lexington, 1979.

41 J.S. Coleman et al. Eauality of Educational Oppo rtunity , U.S.

Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Washington DC. 1966, 22.

42

See M.S. Smith, 'Equality of Educational Opportunity: the basic

findings reconsidered' in F. Mosteller and D.P. Moynihan (eds) On Equality of Educational Oapo rtunity• Papers Deriving from the

14

Kingdom, the Plowden Report,

Children and their Prima ry Schools identified

parental interest in a child's education as the most important single influence on progress 43as did the Bullock Report in children developing A Language for Life.44

Most recently, researchers at the Institute of Social Research at the University of Michigan found that children of Indochinese refugees had overcome poor English skills, poverty, physical and emotional trauma and the disruptive environment of urban schools to achieve remarkable success in American schools. The explanation for their success was found not in the schools, but in the family and cultural values which influenced them. 45 The authors concluded that:

Although some of our findings are culturally specific, others point overwhelmingly to the pivotal role of the family in the children's academic success. Because this characteristic extends beyond culture, it has implications for educators, social scientists and policy-makers as well as for the refugees themselves. It is clear that the U.S. educational system can work - if the requisite familial and social supports are provided for the students outside school.

Australian research has also reinforced the influence of family on educational achievement.as

Family and health

Healthy families also contribute to healthy communities. As Eastman concludes her review of the research:

harvara U niversity Faculty Seminar on the Coleman Report , Vintage I Books, New York; D.J. Armor, 'School and family effects on black and white achievement: a re-examination of the USOE data, Ibid; and

I

C. Jencks et al. Inequalit y - A Reassessment of the Effect of Family

and School in America , Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1972.

a3 Children and their Prima ry Schools: A Repo rt of the Central Advisory, Council for Education (England), (The Plowden Report) HMSO, London, 1967.

44

U.K. Department of Education and Science, A Language for Life The Bullock Report, HMSO, London, 1975.

a5

N. Caplan, M.H. Choy and J.K. Whitmore, Scientific American , February 1992

46 See M. Eastman, Family: The Vital Factor , Collins Dove, Melbourne 1989, 17-18 and the studies cited therein. See also D. Edgar, 'The Role of Families in their Children's Education'.

15

There can be little doubt that family factors are significant contributors

to the health of individuals and communities. One of the most striking findings is the hard evidence supporting an observation family therapists have reported for years. What affects one member affects all. The dynamics within a family can either protect and heal or

undermine and make sick. Social skills and competence is yet another area where the impact of family of origin and family of choice can be seen.47

In America, the rate of divorce, which involves more than one million couples each year, and a similar number of children, has concerned health professionals. In a survey of members of the American Psychological Association in early 1991, for example, the demise of the nuclear family was listed most often as the greatest threat to American's mental health - cited far more often than the next most frequent responses of unemployment, drug abuse, and alcohol abuse.48

Conclusion

Families remain important for Australians as a source of comfort, support, security and human dignity. Ultimately they also provide the framework in which democracy and liberty can flourish.

47 Ibid; 37.

48 U.S.A. TODAY, March 19, 1991, la.

16

MARRIAGE EDUCATION

Education about family and marriage is not new. It occurs in all families and all marriages beginning with the childhood experiences of family life which provide a • model for future attitudes and behaviour. Education also occurs through other sources - friends, schoolmates, and the media - so that by the time a person

begins to contemplate a family of his/her own, ideas have been formed and behaviour patterns that significantly affect future relationships have developed. These attitudes and behaviour patterns are further affected by relationships formed during adolescence and early adult years and by the experiences of the workplace.

In recent times, references to marriage education have been given a more specific meaning, and usually designate formal programs, often conducted over a weekend or series of weekends or evenings, for engaged couples. However, marriage education is generally regarded as having three stages: first, distant education, for example during school years; secondly, pre-wedding education in the period of engagement; and thirdly, post-wedding education.

The Australian Governments have provided subsidies to approved marriage education organisations since 1976. Under section 9C of the Marriage Act 1961, a voluntary organisation may apply to the Attorney-General for approval as an organisation conducting programs of marriage education. Organisations so approved are eligible to receive grants of financial assistance under section 9B of

the Act. To qualify for approval an organisation is required to satisfy the Attorney-General that it is willing and able to conduct programs of marriage education. Marriage Counselling organisations approved under section 12 of the Family Law

Act are deemed to be approved for the purposes of conducting marriage education courses: section 9D.

The operational definition of marriage education used by the Attorney-General's Department states:

Marriage Education is operationally defined as a process where a neutral third party, focussing on the emotional dynamics of relationships and the stability of marriage within a family unit, assists parties to deal with the stresses they encounter as they move into, live within or move out of that family unit.'

The peak bodies in Marriage Education, the Australian Association for Marriage

Attorney-General's Department, Guidelines for organisations seeking approval.

1

Education and the Catholic Society for Marriage Education, recently proposed a

new definition to the Attorney-General's Department:

Marriage education is defined as an educative process occurring between one or more adult educators and one, or a group of, adult couples.

The focus of the process for the couples includes the following facets:

1. Developing the quality of the relationship between the couple by facilitating a better understanding of the strengths of the relationship, and areas of the relationship which may cause dissatisfaction.

2. Recognising the implications of a commitment to a life-long relationship and the factors involved in maintaining such a commitment.

3. Developing an awareness of the external and internal factors which can effect the capacity of either individual to maintain a life-long relationship.

4. Developing the interpersonal skills and the knowledge necessary in order to assist them in building a healthy, growing relationship, to the mutual satisfaction of both parties.

Marriage education by definition is not tied to one particular life event. Rather it is to be viewed from a life span perspective, where each intervention of marriage education is particularly tailored to meet the needs of the participating couples - be they couples preparing for marriage, newly married, couples with small children or adolescents, or couples in their later years.

Marriage education is seen to be essentially different from marriage counselling in that it focuses on the development of the appropriate knowledge, skills and attitudes to build and maintain relationships, as opposed to counselling which has as its primary orientation the solution of specific emotional problems presented by the clients.2

Marriage education and marriage counselling

Although marriage education and marriage counselling relate to marital relationships, they differ in approach and underlying philosophy. As the Attorney-General's Department guidelines state:

2

AAME & CSME, Submission to the Attorney-General's Department, 1991.

2

The fact that marriage education and marriage counselling are

covered by different Acts makes it necessary to draw a distinction between marriage education and marriage counselling. Marriage education and marriage counselling differ in that marriage education does not focus on the solution of specific emotional problems presented by the clients but rather on the development of skills to deal with such problems whenever they may arise in marriage.

The difference goes beyond the legislative basis for the two programs.

In a recent submission to the Attorney-General's Department, the peak bodies in marriage education, AAME and CSME, stressed:

Marriage education is seen to be essentially different from marriage counselling in that it focuses on the development of the appropriate knowledge, skills and attitudes to build and maintain relationships, as opposed to counselling which has as its primary orientation the solution of specific emotional problems presented by the clients.3

The confusion of the two disciplines partly arises from their historical confluence. Although recognition of the need for marriage education may be traced to pronouncements made earlier this century, the bodies given the task of marriage preparation were generally Marriage Guidance Councils which primarily focussed on counselling from a clinical perspective. Education as a recognisable discipline

is a more recent development.

The developments of the past two decades have marked the emergence of marriage education as a discrete discipline, and the acceptance that marriage education and marriage counselling involve different knowledge, skills, training and aptitude. Apart from the functional - dysfunctional basis of the two fields, the application of educational theory and practice to marriage education has been a significant element in the emergence of marriage education as a separate entity.

The Development of Marriage Education

For many years, particularly during the 1950s and the 1960s, churches conducted Pre-Cana conferences for engaged couples. These programs tended to be of one day's duration at which a Priest or Minister, and married couples spoke to the engaged. Recognition of the need for marriage preparation and the provision of it has been pioneered largely by the Churches. In 1920, for example, the Lambeth Conference of Bishops of the Anglican Communion recommended that the clergy should regard it as part of their pastoral responsibility, and by 1969 the practice became, in the church, a canonical (that is, a legal) duty. Two significant developments occurred in the 1960s.

3

AAME & CSME, Submission to Attorney-General's Department, 1991.

3

First, over a ten year period to 1965, Marriage Encounter was developed in Spain.

The movement spread to the United States with the presentation of a program at Notre Dame . University in 1967.

A significant change brought about by Marriage Encounter was the concept of couples "dialoguing" with each other. Although the structure of marriage encounter still revolves about the idea of presentation and modelling by a leader couple, the opportunity for couple dialogue reflected a development which has continued in marriage education generally. Marriage Encounter later spawned two pre-marriage preparation programs, Engaged Encounter and Evenings for the Engaged.

At about the same time an American couple, David and Vera Mace, developed an approach to Marriage Enrichment. The Maces began as marriage counsellors before moving into marriage education. The Mace's approach has some similarity

with Marriage Encounter in that the notions of modelling, dialogue and a group setting are basic to their programs. However there are differences. Marriage Enrichment uses the leader couple to model concepts and skills with real examples from their own relationship. Secondly, the written dialogue of Marriage Encounter

is replaced by verbal dialogue in Marriage Enrichment. Thirdly, the group setting allows each participating couple to draw on the collective experience of the total group and thereby extend the strengths and resources already present in their relationship.

A further reason for utilising the group setting rather than individual couple work is to help break down what the Maces described as two powerful social taboos in the field of marriage. 4 The notion that marriage is a private relationship and thereby not able to be spoken about publicly or openly, except in a very general sense, does not help couples to learn from other couple's experiences. This also leads couples experiencing difficulties to delay seeking help. Secondly, the notion of

naturism, that is, being married is a natural state, and therefore we know automatically and innately how to 'do it'. No education or enhancement is required if it comes naturally.

Emerging Concepts of Adult Education

A number of further developments have had an important impact on marriage education in the last two decades. First, emerging concepts of adult education have resulted in a new understanding of how adults best learn and radical new approaches to education. Briefly, there are at least four important concepts worth noting:

5

4

David & Vera Mace, How to Have a Happy Marriage , 1977.

5

Gordon Selman, 'Emerging Educational Concepts: A Canadian Viewpoint',

National College Educational Review , No. 1 (.1978), 32.

4

The first is the concept of lifelong education.

This is not a new

concept, but it is generally more accepted in today's environment of retraining, continuing education and skills development than in past decades where one was often said to have finished one's education when one left school or college.

Secondly, it is increasingly recognised that most learning is self-directed. Based on research from many difference places, findings have shown that approximately 80% of learning efforts undertaken are done on a self-planned basis and 20% with help from a professional. Some further significant facts about self-directed learning include:

- a typical average learning project involves 100 hours of effort; - a typical adult conducts 5 of them a year; - 90% of people do at least one.

Thirdly, there is considerable emphasis on recurrent education, that is, the mixing of periods of more formal education with periods of work experience.

Finally, the concept of community education, whilst again far from a new idea, has been given renewed emphasis in our society. Education is no longer the province of the school or the institution - if it ever should have been - but, is equally to be found in the workplace, the support group, the community setting.

That each of these concepts has had a profound impact upon notions and practice of education is obvious. The modern classroom reveals that these ideas are now applied to the education of children. Thus modern marriage education increasingly reflects the notion that adults learn from their own experiences when they wish to learn and at a largely self-directed pace. Thus the lecture styles of the past have been replaced in the past two decades with experiential programs

involving each couple in an examination of their particular relationship.

Understanding Family Backgrounds

Related to these changes in educational theory has been the increasing reference to psychology to understand human behaviour; and the acceptance within educational circles of the work of psychologists such as Alfred Adler, Rudolf Dreikurs and others. Although the names may not be familiar to many, parenting

programs such as PET and STEP which have been developed from their work are well-known. Central to the Adlerian idea of individual psychology, for example, is the notion that all behaviour is purposeful and directed towards consequences we wish to achieves

6 Maurice Balson, Becoming Better Parents (1987) 5

A further development has involved the re-examination of the influence of family on

behaviour patterns. As Dreikurs observed in 1954:

"It is impossible to understand any adult without information about his first four to six years of life, which are the formative years. In this period, every person develops concepts about himself and about life which are maintained throughout life, although the persons remains

completely unaware of the premises he has developed for himself and upon which he acts."'

The concept is common to much of psychology. Carl Jung, for example, said that:

"The little world of childhood with its familiar surroundings is a model of the greater world. The more intensively the family has stamped its character upon the child, the more it will tend to feel and see its earlier miniature world again in the bigger world of adult life. Naturally this is not a conscious, intellectual process.i8

The importance of understanding family backgrounds has been emphasised in marriage education in recent years. Increasingly it is recognised that when couples marry, they bring to the relationship different attitudes, ideas, and behaviour patterns that were developed in their respective families.

These ideas are not new. In his second reading speech to the Matrimonial Causes Act 1959, Sir Garfield Barwick said:

I am conscious that in the early days of married life, particularly amongst younger people, the two personalities which had theretofore no need to consider any one's interest or comfort but their own, must make many adjustments in accommodation each to the other in married life.9

An increasing emphasis in marriage education is recognising and understanding the influence of family backgrounds upon relationships. The notion is possibly best summed up in the title of the marriage education program 'When Families Marry'.

Rudolf Dreikurs, 'The Psychological Interview in Medicine' American Journal of Individual Psychology, Vol. 10 (1954), 99.

8 Carl Jung, Collected Works, Vol. 4, The Theory of Psychoanalysis (1913) 9 Hansard, House of Representatives, 14 May 1959, 2225 6

Pre-Marriage Inventories

The development of pre and post marriage inventories has also taken place in the past decade. Pioneering work in this area has been undertaken by Dr. David Olsen at the University of Minnesota. There Dr. Olsen developed a program

entitled PREPARE. It consists of a questionnaire to be completed by each person, the answers to which are then correlated with the answers of the other person. The inventory assesses areas of attitude and value agreement between couples. Categories include expectations, personality match, leisure activities, roles, children

and marriage, family and friends. The following segment from the communication section asks each partner to rate the degree of agreement or disagreement on:

"When we are having a problem, my partner often gives me the silent treatment";

"I often do not tell my partner what I am feeling because he/she should already know";

"My partner sometimes makes comments which put me down".

By completing the inventory and participating in a series of follow-up sessions with a facilitator, the couple are able to identify strengths in their relationship and to address matters which they either haven't discussed, or need to work on. The

role of the leader is to facilitate discussion between the couple.

More recently, Dr. Barbara Markey and her co-authors developed a similar inventory known as FOCCUS - the acronym for Facilitating Open Couple Communication, Understanding and Study. More than 2,600 clergy, marriage celebrants and marriage educators and counsellors in Australia have been trained

in the use of PREPARE and many are being trained in the use of FOCCUS. Some agencies have developed their own inventories for use with engaged couples. Two inventories have also been developed for use with married couples - ENRICH complements PREPARE and RE-FOCCUS complements FOCCUS.

Dr. David Olson stresses the importance of using inventories like PREPARE or FOCCUS as a pre-requisite to marriage education courses. Couples whose scores indicate the existence of problems should be referred for further counselling. Research undertaken by Olsen and Flowers in 1986 on PREPARE revealed that particular patterns of responses to the inventory three months before marriage were reliable predictors of divorce or dysfunctional marriages 2-3 years after the wedding.10

10

B. Flowers & D. Olson, 'Predicting marital success with PREPARE: a

predictive validity study; Journal of Marital & Family Therap y _ Vol 12(A), (1986).

7

Skills for Life

Marriage education offers the opportunity to couples to develop essential skills for the growth of their relationship. Topics such as better communication, dealing with conflict, understanding change and family planning all offer opportunities for couples to recognise skills that they may wish to utilise in their relationship.

There is also an increasing recognition in marriage education today that marriage involves a number of stages. Clinebell, for example, in the book Intimate Marriage relates the concept of intimacy to marital growth and identifies three stages when a

couple is more likely to be actively seeking to develop intimacy: the engagement stage, following the honeymoon (from 2-5 years), and during the middle years (the 40s and 50s).1

Susan Campbell in The Couple's Journey identifies five stages:12

1. .The romance stage - the visionary stage; 2. The power struggle - the awareness of differences; 3. Stability - coming to acceptance of each other; 4. Commitment - acceptance of realities and human shortcomings of the

relationship; and 5. Co-creation - the time of moving creatively into the world together.

In their book, How to Have a Happy Marriage, David and Vera Mace said that there are three essential ingredients for a successful marriage:13

1. A commitment to growth, sincerely entered into by husband and wife together. 2. An effective communication system, and the necessary skills to use it. 3. The ability to accept marital conflict positively, and to resolve it

creatively.

These concepts are embodied in modern marriage preparation programs.

The Modern Marriage

Dr. Don Edgar, Director of the Australian Institute of Family Studies has identified several major factors shaping what he described as the "new marriage". 14 He

Howard & Charlotte Clinebell, Intimate Marriage, (1981) 12 Susan Campbell, The Couple's Journey t3 David & Vera Mace, How to Have a Happy Marriage (1977) 14

D. Edgar, 'The New Marriage: Changing Rules for Changing Times'

Threshold No. 22 Jan. 1988, 9.

E:3

summarised these factors as fourfold:

"First, is the certainty of contraception, the careful planning of births and the changing place of children in marriage.

"Second, is the new preparation pathway to marriage via multiple relationships, prolonged autonomy as an individual earner, de facto living and the resultant confusion about intimacy and commitment.

"Third, is a growing realisation on the part of women that they cannot and ought not rely upon or be the dependants of men. Thus we see improved education, retention of women's career and labour force participation, with consequent changes in the way marriage and family life function.

"Fourth, is a legal framework progressively enacting equal opportunity, human rights, joint responsibility for men and women in fulfilling the obligations of marriage and parenthood. It is a de facto, "backward" redefinition of marriage, starting from the end-point of divorce rather than the starting point of marriage, and from combined changes in family law and social security provisions."

These factors involve new pressures on couples entering into marriage and on couples already married. Marriage educators stress their need to be aware of these pressures and develop programs which will enable each couple to identify the strengths and weaknesses in their own relationship so to address their own

marital growth.

This is particularly important in the pre-wedding stage when choices should be made, but often couples drift into marriage because they are getting older, or have become used to each other, or are subject to peer and family pressure to marry. Worse still, having lived together, some couples' ability to choose clearly may well

be impaired. Recent research has questioned the belief that living together is the best preparation for marriage. One study shows that of couples who married for the first time early in the 1980s, those who had previously cohabitated were more likely than the others to have divorced after eight years of marriage. 15 Recent Australian research has reached similar conclusions. 16 This finding raises important issues for marriage education.

15 J. Haskey, Population Trends (1992) 16 H.Glezer, D.Edgar, A.Prolisko, 'The Importance of Family Backgrounds and

Early Experiences on Premarital cohabitions and Marital Dissolution' International conference on Family Formation and Dissolution , Taiwan, May 1992.

9

Understanding the Life Cycle

There is also a growing recognition that marriage education is a process which involves the entire life cycle. In a number of recent books, researchers into the family have used the family life cycle as a framework to identify various stages of family development. Edward Bader, a Canadian marriage educator identifies eight stages:"

1. Leaving home - where the tasks to be achieved are establishing personal independence and beginning an emotional separation from parents;

2. Getting married - which involves establishing an intimate relationship with one's spouse and the further development of the emotional separation from parents;

3. Learning to live together - which involves dividing the various marital roles and establishing a new, more independent relationship with family;

4. Parenting the first child - involving the opening of the family to include a new member and dividing the parenting roles;

5. Living with the adolescent - including the increasing of the flexibility of the family boundaries to allow the adolescent to move in and out of the family system and the re-focussing on mid-life marital and career issues;

6. Launching children: the empty nest - involving the multitudes of exits from and entries into the family system, and the adjusting to the ending of parenting roles;

7. Retirement - including adjusting to the ending of wage-earning roles and developing new relationships with children, grandchildren, and each other; and

8. Old age - including the dealing with lessening abilities and greater dependence on others, and dealing with the losses of friends, family members and eventually, each other.

Increasingly, it is recognised that each of these stages requires new knowledge and new skills. The time before and after each stage offers the opportunity to provide these skills so as to enable couples to cope with the new pressures and stresses on their relationship, and so to deepen their love and commitment to each

17

E. Bader, 'A Visitor's Report: Working with Families'. Threshold No. 22, Jan. 1988, 9-10.

10

other.

The Early Years of Marriage

The period after the honeymoon, until after the birth of the first child usually involves major changes in a couple's relationship. It involves establishing an intimate relationship with each other, emotional separation from parents, adjusting to each other's family, adjusting to roles, changing roles for the woman from that of the worker or career person to mother and wife, and eventually adjusting to a single income (at least in the short term). This period calls for considerable skills

in being able to effectively communicate with each other, resolve conflict, handle finances, define joint sexuality and intimacy, plan a family, and establish a new home, often in an unfamiliar suburb away from family and friends.

As such, the first few years of marriage can be a time of great change and considerable stress. The fact is reflected in the figures for marriage separation. In Australia, approximately 50% of all separations - that is, all couples who separate - occur in the first seven years of marriage.18

It follows that these early years of marriage are important years where assistance and support is crucial. To a large extent, formal post wedding programs have not attracted great interest from couples in Australia. Recently, programs in Canada have been divided into two sections, with four evenings before the wedding and four evening some 9-12 months later. One program was co-operatively produced

by the Family Ministry Departments of the Anglican Church of Canada, the Baptist Federation of Ontario and Quebec, the Presbyterian Church in Canada, the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Toronto, the Ontario Family Life Education Association and Engaged Encounter and Marriage Encounter.

The Canadians reported a high return rate to the post-wedding components. They described the pre-wedding components as important because the couples became aware of what could be learnt from marriage education programs, but the post-wedding components are crucial because they occurred at a time when the

couples were experiencing the reality of marriage.19

Although Australian marriage education agencies have not had much success with post-wedding programs, the Canadian experience gives hope and possibly provides a model to consider here. It is also interesting to note that the Canadian program links stages of the life cycle as the post-wedding segment includes a component on parenting - thus leading to the following stage of parenting the first child.

18 See for example, ABS, Divorces NSW. 19 Threshold, No. 25, Sept. 1989, 8 11

Adequate Resource Networks

Recent studies have emphasised the importance of supporting families at all stages. Traditionally the extended family provided many ongoing resources for marriage and family life, whether it was comfort, support, entertainment, child-minding, or just advice. For some this family structure is still important but for others it no longer exists or its role has been greatly reduced. It is therefore important for couples to consider where they will meet their needs for advice, support and comfort. One of the features of modern society is the big, impersonal structures which tend to alienate individuals. We can see ourselves as unimportant in a world dominated by large companies, large institutions, uninviting suburbs. This may be the world that the newly married couple move into or the world perceived by the young mother at home for the first time with a young baby.

But there are some things which help us to cope as individuals, couples and family units in society. These structures include, family, church, voluntary associations and ethnic groups - what the sociologist Peter Berger described as 'mediating structures', that is, the structures which stand between the individual or the family and the large uninviting world. 20 Recent research by the Australian Institute of

Family Studies has highlighted the importance of extended family networks.21

There is a need to help engaged couples think about and discuss with each other the resources they will call upon in their marriage and the networks of support they will be able to establish. The worth of continuing work in this area is supported by studies of the characteristics of healthy families.

A number of traits have been identified in healthy families including good communication and listening skills, affirmation and support for family members, wise use of power, the primacy of the spouse bond, time spent together as a family, a sense of humour and fun, a core of spiritual beliefs, a sense of ritual, a sense of right and wrong, a sense of trust and so forth. Studies also suggest that families that function well do not tend to see themselves as a family in isolation. They develop good support networks and are able to elicit support when they

need it. These families are able to reach out to others.22

Current Provision of Marriage Education

Some 100 agencies and groups throughout Australia offer marriage education

20 Peter Berger, 'The Application of the Concept of Mediating Structures to the

Family,' Mimeo, (1980).

21 See Family Matters, No. 32, August 1992 22 Delores Curran, Traits of a Healthy Family _ Winston, Minneapolis (1983); Moira Eastman, Family: the vital factor Collins Dove, Melbourne (1989).

12

programs.

While some are small local groups, often church based, most education is provided by approximately 35-40 agencies, 24 of whom are approved by the Attorney-General pursuant to the Marriage Act 196123

Most agencies are affiliated to two peak bodies, the Australian Association for Marriage Education (AAME) and the Catholic Society for Marriage Education (CSME). These bodies have a close working relationship. Their executive committees meet regularly as the National Activities Committee for Marriage Education and jointly administer a number of national activities including research and development office and a national trainer.

Typically, the sessions in a pre-marriage program include:

Expectations of marriage The Influence of Family Backgrounds Communication Skills

Dealing with Conflict Sexuality Family Planning Finances, Budgeting and Home Buying.

Church-based programs usually include a session about spirituality.

Most programs are conducted over a period of some 12-15 hours, usually over two days or a series of evenings.

Does Marriage Education Work?

Evaluations completed at the conclusion of marriage education programs overwhelmingly attest to the value of the courses. Until recently, there had been little research in Australia about the effectiveness of marriage education, although AIFS Research Fellow Ilene Wolcott observed:

Despite the inconclusive results of research in the effectiveness of marriage education, in principle it does not seem necessary to question the value of providing individuals with the opportunities and experiences to explore aspects of marriage relationships and to

acquire skills of communication, problem-solving and conflict resolution.24

American research has shown that up to 15 per cent of couples either postpone or cancel their wedding after taking a marriage education program including an

23 Hansard , House of Representatives, 17 October 1991, 2265-2266. 24 Ilene Wolcott, 'Education for Marriage: Trial and Error or Planning and Preparation?' Family Matters No. 22, Dec. 1988, 18.

13

inventory such as PREPARE or FOCCUS.25

Few Longitudinal studies have been undertaken, although those in Canada support the usefulness of the programmers. 26 The AIFS has not undertaken a longitudinal study in Australia.

A major research project has been undertaken by AAME and CSME at the University of South Australia during 1992. The research involves pre and post course surveys of some 1,700 participants from programmers throughout Australia. The results reinforce the couple's perceived effectiveness of marriage education.27

In summary:

83 per cent of couples reported learning new skills as a result of attending a program;

42 per cent of couples said their ideas about marriage had changed a great deal;

One-third of couples said their program had raised new issues for themselves;

Five per cent of couples either cancelled or postponed their wedding after attending a program;

91 per cent of couples reported after attending a program that they would seek professional help if problems arose in their marriage; and

Nearly 80 per cent of couples rated their program as good or excellent. (The one small group who expressed dissatisfaction were couples 30 and over who had been living together).

While these results indicate the effectiveness of marriage education, ongoing funding of research remains important.

25 Jane Southward 'Happy Ever After', Sun-Herald , July 22, 1990 quoting Dr. Barbara Markey.

26 E. Bader, R. Riddle & C. Sinclair 'Do marriage preparation programs really help? A five year study, Threshold , No. 32, June 1991, 14-17. 27 R. Harris, S.Simons, P.Willis and A Barrie, Love. Sex and Waterskiina : The

experience of Pre-Marriage Education in Australia, Adelaide, 1992.

14

Funding of Marriage Education

Marriage education is funded by a combination of small government grants and the agencies, the latter by way of course fees.

Commonwealth funding for the years 1989-92 was:

Agency g ncy, 1989-90 >1;<900-9 1 1991=92

Grant Grant Grant

MGC NSW

.....

10,500 5,400.: 10,0.0.0

... MGG Vie ... 2,200 7,00 7,300

MGC Qld 6,000

.....

1:1 000;

...

15,500

:.MGC SA 4,800 ;'"` 10,000 10,500 ;.

M IN ..... .... ; 9,600 15,000;; : 15,700

MGC TaS ; .: . . 1.800;;!; ; ;> 7;000 :;

.. ........ .

: 730.0'. >

CFW !NSW : 24000;; : 30,000 ; ^ ; ;1 4 8.,900 .

CFW Vic .. .. 19,200 25,000 ;; 29,100

;: :>Qld

..............

26,400

.

33,000 31; 0

. CFW SA 18,000. ;> 24,000 24,700

......... F: WA > 19,200 >;; 25,000 27,300;

CFW Tas 1 800 7,000. 7,300

CFW AC 8,40Q .::.1 3,000

.

13,600

ANG NSW 1 0 , ^ ; ... . 6,000 , . 5,80.0

ANG Vic . . 9 600 .. ;; < ; 15 00.0 .;. 15,20.0; ,; ; ANG: Old .. 6,000 >:> 11,000 > 10,500 ;ANG SA 4' 620'; .. ;; 9000 ^: ... 9,40.0 ANG WA 2,88 .....8,000 8,300 ANG as 4,800:. 10,000 *14,500 FLM NSW 14,400; ..... .. 20,000; . 21,000 UNI NSW . ; 1,500 6,000 6,300. COPE SA 3,600 8.000; ; 8,400 FRI Vic 45,600 50,000:< ... *58;000 WCM WA 7,200 12,000 *16,600 Total 248,000 <382;000::; . ; .. 522,700..:::.......:......:.::::.> >........:..... figures include funding' for one off expenses >; > ,notionally allocated to marriage education: :... ::::.... . .2828 Hansard. House of Representatives, 17 October 1991, 2265-226615

3xpenses..1300

In addition, additional funding for new projects was provided in 1991-92 as follows:

29

In July, the Office of Legal Aid and Family Services announced further funding

totalling $691,333 for 1992-93, taking the total to approximately $1.2 million.

In effect, the Commonwealth spends less than $10.00 per marriage on education while the cost of marriage breakdown has been estimated at approximately $3 billion.

Despite the funding increase, the Attorney-General's Department has been criticised about both the adequacy of the funding and the absence of any clear policy for the allocation of funds.30

Opening the 1991 National Marriage Education Conference in Brisbane, Chief

29 Hansard , House of Representatives, 17 October 1991, 2266. 30 Hansard , House of Representatives, 8 October 1991, 1445; 16 October 1991, 2090; J. Pilmer, 'Its Funding Time Again' Threshold No. 35, April 1992, 10; 'Funding Dissatisfaction', Threshold , No. 33, Sept. 1991, 6; and J.

Pilmer, Threshold , No 38, December 1992.

16

Justice Nicholson of the Family Court said:

I find it strange that marriage education should have for so long been regarded as the 'Cinderella' of this area. It never ceases to amaze me that Government of all political persuasions have a capacity and will to spend and often squander vast sums of money on the vaguest of commercial projects and will o' the wisp schemes in other areas. They often pay lip service to the importance of the family but when it comes to the expenditure of money, the so-called economic rationalists find themselves unable to see a cost benefit in doing so. This attitude pervades the whole area of family relations, from marriage education, to mediation, to the Family Court, but nowhere is it more apparent than in education.31

The peak bodies for marriage education, AAME & CSME, estimated the cost of adequately funding existing programs in excess of $70,000 per year per program -a figure that would involve some $2 million for existing programs 32 in which only about 10 per cent of couples participate.

Chief Justice Nicholson added:

The federal Government currently spends $509,000 on marriage education. I have seen a bill of costs for $500,000 in one family law case.33

The Joint Select Committee on Certain Aspects of the Operation and Interpretation of the Family Law Act recommended that the Commonwealth Government substantially increase funding for community education in relation to the rights and responsibilities of marriage and parenthood; effective parenting; communication

and dispute resolution skills; and anger management - all components of marriage education.34

Use of Marriage Education

According to the Attorney-General:

In 1990-91, 9434 couples attended marriage education programs

31 'Family Court Chief Calls for More Marriage Education' Threshold , No. 34, Dec. 1991, 6.

32 'Marriage Education Funding', Threshold , No. 34, December 1991, 3.

Ibid

34 Report , para 4-97 (November 1992).

17

conducted by organisations who receive funding for these programs

under the Marriage Act 1961 and/or the Family Law Act 1975.35

However, these statistics refer only to organisations approved by the Attorney-General's Department. AAME and CSME estimate the total number attending programs at approximately 10 per cent of marriages. 36 The Attorney-General

has indicated that a detailed breakdown of Agency numbers will be available for 1991-2.37 Each year, some 113,000 - 117,000 marriages take place.

Although some agencies providing marriage education are not church based, notably the Marriage Guidance Councils, it is conceded that the secular agencies provide very little marriage education. However, almost two-thirds of the couples

surveyed for the 1992 national study of marriage education seldom or never went to church.

Approximately 43 per cent of marriages are secular, for most of which the couples undertake no marriage preparation. Accordingly, approximately 20 per cent of couples marrying in a church undertake marriage education. The reason for the difference is largely the attitude of the churches. Although more precise statistics are unavailable, anecdotal evidence indicates that marriage education is more usual in the Catholic and Anglican Churches than other christian churches. In these churches, canon law requires the celebrant to participate in the preparation of the couple for marriage. Accordingly, there is encouragement for couples to attend the marriage preparation courses, sponsored by church and other agencies.

The Timinci of Education

Section 42 of the Marriage Act 1961 requires notice in writing of the intended marriage to be given to the celebrant not earlier than 6 months and not later than 1 month before the date of the marriage. Until recently, the earliest notification had been 3 months.

As a consequence, couples intending to marry often did not attend upon the celebrant until 3 months before the wedding, at which time, a marriage preparation course was suggested. Anecdotal evidence suggests that this practice remains commonplace. The 1992 National Study found that although the couples had known each other for 3 years on average, they attended a program on average

only 5 months prior to their wedding.

Two problems arise from this practice. First, courses are often booked out up to three months in advance, resulting in couples attending a course close to the

35 Hansard , House of Representatives, 17 October 1991, 2266 36 Threshold , No. 29, September 1990, 11. 37 Hansard , House of Representatives, 17 October 1991, 2266.

0

18

wedding.

As a consequence, the likelihood of adequate reflection upon and discussion about their relationship is lessened and the value of marriage education diminished. Marriage educators have encouraged earlier attendance at programs, but the period has increased only a little.

Related to this problem is the issue of skills training.

The experience of adult education suggests that new skills can best be learnt over a period of time. If programs are conducted close to the wedding, without an opportunity for adequate reflection, their value is likely to be lessened.

An argument for increased funding

The importance of family in a liberal democratic society such as Australia, the economic and social benefits of healthy families, and the economic and social costs of family dysfunction have all been highlighted elsewhere. These arguments will not be repeated here.

There does remain however, widespread concern about families, particularly their breakdown. In part this concern has led to a polarisation of the debate about family law. On one hand there are those who believe that only a return to a system of fault will restore marriage. Others insist that the legislation was, to use

Lionel Murphy's expression, an "enormous reform" and any problems constitute only fine tuning. The debate often raises the question: is getting a divorce too easy in Australia?

Perhaps the question ought to be: is getting married too easy in Australia? Should we encourage further reflection and education before couples enter into marriage, the consequence of which over 40 per cent currently separate with enormous social and economic costs.

The current funding for marriage education is a pittance - just over $1 million per year, or about one three-thousandth of the cost of marital separation and divorce.

SOME ISSUES

Given only some ten per cent of couples currently participate in marriage preparation, mostly through church agencies, what policies should be implemented to encourage participation?

How should marriage education be funded adequately?

Should notification periods for marriage be extended?

Should civil celebrants be required to encourage marriage preparation?

38 D.Olson, quoted in Threshold. 19

MARRIAGE COUNSELLING

Since 1960, the Australian Government has provided subsidies to both church and secular marriage counselling organisations. Government provisions for marriage counselling initially vested in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1959 are now contained in the Family Law Act 1975'.

Section 12 of the Act provides:

The Attorney-General may approve such organisation (voluntary) as a marriage counselling organisation where he is satisfied that:

(a) the organisation is willing and able to engage in marriage counselling; and

(b) marriage counselling constitutes or will constitute the whole or the major part of its activities.

Marriage counselling is defined in the Family Law Act 1975 in Section 4(1):

'marriage counselling' includes the counselling of a person in relation to:

(a) entering into marriage; (b) reconciliation of parties to a marriage; (c) separation of the parties to a marriage; (d) the dissolution or annulment of a marriage; or (e) adjusting to the dissolution or annulment of marriage

whether that counselling is provided in relation to the proposed marriage, marriage, or former marriage of that person or in relation to the proposed marriage, marriage, or former marriage of another person or other persons, and whether that counselling is provided to that person individually or as a member of a group of

persons.

The operational definition of marriage counselling in use by the Attorney-General's Department as a guide to agencies states:

1 Family Law Act 1975, s. 12

"

Marriage Counselling is operationally defined as a process where a neutral third party, focussing on the emotional dynamics of relationships and the stability of marriage within a family unit, assists parties to deal with the stresses they encounter as they move into, live within, or move out of that family unit.2

The guidelines are currently being reviewed by the Attorney-General's Department.

History of Marriage Counselling

Marriage counselling agencies (then termed "marriage guidance") were established in Australia in the 1940s and 1950s. They were modelled on the pattern developing in the U.K. 3

The Marriage Guidance Council was established in the U.K. in 1937, the Catholic

Marriage Advisory Council in 1946, and the Family Discussion Bureau in 1948.4

The work of marriage guidance (as it was then known) was scrutinised at the end of the second world war in Britain by the Committee on Procedure in Matrimonial Causes (the Denning Committee). 5 The terms of reference of the Denning Committee required it to examine "....in particular whether any (and if so, what) machinery should be made available for the purpose of attempting a reconciliation between the parties, either before or after proceedings had been commenced". In their Report made in 1947, they said:

We have throughout our inquiry had in mind the principle that the marriage tie is of the highest importance in the interests of society. The unity of the family is so important that, when parties are estranged, reconciliation should be attempted in every case where there is a prospect of success.

They recommended that:

2

D. Fox, "Guidelines for organisations seeking approval". Correspondence to Directors of Approved Organisations, Attorney-General's Department, 15 December 1988.

3

J. Crawley, The Attorney-General's Stable Door: Marriage Counselling Services in Australia. (1986).

4 Marriage Matters , Working Party on Marriage Guidance, HMSO, London, 1979, 3.

5

The Final Report of the Committee on Procedure in Matrimonial Causes, (1947) Cmd 7024 HMSO.

2

It should be recognised as a function of the State to give every

encouragement and, where appropriate, financial assistance to marriage guidance as a form of Social Service.

A subsequent Home Office Committee (the Harris Committee) concluded that:

...this is work which we believe is better left as far as possible to the initiative of voluntary organisations and which cannot like other forms of social work be undertaken - at any rate at the present time and without further knowledge and experience - by official bodies.s

This approach was repeated in Australia.

Currently there are 32 approved marriage counselling organisations in Australia: eight of these are secular organisations affiliated to Marriage Guidance Australia (formerly the National Marriage Guidance Council of Australia); and the remaining

are church and secular organisations which co-operate under the auspice of the Australian Council of Marriage Counselling Organisations (ACOMCO). These agencies operate approximately 190 branch offices in all states and territories.

Marriage counselling is also provided by some private practitioners and unaffiliated persons. The numbers of private practitioners is difficult to quantify, but it is believed to be relatively small. Other persons such as psychologists offer counselling for personal issues.

Marriage Counselling and other Services

Both in practice and pursuant to the requirements of the Marriage Act 1961, marriage counselling has been regarded as distinct from other personal, health, welfare and psychotherapy services.

Distinctions have also been drawn between marriage counselling, family counselling, marriage education, family therapy, mediation and conciliation. These distinctions create some difficulties for multi-service agencies, and require more consideration.

Aims of Marriage Counselling '

Although different principles, methods and techniques of counselling and

6 Report of the Departmental Committee on Grants for the Development of Marriage Guidance (1948) And 7566 HMSO

have drawn upon I. Wolcott & H. Glezer, Marriage Counselling in Australia: An Evaluation , AIFS, (1989) at 24-25 and the sources therein for this discussion.

3

psychotherapy are employed for the purpose of resolving conflict, modifying

perception and behaviour, and altering attitudes, the unifying concept underlying marital therapy is the emphasis on treating problems within the context of a relationship. This emphasis on the relationship is an important concept which allows counselling to be distinguished from other forms of individual therapy.

In addition, it has been claimed that the objectives of the Government in providing marriage counselling funding pursuant to the Family Law Act 1975 were 'to encourage the development of marriage counselling organisations so that people with marital difficulties might have an alternative to divorce'.

Family Law Act

The legislation clearly sought to encourage an environment in which couples had every opportunity to achieve reconciliation. Thus, s.14(5), for example, states:

Where a court having jurisdiction under this Act is of the opinion that counselling may assist the parties to a marriage to improve their relationship to each other and to any child of the marriage, it may advise the parties to attend upon a marriage counsellor or an approved marriage counselling organisation and, if it thinks it desirable to do so, adjourn any proceedings before it to enable the

attendance.

The original Family Law Act required counselling to be undertaken by the couple prior to a divorce application hearing where they had been married for less than two years: section 14(6). This provision was replaced in 1983 by a requirement that a couple married for less than two years see a counsellor before they can file for a divorce: section 44(1 B).

The Family Law Act also provided that counselling and welfare staff be appointed to the Family Court to assist parties to assist reconciliation and, if unsuccessful, to assist the parties to conciliate agreement on property, custody and access issues: section 37(8).

In practice, Family Court counselling is mostly directed to the conciliation of the divorce and not to reconciliation of the couple. Indeed the Chief Justice of the Family Court admitted in 1991:

Originally it was thought that the Court would play a role in the promotion of reconciliation but the experience of the last 15 years has been that by the time that a couple approaches the Court, there is little room for reconciliation, and such reconciliations that do occur are

4

of uncertain and doubtful duration.8

The tendency is for all cases that would benefit from marriage counselling to be referred to approved marriage counselling agencies. As one researcher concluded in 1984:

In general, Family Court counselling services appear now to specialise in short-term counselling to resolve disputes over custody access issues resulting from marriage breakdown.9

These issues were examined by the Federal Parliamentary Inquiry into Family Law.

The Report concluded:

The Committee believes that an increased emphasis on educating the community, and particularly the young, about communications in relationships, about the responsibilities of marriage, and about the potential benefits of relationship counselling will in the long-term be a more effective means of preventing marital breakdown than orders for reconciliation counselling which are made after that breakdown has occurred. The Committee would prefer to see increased funding for marriage education, and the introduction of measures to increase community awareness of the benefits of seeking professional help at an early stage in marital difficulties. The Committee concludes that, rather than ordering reconciliation counselling at the request of one party to the marriage, or requiring couples who have been married for less than two years to attend reconciliation counselling before granting a dissolution, other procedures may be more appropriate

and effective.10

Does Marriage Counselling Work?

A major study undertaken by the Australian Institute of Family Studies in 1989 concluded that "counselling appears to be highly effective for the majority of clients who come to improve their relationship or manage to prevent breakdown. It is seen as less effective in dealing with situations where breakdown has occurred,

8

'Family Court Chief calls for more marriage education' Threshold No. 34, December 1991, 6.

9 I. Wolcott, Marriage Counselling Services: Priorities and Policy, Institute of Family Studies, Policy Background Paper, No. 3, March 1984, 29.

10

Joint Select Committee on Certain Aspects of the Operation and

Interpretations of the Family Law Act, Parliament of Australia, November 1992, para. 3.82

5

particularly by men who do not want the separation"."

The authors added:

"Counselling appears to be less effective for many men, particularly in cases where their partner was not interested in continuing the relationship. Fewer of these men remained in counselling, so were unable to benefit from potential assistance in coping with the separation and its consequences for themselves as individuals, as fathers and as a future marital partner. Women tended to see more

value in these personal aspects of counselling whatever the outcome of the relationship."

While there appears little doubt that marriage counselling can be effective for many couples, issues about its appropriate timing and objectives remain important.

Funding of Marriage Counselling

Marriage counselling is funded by both federal government grants to approved agencies and by the agencies themselves.

The policy of the Attorney-General's Department, approved in 1985, is to fund no more than 75 per cent of an approved organisation's marriage counselling expenditure and to encourage agencies to raise at least 25 per cent of expenditure from fees. However, no client is to be denied services because of an inability to

pay a fee. In a memo to directors of marriage counselling agencies in 1985, the Department stated:

"It should be emphasised that the Government's purpose in providing financial assistance for marriage counselling is not to undertake total financial responsibility for the provision of counselling services. The

scheme is designed to provide financial encouragement to voluntary organisations to develop, maintain and extend marriage counselling services. Each organisation is expected to raise a proportion of its income from other sources, which will include client fees or donations and financial support by a sponsoring body, such as a church."

Funding by the sponsoring body of the agency and the charging of client fees had reduced the average government subsidy to 59 per cent in 1988-89, although the range was from 25 per cent to 90 per cent.

The Attorney-General's Department subsidy of marriage counselling agencies, 1976-77 to 1991-92 was:

l l

aE

Total

T otal subsidy % increase.;.....

Year

...... ...:. :.:

previous year

1976-77 ;;; 1;927,000 ' .; 202

;

....

1977-78 2100000 9:0> .>

1978-7 ...... . 2,281,000 000:

.. . .....

86 .. .. .

1979-80

........... ....

. ...:....:.

...

:

1980-81 ... ; .2,750,000 > 122 ... .

: ;> 1981-82 2,950,000

.............

73 ... ,

1.982_$3>. ;3,320,000 125 .; > ...

1983-84 3,685,000 11 0;

1984-85 4,100,000 > 11 3

198.5-86 4,700,000 14 6

1986-87 ...

. .

4,745,000 1 0

1987-88 .. 6,275,000 322

1988-89 6,969,000 111

1989-9 :7,703,000. > ; 104

1990-91. 9,755,000

..... .....

273

1991-92

.

12,210300

.....

As a consequence of the release of the AIFS evaluation of marriage counselling in 1989, the level of funding was increased by 27.3% to $9.8 million for 1990-91 and to $11.7 million in 1991-92. New policy funding of $1,311,733 has been announced for 1992-93.

7

Use of Marriage Counselling

Statistics provided by the Attorney-General's Department to the AIFS indicate the following number of marriage counselling interviews:

1976-77 101,429 1977-78 112,030 1978-79 110,478 1979-80 114,063 1980-81 119,989 1981-82 128,041 1982-83 133,194 1983-84 136,480 1984-85 138,722 1985-86 146,180 1986-87 144,459 1987-88 ?

1988-89 ?

1989-90 ?

1990-91 ?

While the actual number of clients is difficult to ascertain, Attorney-General's Department figures indicate that notionally 22 per cent of all agency clients attend for only one session. The AIFS study revealed the following figures.

;Interviews: Males.; Females;

% No °Io No

1 2 : 23 37' ; 27, .... 95

3-4 > >.

.; .. _

.. 23 37 > ; ;. 22 77

7+ 30 (49) ' 24 : >(84)

In an answer to a Question on Notice on 17 October 1991, the Attorney-General stated:

"Organisations providing marriage counselling services are required to include statistics on service utilisation in their annual reports. However, there is no uniform method of recording this data and I am

8

Although seeking help is usually a voluntary process, in some cases referrals come

from external sources, family, friends, a minister, doctor or lawyer.

The AIFS study found that:

women appear more motivated than men to seek assistance to resolve marital problems, and more open to discussing personal problems. Overall, 46 per cent of women compared to 28 per cent of men decided on their own to come to counselling regardless."

The study indicated that in the majority of cases, the decision was by one or other partner or the couple, as the following table indicates.

.... .. ...

Who :su suggested marriage counselling relationship status by Sex.. 99 e 9 9 Y P ........ Male:..::.... Female .<.:.: .

Apart Together Total ::.;, ...;.. Apart Together:Total::::.

Expectation ::: % % ::: %

Within relationshi :. P decided; .; 33 25; 28 43. 47 46

Partner asked me 30 40 37;;;; 20 11. 13

Decided Together 9 . 27 43 .: : 38 '' 15 27 24'

Informal Family member 13 10 11:. 15

12 13

friend ... ... ....: 19: 1.1::; .. 13.;.;:..:.:.; 22 .'. 17:

.:

19.:

Formal>

..

Community Group 3

Professional . n 15;; 8 10> : > 19 17 18

These conclusions indicate that education of the community about the advantages of early referral to counselling remains important. In addition, they point to the importance of pre-wedding education.

17 Ibid , 89

12

the mandatory nature of these provisions, the Family Court may consider "special

circumstances" of a particular case: section 44(1 C)12.

Just as the entering into marriage is a process over time during which a relationship develops, so too the ending of a marriage is a process of a breaking down of the relationship. It is often asserted that appropriate intervention at an early stage of relationship conflict or disillusionment would restore an acceptable degree of harmony to many marriages.

Numerous submissions to the Parliamentary Inquiry have suggested a longer period of separation in order to establish the "irretrievable breakdown" of the marriage, often coupled with a suggestion for earlier counselling. One problem with this approach would appear to be the reduced chance of effective

reconciliation counselling once separation has occurred. Some other approach would appear necessary to encourage counselling prior to separation.

Barriers to Effective Counselling

A number of barriers to effective counselling have been observed, including a general lack of knowledge about the subject and unwillingness to learn about matters involving intimate personal relationships. As one author despairingly remarked:

Especially in the areas of sex, courtship, marriage and childbearing most people hold ideas which give them such great emotional satisfaction that they are steadfastly reluctant to change them in the face of their inaccuracy. For this impediment there is no remedy.13

This conclusion would appear unduly pessimistic. Indeed, the problem is possibly a reflection of what Mace observed about attitudes to the discussion of personal relationships, namely, they are private and natural 14 ; an observation since

applied particularly to Australian males. Other authors have reached similar conclusions. 15 Women, according to much of the literature, tend to seek help more than men and are more likely to initiate counselling.16

12

See F. Bates, An Introduction to Family Law (1987, 163-166.

13 J.R. Udry, The Social Context of Marriage (1974) 14 David & Vera Mace, How to Have a Happy Marriage (1977) 15 J. Mayer & N. Timms, The Client Speaks: Working Class Impressions of Casework , London (1970); and J. Brannen & J. Collard, Marriages in

Trouble: The Process of Seeking Help , London (1982) 16 Ilene Wolcott & Helen Glezer, Marriage Counselling in Australia (1989) , 86. 11

no national training standards;

no guaranteed portability of accreditation among agencies and across States; no nationally-agreed supervision protocols or training programmes; little shared knowledge of relevant tertiary courses for marriage and family workers; an inadequate link between theoretical tertiary courses and the

practical training programmes of agencies; and no accessible central resource for training materials.21

ACOMCO has proposed a National Open Training Academy based on the Open University of the U.K. model of education and training.

The Open University characteristics of relevance to this proposal are: one physical facility for programmes covering all of the nation; flexibility of enrolment criteria, including the absence of academic prerequisites, where possible; a qualification

system; the central facilitation of course and programme offerings; local study centres; and the dispersal and diversity of teaching media, including residential courses, study groups, distance education, radio, television, and written, audio and video forms of instructional material.

The main distinction between the Open University and the NOTA concept is that NOTA primarily would have a linking function rather than a direct teaching function: the latter would be effected primarily by professional and tertiary training institutions.

Selection, Accreditation & Supervision

The selection, accreditation and supervision of counsellors is undertaken by the individual agencies. There is no national body to which marriage counsellors may belong, although agencies generally are members of one (or more) of three national peak bodies: Australian Council of Marriage Counselling Organisations

(ACOMCO); Marriage Guidance Australia (MGA); and Centacare Australia. MGA consists of the State Marriage Guidance Councils, and Centacare comprises the State and Territory Catholic Family agencies.

ACOMCO published a set of minimum standards for the selection, accreditation and supervision of marriage counsellors in February 1991. There appears no clear indication about the extent to which these standards are generally accepted, although the standards in agencies appear high.

The administration of marriage counselling services involves pre-approval evaluation of' organisations requesting approval and subsidy and post-approval monitoring of agencies to ensure compliance with the Family Law Act and

21 ACOMCO, Proposal for a National Open Training Academy, February 1991. 14

Payment of Counsellors

When the Menzies Government introduced grants for approved marriage counselling organisations in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1959, it clearly intended to promote the system of voluntary and independent agencies. In his second reading speech, the Attorney-General, Sir Garfield Barwick, said:

I do not hold with the view that this work can be done satisfactorily by people who make it no more than a means of livelihood. The work will best be done by those who, as well as being trained, have a sense of vocation and who, to a large extent, volunteer their good offices in this very skilful and sympathetic task.18

A number of factors have resulted in a more commercial outlook: the growing user pays policies of government; the increasing emphasis on training, standards, accreditation and peer review; the academic study of counselling; and the recognition that justice demands adequate recompense for work. As a consequence, agencies have introduced salaries at social worker and psychologist award rates for accredited counsellors. Most agencies also now charge fees to their clients.

Much counselling remains on part-time and sessional. Reports to the Attorney-General's Department in 1987-88 indicated a staff complement of 275 agency staff counsellors, of whom approximately two-thirds were part-time, and 239 part-time sessional counsellors. The counsellors are predominantly female: 77 per cent in

1988.19

The Parliamentary Committee recommended in November 1992 that:

sufficient funding be provided to approved marriage counselling organizations to enable the prompt provision of appointments to potential clients, and to improve the accessibility of marriage counselling to those living in rural and remote areas.2°

Training of Counsellors

Although training is undertaken by the approved agencies providing marriage counselling, a survey conducted by ACOMCO in 1990 indicated:

no national training programme;

18 Hansard , 14 May 1959, 2225. 19 Marriage Counselling in Australia , 21-22.

20 Para. 4.97

13

may have implications for further training of counsellors in separation

counselling and education may be required.

The provision of clear explanations of the counselling process and what it can and can not do would be useful to ensure that clients do not retain unrealistic expectations of what counselling can achieve.

The place of marriage counselling along the continuum of services to families needs to be addressed. This raises the question of where marriage counselling belongs along the continuum of preparation for marriage, marriage enhancement, adjusting to life cycle transitions

such as parenthood and coping with the consequences of family breakdown.

Since the provision of marriage and family supports cross government departments of health, education, community services and the law, co-ordination across departments should be explored to avoid duplication of resources and services across all communities.

Accessibility

More attention should be given to access in rural and outer metropolitan areas.

There is a need for adequate provision of interpreters and outreach to ethnic communities to improve the accessibility of these populations.

Weekend and evening times for counselling are necessary if working men and women are to be able to take advantage of the services.

A better balance between male and female counsellors may increase access and usage by men.

Some consideration should be given to linking marriage counselling services with other services such as parenting education, financial counselling, or even recreational programs. This may reduce the stigma that sometimes attaches to attending a marriage counselling service. Cost savings on rental and ancillary administrative supports

may be possible in a multi-service centre.

Outreach

Although studies have revealed that men who are separated could benefit from social services, men do not seek or receive help as often as women. Since men appear to be less comfortable or motivated to attend counselling, information about marriage counselling in a format appealing to men should

be available where men tend to gather, at sporting clubs and work centres,

16

Departmental guidelines. The Counselling and Psychology Section of the Attorney-

General's Department has developed standards by which agencies are approved and continue to receive funds. These conditions include guidelines for the selection, training, supervision and continuing education of counsellors.22

The authors of the AIFS study concluded:

The complexity of marital and family dynamics demands a level of expertise in practitioners of marriage and family counselling which obviates reliance on poorly paid staff or volunteers.

Training and supervision of staff are essential adjuncts to provision of services. On-going evaluation of service effectiveness is also necessary. Adequate funding for these components is an important consideration if services are to be available at reasonable cost to clients.

The Parliamentary Committee concluded that it was satisfied that the existing standards for the accreditation of marriage counselling agencies, and mechanisms for quality control, are currently sufficient to maintain generally high standards of service on the part of these organizations.23

New Services

The Attorney-General's Department encourages established organisations to extend their services in the community, if a need for additional services is determined, rather than approving new organisations. The reasoning behind this policy is to

enable greater efficiency both in the provision of services and in monitoring agency standards.

Future Directions

The AIFS authors stated a series of implications arising from their evaluation of marriage counselling.

These were:

Clarification of aims

It should be made clear to clients at the outset that marriage counselling is about not only 'mending' but 'ending' marriages.

22 D. Fox, 'Guidelines for Organisations Seeking Approval' Correspondence to Directors of Approved Organisations, Attorney-General's Department, Canberra, 15 December 1988.

23 Para. 4.53

15

Counselling and Socio-economic Background

Although the AIFS study found that couples attending counselling were representative of the different socio-economic stratum of society 24, anecdotal evidence from individual counsellors suggests that counselling is used predominantly by the middle-classes. Is there a need to direct funds for counselling more specifically?

24 I. Wolcott & H. Glezer, Marriage Counselling in Australia 61-64. 18

even pubs.

For both men and women marriage counselling information should be accessible at work locations and in community venues such as child care centres, neighbourhood houses, schools and community social centres.

Community forums and media programs on typical marital problems and strategies to resolve them should be considered. Community education is a priority. It is essential to get across the message that assistance with

marital and family stress is not equated with failure or that only the disadvantaged and 'real' problem families go for assistance.

SOME ISSUES FOR CONSIDERATION:

Conciliation and Reconciliation

While the definition of counselling in the Family Law Act includes both reconciliation of the parties to the marriage and the conciliation of the process of separation, it is clear that the Family Court service is almost entirely devoted to conciliation. Should this reality, and the differences between the two forms of counselling be clarified?

Funding

One criticism made of the current system is the fact that counselling provided by the Family Court is free of charge to the parties; but reconciliation counselling provided by agencies attracts a fee. Does this discrepancy reflect justifiable priorities?

Although the funding of services is based on the mapping of needs in particular areas, some agencies have queried the application of this policy. Are needs being met? Is the policy clearly applied?

Rural Areas

Are the needs of rural couples sufficiently met?

Waiting Periods

Agencies report waiting periods of 6-8 weeks for counselling. How can these periods be reduced?

Marital Counselling and Relationship Counselling

Marriage counselling has traditionally been undertaken in the context of the marital relationship, and funding provided accordingly. Should this focus be preserved?

17

MARRIAGE COUNSELLING

Since 1960, the Australian Government has provided subsidies to both church and secular marriage counselling organisations. Government provisions for marriage counselling initially vested in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1959 are now contained in the Family Law Act 19751.

Section 12 of the Act provides:

The Attorney-General may approve such organisation (voluntary) as a marriage counselling organisation where he is satisfied that:

(a) the organisation is willing and able to engage in marriage counselling; and

(b) marriage counselling constitutes or will constitute the whole or the major part of its activities.

Marriage counselling is defined in the Family Law Act 1975 in Section 4(1):

'marriage counselling' includes the counselling of a person in relation to:

(a) entering into marriage; (b) reconciliation of parties to a marriage; (c) separation of the parties to a marriage; (d) the dissolution or annulment of a marriage; or (e) adjusting to the dissolution or annulment of marriage

whether that counselling is provided in relation to the proposed marriage, marriage, or former marriage of that person or in relation to the proposed marriage, marriage, or former marriage of another person or other persons, and whether that counselling is provided to that person individually or as a member of a group of

persons.

The operational definition of marriage counselling in use by the Attorney-General's Department as a guide to agencies states:

Family Law Act 1975, s. 12

"

Marriage Counselling is operationally defined as a process where a neutral third party, focussing on the emotional dynamics of relationships and the stability of marriage within a family unit, assists parties to deal with the stresses they encounter as they move into, live within, or move out of that family unit.2

The guidelines are currently being reviewed by the Attorney-General's Department.

History of Marriage Counselling

Marriage counselling agencies (then termed "marriage guidance") were established in Australia in the 1940s and 1950s. They were modelled on the pattern developing in the U.K.

The Marriage Guidance Council was established in the U.K. in 1937, the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council in 1946, and the Family Discussion Bureau in 1948.4

The work of marriage guidance (as it was then known) was scrutinised at the end of the second world war in Britain by the Committee on Procedure in Matrimonial Causes (the Denning Committee). 5 The terms of reference of the Denning Committee required it to examine "....in particular whether any (and if so, what) machinery should be made available for the purpose of attempting a reconciliation between the parties, either before or after proceedings had been commenced". In their Report made in 1947, they said:

We have throughout our inquiry had in mind the principle that the marriage tie is of the highest importance in the interests of society. The unity of the family is so important that, when parties are estranged, reconciliation should be attempted in every case where there is a prospect of success.

They recommended that:

2

D. Fox, "Guidelines for organisations seeking approval". Correspondence to Directors of Approved Organisations, Attorney-General's Department, 15 December 1988.

3

J. Crawley, The Attorney-General's Stable Door: Marriage Counselling Services in Australia. (1986).

4 Marriage Matters, Working Party on Marriage Guidance, HMSO, London, 1979, 3.

5

The Final Report of the Committee on Procedure in Matrimonial Causes,

(1947) Cmd 7024 HMSO.

2

It should be recognised as a function of the State to give every

encouragement and, where appropriate, financial assistance to marriage guidance as a form of Social Service.

A subsequent Home Office Committee (the Harris Committee) concluded that:

...this is work which we believe is better left as far as possible to the initiative of voluntary organisations and which cannot like other forms of social work be undertaken - at any rate at the present time and without further knowledge and experience - by official bodies.6

This approach was repeated in Australia.

Currently there are 32 approved marriage counselling organisations in Australia: eight of these are secular organisations affiliated to Marriage Guidance Australia (formerly the National Marriage Guidance Council of Australia); and the remaining are church and secular organisations which co-operate under the auspice of the Australian Council of Marriage Counselling Organisations (ACOMCO). These

agencies operate approximately 190 branch offices in all states and territories.

Marriage counselling is also provided by some private practitioners and unaffiliated persons. The numbers of private practitioners is difficult to quantify, but it is believed to be relatively small. Other persons such as psychologists offer counselling for personal issues.

Marriage Counselling and other Se rvices

Both in practice and pursuant to the requirements of - the Marriage Act 1961, marriage counselling has been regarded as distinct from other personal, health, welfare and psychotherapy services.

Distinctions have also been drawn between marriage counselling, family counselling, marriage education, family therapy, mediation and conciliation. These distinctions create some difficulties for multi-service agencies, and require more consideration.

Aims of Marriage Counselling '

Although different principles, methods and techniques of counselling and

6 Report of the Departmental Committee on Grants for the Development of Marriage Guidance (1948) And 7566 HMSO

have drawn upon I. Wolcott & H. Glezer, Marriage Counselling in Australia: An Evaluation , AIFS, (1989) at 24-25 and the sources therein for this discussion.

3

psychotherapy are employed for the purpose of resolving conflict, modifying

perception and behaviour, and altering attitudes, the unifying concept underlying marital therapy is the emphasis on treating problems within the context of a relationship. This emphasis on the relationship is an important concept which allows counselling to be distinguished from other forms of individual therapy.

In addition, it has been claimed that the objectives of the Government in providing marriage counselling funding pursuant to the Family Law Act 1975 were 'to encourage the development of marriage counselling organisations so that people with marital difficulties might have an alternative to divorce'.

Family Law Act

The legislation clearly sought to encourage an environment in which couples had every opportunity to achieve reconciliation. Thus, s.14(5), for example, states:

Where a court having jurisdiction under this Act is of the opinion that counselling may assist the parties to a marriage to improve their relationship to each other and to any child of the marriage, it may

advise the parties to attend upon a marriage counsellor or an approved marriage counselling organisation and, if it thinks it desirable to do so, adjourn any proceedings before it to enable the attendance.

The original Family Law Act required counselling to be undertaken by the couple prior to a divorce application hearing where they had been married for less than two years: section 14(6). This provision was replaced in 1983 by a requirement that a couple married for less than two years see a counsellor before they can file for a divorce: section 44(1 B).

The Family Law Act also provided that counselling and welfare staff be appointed to the Family Court to assist parties to assist reconciliation and, if unsuccessful, to assist the parties to conciliate agreement on property, custody and access issues: section 37(8).

In practice, Family Court counselling is mostly directed to the conciliation of the divorce and not to reconciliation of the couple. Indeed the Chief Justice of the Family Court admitted in 1991:

Originally it was thought that the Court would play a role in the promotion of reconciliation but the experience of the last 15 years has been that by the time that a couple approaches the Court, there is little room for reconciliation, and such reconciliations that do occur are

4

of uncertain and doubtful duration.8

The tendency is for all cases that would benefit from marriage counselling to be referred to approved marriage counselling agencies. As one researcher concluded in 1984:

In general, Family Court counselling services appear now to specialise in short-term counselling to resolve disputes over custody access issues resulting from marriage breakdown.9

These issues were examined by the Federal Parliamentary Inquiry into Family Law

The Report concluded:

The Committee believes that an increased emphasis on educating the community, and particularly the young, about communications in relationships, about the responsibilities of marriage, and about the potential benefits of relationship counselling will in the long-term be a

more effective means of preventing marital breakdown than orders for reconciliation counselling which are made after that breakdown has occurred. The Committee would prefer to see increased funding for marriage education, and the introduction of measures to increase community awareness of the benefits of seeking professional help at an early stage in marital difficulties. The Committee concludes that, rather than ordering reconciliation counselling at the request of one party to the marriage, or requiring couples who have been married for less than two years to attend reconciliation counselling before granting a dissolution, other procedures may be more appropriate and effective.10

Does Marriage Counselling Work?

A major study undertaken by the Australian Institute of Family Studies in 1989 concluded that "counselling appears to be highly effective for the majority of clients who come to improve their relationship or manage to prevent breakdown. It is seen as less effective in dealing with situations where breakdown has occurred,

8

'Family Court Chief calls for more marriage education' Threshold No. 34, December 1991, 6.

I. Wolcott, Marriage Counselling Services: Priorities and Policy, Institute of Family Studies, Policy Background Paper, No. 3, March 1984, 29.

10

Joint Select Committee on Certain Aspects of the Operation and

Interpretations of the Family Law Act, Parliament of Australia, November 1992, para. 3.82

F1

particularly by men who do not want the separation"."

The authors added:

"Counselling appears to be less effective for many men, particularly in cases where their partner was not interested in continuing the relationship. Fewer of these men remained in counselling, so were unable to benefit from potential assistance in coping with the separation and its consequences for themselves as individuals, as fathers and as a future marital partner. Women tended to see more value in these personal aspects of counselling whatever the outcome

of the relationship."

While there appears little doubt that marriage counselling can be effective for many couples, issues about its appropriate timing and objectives remain important.

Funding of Marriage Counselling

Marriage counselling is funded by both federal government grants to approved agencies and by the agencies themselves.

The policy of the Attorney-General's Department, approved in 1985, is to fund no more than 75 per cent of an approved organisation's marriage counselling expenditure and to encourage agencies to raise at least 25 per cent of expenditure from fees. However, no client is to be denied services because of an inability to

pay a fee. In a memo to directors of marriage counselling agencies in 1985, the Department stated:

"It should be emphasised that the Government's purpose in providing financial assistance for marriage counselling is not to undertake total financial responsibility for the provision of counselling services. The scheme is designed to provide financial encouragement to voluntary organisations to develop, maintain and extend marriage counselling services. Each organisation is expected to raise a proportion of its income from other sources, which will include client fees or donations and financial support by a sponsoring body, such as a church."

Funding by the sponsoring body of the agency and the charging of client fees had reduced the average government subsidy to 59 per cent in 1988-89, although the range was from 25 per cent to 90 per cent.

The Attorney-General's Department subsidy of marriage counselling agencies, 1976-77 to 1991-92 was:

6

Total:

subsidy % increase

Year $ previous year

1976-77

..... :....:.:.

> ::1,927,000 202

1977-78 2,1; 00,000: 9.0

1978 79 ;: ; . 2,281,000; ; 86 ....... ...... 2,450,000 .....

74

; 2,750,000 1;2:2';

1981-82 2,950,000; 73;;

1982=8 3;320;000 125

1983-84 3,685,000 11 0

1984-85 4,100,000`' 11:3

1985-86 4.700;000.; 146

1986-87 4,745,000 1:0

1987-88 6,275 000;;` 32.2'

1988-89 6,969,000 11.1,

1989-90 7,703,000 104;

1990-91 9,765,000 27.3

1991-92 12,210,300

As a consequence of the release of the AIFS evaluation of marriage counselling in 1989, the level of funding was increased by 27.3% to $9.8 million for 1990-91 and to $11.7 million in 1991-92. New policy funding of $1,311,733 has been announced for 1992-93.

7

Use of Marriage Counselling

Statistics provided by the Attorney-General's Department to the AIFS indicate the following number of marriage counselling interviews:

1976-77 101,429 1977-78 112,030 1978-79 110,478 1979-80 114,063 1980-81 119,989 1981-82 128,041 1982-83 133,194 1983-84 136,480 1984-85 138,722 1985-86 146,180 1986-87 144,459 1987-88 ?

1988-89 ?

1989-90 ?

1990-91 ?

While the actual number of clients is difficult to ascertain, Attorney-General's Department figures indicate that notionally 22 per cent of all agency clients attend for only one session. The AIFS study revealed the following figures.

Interviews Males Females

% No. %. No.

1.2 23 (37) 27 (95)

.3-4 25 (40) 27 (96)

5-6 23 ;: (37) 22; (77)

7+ 30 (49) 24 (84)

In an answer to a Question on Notice on 17 October 1991, the Attorney-General stated:

"Organisations providing marriage counselling services are required to include statistics on service utilisation in their annual reports. However, there is no uniform method of recording this data and I am

8

Although seeking help is usually a voluntary process, in some cases referrals come

from external sources, family, friends, a minister, doctor or lawyer.

The AIFS study found that:

women appear more motivated than men to seek assistance to resolve marital problems, and more open to discussing personal problems. Overall, 46 per cent of women compared to 28 per cent of men decided on their own to come to counselling regardless."

The study indicated that in the majority of cases, the decision was by one or other partner or the couple, as the following table indicates.

Who suggested: marriage counselling by relationship status by sex.

Male Female

Apart Together Total Apart Together Total

Expectation % % % % a/o

Within relationship oshi P

..::.....:.

I decided 33 25;; ; '; 28' 43 47 46

Partner asked me 30 40 37 20 11 13

Decided Together 27 43 38 1.5 27° 24

Informal' Family member 13 10 11 15 12 13

Friend 19 11 13 22 17 19

Formal Community Group: 3 1,, 2' ;> 6 1:: 3.

Professional 15 . ; ;::8::;::..;..10 :::.;:.:..;; :;: 19 ..;:.:. 17 . 18::. ...

:.

These conclusions indicate that education of the community about the advantages of early referral to counselling remains important. In addition, they point to the importance of pre-wedding education.

17 Ibid , 89

12

the mandatory nature of these provisions, the Family Court may consider "special

circumstances" of a particular case: section 44(1 C)12.

Just as the entering into marriage is a process over time during which a relationship develops, so too the ending of a marriage is a process of a breaking down of the relationship. It is often asserted that appropriate intervention at an early stage of relationship conflict or disillusionment would restore an acceptable degree of harmony to many marriages.

Numerous submissions to the Parliamentary Inquiry have suggested a longer period of separation in order to establish the "irretrievable breakdown" of the marriage, often coupled with a suggestion for earlier counselling. One problem with this approach would appear to be the reduced chance of effective

reconciliation counselling once separation has occurred. Some other approach would appear necessary to encourage counselling prior to separation.

Barriers to Effective Counselling

A number of barriers to effective counselling have been observed, including a general lack of knowledge about the subject and unwillingness to learn about matters involving intimate personal relationships. As one author despairingly remarked:

Especially in the areas of sex, courtship, marriage and childbearing most people hold ideas which give them such great emotional satisfaction that they are steadfastly reluctant to change them in the face of their inaccuracy. For this impediment there is no remedy.13

This conclusion would appear unduly pessimistic. Indeed, the problem is possibly a reflection of what Mace observed about attitudes to the discussion of personal relationships, namely, they are private and natural 14 ; an observation since applied particularly to Australian males. Other authors have reached similar conclusions. 15 Women, according to much of the literature, tend to seek help more than men and are more likely to initiate counselling.t6

12 See F. Bates, An Introduction to Family Law (1987, 163-166.

13 J.R. Udry, The Social Context of Marriage (1974) 14 David & Vera Mace, How to Have a Happ y Marriage (1977) 15 J. Mayer & N. Timms, The Client Speaks: Working Class Impressions of Casework , London (1970); and J. Brannen & J. Collard, Marriages in

Trouble: The Process of Seeking Help, London (1982) 16 Ilene Wolcott & Helen Glezer, Marriage Counselling in Australia (1989) , 86. 11

no national training standards;

no guaranteed portability of accreditation among agencies and across States; no nationally-agreed supervision protocols or training programmes; little shared knowledge of relevant tertiary courses for marriage and family workers;

an inadequate link between theoretical tertiary courses and the practical training programmes of agencies; and no accessible central resource for training materials.21

ACOMCO has proposed a National Open Training Academy based on the Open University of the U.K. model of education and training.

The Open University characteristics of relevance to this proposal are: one physical facility for programmes covering all of the nation; flexibility of enrolment criteria, including the absence of academic prerequisites, where possible; a qualification system; the central facilitation of course and programme offerings; local study

centres; and the dispersal and diversity of teaching media, including residential courses, study groups, distance education, radio, television, and written, audio and video forms of instructional material.

The main distinction between the Open University and the NOTA concept is that NOTA primarily would have a linking function rather than a direct teaching function: the latter would be effected primarily by professional and tertiary training institutions.

Selection. Accreditation & Supervision

The selection, accreditation and supervision of counsellors is undertaken by the individual agencies. There is no national body to which marriage counsellors may belong, although agencies generally are members of one (or more) of three national peak bodies: Australian Council of Marriage Counselling Organisations

(ACOMCO); Marriage Guidance Australia (MGA); and Centacare Australia. MGA consists of the State Marriage Guidance Councils, and Centacare comprises the State and Territory Catholic Family agencies.

ACOMCO published a set of minimum standards for the selection, accreditation and supervision of marriage counsellors in February 1991. There appears no clear indication about the extent to which these standards are generally accepted, although the standards in agencies appear high.

The administration of marriage counselling services involves pre-approval evaluation of organisations requesting approval and subsidy and post-approval monitoring of agencies to ensure compliance with the Family Law Act and

21 ACOMCO, Proposal for a National Open Training Academy , February 1991. 14

Payment of Counsellors

When the Menzies Government introduced grants for approved marriage counselling organisations in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1959, it clearly intended to promote the system of voluntary and independent agencies. In his second reading speech, the Attorney-General, Sir Garfield Barwick, said:

I do not hold with the view that this work can be done satisfactorily by people who make it no more than a means of livelihood. The work will best be done by those who, as well as being trained, have a sense of vocation and who, to a large extent, volunteer their good offices in this very skilful and sympathetic task.18

A number of factors have resulted in a more commercial outlook: the growing user pays policies of government; the increasing emphasis on training, standards, accreditation and peer review; the academic study of counselling; and the recognition that justice demands adequate recompense for work. As a consequence, agencies have introduced salaries at social worker and psychologist award rates for accredited counsellors. Most agencies also now charge fees to their clients.

Much counselling remains on part-time and sessional. Reports to the Attorney-General's Department in 1987-88 indicated a staff complement of 275 agency staff counsellors, of whom approximately two-thirds were part-time, and 239 part-time sessional counsellors. The counsellors are predominantly female: 77 per cent in

1988.19

The Parliamentary Committee recommended in November 1992 that:

sufficient funding be provided to approved marriage counselling organizations to enable the prompt provision of appointments to potential clients, and to improve the accessibility of marriage counselling to those living in rural and remote areas.20

Training of Counsellors

Although training is undertaken by the approved agencies providing marriage counselling, a survey conducted by ACOMCO in 1990 indicated:

no national training programme;

18 Hansard , 14 May 1959, 2225. 19 Marriage Counselling in Australia , 21-22.

20 Para. 4.97

13

may have implications for further training of counsellors in separation

counselling and education may be required.

The provision of clear explanations of the counselling process and what it can and can not do would be useful to ensure that clients do not retain unrealistic expectations of what counselling can achieve.

The place of marriage counselling along the continuum of services to families needs to be addressed. This raises the question of where marriage counselling belongs along the continuum of preparation for marriage, marriage enhancement, adjusting to life cycle transitions

such as parenthood and coping with the consequences of family breakdown.

Since the provision of marriage and family supports cross government departments of health, education, community services and the law, co-ordination across departments should be explored to avoid duplication of resources and services across all communities.

More attention should be given to access in rural and outer metropolitan areas.

There is a need for adequate provision of interpreters and outreach to ethnic communities to improve the accessibility of these populations.

Weekend and evening times for counselling are necessary if working men and women are to be able to take advantage of the services.

A better balance between male and female counsellors may increase access and usage by men.

Some consideration should be given to linking marriage counselling services with other services such as parenting education, financial counselling, or even recreational programs. This may reduce the stigma that sometimes attaches to attending a marriage counselling service. Cost savings on rental and ancillary administrative supports

may be possible in a multi-service centre.

Although studies have revealed that men who are separated could benefit from social services, men do not seek or receive help as often as women. Since men appear to be less comfortable or motivated to attend counselling, information about marriage counselling in a format appealing to men should

be available where men tend to gather, at sporting clubs and work centres,

16

Departmental guidelines. The Counselling and Psychology Section of the Attorney-

General's Department has developed standards by which agencies are approved and continue to receive funds. These conditions include guidelines for the selection, training, supervision and continuing education of counsellors.22

The authors of the AIFS study concluded:

The complexity of marital and family dynamics demands a level of expertise in practitioners of marriage and family counselling which obviates reliance on poorly paid staff or volunteers.

Training and supervision of staff are essential adjuncts to provision of services. On-going evaluation of service effectiveness is also necessary. Adequate funding for these components is an important consideration if services are to be available at reasonable cost to clients.

The Parliamentary Committee concluded that it was satisfied that the existing standards for the accreditation of marriage counselling agencies, and mechanisms for quality control, are currently sufficient to maintain generally high standards of service on the part of these organizations.23

New Services

The Attorney-General's Department encourages established organisations to extend their services in the community, if a need for additional services is determined, rather than approving new organisations. The reasoning behind this policy is to enable greater efficiency both in the provision of services and in monitoring agency standards.

Future Directions

The AIFS authors stated a series of implications arising from their evaluation of marriage counselling.

These were:

Clarification of aims

It should be made clear to clients at the outset that marriage counselling is about not only 'mending' but 'ending' marriages.

22

D. Fox, 'Guidelines for Organisations Seeking Approval' Correspondence to

Directors of Approved Organisations, Attorney-General's Department, Canberra, 15 December 1988.

23 Para. 4.53

15

Counselling and Socio-economic Background

Although the AIFS study found that couples attending counselling were representative of the different socio-economic stratum of society 24, anecdotal evidence from individual counsellors suggests that counselling is used predominantly by the middle-classes. Is there a need to direct funds for counselling more specifically?

24 I. Wolcott & H. Glezer, Marriage Counselling in Australia 61-64. 18

even pubs.

For both men and women marriage counselling information should be accessible at work locations and in community venues such as child care centres, neighbourhood houses, schools and community social centres.

Community forums and media programs on typical marital problems and strategies to resolve them should be considered. Community education is a priority. It is essential to get across the message that assistance with

marital and family stress is not equated with failure or that only the disadvantaged and 'real' problem families go for assistance.

SOME ISSUES FOR CONSIDERATION:

Conciliation and Reconciliation

While the definition of counselling in the Family Law Act includes both reconciliation of the parties to the marriage and the conciliation of the process of separation, it is clear that the Family Court service is almost entirely devoted to conciliation.

Should this reality, and the differences between the two forms of counselling be clarified?

Funding

One criticism made of the current system is the fact that counselling provided by the Family Court is free of charge to the parties; but reconciliation counselling provided by agencies attracts a fee. Does this discrepancy reflect justifiable priorities?

Although the funding of services is based on the mapping of needs in particular areas, some agencies have queried the application of this policy. Are needs being met? Is the policy clearly applied?

Rural Areas

Are the needs of rural couples sufficiently met?

Waiting Periods

Agencies report waiting periods of 6-8 weeks for counselling. How can these periods be reduced?

Marital Counselling and Relationship Counselling

Marriage counselling has traditionally been undertaken in the context of the marital relationship, and funding provided accordingly. Should this focus be preserved?

17

0

FAMILY MEDIATION

In 1983, Justice Elizabeth Evatt wrote to the Commonwealth Attorney-General expressing a desire to establish community services which would minimise litigation in family law matters and maximise the opportunities for conciliation and alternative dispute resolution. This partly originated out of both an acknowledgment of the success of Family Court Counselling in assisting couples resolve disputes and a recognition that frequently couples were already involved in sometimes costly and bitter litigation before they sought access to such services.

In July 1983 the Attorney-General wrote to the chairman of the Family Law Council expressing concern over the rising cost of family law matters and requesting that the Council examine the implications of establishing 'family law clinics' which could provide, amongst other things, mediation and conciliation services as well as

undertake an extensive community education function.

In November 1983, the Family Law Council reported back to the Attorney-General. The Council's report suggested the establishment of what were then called Family Law Centres on a pilot basis: recommended that they be community based: that they provide general information, a source of referral and the provision of direct

assistance to enable parties to reach their own agreement without the necessity of legal proceedings. It also suggested they might provide mediation services and community education and counselling facilities.

More specifically, the objectives and functions were to:

1. provide services aimed at preventing family disputes/problems arising;

2. be an alternative to litigation in the resolution of disputes in family matters;

3. provide a conciliation and mediation service (not defined except that it is not to be arbitration);

4. assist individuals/couples to make their own decisions resolving their difficulties;

5. provide information in relation to a range of matters;

6. recognise the multi-cultural nature of society and the need for diversity; and

7. be easily accessible, locally based and available to all family members.

1

Subsequently in 1984, the Federal Government announced funding for a pilot

project to provide services aimed at preventing and resolving family disputes. Programs were funded at Noble Park, Victoria in 1985, Unifam, Sydney, N.S.W. in 1987, and the Marriage Guidance Council of Victoria in 1988. Currently, 11 organisations are funded by the Attorney-General's Department to provide family mediation services.

What is Mediation?

Although there are various definitions of mediation, a description generally accepted is:

a process by which the participants, together with the assistance of a neutral third person or persons, systematically isolate dispute issues, in order to develop options, consider alternatives and reach a consensual settlement that will accommodate their needs. Mediation is a process which emphasises the participants' own responsibilities for making decisions that affect their lives.'

However, some confusion remains about the description "mediation". As the Family Law Council stated in a 1991 Discussion Paper:

It may be argued that mediation as described has been and is taking place under names other than "mediation". Those other names may also include as their principal focus other activities and processes, e.g. counselling and negotiating.

The term "mediation" is relatively new in the Australian family dispute area and there is still a lot of confusion as to what it includes. With the establishment and development of an increasing number of family mediation services, there is now a clearer understanding of what is

involved in family mediation, if not of mediation in general.2

Mediation and Counselling

It has been suggested that mediation differs in four ways from counselling:

J. Folberg & A. Taylor, Mediation: A Comprehensive Guide to Resolving Conflict without Litigation (1989)

2 Family Law Council, Family Mediation Discussion Paper , para. 2.1 See also L. Street, 'The Language of Alternative Dispute Resolution' (1992) 66 Australian Law Journal 194

2

By comparison with marriage counselling, Family Mediation

is characterised by a deliberate focus upon the issues in dispute, not the issues underlying the dispute;

Family Mediation almost invariable concludes with an agreement or (more accurately) a resolution to the dispute. While this may take the form of an agreement to disagree, it is also usually written and in many cases formalised by a legal

practitioner;

Family Mediation adopts a unique approach to the attending emotional aspect of the family dispute. Emotional dynamics and the expression of feeling are neither ignored nor addressed. Feelings are acknowledged and then put aside in the interests

of achieving a clean resolution;

Chronic emotional conditions and continuing attachments are referred for individual counselling or couple's therapy.3

The neutrality of the mediator tends to distinguish the process from therapy in which behavioural changes may be encouraged although differences have been noted in the degree to which mediation "includes counselling and therapeutic

elements and confronts underlying psychological issues or is rule governed and limited to specific dispute resolution.i4

As another service indicates:

It is a process based on negotiation. It involves specific methods and techniques, many of which we all use in everyday life, others are learnt skills. The structure of mediation brings these all together to assist people to reach agreements.

The Purpose of Mediation

There are different forms of mediation in Australia. Mediation is conducted by Dispute Resolution Centres, Marriage Counselling organisations, Community

3

E.W. Stevenson, 'The Development of Family Mediation Services in relation

to the approved Marriage Counselling Organisations' Times , 9 February 1988, 1-2

4 I. Wolcott, 'Family Conflict: Mediating Differences and Disputes Within Families', Family Matters No. 27, November 1990, 31

5

Noble Park Family Mediation Centre, Explanatory Notes.

3

Justice Centres, Conflict Resolution Services, Youth and Community agencies and

the Family Court. Funding is provided by commonwealth and State Attorney-General's Departments and State Departments of Community and Youth Services.

These programs mediate a variety of disputes: spouse - partner; parent -adolescence; neighbourhood disputes; small claims; commercial disputes; banking and insurance disputes; environmental conflict; home owner warranties; labour mediation; and mediation services for offenders. The focus of this discussion is on family disputes.

Within this context, there are a number of possible foci for mediation: spousal disputes; parent - adolescent disputes; and separation disputes. Given the suitability of spousal disputes for counselling, the main focus of mediation is parent - adolescent and separation disputes. These two areas require separate attention, given the different issues.

Development of Mediation

The concept of mediation is not new. The Statute of Edward 111 (1606) states:

And two Englishmen, two of Lombardie and two of Almaigne shall [be] chosen to be mediators of questions between buyers and sellers.

Edmund Burke wrote in 1791:

The world is governed by go-betweens. These go-betweens influence the persons with whom they carry on the intercourse, by stating their own sense to each of them as the sense of the

other; and thus they reciprocally master both sides.

As the purpose of law generally may be regarded as to furnish answers to social problems, 6 the resolution of conflict has been central to legal systems. Within Common Law systems, the adversarial process has remained dominant. However the emergence of business negotiation as a skill to be learnt in the 1970's and

programs such as the Harvard Negotiation Project led to renewed emphasis on alternative forms of dispute resolution.' The Family Law Council has identified various factors and pressures as contributing to the interest in alternative dispute resolution:

6 G.W. Paton, Jurisprudence , O.U.P. 1964, 3 See, for example, R. Fisher & W. Ury, Getting to Yes: Reaching Agreement Without Giving In , 1986, Hutchinson.

4

The high cost of the litigation process, whether or not

settlement is negotiated before trial, has made the litigation process inaccessible to many and too expensive for Governments to fund, even at the present level of demand.

Higher educational standards have created greater awareness in the community of legal rights and justice issues, which has led to more claims being made.

Increasing urbanisation and industrialisation has led to the disappearance of traditional community and family resources for solving disputes.

The complexity of modern living, rapid technological and economic changes and the increasing pluralistic values of a multicultural society, combine to make traditional legal solutions and processes inappropriate in many cases.

The discretionary nature of some areas of the law and the resulting uncertainty about the likely outcome of the litigation process.

The development of a strong movement toward greater personal autonomy and a reluctance to hand over personal decision-making to others, whether governments, judges or professionals.

An increased desire for privacy and confidentiality in resolving disputes.

Growing awareness that the adversarial nature of the litigation process may delay the settlement of disputes and be destructive to the parties' ongoing relationship.

Recognition that the vast majority of matters in which legal proceedings have commenced are resolved by negotiation before adjudication.$

Effective mediation was based on a concept of 'principled negotiation', the elements of which are: treating the differences as a problem to be solved by all involved parties; focusing on interests not positions; developing multiple options; and insisting on independent/objective standards of fairness or procedures.

The publication by Folberg and Taylor of Mediation: A Comprehensive Guide to

8 Family Law Council, Family Mediation , Discussion Paper 1991, 2.

5

Resolvinca Conflict without Litigation

in 1984 9was seminal to the development of

mediation as an alternative to litigation. The authors suggested four stages of mediation: establishing the process; identification of issues and data collection; developing joint options/negotiation and decision-making; and clarification and review of agreements reached.

Confusion about Mediation

In a recent Discussion Paper, the Family Law Council noted:

Council took the view that the development and expansion of family mediation services has taken place with little discussion and debate on the fundamental issues and assumptions underlying that development, and that there

is a need for all those involved to take a step back.10

However the Council has been unable to undertake a thorough review of the practice because of rapid changes in the field and a lack of time and resources. Despite these limitations, there remains important matters of public policy to be addressed. (The Australian Institute of Family Studies has been commissioned by the Attorney-General's Department to conduct an evaluation of the Adolescent

Mediation and Family Therapy Project. A report is expected to be presented in early 1993.")

There remains confusion about the appropriate role for mediation. The Family Law Council has sought to distinguish the main way in which family mediation differs from other processes:

Counselling

Counselling assists family members to resolve their emotional difficulties in relation to each other, and also practical problems and conflicts arising from these difficulties.

Counselling differs from family mediation in that it employs a range of methodologies, only some of which are similar to the family mediation process. Frequently the primary focus of counselling is on effecting change in family relationships rather than on deciding practical financial and living arrangements,

9

Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 1984.

10 Family Law Council, Family Mediation. 1991, 4. " Family Matters. No. 31, April 1992, 63.

6

which is more usually the main task of family mediation.

Conciliation Counselling in the Family Courts

Family Court counsellors assist parties to reach practical parenting agreements by methods which emphasise and deal primarily with relationship issues. In addition,

counsellors are required to maintain a focus on the best interests of the children and to educate parents accordingly.

Negotiation by the parties, or by their legal representatives, differs from mediation in that it does not involve a neutral third party in the process.

Conciliation appears to be used in two distinct ways. It is often used to describe the processes which precede negotiations, e.g. efforts to persuade the parties to come to the negotiation table. However, it is the Council's

impression that in family law matters, conciliation is more usually used to describe a process in which a third party not only manages the negotiations but makes recommendations (as opposed to suggestions) concerning solutions. (e.g.

Order 24 Conferences in property and financial matters).

Conciliation is therefore less concerned with the empowerment of the parties to discover and reach their own solutions.

Fact-finding, valuing, arbitration and adjudication, these are all processes involving the imposition of a decision by a neutral third party on the parties involved.

The Council is of the view that it is neither possible nor particularly helpful to try to classify into the above categories particular family dispute resolution services.

However, it is acknowledged that conceptual boundaries may be necessary in order to create precise definitions for the purposes of funding and/or regulating a particular area of dispute resolution. It is envisaged that ."family mediation" may

have different descriptions and definitions for different purposes.

In its submission to the Family Law Council, the National Catholic Association of Family Agencies (now Centacare Australia) suggested that mediation was acceptable as a broad definition, but that but that a distinction should be made between family mediation and divorce mediation, a view that the Council did not

7

endorse.

12 However, the issue remains relevant for public policy.

It is clear that Family Mediation, as envisaged by the Council, is a process of dispute resolution for parties separating from a marriage. In this context, it differs from both family therapy and marriage counselling, the focus of which is the

continued existence of the marital relationship. This raises issues about the appropriate funding of the programs.

Mediation and the Family Cou rt

A Family Court Counselling Service was established by the Family Law Act. 13 One party may ask the service to arrange counselling in which event the other party will be asked if he or she will attend. There is also specific availability of an encouragement of counselling in relation to issues involving children. 14 In addition, there is a general requirement to attend a conference at the court with a

registrar before the court determines issues involving property; 15 and a general requirement that an order should not be made in relation to contravention of access orders unless the parties have attended counselling.'s

Some 50 per cent of parties seen by the Court Counselling Service approach the service before proceedings are issued. 17 Although the service may provide marriage guidance and reconciliation counselling, the Chief Justice admitted in 1991:

Originally it was thought that the Court would play a role in the promotion of reconciliation but the experience of the last 15 years has been that by the time a couple approached the Court, there is little room for reconciliation and such reconciliations that do occur are of uncertain and doubtful duration.18

12 Family Law Council, Family Mediation , AGPS June 1992, para. 1.11 - 1-12

13 s.5 14 ss. 61,61 A,61 B,62(1),62A and 641 B 15 s.79(9) 16 s.112AD(5) 17

Nicholson C.J., "Mediation in the Family Court" (1991) 1 Law Institute Journal 61.

'$ Family Court Chief calls for more marriage education" Threshold No. 34, December 1991, 6.

8

therefore unable to refer to this source to present a total and accurate

account on marriage counselling services for the period in question.

In addition to the information provided in annual reports, my „r

Department collected service utilisation data for marriage counselling from 1987-88 to 1990-91. However, it has proved to be prohibitively expensive to process the data into a useable form, and much of the information sought was subject to recorder bias. During a review of this process, the level of error was discovered to be so great as to

render the processed data completely unreliable."

Elsewhere, the AIFS study indicates that some 60 per cent of interviews were joint interviews.

Although few statistics appear to have been published, the AIFS provided a basis for a calculation in its 1984 Policy Background Paper No. 3 where the average number of interviews per case and per cent of single session interviews 1977-83 were indicated.12

Year Avera a No 9 %single client; Total No of interviews ' :. ..:.... : ..:

;interviews; total

..

of interviews

per case:; .: :.;; eases::: per cent: ;:..

1979-80 38.. 19 109,122

1980-81 8 3.9 23

. 41 4:; ;>;' 128,050 . .

1982-83 :4.0 23

. .. . .. ... ......

1: 1 4

In the absence of reliable information about the number of interviews conducted jointly and the average number of interviews per case, it is difficult to compare the incidence of counselling and divorce.

Marriage Guidance Australia compiles annual figures on number of sessions but not number of cases for their members in each state and territory. In 1991, there

12 AIFS Policy Background Paper No.3, 18

9

were 86,6444 interviews. The average number of interviews per case is four.

Assuming the AIFS data approximates the actual situation, it may be concluded that some 20-25,000 persons attempted marriage counselling in 1986 - 1987. In 1987, divorces were granted. This calculation suggests that less than 60 per cent of couples who divorce attend counselling.

The Timing of Counselling

In his second reading speech on the Matrimonial Causes Act 1975, Sir Garfield Barwick indicated an important feature about marital relationships:

I am conscious that in the early days of married life, particularly amongst younger people, the two personalities which had theretofore no need to consider any one's interest or comfort but their own, must make many adjustments in accommodation each to the other in married life.13

Sir Garfield added:

I would expect that, in this period, marriage guidance organisations, if they earn acceptance, can be most useful.

Although the AIFS comparison of counselling clients in the first year of marriage with the general population, concluded that,. counselling clients are representative of the general population, 1° there appear to be no available statistics about the number of couples attending marriage counselling and the length of their marriage.

Prior to 1987, the Attorney-General's Department did not collect information from the agencies on demographic details of clients, and subsequent information would appear to be incomplete or unusable."

Nonetheless, the fact that some 40 per cent of all separations occur in the first five years of marriage suggests that there may be an under-utilisation of counselling in the crucial early years of marriage. If true, this may reflect community perceptions about counselling and have implications for policy.

The Family Law Act requires a couple married for less than two years to see a counsellor before application can be made for a divorce: section 44(1 B). Despite

13 Hansard 14 May 1959, 2225 10 Id. Peter McDonald, Who uses marriage counselling' in Marriage Counselling in Australia

" Hansard , 17 October 1991, 2271.

10

In 1990, Chief Justice Nicholson announced a new Family Court mediation service:

The mediation offered by the court will be co-mediation, with both a mediation-trained counsellor and registrar who will offer a conference where they, as neutral persons, can assist the parties to systematically isolate the

disputed issues, develop possible options taking into account the needs of the family and, ultimately, reach a consensual agreement. The mediators may, in some cases, put forward alternatives for the parties to consider if they so desire,

but they will not actively promote any of those alternatives.19

He stressed that it would differ from the Court Counselling Service:

The clear difference then between what the court has offered and what it will be offering in its mediation service will be on a purely voluntary basis and have no element of compulsion or of imposed agreements at any stage, nor will there be any suggestion of therapeutic intervention.

The Family Law Council has subsequently recommended that family mediation should not be either directly or indirectly compulsory.20

The Chief Justice was subsequently reported as criticising a Government budget decision not to fund the new scheme and mediating family disputes.21

Criticisms of Mediation

A number of criticisms have been made of the trends towards greater use of mediation and alternative dispute resolution procedures. Generally, they involve three issues.

The first relates to the appropriate means by which the State provides mechanisms for the resolution of conflict. Speaking of the related trend to use alternative dispute resolution mechanisms for business, Sir Gerard Brennan, a Justice of the High Court noted:

At present there is some misgiving about the capacity

19 Law Institute Journal op cit. 20 Family Law Council, Family Mediation , AGPS. June,1992, para 4-19

21 Margo Kingston, "Fund squeeze on court scheme angers judge"

The Age 6 August 1991. See also letter from Nicholson C.J. The Acre 13 August 1991

F']

of the courts to deal with business disputes with the

understanding, speed and expertise which the business community desires. It must be admitted that in some instances this concern is justified.

But the answer is not to turn away from the courts and to seek alternative methods of dispute resolution: such a course weakens the very institution on which the orderly conduct of trade and commerce depends.

It is the courts, and the courts alone, which exercise the judicial power of the State: the coercive power to ensure that judgments are enforced, that just debts are paid, that legal rights have their remedy.22

Referring to mediation and violence against women, the National Committee on Violence Against Women emphasised a similar concern:

Mediation can resolve disputes but it cannot provide the protection of a court order. It may be that the laws dealing with protection from violence are inadequate or

ineffective, that the resources of the courts are inadequate to provide for the representation of the victims of violence and for the hearing of applications for protection, that the resources of the police are inadequate to protect the victims of this crime. These are arguments for the improvement of the formal justice system. They are not arguments for making mediation do a job which it cannot. If mediation is used in this way, the safety and lives of women and their children

are placed at risk. Attention may also be diverted from the need to improve the formal justice system, again with dangerous consequences.23

While these comments could be applied to family mediation, the Court encouragement of the process suggest rather the emergence of litigation in a new guise, backed where appropriate by the power of the Family Court. In this context, the related concern about lawyer domination of mediation is raised. One critic writes:

The predictable movement of lawyers into ADR is particularly

n

Sir Gerard Brennan, "Safeguarding the Courts" (1990) Australian Law News (May) 7.

23 National Committee on Violence Against Women, Position Paper on Mediation , December 1991, 18.

10

worrying as theirs is a legal culture characterised by

conservatism and skill monopolisation. The colonisation of mediation by lawyers in government and private practice will mean that mediation skills will become professional artefacts,

copyrighted income, locked up within the lawyering role, not to be shared, but to be given down, at a fee.24

Despite early reservations about the place of mediation in Family Law, 25 the legal profession appears to have adopted the concept with alacrity. Indeed, the Law Council proposed a uniform system of mediation to the Commonwealth Attorney-General in 1990, including the suggestion that:

Mediation after litigation has commenced may be made compulsory, at the discretion of a Judge, in the sense that the plaintiff may not proceed or the defendant may not defend until he or she has agreed to and

completed that process. It may not be unreasonable to deny costly State resources to a party refusing to engage in the process given the pressure of other litigants awaiting trial. Further, completion of the

process should, again at the discretion of a Judge, be a condition precedent to a ' fast-track" trial; that is a trial which has precedence over those whose parties have not completed the process.26

A related proposal that "the mediator should generally be a lawyer..." adds substance to the criticism and raises the related issues of the appropriate competency and role of mediators of family disputes.

24 William de Maria "Social Work and Mediation: Hemlock in the Flavour of the Month" (1992) Australian Social Work 45 (1) 17, 18.

25 M. Bartfield, (1984) Law Institute Journal and (1985) Law Institute Journal 207

26 Law Council of Australia , 1990 11

A second area of criticism suggests that mediation is promoted primarily for

reasons of cost efficiency. One critic writes of the legal state offering "second-rate services with first rate promotion" and indicates the comparatively small expense of training mediators.27

There remains considerable dispute about the real costs of mediation. In a submission to the Joint Select Committee on the Family Law Act 1975, the Noble Park Family Mediation Centre reported the conclusions of an evaluation of the Centre's work:

The process used at the Centre not only minimises the uncertainty, delay and bitterness of litigation, but also excessive legal costs both to the parties themselves and the community. The average legal costs incurred by

participants in the survey was $211 compared with an average cost of $953 for those who did not reach agreement . In 87% of cases where legal costs were incurred, they were

less than $250.

Of all the issues dealt with at the Centre, 55% were settled or partially settled at the Centre itself. Disputes over property were settled in 50% of cases, custody in 62% and maintenance in 66% of cases surveyed. Amongst even those parties who failed'to reach agreement, a substantial percentage, 22%, were nevertheless able to go on to solve the matter themselves. Only 43% of these who did reach agreement went on to use the Court process. It would appear that service users are empowered in their personal decision making by the processes followed at the Centre and are subsequently better able to renegotiate agreements without assistance. Almost half the agreements in relation to children's matter which has subsequently changed had been renegotiated by the parties themselves.

An evaluation of family mediation, commissioned by the Lord Chancellor of Britain, concluded that a national mediation service could not be justified on economic grounds alone. The final calculations were that conciliation (similar in process to mediation in Australia) added 150 per case to cases conciliated in-court services and 250 per case to cases conciliated in out-of-court services. Only 40 of these costs were borne by the parties.28

A Canadian study which dealt with in-court services, three of which were voluntary and one mandatory, concluded that conciliation services do not reduce costs: however, where conciliation is both voluntary and comprehensive, it offers modest

27 William de Maria, "Social Work and Mediation: Hemlock in the Flavour of Women of the Month" (1992) Australian Social Work. Volume 45, No. 1,17,18.

28 A. Ogus, M. Jones-Lee, W. Cole and P. McCarthy 12

savings over litigation, even in the short term.29

However, the Canadian study found that conciliation resulted in higher child support payments than litigation; a greater likelihood of joint custody awards; and lower litigation rates for voluntary conciliated cases than mandatory.

Finally, the Family Law Council has noted its understanding that "an evaluation of the pilot projects at Noble Park, Victoria, and Wollongong, N.S.W., indicated that these centres were not cost effective. i30 This conclusion may reflect only on the centres and not mediation generally.

Related to the issue of cost efficiency is the role of conflict in society:

Mediation perpetrates a sinister reductio ad absurdum on the people through its insistence on reducing the mammoth unnerving conflicts of our day down to digestible 'disputes' and then exposing these disputes to the subtle regulatory behaviour of the latest recruits to the

State Inc, the ever-smiling, ever-helpful, quick-trained mediators who are pushed into these artificially privatised experiences to resolve and banish conflict.....

We so quickly lose sight of the social significance of the too effective, too easy, and too private management of conflict... 31

Another commentator says that the assumptions regarding conflict as disclosed in

mediation are:

conflict is generally not good, there can be too much conflict settlement is therefore good conflict is individual and personal rather than public and political

conflict is primarily a problem in communication or misunderstanding rather than about the use and abuse of power most conflict, whatever the conflict, ought to be treated by the same

29

C.J. Richardson, 'Court-based Divorce Mediation in Four Canadian Cities:

An Overview of the Research Results', Ottowa, Department of Justice, 1988.

30 Evaluation Repo rt of the Family Conciliation Centre Pilot Project Attorney-General's Department, April-September 1985 cited in Family Law Council Submission to Joint Select Committee Inquiry into the Family Law Act 1975, 17.

31 de Maria, 19

13

methods, based on general psychological principles.32

Others argue that mediation dissipates the role of women in society:

Mediation seeks to privatise family law problems once again, denying women the opportunity to enforce and consolidate their victories and to empower themselves further through the development of new rights in the legislatures and the courts.33

The third area of criticism is about claims that mediation is self-empowering, for example:

Mediation is a process that emphasises the participants' own responsibility for making decisions that affect their lives. It is therefore a self-empowering process.34

A related claim is that the parties to mediation obtain skills for the future conflict resolution. The evaluation of the Noble Park Family Mediation Centre claimed:

...it would appear that using the Centre may have further beneficial effects of reducing parties' reliance on the court or legal process in the future should arrangements need to be altered from time to time.

Of those respondents who failed to reach agreement at the Centre itself, a substantial percentage, 22% were nevertheless able to solve the matter between themselves. In many cases, this was as a result of information and assistance they had received at the Centre. Of the rest, 28% negotiated a settlement either through solicitors or on the basis of solicitor's advice, counselling agencies were used and a further 18% remained unresolved at the time of the survey.35

However, the skill obtained may be largely to rely on the service. As the Centre said in its submission to the Joint Select Committee on the Family Law Act:

Earlier surveys had indicated a high level of consumer satisfaction and willingness to approach the Centre in future if necessary. This

32 R. Hofrichter, Neighbourhood Justice in Capitalist Society , Greenwood Press, New York, 1987.

33 L. Woods, 'Mediation: A Backlash, to Women's Progress on Family

Law Issues' 19 (4) Clearinghouse Review (1989) 131-136.

3a Foldberg and Taylor, 7-8

35 Evaluation of Service Outcomes of the Noble Park Family Conciliation Centre , February 1988, 5

14

was confirmed by 79% of respondents who indicated that they would

use the Centre to resolve family disputes in the future. Of those who had reached agreement, 94.5% indicated they would approach the Centre again. Amongst those who did not reach agreement, nevertheless 69% would choose to approach the Centre to resolve family disputes.

Chief Justice Nicholson writes:

It is further anticipated that the mediation conference will be a learning experience for the parties. They should be assisted in the development of at least some negotiation skills which would enable them to resolve any differences in the future, without the assistance of

a further mediation.37

But Social Work critic argues:

Because of the case specific way 'conflict' and 'the dispute' are defined in mediation, it is doubtful whether parties can transport these highly regulated settlement experiences to other parts of their life. This implies a scepticism with the argument that mediation can train

people in future conflict resolution - in other words, mediation complementing or seeding the skills of indigenous conflict. In mediation the emphasis is on training the mediator, not the disputes.

Perhaps inflated claims have been made for family mediation; but public policy requires some common understanding of the aims, basis and expected outcomes of the process.

Although the Family Law Council did not canvass these issues in its Discussion Paper and Report, it concluded that:

The development in mediation in Australia should be reviewed after a trial period. 9

This conclusion was supported the Parliamentary Joint Select Committee's

consideration of mediation. It is arguable that the Commonwealth should implement a clear policy for the comprehensive review of mediation services.

36 Noble Park Submission, 9 37 Nicholson C.J, 61 de Maria, 24

3s Family Law Council, Family Mediation , para. 3.33

15

Funding of Mediation

Eleven agencies are funded by the Attorney-General's Department for family mediation. Funding for the years 1989-92 has been:

1989 - 90 $ 542,000 1990 - 91 $1,035,000 1991 -92 $1,280,20040

The Commonwealth government funding of mediation is on a similar basis to the funding of other family support services, that is, that the Commonwealth funds no more than 75 per cent of the agency's mediation expenditure.

Other mediation is provided through the Family Court and private services.

The Family Law Council concluded:

Government funding and subsidy of family mediation services through approved marriage counselling agencies should be continued and expanded. Part payment by parties may be appropriate where it can be afforded but the service should be free where there is financial hardship. The provision of legal aid for mediation fees is an obvious solution to this problem and should be available on less stringent guidelines than for other family court applications. The impact on legal aid funding and administration would need to be assessed and the cost met by Government.

If there is any pressure or compulsion to attend then the service should be free.41

Legal aid agencies have expressed reservations about funding through legal aid, 42 while approved agencies have pointed to the fact that a partial user pays system is applied to them but not services provided by the Family Court.

Although the Family Law Council recommended;

There should be no expansion of funded mediation services beyond the existing services for the present and there should be no fee service introduced in the Family Court Mediation Service.43

40 Hansard , House of Representatives, 17 October 1991, 2267 41 Family Mediation , para. 5.64 42 Ibid; para. 5.65 43 Ibid., para 5.66

16

The issue of appropriate funding remains unresolved.

Use of Mediation

Unfortunately, there does not appear to be any accurate statistics about the use of family mediation in Australia. In reply to a question about the use of mediation, the Attorney-General stated:

Organisations providing family mediation services are required to include statistics on service utilisation in their annual reports. However, there is no uniform method of recording this data and I am therefore unable to refer to this source to present a total and accurate account on marriage counselling services for the period in question.

In addition to the information provided in annual reports, my Department collected service utilisation data for family mediation from 1987-88 to 1990-91. However, it has proved to be prohibitively expensive to process the data into a useable form and much of the information sought was subject to recorder bias. During a review of this process, the level of error was discovered to be so great as to render the processed data completely unreliable.aa

Mediation and violence

Considerable discussion has centred on the appropriateness of mediation in situations where family violence had occurred. The Family Law Council identifies for significant possible risks which affect family mediation where a fear of violence or abuse to a person exists and which require attention:

Fear of violence or abuse may remain hidden for a variety of reasons and therefore not dealt with. For example, a question in private to an abused woman "Has there ever been violence in your marriage?" may often receive a negative response. Whereas a private intake question such as "When you fight with your partner what happens?" may elicit an entirely different response. Private and skilled intake into

mediation is essential if fear of abuse is to be unearthed.

A pattern of domination may be entrenched so that the violated party cannot break the pattern of domination or conformity.

Fear may inhibit a party from genuine participation in the mediation process. This in turn may mean that safety becomes the paramount concern for a party, overriding other important and legitimate interests in their negotiations.

After a mediation session violence or abuse may occur for the first

as Id.

17

ti

me, continue to occur, or increase in severity or frequency.45

While different approaches to these risks have been adopted, there is general agreement that the issue of violence is not a matter for negotiation. As the author of the National Committee on Violence Against Women Position Paper on Mediation

states:

Mediation is never an alternative to prosecution for a criminal offence. No reputable mediator would ever mediate the fact of violence. Where the behaviour in question could form the basis for a criminal prosecution, this behaviour must be responded to appropriately, that

is within the context of the criminal justice system. It is not a matter to be negotiated about. All reputable mediators would regard mediation on the fact of violence as immoral and unethical...

Mediation is also not an alternative to the making of protective orders. Mediation cannot provide victims with the protection and access to enforcement mechanisms they need. Women should not be required to negotiate about their entitlement to protection from the commission

or criminal offences or their freedom from harassment.46

However the Committee did recognise that:

some cases involving mediation will nevertheless be mediated ... and that some women will make a free and informed choice to use mediation where there has been violence.47

The Committee canvassed the feasibility of legislating on the topic of violence and mediation, but the Family Law Council concluded that mediation is not appropriate where:

A party is unable for y reason to identify his/her needs or interests, and/or to act rationally in accordance with them;

A party is treating mediation as a delaying tactic or other abuse of Court process;

There is a serious inequality in the parties' capacity to negotiate; or

a5 Family Mediation, para 3.10

46 National Committee on Violence Against Women, Position Paper on Mediation, December 1991, 18.

47 Ibid.,5

18

There is a fear or threat of violence or abuse or where violence or

abuse is occurring.48

Given considerable difficulties in defining violence in particular circumstances ' 49 is it appropriate to amend the Family Law Act to exclude from divorce mediation cases involving violence? Should all cases of violence be excluded from mediation not involving separation or divorce?

Standards and training

In Australia, Government, individual service providers and professional bodies have developed guidelines for family mediation practice, but as the Family Law Council notes, there has been no success in obtaining uniform standards:

Models of family mediation practice have often developed in isolation and it is suggested that information exchange and consultation, at a national level, would be beneficial.50

The Council also recommended that government should fund the evaluation of mediation services within the Family Court and those Government funded services outside the Court and that such evaluation be conducted by an appropriately qualified and independent organisation.5'

The over-whelming majority of respondents to the Council's Discussion Paper favoured the establishment of 4 minimum standards of family mediation practice. Most favoured a consultation process with experienced mediators for the formulation of on-going guidelines and standards. A large number also favoured

on-going supervision, training and evaluation of services in order to maintain minimum standards.52

In response, the Council supported:

the establishment, by government funding, of a federation of mediation services providers to promote uniform standards at a national level. It notes with concern the proliferation of associations

for dispute resolution providers, all with different criteria for

48 Family Mediation. para. 3.34 49 See the range of behaviours described in the Position Paper on Mediation , 12-13

50 Family Mediation , para. 6.03 - 6.04 51 Ibid., para. 8.23 52 Family Mediation , para. 6.08 - 6.09 19

membership and standards for service provision. Council hopes that

one professional association of family mediators will emerge preferable as a sub-group of an existing broad association of mediators. In addition, while mediation services are still being

developed and established Council suggests that Government use funding agreements as a means of setting and monitoring standards of services provision.53

It also recommended that as soon as it is practicable the appropriate qualification for a mediator should be a diploma or like course in mediation with appropriate training. Until such courses are established and have a sufficient number of graduates, only those organisations that meet standards approved by government should be funded.54

The Parliamentary Committee on the Family Law Act subsequently recommended the promulgation of standards and the development of an accredited diploma course.55

Some Issues for Consideration

Is family mediation essentially a part of the legal process relating to separation and divorce?

Should there be a clear distinction between family and divorce mediation?

Who should provide mediation?

What standards, training and monitoring should be required by the Government?

53 Ibid., para. 6.11 54 Ibid., para. 7.38 55 Para. 4.59

PARENT ADOLESCENT MEDIATION

The Report of the National Inquiry into Homeless Children in Australia, Our Homeless Children , emphasised the link between youth homelessness and family conflict and breakdown.

8.16 The Inquiry was informed that 'family conflict features strongly in most studies of young people leaving home'. For example, the National Committee for Evaluation of the Youth Service Scheme found in 1983 that of those young people in youth accommodation whose last

permanent residence was with the family, 78% had experienced some form of conflict. For under-16-year-olds, the figures were 86% for males and 89% for females. O'Connor found that many of the 100 homeless children and young people interviewed had left 'negative and damaging relationships with parents and caregivers', and that:

Even when other reasons were presented as the primary causative factor, severe family conflict was a secondary or compounding factor.

Moreover, many of the young people in O'Connor's study explicitly defined homelessness in terms of fractured family relationships.

8.17 The many significant factors in family conflict include the young person being unemployed, having an unemployed father, living with a step-parent, as well as lack of closeness to parents. The Victorian youth Accommodation and Support Services Project found that the majority of requests for assistance it receives are from young people experiencing family conflict; mostly young people who are unemployed, from unstable families or situations of domestic violence. A young homeless witness in Adelaide, when asked why young

people leave home and go out onto the streets, replied:

Just to get away from hassles at home. Most of it starts at home. Parents fight between each other. That all gets taken back out on us. I think the main problem is alcohol. Father

comes home and has a disagreement and belts into you. The only choice you've got is to leave home or keep getting bashed...'

8.20 One youth service in Queensland identified the fragmentation of the

' Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Our Homeless Children, Canberra, AGPS, 1989.

family as 'by far one of the biggest contributing factors to youth

homelessness'.

Family break-ups often send many youths into situations of homelessness, either temporary or long term. From our observation, one frequent consequence of the family break-up and its effect is particular on young girls between 15 and 18 years of age....Mum and Dad break up; Mum..has a

relationship with a de facto and they share the family home. The de facto.., is often in conflict with the daughter and Mum says to daughter, 'Look, I want to get a new life together - you'll

have to leave'. And we are seeing a lot of young girls forced into the streets because of situations like that.

8.21 In Perth the Inquiry was told that 'about three-quarters of the young people coming into Home Sharers [a refuge] were from single-parent or blended families.

Readjustments are always required in such situations. Old relationships are disturbed and new ones, about which the young person may have little or no choice, have to be

established with an adult and, in many cases, with children. There are however some situations which are unlikely to 'settle down' or to be resolved in a way which allows the young

person to continue to live at home. These include instances where there is extreme hostility between the parent's new partner and the young person, and the young person is subject to constant verbal abuse, denigration or threats of physical violence.

8.22 An analysis by a Kings Cross youth refuge of the reasons for leaving home of 150 clients between 1981 and 1983 found that 42% had been 'thrown out' and another 48% had left after an argument or problem. Some 44% of the second group described a bad step-parent relationship. A Mildura youth accommodation project stated that family breakdown 'is present in the history of 99% of the young

people using our service'.

Young people usually end up the ones on the receiving end in a family breakup. The usual scenario is, parents split, they find new partners and the children do not like or want the new 'parent', they fight then either leave home or are forced to leave.

In Darwin the Inquiry was told:

..there are a growing number of single parents, step-family

2

and natural family situations, pa

rticularly in Darwin, without

adequate suppo rt systems. Families may experience relationship difficulties between various family members, have difficulties coping with teenagers' emotional needs, be affected by alcohol abuse or have been the product of sexual abuse and maltreatment themselves.

8.23 Other evidence presented to the Inquiry also supports recent findings that repa rtnering of parents is a significant factor in children leaving home. In a 1984 study conducted by the Australian Institute of Family Studies it was found that, by the age 17, 45% of young people whose

parents had separated and either remained single or repa rtnered had left home compared with only 26% of young people whose natural parents were both present. Of the 100 homeless young people interviewed in O'Connor's study, 40% were members of reconstituted or step-families and another 26% were from single parent families. Conflict with step-parents was a consistent theme in interviews with these young people. The accounts of conflict were permeated by themes of dispossession, of a sense of no longer belonging or being wanted by the family and of living on the margins of the family.

The Inquiry concluded:

8.53 There is a clear need for preventive services to be provided to families as part of an effective strategy to a ttack youth homelessness, among other ma tters. Barnardo's Australia submi tted to the Inqui ry that:

Family Support Services should be available to vulnerable families so that they are assisted with the tasks of child rearing. Such services should include adequate child-care, holiday, and afterschool programs and the use of respite care...

There is also an urgent need for the establishment of services which effectively acknowledge the importance of the family and of reconciling children who have left home with their families if this is possible and appropriate.

There is a need for services specialising in supporting adolescents and families in staying together as a viable unit that can adjust to the changes that adolescence brings for both the teenage child and the parent.

The Inquiry strongly suppo rts that view. It must be said that many of the existing services, particularly a number of youth refuges, do not place sufficient emphasis on this consideration.

^3

The recommenda

tions induded:

The Inquiry recommends that a network of support services to strengthen families, and reduce the need for welfare intervention leading to substitute care arrangements, be further developed - by State and Territory welfare authorities themselves and through funding to non-government agencies which may be better accepted by the

community as truly supportive in this role.

Government response

In response to Our Homeless Children , the federal government allocated $900,000 to eight organisations to conduct Adolescent Mediation and Family Therapy services aimed at 'the resolution of conflicts between young people and their parents or caregivers to prevent young people leaving home before they have

developed the skills and gained the financial and emotional independence to do so. "2

In addition to Commonwealth funding, various State initiatives were implemented to

address the problems identified in the Report. 3 The Human Rights Commission continues to monitor developments, having been critical about the inadequacy of the response to its Report by various States.

2 Attorney-General's Department, Guidelines for organisations seekingfunding of Youth Homelessness Services , 1989 3 Ilene Wolcott, 'Family Conflict: Mediating Differences and Disputes within Families', Family Matters No. 27, November 1990, 31.

4

Parent-Adolescent Mediation

In an overview of parent-adolescent mediation in Australia, Ilene Wolcott, of the Australian Institute of Family studies, observed:

Parent-adolescent mediation programs parallel that of couple mediation in process and principle. As stated in program brochures, the majority of services adhere to a philosophy based on principles of voluntary participation, neutrality, confidentiality and empowerment. The key element is empowerment - providing family members with the skills to gain control over, and responsibility for, decision making in their lives. Conflicts, fears and needs are identified. The focus is on future actions and opportunities, not past behaviours and blame. A

range of options are explored and workable agreements reached that hopefully emphasise co-operation and compromise.4

A major difference with family mediation is the quasi-legal setting surrounding separation and divorce. The preventative nature of the programs are also notable. Thus Wolcott writes of one Tasmanian program:

The purpose of Hassles is to 'prevent the disintegration of families• and family relationships through unresolved conflict, with resultant youth homelessness, and to equip family members with conflict resolution skills whereby they are empowered both individually and in their joint decision making.' Emphasis is on providing a safe and

neutral place for parties to come together to sort out the issues that divide them.5

In this context, parent-adolescent mediation may combine elements of negotiation, therapy, counselling and education. Indeed, the Attorney-General's Department officially refers to "Adolescent Mediation and Family Therapy". While an outcome of the process may be that a young person leaves home, Adolescent Mediation and Family Therapy may be more akin to the development of family skills than the resolution of conflict surrounding marriage dissolution.

While it would appear that some mediation is utilised in the program, other processes, including family therapy are employed.

These considerations have consequences for public policy.

4 Wolcott, 32 5 Wolcott, 33

5

Evaluating Parent-Adolescent Mediation

The Commonwealth Attorney-General's Department has commissioned the AIFS to conduct an evaluation of the Adolescent Mediation and - Family Therapy Project. The study is to provide the Attorney-General with information on which to base future government decisions regarding funding of these services:

Overall, the evaluation aims to assess the organisation and delivery of pilot programs of youth mediation and family therapy and the impact of these services on the resolution of family conflict and the living circumstances of young people.'

Over 300 family members who attended the centres between October and December 1991 agreed to participate in the first stage of the study. These respondents were contacted again during March and April 1992 and asked about their family situations since attending the program, and about their experiences and views of the service. A report will be provided in early 1993.

Several overseas evaluations have been conducted. Wolcott summarises the findings:

A review of 63 parent-adolescent mediation programs in the United States (Phear and Shaw 1989) estimated that only 30 per cent of cases that contact parent-adolescent mediation programs actually result in mediation. Most programs act as referral agents and many cases are referred for counselling and therapy if such services are not available as part of the agency. Where mediation does take place, reports indicate that approximately 85 per cent are successfully resolved. Most families attend between two and four sessions that last from one to three hours.

An evaluation of the Persons in Need of Supervision Mediation Project (PINS) in New York City revealed no significant difference between families that completed mediation and families that had terminated early in terms of age, sex, type and number of allegations, prior court

or placement history (Shaw 1985). Nor did comparison of intake data show any family characteristics that related to outcomes in reaching a contract, the nature of the contract or the follow-up

response.

In contrast, Merry's (1987) review of the Children's Hearing Project in Cambridge, Massachusetts, suggested that 'areas of intractable issues were simply sidestepped' and more emotional issues were referred to counselling.

6 Ilene Wolcott, 'AIFS Evaluation of Parent-Adolescent Mediation and Family Therapy Programmes' Family Matters , No. 31 April 1992, 63

6

Researchers have attributed the success of parent-adolescent

mediation more to the process than to any particular problem or issue that brings families to the service. Although common presenting problems centre around curfews, school truancy, peer relationship and household chores, parent-adolescent mediators report that a

paramount issue in all parent-adolescent mediation is the issue of control (Zetzel 1985)

Positive outcomes are associated with moving families toward more effective ways of managing conflict even if all issues are not resolved. Agreements reached and compliance with minor, specific task-oriented changes can serve as a model for future communication and

negotiations (Shaw 1985) and increase trust between parents and children (Merry 1987). Both these researchers found that, at follow-up, parents and children typically remark that they understand each other's point of view and feelings better, and that it was easier to talk to each other.'

While there are indications that the process may be effective, it is not seen as a panacea. The AIFS evaluation will be important to future policy.

Issues for Consideration

On what basis should services be Parent-Adolescent funded?

How do we measure effectiveness of the programs?

Should the process be linked to education and skills training?

What is the Commonwealth's responsibility?

What should be the Commonwealth's objectives?

What co-ordination of services should exist?

Is the process directed at the intact, though partially dysfunctional, family? Should this be reflected in policy?

Wolcott, (1990) 34.

7

FAMILY SKILLS EDUCATION

Family skills and Parenting education programs have been provided in a variety of forms for some time in Australia.

The topic of child rearing is age-old. One researcher has identified more than 800 manuals and pamphlets in 2000 years of child-rearing suggestions'

As a Western Australian review indicates:

Historically, many parenting skills have been learned through direct interaction with the immediate and extended family, but changing social conditions (smaller families, more frequent migration, changes in family structure) have made this avenue less effective. While parents may have, in the past, raised their children in times of considerable hardship and with

considerable less access to medical expertise, they were not commonly required to do so within the context of today's isolated and small nuclear family, or with the pressures imposed by rapid social, economic and technological change.

The increasing mobility of families, the rapid development of dormitory suburbs following increased urbanisation, and the transient nature of much non-metropolitan employment has meant that primary caregivers are often isolated from families in communities in which both services and networks are yet to develop.2

The need for family skills

Throughout history the importance and difficulties of parenthood have been noted. However, many have commented on the complexities of modern life. Thus Wolcott writes:

Being a parent today is not an easy job. There are conflicting demands on time and energy when both mothers and fathers are in the workforce and attempting to balance work and family life. Increasing numbers of single parents have the demanding

responsibility of caring for children on their own and more families are confronting the complications of living in a stepfamily.

The increasing complexity of education and the uncertainty of future

Beekman (1977) cited in R.E. Dangel and R.A. Polster, Parent Training , Guildford Press, 1984.

2

Effective Parenting: A Review of Parent Education in Western Australia. Office of the Family, July 1991, 3.

1

employment for young people add to the insecurity many parents feel

about preparing their children for adulthood. The media, particularly television, extends children's knowledge and information beyond family boundaries and control.3

The Western Australian Review of Parent Education noted :

Positive parenting plays a primary role in the capacity of a child to develop into an adult more capable of realising potential, having positive self-esteem and more capable of coping with our increasingly complex society. A loving and stimulating environment in early childhood impacts, for example, on a child's development of intelligence (Bloom, 1964, cited by Community

Nursing Services, 1989). As Flekkoy (1991) states,

'Good parents are the best support children can have'

Submissions to the Committee repeatedly cite inappropriate parenting as an important contributor to a number of social ills, an attitude also reflected in the literature. Links are increasingly claimed between effective parenting and youth homelessness, youth suicide and substance abuse, juvenile offending and anti-social behaviour, truancy and underachievement or alienation in the education system, juvenile prostitution and emotional disorders, and also later life marriage breakdown.

Because of a poor understanding of child development, inappropriate parenting is also implicated in child abuse and neglect, and in an increase in home accidents. There are also far reaching effects from reduced parental self esteem, which can result from inappropriate management of children.4

The Second Report of the all Party Victorian Social Development Committee (January 1989) relating to family violence has also stressed the need for parenting programs. Community education about child abuse and parent education are viewed as complementary preventative strategies.

The Report of the National Inquiry into Homeless Children by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (February 1989) also stresses the need for parent support as a preventative measure. The Report states:

The primary thrust of our recommendations concerning preventative services is towards strengthening the family so that it can retain its children and rear

3 Ilene Wolcott, 'Family Skills Training Program' Family Matters, No. 31, April 1992, 30.

4 Effective Parenting, 3.

2

F

them successfully. Preventative services that have the effect of supportingparents in their function as caregivers and nurturers are vital at whateverdevelopmental stage of the child they occur. Support programs for newparents, parents with toddlers and school-aged children, all play a part inreducing the results of family disintegration which can include detached andhomeless adolescents.....5The Senate Standing Committee on Social Welfare in 1985 emphasised theimportance of community-based services in preventing family breakdown. TheCommittee recognised:...the need for governments to attach greater importance to thedevelopment of preventative programs aimed at overcoming orminimising the precipitating causes of family breakdown andsubsequent relinquishment of children to substitute care. Preventiveservices of a primary nature are most effectively applied at the localcommunity level...the objective of this approach is to promote thewell-being of the family through the development of local networks ofsupportive and preventive services with maximum communityparticipation and controlsIn New Zealand the Royal Commission on Social Policy (1988) found that:'....a baby's chance of thriving or a child's chances of doing well atschool will be affected by the parents' ethnic group and by theirsocio-economic status because these factors will shape the homeenvironment and affect their access to important social, cultural andeconomic resources.'7In Family - the Vital Factor , Dr Moira Eastman cites research which demonstratesthat family background has great importance for school achievement. Therelationship of family background to achievement does not diminish over the yearsof schooling; family background accounts for a substantial amount of school-to-school variation in achievement. Parental interest in a child's education is the mostimportant single influence in his or her progress.$These reports point to a continuing need to provide opportunities for effective5 Our Homeless Children, 251.6 Children in Institutional and Other Forms of Care ,(Parliamentary paper No 324/1985) at 15.Royal Commission on Social Policy (1988) Wellington, New Zealand 463.8 Collins Dove Melbourne (1989).3

assistance to parents, while recognising that:

in general, parents are the best qualified to decide on how to influence their children.9

What is parent education?

There are a variety of approaches to parent education in Australia. One author noted:

Approaches to working with parents vary from informal, often unstructured, individualised, needs-based reading and/or discussion type programs, offered on a one-to-one basis or in a group format, to the more formal structured approach which more often utilises local or

overseas designed pre-packaged programs with groups of parents. To complicate the issue providers of so-called 'parent education programs' appear to be uncertain about whether the programs which they offer are derived from an educational basis or a therapeutic

basis.1°

Numerous authors in the parenting field have argued that parents require information and skills: that is, education rather than a therapeutic approach." One defines parent education as "instruction on how to parent" and argued that this definition properly applies to organised, structured programs rather than to

more informed discussions.12

Although these criteria have not necessarily been adopted by all Australian parent educators, 13 the Commonwealth's Family Skills Training Programme is "based on a model of adult education.i14

Five categories of commonly-used models have been identified: the behavioural-cognitive perspective; the humanistic perspective; the psychoanalytic perspective;

9 R & B Lewis, The Parenting Puzzle , ACER, Melbourne (1989) 10 Jillian Rodd, 'Who is qualified to provide parent education?'

Australian Social Work No 144. No 3, Sept. 1991, 15

Id. and the authors cited by Rodd.

12 M.J.Fine, Handbook on Parent Education , 1980, Academic Press, New York,5.

13 Rodd, 15 14 Threshold , No 30, December 1990,3.

4

and eclectic approaches.15

While it is not the role of government to dictate which approach is preferable for parents, one conclusion tentatively arrived at by researchers deserves comment and further study:

Parent education programmes have been developed by professionals in response to raise their children in the complexities of our advanced industrial capitalist society. It is maintained that an important aim of such programmes is to provide parents with greater confidence in their parental role and to lessen their need to depend on

professionals to assist them in this role. However, a contradiction emerges as to whether this is actually occurring. What appears to be happening is that parents may in fact experience a fall of confidence in their parental role and find themselves increasingly reliant upon professional helpers in deciding how best to raise their children -consequences that are considered to be counter-productive.16

Vulnerable Families

Although satisfaction with existing services has been noted by a number of reports," it has also been noted that:

there appears to be a gap in the deliver of effective parenting information to lower socio-economic groups.'

In 1989, two surveys of parent education were completed in Victoria. Both concluded that few programs existed for parents where children were considered to be at risk of being maltreated.

Parent education appears to be most widely provided for at the pre-school level... then a huge gap appears in terms of any parent education provision for parents with pre-adolescent or adolescent children. The majority of current education programs appear to target more educated parents. Less educated parents appear

less likely to seek out parent education and more than likely to attach a stigma to parent education. There appears to be limited access to parents education for 'at risk', migrant and rural families. There is also a distinct lack of parent education

15 J.Rodd and A.Holland, 'Diversity and Choice: The Strengths of Parent Education in Victoria', Australian Child and Family Welfare 14:4 10-11 (1989) 16

J.Allan and C.Schultz, 'Parent Education: Developments and Discrepancies', Australian Child and Family Welfare 12:4 14-16 (1987) 17 Effective Parenting, 13 ; Rodd and Holland, 11 18 Effective Parenting, 14.

5

programs for teenage parents.19

Referring to the prevention of child abuse, O'Brien stated recently:

Teaching parent skills, which is what happens in the package parent education programs, on its own, does not prevent child abuse. All of the child management techniques and communication skills acquired will vanish in the critical incident where a child unleashes the hurt from the past in the parent and the parent retaliates. Without forgiveness and letting go of this hurt, the parent is not already to make use of the skills.

It has been my experience that the programs designed for North American middle-class parents, such as STEP (Dinkmeyer and McKay 1976) and PET (Gordon 1970), are entirely unsuitable for acutely vulnerable parents, largely because these programs are framed for people who can think conceptually and understand cause and effect. In other words, their cognitive functioning has advanced to Piaget's period of formal operations (Flavell 1963). The traumatic experience of child abuse appears to effect children's perception and cognitive development. It is my contention that unless therapeutic work

is done with these children, their cognitive development does not proceed, so that in adulthood, these people frequently perceive the world differently from others, showing great difficulty in grasping concepts or relating to abstractions.

This contention is supported by the experience of Frank Bishop, a Victorian child psychiatrist who has conducted research into perceptual differences between physically abused and non-abused children. His research showed marked perceptual differences between abused and non-abused children, with the abused children focussing on parts of the picture, so that the

significance of the whole picture was either lost or distorted.

The parents I have worked with have great difficulty comprehending the whole nature of a parent-child interaction. From their perspective, it is the child's behaviour which is at fault, and they do not see that their own behaviour is linked with the child's behaviour. Whilst this partial

interpretation may be a result of their cognitive functioning, there are also other factors which make it difficult for these parents to acknowledge their past in effecting the child's behaviour.20

O'Brien identifies eleven characteristics of acutely vulnerable parents which she states must be addressed in a successful program. These characteristics are:

19 G.John, Pilot Parent Education Skilling Networks Pro ram , Community Services Victoria, (1989).

20 Wendy O'Brien, 'Making Parent Education Relevant to Vulnerable Families,'

Family Skills Training Program Canberra, 14.

6

1.

Lack of basic trust; 2. Negative experiences in traditional learning settings; 3. Cognitively, some parents have not reached Piaget's Period of Formal Operations (ie being able to conceptualise and grasp cause and

effect);

4. Deprived childhood experiences; 5. Low self-esteem; 6. Powerlessness; 7. Pessimism; 8. Isolation;

9. Crisis-ridden lifestyles; 10. Lack of experience in group situations; and 11. Difficulty in implementing techniques described.21

O'Brien concludes:

To make parent education relevant to vulnerable parents, who were themselves abused as children, requires an understanding of how these parents function.22

Australian Programs

The provision of family skills and parenting programs varies markedly from state to state. Moreover, as a recent report noted:

With the exception of Victoria and Western Australia, there has been no significant attempt by State authorities to ascertain the level of availability of parent education in those States, nor does there appear to be any significant interest in parenting education as a whole.23

Programs consist of a combination of volunteer networks and some education and community service agencies. The two most well known programs provided through the networks are STEP (Systematic Training for Effective Parenting) and PET (Parent Effectiveness Training) both of which are American in origin and

promoted by the Australian Council for Educational Research. These programs are conducted in most States. It is not clear how many parents use the programs, but usage does not appear to be widespread.24

21 Ibid 22 ibid 23 P. Bretherton, A Repo rt into Parenting Education in Australia 1991 , Office of Legal Aid and Family Services, Attorney-General's Department, Canberra.

24 Ibid

7

Other programs are sponsored by educational agencies, for example, the Parent-

Teacher Education Centre at Monash University. Other programs are offered by welfare and community organisations.

Victoria

Following 'An Investigation into Parent Education Opportunities for Vulnerable Families in Victoria' in 1989 25 , Community Services Victoria developed a Parent Help Program. The program was funded by CSV for a fifteen month pilot period commencing in October 1989. The purpose of the program is to increase opportunities for families to participate in effective, appropriate and relevant parent education and parent skills development.26

The program has four key elements which are:

The appointment of regional parent Resource Coordinators whose tasks were to increase access and opportunity for participation in existing programs and provide parent support opportunities.

A community education strategy aimed at increasing community awareness, this has been carried out at a state and national level and has included posters, stickers, brochures and slogans designed to place a positive emphasis on parenting.

Training of parent educators was highlighted as an area in need of further development and support and to this end a joint project to develop parent educator training has been undertaken with Prahran TAFE. It is anticipated that this will be offered as a TAFE accredited course.

A news information service in the form of a news bulletin which has been published three times per year and is a link between parent educators and services in Victoria this has been carried out with the help of the Australian Council for Educational Research. Another aspect of this service has been the collection of data related to the availability of existing services on a state-wide basis. There is a possibility that this information will be made available to prospective service providers by way of a data base.27

It is anticipated that the program will be evaluated in the future.

25 George John, Investigation into Parent Education Opportunities for Vulnerable Families in Victoria. Community Services Victoria, April, 1989.

26 Bretherton, Op.cit.

27 Ibid

E:3

Western Australia

A Review of Parent Education in Western Australia was presented to the Premier and Minister for the Family in July 1991.28

The Review identified the range of programs available in Western Australia. It concluded that there is "no simple right or wrong answer" to the question of how, in what form, and by whom parent education services should be provided,

choosing rather to support a set of principles:

There is no single right way of parenting, and it is important that diverse family patterns are acknowledged and respected;

Parenting is a continuous process, starting at birth and proceeding through early childhood, school-years, birth of children, parenthood and grandparenthood;

The ability to parent reflects each individual's level of self-confidence and sense of worth. This has implications for working with parents and prospective parents, where support should acknowledge, value, and build on the individual's own skills, experience and abilities rather than inducing dependency or guilt;

Parenting is not simply a matter of child rearing. It is a constant interaction between parents and children, both of whom are continually developing;

Parenting usually involves mothers and fathers and that any approaches to parent education are relevant to boys as well as girls, men as well as women;

If parenting is a sequential process, concerned with the development of the whole person, then this has implications for everyone who works with young people and parents throughout the life-cycle;

Because Western Australia is a multicultural society, cultural diversities expressed through different child rearing patterns and attitudes to family life need to be considered in any support for parents, and those undertaking such work will require knowledge and understanding of such cultural differences;

Services planned with parents and based on their needs are likely to be more acceptable and more widely used;and

Raising children should be viewed in the wider context of adequate

28 Effective Parenting , W.A. Office of the Family, July 1991. 9

employment, financial provision, housing and day care.29

The Review also noted that "implications to parenting of various stages of the life-cycle" are embodied in a number of these principles:

Such an approach to parent education recognises that there is a reciprocal interaction between child development and parent development. The birth of a first child, for example, is recognised as one of the critical transition phases in a marriage or relationship. Early parenthood may coincide with a career establishment phase or with a period when personal identity is being established out side the workforce. Children may reach adolescence simultaneous with their parents "mid-life crises", a time when parents are struggling to accept their own limitations and mortality.30

Although the Report did not specifically address life-cycle implications, the Committee noted:

their importance to future planning of services is recognised....31

A series of 51 recommendations were made with the intentions to achieve:

Co-ordination and liaison between government departments and between government and non-government providers;

A Community education strategy which will raise the status of parenting;

An information system for parents and service providers;

A mechanism by which training requirements can be monitored and met;

Procedures by which resources can be monitored and augmented;

Identification of the steps to be taken to accommodate the parent education needs of a diverse range of special interest groups;

Mechanisms to ensure that future services provided by both the government and non-government sectors are known to be needed, effective and the best among alternatives by:

Making parent education services provided by government departments more defined, planned, managed and evaluated;

29 Ibid 30 Ibid. 31 Ibid

10

Creating and analysing data bases to identify shortfalls in service

provision and resources availability; and

Researching the comparative effectiveness of approaches.32

A review of the Parent Help Program highlighted a number of areas of concern about the availability of step parenting material and programs; programs for urban aboriginal communities; programs for adolescent mothers; and a lack of programs which deal with parenting teenagers.'

Family Skills Programme

In response to a perceived community need to provide parent education that is directed at and relevant to disadvantaged families, 34the Commonwealth Government funded the Family Skills Training Program in 1991. The Program was partially in response to the National Committee on Violence Report.

A pilot project was established in consultation with the peak bodies in marriage education and marriage counselling.

When announcing the project, the Minister for Justice, Senator Tate, said:

family skills training will be a process which aims to provide disadvantaged families with an alternative model of parenting and family functioning; something with which to compare their own experience.... It will complement existing marriage education, marriage

counselling, family mediation and adolescent mediation services and enhance access and equity of service delivery to disadvantaged families.

...the pilot program will be based on a model of adult education...lt will, however, add a new factor in that parents participating in these groups will be built into a series of ongoing community self-support groups.

These groups will provide a network of contacts for the parents who attend them, and provide ongoing support for the participants enabling them to recall the group leaders to conduct follow-up groups

32 Ibid 33 Bretherton, op cit.

34 Ilene Wolcott, 'Family Skills Training Program" Family Matters No. 31, April 1992, 30.

11

if, and when, they are required.35

Following consultation with the representatives of the peak bodies, it was resolved that the Program should comprise:

Development of core material and review existing programs by a project officer;

service delivery;

community development; and

evaluation.

Four projects in Broadmeadows, Victoria, Campbelltown, N.S.W., Marion, South Australia, and Hobart, Tasmania, were funded from January 1991.36

The following year, 6 additional programs were also funded. 37 Funding was increased from $200,000 in 1991 to $520,000 in 1992.

A manual of core materials and a video Kids Need All the Help Parents Can Get were developed following the appointment of a project officer. Only 100 copies of the video were produced. Although the video is available for copying, an approach to the Office of Legal Aid and Family Services by the Australian Council for Educational Research to market the video failed "because of considerations

associated with the profit aspect which would arise if it were distributed by ACER." 38

The Attorney-General added that "additional; copies may be distributed through a

national service organisation; negotiations are currently in progress".

The Attorney-General has announced subsequently that the Program and video will be promoted by the Australian Family Protection Trust, which was established by

35 "Family Skills Program" Threshold , No. 30, December 1990, 3

36 'Family Skills Training Update' Threshold No. 31, March 1991, 5. 37 Office of Legal Aid & Family Services, Allocation of New Policy Funds .

38 M. Duffy, Attorney-General Hansard , House of Representatives 1 June 1991, 3307.

12

Apex Clubs.39

The manual contains a collection of ideas and suggestions for the development of effective family skills programs.

Evaluating family skills education

The Western Australian Review noted:

Although there has been no widespread evaluation in Australia which has demonstrated the effectiveness of parent education in reducing social problems, there is a growing body of research evidence, referred to at various points in this report which demonstrates the utility of various parent education programmes. A significant number of professionals working in the

field believe that training can improve parenting practices, which in turn impact on better outcomes for the child's emotional, social, cognitive and physical development.

Probably starting with the success of Project Head Start in the USA, there has been a growing awareness of how early intervention can improve outcomes for children and recognition of the vital role played by parents throughout the child's development. As White (1979) says,

'Given the importance of the parental role in early childhood development, it is ironic that so few parents are properly prepared for parenthood. Not only is there little information available but even if we did have sufficient reliable, research-based knowledge about effective child-rearing practices, it would not be routinely transmitted to parents. Our society does not educate its citizens to assume the parental role'.

There is good information from the USA to demonstrate the effectiveness of early intervention programmes for disadvantaged children. Breedlove and Schweinhart (1982) reported the outcomes, assessed over 20 years, of an early childhood programme conducted in Michigan, where the performance of disadvantaged children who attended the programme was compared to that equivalent non-attending children. They reported that for each $1000

invested in the programme, at least $4,130 (after inflation) has been or will be returned to society.

They found that a critical element in the programme's success was the degree to which the parents became involved as partners with teachers in educating the child.4o

39 'Apexians promote parenting' Threshold , Sept,1992,6. 40 Effective Parenting , 3-4 13

The Committee concluded:

In the final analysis, the Committee recognises that all parents can benefit from parent education and that a diversity of services are needed to cater for a range of parent needs. However, for these services to be effective they need to be widely promoted as vital to the health and well-being of the community. As long as the 'parenting is instinctive' myth prevails, education will be perceived by many as unnecessary. Individuals are unlikely to avail themselves of services that they do not see as relevant. They may be

motivated to seek help in a crisis, but for many this type of crisis intervention does little towards preventing their problems. Ongoing parent education through the, life-span needs to be generally promoted and accepted as

valuable to the well being of parents, the children they are raising and to society in general. Positive, effective parenting needs to be widely acknowledged and promoted as being of value to society, not devalued as it tends to be at present.

'Perhaps the time has come to realise that families are our nation's most valuable natural resource and that we need to develop strategies to conserve and nurture the family environment of our future generation.' (Wandersman, 1987, p 223).41

A recent evaluation of the Commonwealth Family Skills Training Program found:

The program was found to be providing a service to disadvantaged families. Almost all clients were from low income families, about half were single parents and a small proportion were from non-English speaking background, had Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander or disabled children. The four projects provided a service to 604 clients in the 12 month period.

The majority of clients were women.

All 4 projects in the study were found to be using an educative process offering constructive models of parenting and family functioning.

The program produced substantial improvement on all the measured factors associated with poor parenting and family functioning, and child abuse (88 clients assessed in the 2 month period). The mean percentage improvement for each factor was - communication skills 19%, Knowledge of /involvement in support services 18%, self-esteem with respect to parenting

16%, confidence in parenting 22%, motivation for good parenting 19%, understanding of child behaviour 22%, ability to cope with conflict 20 %, tension management skills 20%, quality of family life 24%, living skills 13%.

All 4 projects had low attrition rates over a 1 .2 month period (averaging

41 Ibid.

14

18.8%) and clients of the projects rated them as very or extremely useful.

Over a 12 month period the mean cost per family was $502.76, and the mean cost to government of child abuse.

The reach of the program in respect of servicing local (to the project) families for whom child abuse is a problem is small (averaging 13.8%). At a national level the program is only "scratching the surface" of population it can help.42

Training of Educators

In a recent survey of parent education, Rodd notes:

...At this point in time, Australian parent educators and the programs they offer (unlike some overseas counterparts) are not required to undergo any accreditation, registration or quality-control procedures. Unfortunately, due perhaps to the lack of appropriate training, there is evidence (both anecdotal and from program evaluations by parents) that some parent educators conduct programs which are not effective

in enhancing parenting skills. Such poorly devised, idiosyncratic formulations and combinations of strategies devised from different theoretical frameworks, as well as inappropriate leadership styles, can

be confusing, misleading and at worst de-skilling for parents. Such issues highlight the need for increased program effectiveness in parent education.43

Given the apparent acceptance of the educational model for family skills programs, the need for group skills training has been recognised as a priority issue. 44 To some extent, this parallels developments in marriage education over the past two decades. Indeed the centrality of communication and conflict resolution skills may

provide a linkage between the two forms of education, particularly if post-wedding marriage education is encouraged.

A national strategy

In his report to the Office of Legal Aid and Family Services, Bretherton indicated three issues for consideration:

1. There needs to be a point of contact on a national basis for

42 Family Skills Training Evaluation Repo rt, Attorney-General's Department, Canberra, (1992) i-ii.

a3 Rodd, 17

as Id.

15

individuals and agencies working in the area of parenting education.

This would allow better access to existing programs and points of coordination as well as dissemination of material. It may be that this could take the shape of a data base with information about types of programs and their delivery and who to contact in each case.

At some point in the future this point of coordination may also allow key personnel in each State to get together to look at the range of options in Primary Prevention and to share resources and information.

It would also help to stop duplication of program development, which certainly is a component of the current scene nationally.

2. The permeation of information encouraging people to make use of family and relationship education needs to accompany programs which are currently available.

Community Education definitely strengthens the effectiveness of existing programs, even if only for the participants themselves.

3. A more comprehensive analysis and collection of data on a national basis would enable resources to be shared more effectively.45

ISSUES FOR CONSIDERATION

To what extent should family skills programs be developed?

What is the role of the Commonwealth in the provision of family skills and parenting programs?

Should programs be linked specifically to a national response to child abuse?

Can programs be co-ordinated with other family service programs such as marriage education?

as Bretherton op cit

16

FAMILIES AND CHILDREN

CHILD SUPPORT

Background

Attitudinal changes unleashed by the sexual revolution of the sixties together with the introduction of the Supporting Mothers' Benefit in 1973 by the Whitlam Government (previously only deserted mothers could make a claim on the State) brought with it a new social phenomenon which displaced the 'shotgun marriages' of former times, a

sharp rise in the number of single parent families. Between 1974 and June 1991, sole parent families increased as a proportion of families from 9.2 per cent to 16.3 per cent. Contrary to popular belief only 20 per cent of these fit the stereotype of the young

unmarried mum. The majority are the result of the break-down of marriages and de facto relationships. As around two-thirds of these seek social security at least for a period, the costs to Government have been huge, rising from $160 million in 1973-4 to $1.7 billion in 1985-6, $2.7 billion in 1991-2 and $2.9 billion in 1991-2. However the proportion of single parents in the population is now no greater than it was at the turn of the century when death and not divorce was the catalyst.

Under the court system, financial support for children had become virtually a voluntary payment. The numbers of court orders or agreements for child maintenance were low, the levels of maintenance often trifling, not linked to the inflation rate, and not enforced. According to Stephen Parker:

..where there was liability for child maintenance the levels were clearly inadequate and there was a widespread belief that the courts operated a rather nominal 'going rate' for each child as an afterthought once the major questions of capital adjustment and spousal maintenance had been determined.'

The scheme was also prefaced on the first detailed research to emerge on the economic consequences of marriage break-down for men and women. This showed that while women living alone or as single parents experienced a great reduction in their standard of living, men, alone, as single parents or in new marriages without children, improved their standard of living.

In 1980 a Parliamentary Joint Select Committee on the Family Law Act recommended the creation of a maintenance collection and enforcement agency. A report of the National Maintenance Inquiry in 1984 made detailed recommendations for the creation of a national maintenance agency. In 1986 the Government proposed to introduce a system of formula-based assessment of maintenance administered by a child support agency attached to the Taxation Office. Collection of maintenance was to be through

' Stephen Parker, 'Child Support in Australia: Children's Rights or Public Interest?', International Journal of Law and the Family , (1991) 5(1), 26-27

the with-holding of payments from wages and salaries by employers on behalf of the

Child Support Agency.

The Government's stated objectives were:

1. That non-custodial parents should share the cost of their children according to their capacity to ray. 2. That adequate support be available for all children of separated parents. 3. That Commonwealth expenditure be limited to what is necessary to

ensure that those needs be met. 4. To ensure that neither parent is discouraged from pa rticipating in the workforce: and 5. That the overall arrangements should be simple, flexible, efficient and

respect personal privacy. [emphasis added]

Possible schemes

The Cabinet Sub-Committee rejected the cost-sharing approach to child support maintenance. This assumes there are quantifiable costs entailed in bringing up a child and there is a way of apportioning the costs. But the costs of children in poor households are less than in better off households. The difficulty is to find an objective criterion for the standard of living because the ' basket-of-items' method of calculating the cost of living is related to determinants of poverty and can lead to unduly low

payments. These calculations of cost are based on two-parent families, which necessitates finding how much income is needed by a sole parent family to achieve parity with a different kind of family. This begs the question of how you choose the different kind of family. The cost-sharing approach is judged by Parker to be, in consequence, too elastic and circular.

The resource-sharing approach is based on the idea that a child should benefit proportionately from the resources of its parents. This leads to higher payments by the absent parent and allows the child to share in any increase of parental resources after separation. The proportion of income spent on the children in a particular family or in the average family can then be calculated quite simply, using a formula.

According to Parker, the Australian child support maintenance scheme falls between stools. The Cabinet Sub-Committee opted for income-sharing based mainly on the income of the non-custodial parent. The Australian legislation fails to explain what

standard of living for the child is being aimed at. The Cabinet Sub-Committee spoke of meeting "the needs" of children and the "cost" of supporting children and "adequate support". The Fogarty Committee moved further away from costs-sharing to income-sharing. It accepted that children should share a similar proportion of parental income to that which they would have enjoyed if their parents had been together. But in the working out of a formula, the Fogarty Committee chose the standard of the proportion of income normally devoted to children in a two parent family rather than in the particular family. The Committee then factored in the additional costs associated with

2

li

ving separately.2 Parker argues that the Australian maintenance formula was "ready reckoner-driven" and so could not accommodate any calculation of the pre-breakdown standard of living of a particular child. Once the non-custodial parent's income reaches 2.5 times average weekly earnings, the child's right to share in the absent parent's income expires so as not to discourage high income earners from working.

Imp lementation of the Child Suppo rt Scheme

The Child Support Scheme was implemented in two stages and these stages continue to draw a demarcation line between one set of separated or divorced parents and the other. The scheme came into operation on 1 June 1988.

i) The Family Law Amendment Act 1987 transferred powers over ex-nuptial children from New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania to the Commonwealth.

ii) The Child Support Act 1988 (since October 1989 The Child Support (Registration and Collection Act) established the Child Support Register within a section of the Australian Tax Office known as the Child Support Agency. It provided that periodic child and/or spousal maintenance payable under an order or court approved agreement and registered by the Child Support Registrar becomes a debt due by payer to the

Commonwealth. The Act's primary stated method of collection is automatic with-holding from employees by employers on behalf of the Child Support Agency. Money collected by the Child Support Registrar is paid to the payee by the Department of Social Security. Stage One registrations were restricted to pensioners and beneficiaries with court orders and agreements; custodial parents whose maintenance was being collected by State agencies and those who had separated or had children after the commencement of the scheme. This was later extended to include all with court orders or approved agreements. For Stage One parents the Family Court and the Magistrates' Courts continue to award new maintenance orders and vary existing ones.

iii) Stage Two came into effect on 1 October 1989. According to The Child Support Amendment Act 1988, for children born after 1 October 1989 or whose parents separated on or after that date, a formulaic administrative assessment quantifies the amount of maintenance due, taking into account the number of children and the taxable income of the

non-custodial parent, and over a certain level, of the custodial parent.

iv) The Child Support Legislation (Amendment) Act 1992 gave the Child Support Registrar the power of garnishee over the funds held in the name of non-custodial parents with outstanding child support debts. The Act also allows pensioners to have 100 per cent of their assessed

2 Child Support in Australia 3

maintenance paid directly to them by the non-custodial parent rather

than having to have it collected by the agency. The Act also allows either a custodian or a liable parent to have an assessment of child support reviewed free of charge and without legal representation by a child support review officer from 1 July 1992. This will be a mandatory

first step in the general appeal process allowable under the law. Rights of appeal to the court are retained against the determinations made.

v) Further amendments were introduced into Federal Parliament in November 1992 - the Child Support Legislation Amendment Bill (no.2) 1992. This bill seeks to make minor changes to the legislation to facilitate the collection and payment of maintenance, including some variations of the formula provisions of the

legislation.

The Child Suppo rt Scheme - Success or Failure?

According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, before the scheme, only 24 per cent of all potentially eligible women were receiving regular maintenance payments in 1982. The Institute's survey of pre-scheme custodial parents in 1988 reported that 34 per cent of the sample were receiving child maintenance. In April 1988 only 25.6 per cent or 62,100 out of 240,400 sole parent pensioners were declaring maintenance income.

In 1991 45 per cent of the entire custodial population claimed to be receiving maintenance payments - (this includes Agency registered maintenance as well as private arrangements) -though the particular cohort studied by the Institute in 1988 reported no significant improvement. It is noteworthy that the media has frequently misinterpreted Agency data by asserting that twice as many non-custodial parents now pay maintenance compared with the situation pre-scheme. The Agency figure of 70 per cent refers only to to the collection rate of those who are actually registered with the Agency, not the proportion of all non-custodians paying maintenance.

Further, the Agency figure of 70 per cent refers to payments received within 60 days of the expected date of receipt. In fact, only 45 per cent of Stage One clients and 50 per cent of Stage Two clients report receiving the correct amount on time. Likewise, the proportion of sole parent pensioners receiving maintenance has not seen a

dramatic rise. From 25.6 per cent of pensioners in 1988, this had risen to 39.5 per cent by January 1992.

The amount paid has increased from an average of $27 for each child pre-scheme to $50 in 1991/2. The differential between average Stage One and Stage Two maintenance payments per week varies from $5 to $15. Since the advent of the

scheme the Courts have been ordering more realistic amounts of maintenance.

The Government's initial expectations of savings from the child support scheme have been shown by actual outcomes to have been wildly optimistic. In April 1988 Minister Howe estimated that the social security system would save $200 million in the first year of operation. This estimate was revised downwards to the still inflated $160 million a

year within the next three years in October 1989. Savings come from the operation

4

of a maintenance income test applied to social security pensioners or beneficiaries

applying for child support. Savings therefore represent a crude estimate of the amount of money that does not have to be paid to social security recipients because it is being collected in maintenance. Last year this was $56 million, a figure which takes into account the fact that pre-scheme nearly 26 per cent of sole parent pensioners were already receiving maintenance.

CHILD SUPPORT SCHEME - COSTS AND SAVINGS

$1000

1987-88 1988-89 1989-90 1990-91

Costs 1 921 5 001 23 406 42 838

Savings - 19 100 35 500 56 200

Net Savings -1 921 14 099 12 094 13 362

Problems for custodial and non-custodial parents

In the aftermath of marriage, the perceptions of ex-partners are almost invariably at odds. This does not necessarily mean that one partner is falsifying the truth (although this can be the case) but that different life situations make for different perspectives.

It is then hardly surprising that the perceptions of custodial and non-custodial parents vary so widely as to the fairness of the scheme. The Roy Morgan Research Centre found that 41 per cent of Stage Two custodial parents thought the amount payable to them was fair; 45 per cent thought the amount too little and 8 per cent thought it was too much. On the other hand, 80 per cent of Stage Two non-custodial parents thought the amount required was too much, 18 per cent thought it fair and 1 per cent that it was too little. The Stage One custodial parents are slightly less satisfied and the Stage One non-custodial parents are considerably less dissatisfied. 66 per cent of Stage One non-custodial parents thought the amount required was fair; 20 per cent thought it was too much and 9 per cent that it was too little. 35 per cent of Stage

One custodial parents thought the amount payable was fair; 54 per cent thought it too little and 1 per cent thought it was too much.

The 1991/2 Commonwealth Ombudsman's Report singled out nine main categories of complaint against the CSA: 1. Communication difficulties, including the CSA's failure to respond to correspondence and the inadequacy of its telephone service.

2.

Lack of client focus. 3. Recovery of overpayments. 4. Imposition of late payment penalties and unreasonable refusal to remit them. 5. Disputes about direct payments made to payees or third parties outside

the CSA's collection system. 6. Collection of ongoing child support and recovery of arrears. 7. Autowithholding difficulties, including delays in effecting autowithholding and failure by employers to remit payments, and the CSA's inability to

identify some payments remitted by employers. 8. The CSA's interpretation of court orders. 9. Delays in effecting court-ordered variations to child support liabilities.

Investigation by the Commonwealth Ombudsman's office revealed that the CSA has systemic problems. Firstly, the CSA's accounting system does not enable staff to provide a detailed examination of what has happened when problems arise. Further, any manually processed payment which bypasses the computerized disbursement system, is likely to result in misleading standard letters being sent by the DSS to the payee, unless the CSA notifies the DSS and the DSS takes action. The CSA's response to this criticism by the Ombudsman has been to advise that it is reviewing the child support system of processing without specifying any action it is undertaking to overcome the endemic problems.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman has also registered concern at the CSA's lack of human concern:

The CSA gives the impression of being more concerned with money than with people. ..The CSA operates within the Australian Taxation Office's(ATO) general climate of revenue collection. Complaints to my office allege that there is a degree of insensitivity and a lack of empathy on the part of some CSA staff in dealing with clients. Payees and payers alike refer to inflexible, indifferent or insensitive attitudes. They often say they feel judged, ignored or fobbed off when they try to communicate with the CSA. I have found that the CSA's written

responses to investigations and inquiries from my office vary in terms of quality and helpfulness. In some cases they confirm the inflexibility experienced by clients. My impression is that, unlike the ATO's responses which indicate a shift towards the goal of achieving voluntary compliance through providing service to taxpayers, the CSA's replies often indicate a degree of defensiveness and

inflexibility.3

The Commonwealth Ombudsman's Annual Report (1991/2) concludes that since the previous year "in some areas there has been little discernible change in the CSA's mode of operation, despite its proposed plans for improvement.i4

3 Commonwealth and Defence Force Ombudsman, Annual Report1991 -92, 31 4 Ibid. , 27

6

Custodial Parents

a. Delays

A minimum eight week delay between receipt of maintenance by the Child Support Agency and its disbursement by the Department of Social Security to the custodial parent is built into the operation of the scheme by legislation. According to the Child

Support Evaluation Advisory Group this delay "has done more harm than any other factor to the reputation of the scheme.i5 Eight weeks, however, is a bare minimum. According to Margaret Harrison of the Institute of Family Studies, the delay in starting

up an application is about three months on average, although it may take much longer. A report by the Child Support Consultative Group in early 1990, referring to Stage One cases, stated that there was an unsatisfactory delay between the making of a court order and registration of the liability with the Child Support Agency. On average applications to register a liability with the Agency took 86 days and the

method of collection and distribution of maintenance took another 64 days on average. Minister Howe attributed the first part of the delay to the failure of the legal profession to advise clients to register court orders with the Agency.

b. Attitudes

There are also grounds for believing that at least some public servants in government agencies actively discriminate against male custodial parents on the basis of traditionalist beliefs about sex roles. One male custodian was told by a woman employee of the Agency that he should be "ashamed of himself' for seeking

maintenance from his ex-wife, a factory process worker. Until his marriage break-up, he was a house husband, caring for the children at home, having been invalided out of his job as a hospital orderly. His local DSS office sends his Family Allowance to his second wife, his children's stepmother and not their legal guardian, and threatened to

make life impossible for him if he made a fuss.

c. Inadequate communication

In theory when there is a break in payment by a non-custodial parent to a social security pensioner or beneficiary there is supposed to be immediate action by the Child Support Agency to plug the gap by adjusting the amount of pension upwards. In practice, according to the Council for Single Mothers and their Children, parents on benefits are often left in distressed financial circumstances before the mistake is rectified. The CSMC alleges that the communication between the DSS and the Agency is poor or non-existent in cases of late or lapsed payments.

While 347 extra staff were taken on by the Child Support Agency in the 1990/1 financial year, communication with the Agency remains a major problem for clients. One support group claims that one of its members tried for three days to telephone the Agency, dialling every twenty minutes. When she finally did get through, she was

5 Child Support in Australia , 318 7

put in a queue on hold. She gave up waiting after fifty minutes. Correspondence to

the Agency seems to take around three months to score a reply. Custodial parents complain commonly that the Agency ignores or loses information given to them with the result that it often has to be sent several times over. In this way, the Agency sometimes 'contributes to the worsening of relations between ex-marriage partners.

In one case, the custodian informed the agency that a part-settlement of the arrears owing by a non-custodial parent had been agreed on in court. The Agency continued to dun the non-custodial parent for the full amount of arrears. Rudeness and misleading advice are also complained of by custodial parents. Custodians who

enquire about what is being done, say they are fobbed off with bureaucratic platitudes such as 'the matter is being pursued' whether it is or not. Alternatively they may be told that it is none of their business. The custodial parent is in the invidious position of having signed over his or her own rights to take action against a non-paying non-

custodial parent to the Commonwealth, but then bears the financial brunt of failure to collect on what is, in theory only, "a debt to the Commonwealth."

According to the Commonwealth Ombudsman, almost all complaints to his office about the CSA concern "some reference to its inability or unwillingness to communicate clearly, or in a timely way, or at all, with its clients", a complaint borne out by the experience of his office in dealing with the CSA. The Ombudsman believes

that the CSA's parlous communication problems stem from over-reliance on computers and "the apparent reluctance of its staff to help clients. i6 If

correspondence is answered at all, it is in the form of standard letters which may be totally inappropriate to the individual case or contradictory of other standard letters received. Because staff rely heavily on computer-bound information, they are,

reportedly reluctant to accept that the information contained therein is not gospel. Telephone responses to queries are particularly poor with some CSA staff seldom offering to check for information on file except on the computer and hazarding guesses, based on past experience. In one notable case concerning payment of arrears, dealt with by the Ombudsman's office, the CSA officer told the custodial parent that a large sum of money would be sent to her shortly simply because that was what the woman was wanting to hear. In fact, nothing of the kind was in train.

d. Slow enforcement

The slowness of the Agency in taking action, is, according to custodians, a source of great and unnecessary hardship. Custodians complain that the Agency expects them to do all the detective work in establishing that an ex-spouse has the ability to pay. Sarah, 40, mother of 3, married for 7 years, only got the Agency to pursue her ex-

husband after she had subpoenaed his credit card statements at her own expense and discovered he had spent $37,000 on his American Express Gold Card in the same year he was claiming he only earned $15,000. In the three years between being registered with the agency and issuing the subpoenas, Sarah found that her ex had managed to hide all of their considerable joint assets, including a country property. She received only $15,000 in property settlement because she says, he mortgaged

6 Ibid., 28

8

the house to the hilt for his business which he then put in the name of his second wife.

In its submission to the Child Support Evaluation Advisory Group, the Commonwealth Ombudsman identified an inconsistent approach by the CSA to arrears enforcement. The CSA has stated to the Commonwealth Ombudsman's office that it has not discretion to suspend enforcement action by means of final notices and late payment penalties despite advice by the payer or non-custodial parent that their changed financial circumstances make them unable to meet payment of maintenance liabilities.

But in practice the CSA has doggedly pursued some payers on unemployment benefits or in receipt of invalid pension while delaying enforcement of arrears collection in other cases where the payer has only indicated that he or she intends to apply for a variation to the maintenance order. In one case, the CSA delayed enforcement of arrears collection over many months, sending no less than nine 'final' notices to one payer, forbearance, as the Ombudsman's submission mildly points out, difficult to understand from the needy payee's perspective. Arrears collection has generally taken a back seat to registration owing to a 50 per cent surge in the case-load during

the past year.

e. Elevated expectations

Part of the problem is the high expectation generated by the Agency. One custodian, Jenna, 34, with one child and separated from her husband in early 1988, says that when she first rang the Agency she was given an enthusiastic sales pitch. "They sounded wonderful. They had all the answers. They said it was more difficult with self-employed men but not to worry, they could seize his property and sell it. They said, 'we can make him pay." The attitude, she says, changed as soon as she was registered. Then she was advised to take what she could get at a court hearing because they might not be able to get anything for her. In extenuation of the Agency, it should be remembered that apart from social security recipients, those cases registered voluntarily with the Agency are likely to be those most difficult of collection. According to the Agency in around 30 per cent of registered cases maintenance is not

being collected and in 11 per cent of cases maintenance can only be collected m spasodically through the interception of tax rebate cheques. The Institute of Family Studies found that 30 per cent of non-custodial parents are unemployed. This was prior to the recession.

Inflexibility

The CSA's operational tardiness and inflexibility and indifference to individual circumstances of hardship caused by that same tardiness and inflexibility also surfaces in its treatment of recovery of overpayments. This is an important category of complaints now being pursued by the Commonwealth Ombudsman's office. Overpayments occur when a non-custodial parent successfully applies for a reduction in his or her maintenance payments as the result of a 15 per cent or more drop in income. In one case, dealt with by the Commonwealth Ombudsman, a payee's payments of $185 a week were stopped without any warning by the CSA or DSS. When she contacted the CSA, she was told her that husband's maintenance liability had been reassessed, that she would be receiving no more payments and she would

9

4

have to refund $1600 already received (and spent) under the original assessment.

Being responsible for the mortgage payments and unable to contact her husband who was overseas, she had to move herself and her children interstate to stay with her parents. The CSA's attitude was that it had no discretion and was obliged to recover the payment. But where it pays the money from a payer to the wrong payee owed

arrears, its stated policy is that it refund the payer and seek restitution from the payer who owes the arrears. It, therefore, sometimes uses discretion in the matter of its discretion.

g. Agency's powers

There is some confusion about the actual powers of the Child Support Agency. The Australian system of child support lacks the powers of enforcement of its American counterpart and is, in some ways, more of a toothless tiger than under the Family Law Act provisions it supplanted. Dee, 33, with two children, was divorced in 1986, after

6 years of marriage. Before the Child Support Scheme, she used to take her ex-husband to court whenever he ceased to pay maintenance. Threatened with jail, he always promptly wrote out a cheque at the courthouse for arrears. Under the Child Support Scheme, a non-custodial parent cannot be arrested for not paying maintenance, only for not going to court when summonsed. Since the Agency came into operation, Dee has not received a single voluntary payment from her ex-husband although $1,000 was received last year through the interception of his tax rebate. Jan Thompson says that getting a seizure notice on someone's assets does not guarantee anything because some non-custodial parents know how to use the system. Unless a bailiff is invited in he can't seize assets and verbal denial of ownership prevents seizure. She says it just costs too much for the Agency to take defaulters to court.

Ms. Thompson says the Agency is understaffed and lacks an enforcement officer in Melbourne which means it has to hire court staff who are booked months ahead. Only two and a half days per month are allocated in the Family Court which creates huge backlogs.

A Melbourne group of custodial parents, the Child Support Action Group has been critical of the Agency's use of its powers or rather its failure to do so. The Agency has obtained much media publicity for seeking court orders to seize the assets or freeze the funds of non-custodial parents. But the support group points out that though

prosecutions of defaulting payers began in Melbourne in October 1990 and in Sydney in November 1990, a year later the Agency had only completed three prosecutions. Nor is obtaining a court order the end of the story for the custodial parent. After making nine court appearances in two years, in July 1991 one custodian obtained an order that her ex-husband pay the $14,500 owing in child support. The court ordered that his bank account be frozen, his car and furniture seized and sold to pay the debt.

But by October only his bank account had been frozen and as that was done three months after the court order, only $200 then remained in the account. The custodian had to retain a solicitor to instruct the agency which records to subpoena and to advise the whereabouts of the non-custodial parent. Months later the Agency had failed to have the court order enforced.

The Child Support Agency was unable to supply details of the number of court orders

10

it had sought. However, a spokesperson estimated that the success rate of court

orders for seizing property was around ten per cent as non-custodial parents either have nothing or have effectively salted it away by the time the order is put into effect. The spokesperson said that court orders were useful in obtaining maintenance from

well-to-do non-custodial parents who objected to paying maintenance for their children.

h. Inadequacy of the scheme

The most intractable group with which the Agency has to deal are self-employed non-custodial parents. These have, in the past, been able to cry 'poor mouth' by hiding their real incomes. Under 30 per cent of maintenance is collected for this group. According to a Child Support Agency spokesperson, "People think payment is guaranteed. But if someone really doesn't want to pay we can only do so much." It is unlikely that the most recent legislation allowing the Agency to garnishee funds held in the name of a non-custodial parent with outstanding child support debts, will eradicate the problem as it is most likely that they will continue to shift funds into the names of girlfriends and new wives.

For all the hoopla about addressing the poverty of single parent families, according to the Council for Single Mothers and their Children, the Child Support Scheme has done little for single parent families in poverty. Single parent pensioners are subjected to a stringent maintenance income test. They are allowed $16.05 per week for the first child and $5.35 for each additional child after which they lose 50 cents in every dollar

received. Anne Callanan of the CSMC charges that "If the aim is to do something about the poverty of sole parents it is crazy to take so much away." She also says that Stage One custodians thereby have no incentive to take reasonable action to obtain maintenance from the father of the child.

Some single parent pensioners are actually now worse off financially because the free areas under the maintenance income test are lower than those that applied for all income pre-scheme. The CSMC estimates the current free zone to be at the same level in real value as it was in 1974. Pre-scheme all of a sole parent pensioner's income was taken into account under a single income test when assessing the pension entitlement. Any earning, maintenance payments above $312 a year, interest payments and so on were added up and reduced by 50 cents in the dollar for each dollar by which that total income exceeded $40 a week plus $12 per dependent child.

Under the scheme, maintenance is treated separated from other income. The free area consists of $15 a week for the first child and $5 for each subsequent child after which 50 cents in every dollar of maintenance above the free zone is taken by the Government. The Child Support Evaluation Advisory Group commented in its 1992 report:

...following the introduction of the new income-testing arrangements, pensioners with maintenance but no, or low, other income were subject to a reduced 'free area' and would, in many cases, have had their pensions reduced but for a 'saving' provision in the legislation which protected the dollar value (but not the real value) of their pension entitlement provided that other income did not

11

change. Over time these pensioners have seen their real incomes decline while

others have continued to receive pension increases.'

Continuing violence

The Child Support Scheme enshrines the principle of separation between access and maintenance which workers in the field agree fails to reflect attitudes and behaviour in the real world. In its response to Child Support in Australia , the Council For Single Mothers and their Children challenged the view tha there was "no evidence of a

general increase in conflicts over access and custody."

The Council For Single Mothers and their Children certainly agrees that the issues of maintenance and access should be separate. However, in our experience, this is often not the case. Our perception is that problems with access have increased since the introduction of the Scheme because non-custodial parents believe that if they are contributing towards the cost of their child then they should be able to see them more often.

The Council For Single Mothers and their Children also disputes the Child Support Evaluation Advisory Group's assertion that there is "no evidence of increased violence attributable to the scheme." The Council For Single Mothers and their Children says the advisory group cannot state this with any certainty as typically only a small number

of cases are reported to the police or authorities. "Our experience is that the fear of violence exists largely because the non-custodian still sees the maintenance demand as originating from the custodial parent."

These views are challenged by a survey in July 1990 of 497 sole parent pensioners in receipt of payments collected by the CSA. The survey by Fiona Carberry was based on a random sample of 1000 sole parent pensioners which obtained a 50 per cent response rate. The sample and the sole parent pensioner population were well

matched on most demographic characteristics such as sex, number of children, length of time on pension and pre-Scheme maintenance status. 91 per cent of respondents were covered by Stage One of the Scheme and the remaining 9 per cent by Stage 2. Almost 95 per cent of those surveyed had not been subjected to violence from their former partner since they began using the Child Support Agency. In fact, the incidence of violence actually declined significantly following separation and again on registration with the CSA. Of those reporting violence, two women had never been physically harmed before registering with the CSA and the remainder had all been harmed or threatened before entering the scheme. 70 per cent of respondents reported no effect on access arrangements after taking action for child support but where changes occurred, there were many more cases of a decline in access. In only

17 cases did non-custodial parents who had no access prior to the scheme begin having access. 25 per cent of custodial parents reported that they argued less about access with former partners after registering with the CSA and 7 per cent said they

Child Suppport in Australia , 237

12

argued for more.

8 As most of the respondents were in Stage One of the scheme which is based, not on administrative assessment, but court orders and agreements, it may well be that non-custodial parents are less disposed to be violent or to seek access, given their higher approval rating of Stage One as against Stage Two of the scheme.

Non-custodial Parents

In its interim report, W ho Pays For the Children , the Institute of Family Studies asserted:

Too often the issue of child maintenance has been presented and debated publicly as one to do with women, or sole parents, or the feminisation of poverty. In the early stages of the public selling of this scheme, some unfortunate emphases distorted the debate. There was still too much of a focus on the poverty of women rather than the principle of ongoing joint parent responsibilities for children.9

The Institute of Family Studies concluded:

There were.. .at times, too easy a dismissal of their [non-custodial parents'] concerns.

The advisory group's recent report generally fails to address the problems of this group.

According to the Institute of Family Studies' survey, 51 per cent of non-custodial parents stated that they had insufficient income to pay maintenance. Now, while there is a minority of self-employed non-custodial parents who go to any length to avoid paying any maintenance for their children, there is evidence that the financial burden

on low to moderate earners is extremely severe.

The maintenance formula The formula is calculated as the taxable income of the liable parent x indexation -exemption amount x child support percentage. If this is less than $260 per week no child support is payable. There is a maximum figure above which liability cannot go -

two and a half times average weekly earnings ($74,828 at 1991-2). Assessment for 1991-2 would be for the taxable income for 1989-90. The exemption amount is equivalent to the basic maximum single rate of pension payable on 1 January before the assessment year. For 1991-2 assessment the amount was $7,584.20. The Child

Fiona Carberry, 'The Child Support Scheme: An Evaluation of Its Personal Impact', Social Security Journal, Autumn 1992, 43-48

M. Harrison, G. Snider and R. Merlo, Who Pays for the Children , Australian Institute of Family Studies, Monograph No. 9

13

Support percentages range from 18 per cent of taxable income for one child through

27 per cent for two children, 32 per cent for three children, 34 per cent for four children and 36 per cent for five or more children. The custodial parent's income does not count until it is in excess of average weekly earnings ($29,931 or $575.60 per week the 1991/2 child support year). Even if the custodian's income is high, the non-custodial parent is liable to pay 25 per cent of what would have been assessed if the custodian had no income. This can be varied by mutual agreement or court order. Where the non-custodial parent marries and starts a new family, he or she is allowed an exemption of $12,646 (the married pension rate x 2 plus $1,378 (for each child under 13), $2,016 (for each child up to 16) and $3,162 (for each child from 16 to 18).

A lobby group, Dads Against Discrimination (DADS) points out that: (it) is impossible to apply a formula to all situations, every case is different. An example of this is where the custodial parent has received Legal Aid and no assets from property settlement, versus where the custodial parent has received

Legal Aid, the family house (debt free), family vehicle, most contents of the family house, and a bank account containing $10,000...

The DADS example is of a non-custodial parent on $28,000, required to contribute 5 per cent of his salary to superannuation and to pay $137 per week in child support for three children after tax. This works out at $538 per week salary less $122 in income tax, less $27 superannuation, less maintenance $137 which leaves $252. On $252 per week, the non custodial parent must provide a suitable residence for the children on access periods (rental property to accommodate three children is $150 to $200 per week), motor vehicle to transport children to and from custodial residence

on access periods. The non-custodial parent then has approximately $75 with which to buy food for himself, food for the children during access, provide adequate furniture, linen, kitchen utensils, clothing for himself, health insurance, dental, medical and hospital expenses, contents insurance, telephone, electricity, gas and fuel, laundry and cleaning, registration and car insurance, and Christmas and birthday presents for the children. If the non-custodial parent were to purchase a residence suitable for the children, mortgage, house insurance, rates and house maintenance would then

replace rent. On a loan of $60,000 at 14.5 per cent interest over 25 years, this would be approximately $170 per week. If the non-custodial parent seeks to better his own position by increasing his weekly income either by over-time or a second job, bringing in an extra $5,000 per year, in effect, $96 extra per week, an additional $38 would be paid in income tax and an additional $33 in child support, leaving a net $25 additional income per week. To earn an extra $96 per week at $8 per hour, a non-custodial parent would have to work 12 extra hours per week for approximately $2 per week less the cost of transportation.

Table 2. Costs of children by income levels of parents and child support liabilities payable if parents separated (one child families only)

14

Family income ($ per week March 91)

Intact family 366 586 879 1172 1465

Av. cost age 0-13 143.22 172.56 210.52 243.30 269.19

After separation Av. cost age 0-13

Liable parent's income Custodian's income

Child support payable

366 586 879 586 879

NIL NIL NIL 586 586

39.76 79.32 132.06 79.32 132.06

The chief problem for non-custodial parents arises when they form a second family. The Advisory Group acknowledges that:

In the case of a liable parent paying child support for two children and with children in the second family, the combined effects of the marginal tax rate, child support payments and loss of income support payments could at present be as high as 116 per cent (not including the Medicare Levy). The child support percentage in this case would have to be reduced to 11 per cent to eliminate the problem.

With an eye to the direct costs of children and the long-term loss of earnings, of (usually female) custodians, the Advisory Group does not support such a solution. As indicated in Table 2, the amounts payable under the formula are considerably less than estimates of the costs of bringing up children and do not take into account childcare costs if the custodian works.

Instead, non-custodial parents can appeal for departure from the assessment in the courts and from July 1992 to the Child Support Review Officers. In this situation, the appellant must satisfy the court or review officer that his case is anomalous compared with that of comparable others. There are grounds for departure from the

administrative assessment of child support, ranging from providing for elderly relatives to the costs of setting up a second household. A para-legal child support worker, Anthony Grimes of the Springvale Legal Aid Service, says that there is a lot of latitude for departures:

The exemptions do work but they are not tested enough. If more use were made of the Family Court, it would create precedents and would result in changes to legislation.

In this way, a non-custodial parent on a high income who was paying off a large mortgage, with the agreement of his ex-wife, got his maintenance payments down to

15

nil for two years. However, to the end of 1991, only 420 non-custodial parents had

appealed to the Family court. As lack of money is the reason which drives them to appeal, court costs of around $3,000 for two days are prohibitive for most. Further, Legal Aid has virtually disappeared unless the appellant gets a covenant taken out on his or her home. The Advisory Group expressed concern that the recent imposition of court fees on child support appeals will make it impossible in many cases for parties to go to court to challenge assessment. Before the scheme there was not a great demand for legal aid because most did not seek maintenance in the courts.

The chief complaints of non-custodial parents may be briefly summarized; 1. The formula percentages are too high. 2. It is unjust that income has to drop by a full 15 per cent before reduced income is taken into account. 3. There is inadequate recognition of the costs of second

families.

4. Non-custodial parents are assessed as singles for the purposes of taxation when they are paying support for a family in absentia. 5. There is no consideration of the additional income

received by an ex-mate in a new de facto relationship. 6. The adjustment of pre-tax income for inflation overstates the rise in wages. 7. A non-custodial parent must have access (i.e. custody of his child) for at least

40 per cent of the year before reduced payments apply.

There is also a theme of distrust of ex-partners in the complaints of non-custodial male parents. This gives rise to the demand that women should be accountable for the expenditure of child support maintenance to prove to non-custodial parents that the money is not being spent on the ex-spouse but directly on the children. DADS, for example, says that custodial parents should be obliged to produce receipts for expenditure on the children above the costs of feeding the children. Non-custodial parents are also concerned at the impunity with which female custodians seem able to flout access orders without penalty by the courts.

Some cases Individual cases serve to underline the inflexibility of the system.

Case One Jim, 40, was left by his ex-wife for another man, 14 years ago. He remarried and brought up their two children until the children became rebellious in their teens and elected to go to their mother. During the 14 years, he had received no maintenance from his ex-wife who registered with the CSA as soon as the children arrived on her door-step. All payments made prior to registration with the CSA are not recognized unless agreed to by the custodial parent. Jim, a dairy farmer, and his second wife have a taxable income of only $10,000 owing to the rural depression. Out of their income of $200 per week they have been ordered to pay $110 for the two children to his ex-wife and her husband. The Agency demands that he sells his farm, the source of his livelihood. This would also involve throwing farm workers out of a job. Jim says

16

the earning capacity of his ex-wife's spouse is not allowed to be taken into account

even though his second wife had to bear the brunt of looking after his small children. He says the CSA is not interested in his situation but only in applying rules.

Case 2 Stephen, 31, is paying for three children by his ex-wife who walked out on him two years ago. A coal-miner, he earned $49,000 last year. He pays $259 a week for his children, aged 4, 5 and 8. The first he knew about his wife registering with the CSA was when he received a bill for $1,750 payable immediately. He was later granted $450 of this back as there had been a reconciliation during the time. He has since formed a de facto relationship with a woman with two children. His de facto wife

receives no child maintenance because the father is considered violent and the CSA does not pursue non-custodial parents prone to violence. This woman lost her Supporting Parents' Benefit as soon as she began living with Stephen who must now support her children as well as his own. There is no allowance in the exemption for children other than natural or adopted children. He is unable to obtain a loan from the bank which deems that the percentage of his salary paid out in maintenance (32 per cent) is too high to make him an acceptable credit risk. He recently received three weeks holiday pay of $2,305 gross. The CSA took $778. The Tax Office took $667. This left him with $807, out of which he paid rent of $300 and put $150 towards car

repayment. He had $119 a week for food, clothing, utility bills, repairs and holiday expenses over three weeks (had he been able to afford one) for two adults and two children. Because he is financially strapped, he is unable to afford the trip to see his natural children on access regularly. As things stand, Stephen and his new family are in a poverty trap which will last almost as long as his working life if he works until retirement age.

Case 3 Bill's wife departed the marriage bed but not the house. He continued to pay the mortgage and to give his wife house-keeping money and the family remains physically intact. However, without forewarning, Bill received notification from the CSA that he must pay $377 to his wife fortnightly. The children are aged 17, 15 and 13. Bill earns $35,000 per annum. His wife works four days a week and earns $18,000 a year. Bill soon began to fall behind with the mortgage as the result of the maintenance payments. The CSA informed him that he was bound to pay even though his wife and children lived in the same house. The CSA application form requires that the custodian must not be living with the non-custodial parent as a spouse in a domestic relationship and that the non-custodial parent must be a resident of Australia. The CSA informed Bill that he could apply to pay half the bills but only if his wife agreed. She refuses to discuss money matters.

Case 4 John and his wife are divorced. One child remained with her and the other two came to live with him. He pays $80 a week for the child living with his wife who has a part-time job earning around $19,000 per annum. The older of the two children living with

him is over 18 but unable to get a job. His wife pays no maintenance for the other child living with him. She received an apartment worth $190,000 and $50,000 in cash from the divorce settlement. John is now in almost $200,000 debt as he had to

17

borrow money to pay his ex-wife her share of his as yet unrealized superannuation.

He is now in considerable debt and has two children to support. He finds that it is all he can do to put food on the table for his two children while the child remaining with his wife has her own personal computer, horse and inter-state holidays.

Overseas experience of child maintenance

The rise in numbers of sole parent families is a world-wide phenomenon. In the United Kingdom, for example, sole parent families grew as a proportion of all families from nine per cent in the mid 1970s to 13 per cent in 1982. In the United States between 1970 and 1984, sole-parent families doubled as a proportion of all families with children from 13 per cent to 26 per cent. In some cities of the United States, single parent families now represent more than fifty per cent of all families. The U.S. pattern is extraordinary amongst other industrialized countries in the high number of ex-nuptial births, over a million a year. 60 per cent of births amongst American blacks are ex-nuptial. American black males earn less than their white counterparts. Poverty, death and drug-dealing amongst American black males deprives black children of their

fathers. Elsewhere in the western world, divorce is the chief indicator of sole parenthood.

At the start of the 80s, almost half of sole parents in the U.K. and the U.S. were judged to be poor. The major factors contributing to sole parent poverty have been economic recession, decline in the real value of government assistance due to expenditure restraint in some countries and difficulties for sole parents in obtaining employment

because of lack of child care, education and training. Sole parent poverty has been less of a problem in the Scandinavian countries where sole parents have had high labour force participation rates - for example, 86 per cent of Swedish sole parents work. This was despite the absence of social security benefits provided specifically for sole parents other than widows and reflects a generous level of general family assistance. Low rates of maintenance have also been a feature of many countries'

maintenance payments and non-compliance by non-custodial parents has also been a universal phenomenon. SWEDEN Maintenance is awarded by the courts. When a default occurs the custodial parent applies for an advance payment from the local social insurance agency. The agency then recoups the amount owed from the non-custodial parent. Because of the advance payment few sole parents receive social assistance for any extended period.

The non-custodial parent may put aside an amount of net income to cover his/her own living expenses which is not to be used for the payment of maintenance. This amount is equal to 120 per cent of the base amount (i.e. the accounting unit used to express pension rates). This is regarded as the level of income required to maintain an adequate standard of living, with additions for housing costs and for new dependants

(both of which vary according to the earnings of a non-custodial parent's new spouse.)

The rate of maintainance is not legislated but a set of guide-lines indicates the amount to be devoted to child support after allowance has been made for the non-custodial

18

1

parent's living expenses. This is generally reckoned at 60 per cent of remainingincome for one child, 70 per cent for two children and 80 per cent for three or more children Maintenance payments are tax deductible for the liable parent and untaxed in the hands of the recipient. They are linked to the C.P.I. and adjusted annually. A person liable for the payment of maintenance may reduce the amount payable each occasion on which he/she takes care of the child for a period of at least five consecutive full days and nights.

Where there is a default in payment of maintenance, two notices are sent to the non-custodial parent before the matter is turned over to the debt collection agency in the Justice Department. The non-custodial parent's capacity to pay is reviewed. Once it is established how much should be paid, the agency arranges wage withholding with the non-custodial parent's employer.

It is a condition for receipt of advance payment by the social insurance office in the event of a defaulting maintenance payer that the custodial parent must identify the non-custodial parent and payment ceases if he or she refuses to seek reasonable support from the absent parent. There is a high rate of success in locating former spouses or de factos, partly due to the incentives for establishing paternity and central

population registers which make it easy to trace the movements of people within the country. Imprisonment is available for non-compliance with maintenance orders.

Where a non-custodial parent is unable to pay child support up to the maximum advance maintenance rate, the government will make up the difference. This reflects the prevailing philosophy of adequate support for the child. So the 60 per cent of the cost of the maintenance program is financed from General Revenue while around 40

per cent is recouped from non-custodial parents. It is because many non-custodial parents cannot afford the full benefit that the General Revenue contribution is high.

Swedish sole parents are also assisted by a non-taxable child allowance, income-tested housing benefits, a day care subsidy program and a reduction in tax which they receive along with one income families. Hence an employment rate of around 86 per cent for sole parents with few dependent on social assistance for more than a brief period. Because advance maintenance and child allowance payments are not income-tested, recipients are not discouraged from working by a reduction in benefit or high

marginal rates of tax. The rate of benefit reduction in housing subsidies is very small until a level of income is reached which exceeds that of most sole parent households.

UNITED STATES Federal legislation was enacted in 1984 and 1988 to provide the legal machinery for more effective child support enforcement. Judges in all 50 states now have guidelines they must use in determining the amount of the child support awards, and other

reforms, including automatic wage withholding for all parents ordered to pay child support, are being implemented or are due to be within the next few years.

The total amount of child support collected in 1987 was $10 billion, a 32 per cent

19

increase after adjustment for inflation over the amount collected in 1985. The average

amount paid was also up by almost 16 per cent over 1985 to $2,710 per year. Notwithstanding these signs of success, of the 4.8 million women who were due child support in 1987, nearly one-fourth got nothing at all. Nearly 80 per cent of divorced or remarried women were awarded child support in 1987 and about 55 per cent of women separated from their husbands. About three quarters of women who got child support awards by the courts actually got payments in 1987 and these were $3,073, on average, for the divorced women and less for the remarried or separated women.

The system works less well for never married women. The population of wmen with children under 21 whose fathers were absent grew from 7 million in 1979 to 9.4 million in 1988 and never married women accounted for more than half of the increase. In the latter part of that period, they accounted for all of the increase. Between 1986 and

1988, the number of never married women increased by 25 per cent from 2 million to 2.6 million. More than half were living in poverty and fewer than 20 per cent were awarded child support. The problem for never married women is in establishing paternity without which child support awards cannot be made. In 1987 only 19.7 per cent of never married women got maintenance compared with the average 59 per cent for all women.

Developments

In 1935 the Aid to Dependent Children program run by the states with subsidies from the federal government was set up to assist primarily widows with dependent children. In 1950 Congress extended benefits fo the custodial parent as well as the child and changed the program's name to Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC).

In the mid 70s, Congress decided to strengthen child support enforcement. The motivation was not so much to improve the well being of the welfare family as to reduce the high cost of AFDC which mushroomed by 125 per cent between 1965 and

1970 when AFDC became more generous and less restrictive. The states were required to locate absent parents, establish paternity, determine a child support award and enforce the obligation. The states were able to keep part of the AFDC collection as an incentive.

With the number of mother-only families soaring from 3.4 million in 1970 to 6.2 million a decade later, Congress decided in the early 80s to strengthen child support yet again. The Child Support Enforcement Amendments of 1984 provided for; 1. Advisory guide-lines. All states were required to develop child support

guide-lines with numerical formulas that judges or other officials had the option to use to determine the size of child support awards. 2. Income withholding for delinquent parents. Automatic wage withholding was required when absent parents fell one month behind in their support

payments.

3. Paternity establishment. The period during which action could be taken to establish paternity could be taken to any time up to the child's 18th birthday. 4. Federal incentives. There were to be monetary incentives based on

20

collection for non-AFDC families as well as AFDC ones.

5. Benefit for AFDC families. The first $50 of child support collected for an AFDC family was to go to the family without affecting eligibility for AFDC assistance or diminishing the assistance. This legislation led to dramatic increases in child support collected.

In 1988 the Family Support Act went further, its chief provisions being; 1. Presumptive guide-lines. The guide-lines ceased to be advisory. Judges and other officials were required from October 13 1989 to use state guide-lines with numerical formulas to calculate child support

unless they rebutted in writing the justice or wisdom of applying them in a particular case. 2. Review and adjustment of awards. All AFDC awards are required to be reviewed and adjusted every three years. 3. Expansion of income withholding. This was extended to all new or

modified AFDC or non-AFDC child support orders and from January 1994 to all new child support orders, regardless of whether a parent applies for public child support enforcement services. 4. Paternity establishment standards. States are required from October

1991 to increase the percentage of cases in which paternity is established for out-of-wedlock children receiving cash assistance or child support services. 5. Prompt state responses demanded. States must accept and respond

to requests for help in getting child support and to distribute payments to families within prescribed time limits.

In most cases in which child support awards were made, the court used to just approve the agreement that the parents had already worked out. In 80-85 per cent of the cases, agreement had been reached between the parents before the case is heard. With the introduction of presumptive guide-lines, the courts must review voluntary agreements to see if they correspond with the guide-lines.

Two major types of child support guide-lines are used by most of the states. The most common used by two-thirds of states takes an "income-shares" approach. This seeks to ensure the child, as far as possible, does not suffer a decline in living standards. The incomes of the two parents are combined and a table is consulted to see what an intact family with that total income would spend on the children. That is

then the basic child support obligation, divided between the parents, according to their incomes. If the father earns 75 per cent of the income, he contributes 75 per cent of the child support. Additional amounts are added to the basic support obligation for work-related child-care expenses or medical expenses.

The other type of child support guide-lines, in use in just over a dozen states, uses the percentage-of-income approach, in which the child support obligation is based on the non-custodial parent's income, and the income of the custodial parent's income is not taken into account at all. For example, in Wisconsin, the child support award is

calculated at 17 per cent of the non-custodial parent's gross income for one child, 25 per cent for two children, and so on, up to 35 per cent for five or more children.

21

Judges do not have to adhere slavishly to the guide-lines as long as their reasons are

notified in writing. Pre-guide-line orders averaged $269 in 1987 dollars and post-guide-line orders $310 a month, an increase of 15 per cent. Still, despite all efforts at child support enforcement, the percentage of child support payments due actually collected increased only four percentage points between 1978 and 1987 from 64.3 per cent to 68.5 per cent. Mothers on AFDC have little incentive to establish paternity as they only get the first $50 a month from maintenance, the rest going to offset state and federal expenditure. By itself, child support enforcement is not expected to have any effect on welfare dependency or the poverty rate. It is chiefly a means of reducing AFDC costs.

Condusions

Under the present unwieldy system, the Child Support Agency is a cross between the postman, police officer and debt collector. It is arguable that the emphasis of the operation of the CSA should shift from collection to assessment and enforcement with independent officers or tribunals on the DSS model adjudicating on the grounds for departure from the administrative assessment. The tribunals would have discretionary power to consider anomalous situations. In this ajudication, an even-handed fairness towards all parties rather than the rigid application of a prescribed formula would be the chief consideration. This approach could take on board actual needs and costs

rather than notional averaged ones. It would not be a rubber stamp for non-custodial parents trying to evade financial responsibility for their children.

Notwithstanding the perceived high costs to non-custodial parents of child support maintenance under the present scheme, formula outcomes compared with normal family expenditure indicate that custodial parents bear most of the costs of children. In the case of an absent parent on average weekly earnings who has one child from a previous marriage, has repartnered and has a new child and where the earnings of the custodial parent are below the disregard amount, the non-custodial parent will pay

56 per cent of average family expenditure if the child is aged 8, 44 per cent if 11, and 30 per cent if a teen-ager. If there are two children aged, say 8 and 11, the absent parent pays 37 per cent of normal direct expenditure. Parker has pointed out that because the absent parent's self-support component is a fixed sum rather than a proportion of income and because the custodial parent enjoys a maintenance income-free area expressed as a fixed sum rather than a proportion of her income, then she

and the children are worse affected by the arrival of the absent parent's new child the further down the socio-economic ladder they are. Parker therefore concludes that there is no warrant for describing the scheme as a children's rights measure.

Parker also challenges the lack of conceptual clarity which fails to take into account the earnings of custodians until they exceed average weekly earnings. He asserts that the proper starting point should have been the application of a formula to each parent with credit subsequently being given for care-taking. Further, the failure of the

legislation to make the percentages in the formula age-specific when other components do take the children's ages into account seems inconsistent. The failure, too, to accept that new partners contribute to a child's living standard by raising the level of the household also compounds the muddled thinking behind the legislation,

W

necessitating resort to a departure application in the courts when the policy was

supposed to be to take child support out of the courts.

Professor Irwin Garfinkel, in commenting on the American schemes of child support maintenance, argues that it is absurd to believe that the standard of living should be the same for the child as it would have been without the divorce because of the loss of economies of scale. It costs more to run and stock two refrigerators. Nor is it

necessarily the case that women are worse off after the divorce because they can repartner, so benefiting from the new partner's contribution to the household while continuing to receive the same level of maintenance from the former partner. Men or non-custodial parents on the other hand get progressively financially encumbered if they re-partner and take on more children in the new partnership. In Australia as in America, the needs of the prior family come first. David L. Levy believes it to be

inequitable that "some children are [made] more equal than others.. The mother remarries and has added income - that is not considered. But the father remarries and has more obligations - that does not serve to lower his child support." Harry Krause has also objected, "If discrimination on the basis of illegitimacy is not

permissible, discrimination on the basis of priority is equally untenable." Assumptions about individual circumstances are therefore built into formulaic calculations which have no actual basis in fact.

Even though maintenance payments might seem high under the present formula, the fact remains that they are still very little in terms of the costs of children. Take the example of a man on average weekly earnings paying approximately $80 a week for a child. If a custodian were working, formal child care would cost between $120 and $160 a week. Similarly, if a custodian has to rent or pay the mortgage on a home

large enough to accommodate an extra person, $80 then appears very little indeed. This is without considering the costs of food, transport, clothing and education or the child-caring labour of the custodian. On the other hand, a woman who has received property and cash from a divorce settlement and has a job is comparatively well-off and the amount of maintenance begins to appear reasonable or even excessive in some cases.

Issues for consideration

Should payments by non-custodial parents be made in another manner, for example, directly into a bank account?

How should recalcitrant non-payers be treated?

What administrative arrangements should be implemented within the Child Support Agency to improve the operation of the scheme?

How should family responsibilities of first and second families be assessed for the purposes of the scheme?

23

THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD

Introduction

On 20 November 1989, the International Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted unanimously by the General Assembly of the United Nations. In 1990, sufficient countries, including Australia, had signed and ratified the Convention for it to come into force. The signing and ratification has been a subject of controversy

in Australia.

A minority of enthusiasts have welcomed it. But certain groups have expressed strong and virulent criticism of it, primarily on the ground that it constitutes an emasculation of parental rights. The general impression, however, seems to be that, while it is a desirable move, the Convention itself will effect little change, and will have minimum

impact on children in Australia. The predominant view, indeed, seems to be a cynical one - that the Convention is a "paper tiger". This view is to some extent supported by learned opinion that the Convention will not have any direct, immediate effect on courts and tribunals adjudicating on children's matters - the significance of the Convention

being rather that it may bring pressure on legislation to amend their laws and practices as they see it.'

Background to the Conven tion

More than 38,000 children in the world die daily from lack of food, shelter or primary health care, which adds up to 13 million each year; 2 about 100 million children work under hazardous and often fatal conditions; more than 80 million children live on the streets of the world's cities; and there are more than 10 million child refugees around the world.3

In the light of appalling conditions to which so many millions of children are subject, it is not surprising that the United Nations has long concerned itself with the protection of the human rights of children. This concern has manifested itself in such instruments as the 1924 and the 1959 Declarations of the Rights of the Child.

However, these statements had no legal force, and imposed no legal obligations on States.

Throughout the 1970s many nations were coming to the view that there should be

'J.N.Turner 'The Rights of the child under the U.N. Convention' (1992) Law Institute Journal, 39

2 UNICEF, State of the World's Children 1989

3As reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, 4 November 1989, p.23

comprehensive protection of the human rights of children, through a mechanism

which did impose legal obligations on participating Nation States. The Polish Government suggested the drafting of such a charter in 1978, and a Working Group was set up in 1979, the International Year of the Child.

The drafting process took more than 10 years; and finally, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted by consensus by the United Nations General Assembly on 20 November 1989. The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting also in November 1989 passed a unanimous resolution urging the adoption of the Convention and its early entry into force. The Convention has wide international support. More than 100 countries, including most western nations, have already signed.

A country which ratifies the Convention is obliged, pursuant to Article 2, to respect and ensure the rights recognised in the Convention, without discrimination of any kind. Article 4 provides that States are obliged to undertake all appropriate legislative, administrative, and other measures for the implementation of the rights recognised in the Convention.

In providing that states need only undertake such measures to the minimum extent of their available resources, article 4 contains an important qualification on the extent of the obligation. In effect, where it can be genuinely established that no resources are presently available, or could reasonably be made available for a particular purpose in the immediate future, the obligation will not be considered to be immediate.

The most important thing to note about the Convention is that it does not, and cannot, automatically change the law in Australia. Conventions do not operate of their own force, but may require legislation or administrative action to bring our own law or policies into conformity with their provisions. Whether the

Commonwealth encourages States to take any necessary action to implement a convention, or whether it legislates directly, is largely an issue of policy.4

The ratification process

The Australian Government announced on 22 August 1990 its intention to sign the Convention, and on 18 December 1990, it proceeded to ratify the Convention.

It is normally necessary for a Nation State, before it can ratify an international instrument, to have undertaken an examination of its domestic laws - in our case, both Commonwealth and State - to ensure that they will not be inconsistent with the obligations it will be assuming upon ratification. If necessary, ratification should

be preceded by the passage of enabling legislation.

4 As pointed out by Justice Elizabeth Evatt in her address to the Institute of

Family Studies Conference in Ballarat in November 1989.

2

In this case, the Government did not believe that any Commonwealth legislative

action was required, and nor did any Commonwealth agencies such as the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

In order to assess the extent of an international instrument's potential impact on State legislation, Australia has a fairly formal process of Federal Government consultations with State and Territory Governments which occurs before ratification. The consultation process with the States in relation to the UN Convention on the

Rights of the Child was particularly comprehensive, as it took place throughout the 10-year drafting stage of the Convention, and State Government representatives participated in the Australian delegations to the UN Working Group which drafted the Convention.

As a result of its consultations with the State and Territory Governments, the Commonwealth Government formed the view that it would be not be practicable for Australia to endeavour to meet the standards for separate detention of adult and juvenile offenders set out in Article 37(c). Australia has accordingly lodged a

reservation to this article.

The text of the reservation is as follows :

WHILE DECLARING that Australia accepts the general principles of Article 37 of the said Convention, in relation to the second sentence of paragraph (c), the obligation to separate children from adults in prison is accepted only to the extent that such imprisonment is considered by the responsible

authorities to be feasible and consistent with the obligation that children be able to maintain contact with their families, having regard to the geography and demography of Australia.

Necessit y for legislative change

The fact that the Commonwealth Government ratified the Convention indicates that in its process of consultation with State Governments, it reached a firm conclusion that State laws generally conform with the Convention, with the exception of Article 37 (c), and thus it did not envisage that any changes to our domestic laws would be required as a result of ratification.

In fact, in announcing Australia's ratification in a joint News Release s , the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Attorney-General said that State and Territory laws already enable Australia to meet all the obligations the Convention will impose except one (Article 37). This was confirmed by the Human Rights Division of the

Commonwealth Attorney-General's Department which advised that, in the Department's view, there is no legislative action that must be taken by States in

5 News Release No. M219 dated 18 December 1990

3

order to conform with our obligations under the Convention - with two exceptions.s

The first is in relation to the reservation to Article 37 (c), where Australia is clearly not going to meet the standards set out in the Convention.

The second is in relation to the Crime (Serious and Repeat Offenders) Sentencing Act 1992 recently passed by the Western Australian Parliament. The Commonwealth Attorney-General has corresponded with his counterpart in the Western Australian Government about this legislation's possible breach of the UN

Convention's articles relating to child offenders.' It is those provisions relating to mandatory indeterminate detention which apparently have caused most concern.

In a Press Release on this matter, Federal Human Rights Commissioner, Mr Brian Burdekin noted in relation to this legislation that:

Mandatory indeterminate detention would also breach Article 40(4) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child which provides that a 'variety of dispositions...shall be available...to ensure that children are dealt with in a

manner appropriate to their well being and proportionate both to their circumstance and the offence',

and that the provision for a minimum period of imprisonment of 18 months would also be in breach of that sub-article of the Convention.

The Queensland government has also announced that it intends to give its courts much greater powers to gaol children under 17 in youth detention centres. This proposed legislation may also run foul of the Convention, although the Queensland Premier has indicated that he does not consider that this will be the case.

Apart from the Western Australian juvenile justice legislation, there are no other alleged breaches of the Convention under serious consideration by the Attorney-General's Department at this time. Of course, it is a matter of interpretation whether a particular law or practice amounts to a breach of our obligations under the Convention. From time to time, various interest and lobby groups, concerned

individuals and others have raised (and will no doubt continue to raise) possible areas of breach.

In fact, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre has been engaged by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) and the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) to conduct a six month review into the implications of the Convention for Australian law and practice relating to children.

6 Senator R. Hill, Australian law and the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the

Child, February 1992, para.36.

7See report in The Australian, 5 February 1992 4

Notwithstanding the assurances of the Ministers as to Australia's compliance, it is

generally recognised that a number of areas may need close monitoring to ensure compliance with the Convention; these areas include the social security/income support, child welfare and juvenile justice, where shortcomings have been identified by various commentators.

One such commentator is Justice Evatt of the Australian Law Reform Commission $ , who suggested various legislative actions on behalf of both the Commonwealth and the States that could be taken in order to ensure that Australian law conforms with the spirit and text of the Convention. The areas

in which she suggested that legislation may be necessary to bring Australia's laws into basic conformity with the Convention were :

in the area of family law, to ensure that children in the two States which have not referred to the Commonwealth their powers in relation to ex-nuptial children, are covered by the same family laws as other children;

a uniform age of marriage for males and females should be introduced;

the recommendations of the Family Law Council on child abuse and legal representation of children should be implemented;

an independent agency, for example a Children's Ombudsman or a Children's Commissioner in the Human Rights Commission, should be responsible for ensuring that the individual rights of children can be asserted by them;

independent children's legal services are needed to make legal representation of children effective;

there could be legislation providing for circumstances when young people should be recognised as able to exercise independent choice;

social security policies should ensure appropriate assistance for homeless young people and those in need of support to further their education or training;

uniform standards with respect to adoption should be introduced.

Since Justice Evatt considered these modifications, there have been a number of developments. Many of the recommendations of the Family Law Council on Child Abuse and Representation of Children have been implemented - mostly

8 Address to the Institute of Family Studies Conference, Ballarat, 28 November

1989

5

administratively.9

One of her suggested legislative changes - a uniform marriageable age for males and females -was implemented by amendment to the Marriage Act last year.

In relation to some of her other suggestions, it could be argued that these statements should be viewed as representing an optimum position and it is recognised by most people that steps such as establishing a Children's Ombudsman or a Children's Legal Service are not, in the Australian context,

required by the Convention.

Another of the issues raised by Justice Evatt, inter-country adoption, is particularly difficult because the Convention requires that the receiving state ensure minimum standards. In Australia, a combination of Federal and State agencies deals with inter-country The Convention arguably would require the

Commonwealth to ensure the adoption of uniform standards.

In some States, inter-country adoption procedures may be at odds with articles 8 and 9 of the Convention. These articles give the child the right to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations, and the right of the child belonging to an indigenous or ethnic religious or linguistic minority to an upbringing which gives him or her full access to a community with other members of the group, enjoyment of his or her own culture and practice of his or her own

religion and language.

Some detailed examinations of State law have been made, in an assessment of the extent to which they conform to the standards set out in the Convention. One such example is Professor Terry Carney's recent analysis of the new child welfare law in Victoria. 10 He points to some discrepancies, such as the Victorian law's failure to address child labour laws, despite the reforms proposed in this area by the Report of the Child Welfare Practice and Legislation Review Committee entitled Equity and

Social Justice for Children, Families and Communities. His overall conclusion is that Victorian law and practice conforms quite well with precepts of human rights as declared in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In relation to NSW, there has been a review of the application of the (then draft) UN Convention undertaken in 1989 by Michael Hogan, a project officer with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre." While noting that most of the laws, policies and

9 The Family, Law Council is presently preparing a report which will set out

details of compliance with the recommendations made in its reports.

10i The Convention on the Rights of the Child: How fares Victorian law and

practice?" Children Australia Vol 16 No. 1, March 1991

As reported in "The 'Rights of the Child" in NSW?: Rhetoric, Reality and Remedies", Australian Social Polic y , Vol 1 No. 2 winter 1989: 97 - 120

0

programs in the child welfare and juvenile justice areas are consistent with the

Convention's mandates, his view is that NSW law falls short of obligations under the Convention in some respects. Examples of areas of possible breach include the exercise of the police power to pick up homeless children under the Children (Care and Protection) Act ; the practice of police questioning of children; and the

absence of review mechanisms for children in care and for juvenile offenders.

It has been suggested by some writers that the provisions of the Convention might be being breached by our current laws of guardianship and access. It is relevant in this regard that the Family Law Council has prepared a Report on Parenting after Separation, which has a number of recommendations with respect to guardianship and custody relevant to the rights of children.12

One commentator, Brian Simpson 13, has argued that the law in Australia with respect to names - which, broadly, allows changing of names largely at will, and in the case of children, with recourse to the wishes of the child - may also be contrary to article 8 of the Convention.

In relation to education, no specific State laws have been identified as being in breach of the Convention. It has been observed, however, that requirements for fees for tertiary students may be in breach. My advice is that the requirement to pay tertiary fees would probably not be in breach of the Convention, providing

sufficient allowance has been made for impoverished children unable to pay fees.

Another argument for legislative change has been advanced by the National Association for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (NAPCAN) 14 . NAPCAN believes that there are various steps which the Federal Government should take in order to meet fully its obligations under the Convention. These steps include

enacting a Child Protection Act, to provide model legislation for all States and Territories; and establishing a National Research Centre to conduct research into the incidence and consequences of child abuse and neglect.

In relation to child welfare generally, ACOSS noted that most of our laws, policies and programs would meet the Convention's requirements; yet arguably, breaches of the Convention are occurring. Not all States have modernised their legislation to offer children greater legal protection, limit the broad discretionary powers of

12Family Law Council, Patterns of Parenting After Separation , April 1992. = 13iSeen But Not Heard? Children Seeking Protection from Domestic Violence -Queensland and Victoria Compared", Australian Journal of Family Law , Vol 5 (1), March 1991, at pages 5-18.

14i The Need for Federal Government Action on Child Abuse and Neglect" by

Rosemary Sinclair and Dorothy Ginn, Australian Journal of Early Childhood Vol 14 (2) April 1989.

7

intervention, and make officials more accountable.

15 Like NAPCAN, they believe

that there is scope for increased Commonwealth involvement in standards setting, model legislation, program funding and co-ordination.

This is in effect inviting the Federal Government to use the ratification of the Convention as a basis for legislating about child welfare. Constitutionally, this is a area in which the States have sole legislative power; and, in the absence of the Convention, the Commonwealth would not be able to legislate.

Necessity for adminis trative and policy change

While argument is possible as to what kinds of State laws might need amendment, it is beyond doubt that in terms of policy and resource allocation, there are areas where Australia falls short of full compliance with our obligations under the Convention.

In a paper prepared by a Working Group on behalf of ACOSS 16 , it was noted in relation to the areas of child welfare and juvenile justice that our policies and laws are consistent with those prescribed by the Convention; but in practice, we often fall short of the requisite.

This view has also been expressed by the Human Rights Commissioner, Mr Brian Burdekin, who noted that many of the areas dealt with by the Convention do not require, or else require more than, legislation, whether Federal or State."

According to the paper prepared for ACOSS18:

It is arguable that the Convention is breached in Australia most frequently by failure to provide sufficient resources to fully implement its provisions to an acceptable standard. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission's National Inquiry into Child and Youth Homelessness has clearly indicated that resources available for young people living

independently, particularly for public housing and income support are far from adequate.

Some of the areas where Australia does not seem to be meeting its obligations to

15 lbid, p.11 16i The Draft Convention on the Rights of the Child - Social Security, Welfare and

Juvenile Justice", Michael Hogan, Don Munic, Kathryn Cronin and Morri Young, Australian Journal of Early Childhood , April 1989, Vol 4 No. 2

""United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child", Australian Journal of Early Childhood , Vol 14(2), April 1989

18lbid, p.28

8

protect the human rights of children include poor health and education levels

among many Aboriginal children; high rates of child detention; child homelessness 19 ; and drug abuse.

Concerns about the Convention

There are many provisions of the Convention which are clearly worthy of support, for example those that declare the rights of children to protection from:

physical or mental violence, exploitation and abuse; exploitation in child labour; drug abuse; sexual exploitation and abuse; and abduction and exploitation

These and many other provisions of the Convention would be supported by all responsible people.

However, certain aspects, principally article 5 and articles 13 to 16, have caused some concern. The concern is that these articles do not adequately recognise the rights and responsibilities of parents towards their children and may diminish the parent/child relationship.20

These articles need to be read in context with the Preamble to the Convention. The Preamble is in the following terms:

"Convinced that the family, as the fundamental group of society in the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children, should be afforded the necessary protection and assistance so that it can fully assume its responsibilities within the community...

Recognising that the child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding."

Therefore, the Convention clearly recognises that the exercise by the child of the rights recognised in the Convention is subject to parental direction and guidance, insofar as this is consistent with the evolving capacities of the child.

' 9The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission's National Inquiry into Child and Youth Homelessness concluded that as a conservative estimate, there are at least 20,000 to 25,000 homeless children and young people in Australia.

20 See M. Otlowski and B.M. Tsamenyi, 'Parental Authority and United Nations

Convention on the Rights of the Child: Are the Fears Justified?' 6 Australian Journal of the Family Law 137 and the articles cited therein.

Article 5, which sets out the basic thrust of the Convention, is in the following

terms:

"States Parties shall respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents or, where applicable, the members of the extended family or community as provided for in local custom, legal guardians or other persons legally responsible for the child, to provide, in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child, to provide, appropriate direction and guidance in the exercise by the child of the rights recognised in the present Convention."

The difficulty posed by Article 5 is that, in itself, it may not be strong enough to give sufficient recognition of the rights and responsibilities of parents.

Article 13 to 16 are concerned with the child's rights to freedom of expression, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of association, and privacy. The expression of these rights does not appear to acknowledge the right and duty of parents to provide guidance to children in their formative years. The rights and

responsibilities of parents with respect to their children's education and upbringing were expressly stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and they should be contained in the present Convention.

It has been suggested that, on ratification, the Government should have made reservations expressing these concerns, and reinforcing the spirit behind article 5 and the Preamble to the Convention which recognise the importance of parental responsibilities. Such a reservation could have taken a similar form to that expressed by the Holy See, which acceded to the Convention but with a reservation that it interprets the Articles of the Convention in a way that safeguards the primary and inalienable rights of parents, in particular insofar as these rights

concern education (Article 13 and 28), religion (Article 14), association with others (Article 15) and privacy (Article 16).

Suggestions have been made that adoption of the Convention could result in children taking their parents to Court or other tribunals for complaints of breaches of the Convention.

Issues for consideration

How can the Commonwealth best encourage parental responsibilities and enhance the rights of children?

10

YOUTH HOMELESSNESS

Introduc tion

In October 1987 an inquiry into youth homelessness was begun by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. The Commission was established in 1986 to succeed the Human Rights Commission set up by the Fraser Government in 1981. The HREOC under Brian Burdekin took as its starting point the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child. It defined homelessness as "a lifestyle which includes insecurity and transiency of shelter." It pointed out that this is not confined to a total lack of shelter:

For many children and young people it signifies a state of detachment from family and vulnerability to dangers, including exploitation and abuse broadly defined, from which the family normally protects a child.'

The problem of youth homelessness is related to major changes in the Australian family which have been in train since the late seventies. It was at this time that welfare agencies noticed an increase in the number of homeless young people and

children seeking assistance. The Senate Standing Committee on Social Welfare in its 1982 report on homeless children asserted:

The family unit is undergoing various changes. The structure of the family is altering, the family is becoming more mobile, values are changing and greater social pressures are having to be borne.2

These changes included a decline in marriage rates, an increase in divorce, in remarriage, sole parent families and the number of mothers in the workforce along with a growing tendency for young people to leave home and establish themselves independently prior to marriage and a decline in the extended family network.

The other significant factor placing increased strains on the nuclear family was economic recession. Unemployment and inflation made it more difficult for parents to support their children beyond their school years. At the same time, youth unemployment increased from 3.7 per cent in 1971 to 20.3 per cent in 1987. It is

now in excess of 30 per cent.

' Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Our Homeless Children , Report of the National Inquiry into Homeless Children, AGPS, Canberra, 1989, 7

2 Repo rt on Homeless Youth , Parliamentary Paper No. 231/1982, 2

Government initiatives

The Government responded with the Youth Services Scheme for a pilot period of three years from I July 1979 and Federal funds of $3 million over that period were to be matched by the States and Territories. $5.5 million was allocated to the

scheme over the three year period. The emphasis of the program was on providing short-term accommodation and by June 1982 there were 75 agencies being funded and 52 youth refuges throughout Australia and 23 other services.

The Scheme was extended for a further 12 months and in late 1983 it was decided that all Commonwealth crisis accommodation programs should be brought together under a Supported Accommodation Assistance Act, passed in 1985. This is funded by Federal and State Governments with the greater proportion coming from the 'Commonwealth. Funding for the Youth Supported Accommodation

Program (YSAP) increased from $14.5 million in 1984-5 to $21.7 million in 1986-7. The Supported Accommodation Assistance Program (SAAP) provides recurrent funding assistance, to cover wages and administrative costs to primarily community-based organizations and some local government authorities to provide

supported accommodation services, including refuges, hostels and half-way houses. Total expenditure of $40.79 million over three years 1984-5 to 1986-7 went to purchasing or improving SAAP services, of which one third or $12.25 million was expended on YSAP services.

On June 23 1987, Prime Minister Hawke announced a Family Assistance Package that was expected to lift 100,000 to 200,000 Australian children out of poverty, still leaving 440,000 below the Henderson poverty line. He stated in words that came back to haunt him;

The greatest resource in Australia is not something that we can grow or dig up from the soil. It is the capacity of its people, our great human resource: and above all, the resource of the future - the

children of Australia. For our next term, we are setting achievable, new goals for Australia's future in the world. At the head of those goals is the future of all our children. So we set ourselves this first goal: by 1990 no Australian child will be living in poverty.

However, according to the Burdekin inquiry little attention up to that date had been focused on children detached from their families. Indeed, the Burdekin Report went so far as to say that they "appear to have been largely ignored in the development of the Commonwealth's strategy to eliminate child poverty.3

The extent and dura tion of youth homelessness

A 1978 survey in Victoria concluded that 15,000 people aged 12 to 25 would be homeless in the course of a year. A 1980 survey in Brisbane concluded that over

3 Op. cit. , 27

4

2,000 young people per year were homeless in that city alone. A 1979 Adelaide

study concluded that a minimum of 5,500 to 6,000 young people were in need of housing assistance in metropolitan Adelaide and this was updated to 9,000 per year in 1980. Evidence given to the Burdekin inquiry suggested that homelessness among young people (under 25s) had risen rapidly since the 1970s.

The Burdekin inquiry sought to approach all numerical estimates given of youth homelessness with caution because of double counting with the same young people making multiple requests to different agencies in different parts of Australia. No estimate of numbers can therefore be taken as definitive. There are only pointers - all else is speculation. These pointers are as follows:

About 4,000 young people (most aged 16 and 17) receive the Young Homeless Allowance (YHA) from the Department of Social Security or its equivalent for full-time students (independent rate of Austudy) from the Department of Employment, Education and Training.

2. The 1986 Census count of people in night shelters and refuges on 30 June 1986 was 699 children and young people under 15 and 623 aged 15 to 19, a total of 1,322.

3. A SAAP Review in 1987 reported that in the three months April to June 1987, 1,103 children and young people used General Supported Accommodation Program services and over 50 per cent of the clients of the Women's Emergency Services Program were children but the

number of WESP clients overall was unknown.

Against this, the Burdekin Report argued that evidence given in all States to the Inquiry suggested that over 80 per cent of young people resident in youth refuges receive no income at all. This was backed up by an estimate of the Tasmanian Government that 1,000 to 1,400 young people are homeless but only 75 receive

the Young Homeless Allowance. As to the numbers who are actually in refuges at any particular point, it is suggested that only one-quarter to one-third of young persons who request accommodation at refuges can be accommodated and that a substantial number will not approach refuges because they fear being returned to homes where they have been abused or fear being institutionalized. A number of agencies which the Burdekin inquiry judged to be reputable estimated the number of young homeless Australians at around 40,000.

The task of estimating the number of young homeless was therefore extremely difficult and the figure arrived at is not accepted by all. The inquiry based its estimation of the number of 12 to 15 year old homeless on the 1987 survey of

YSAP services by the National Youth Coalition for Housing (NYCH). Over the 12 month period July 1986 to June 1987, 103 of the 280 YSAP agencies received 13,709 referrals. Extrapolating from the 103 responding agencies it was estimated that 37,513 referrals would have been made to the 280 agencies but the NYCH

data was not disaggregated by age. It was therefore reasoned that the proportion of referrals in that age range would be similar to the proportion in the smaller SAAP

3

National Client Data Collection (1987), that is, 23 per cent. This yields a total of

8,521 referrals in the 12 to 15 year age range which the Burdekin inquiry believed to be a conservative estimate, notwithstanding the risk that some referrals are double counted.

With respect to the 16 to 17 year old homeless, the calculations are even more speculative. The Burdekin estimate for this group is based on labour force status statistics collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in February 1988. It was reasoned that young people who had no employment and who were not members of a family were probably facing extreme difficulties finding or retaining adequate housing. Forty-seven in every 1,000 unemployed 16 and 17 year olds are in this situation, that is, 3,534 young people. This figure then includes those who are

(could be) homeless as well as those at risk of homelessness.

The Burdekin inquiry also calculated the likely minimum number of 15 to 19 and 20 to 24 year olds who are either homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. In February 1988 there were 13,047 young people aged 15 to 19 who were unemployed and not members of any family and 28,367 20 to 24 year olds in the same situation, a total of 41, 414 aged 15 to 24.

In conclusion, the Burdekin Report like those that went before it was unable to make any accurate assessment as to the actual numbers of the young homeless. It stated that it believed 20,000 to 25,000 to be a conservative statement of young homeless across Australia but that the more likely figure is probably 50,000 to 70,000 homeless children and young people. Commissioner Burdekin has put the figure as high as 80,000.

There was evidence given to the inquiry that in the preceding two years the age of the young homeless had dropped with some as young as 10 living off the street around King's Cross. The duration of homelessness also varies. The Inquiry

divided the young homeless into three groups. The first group leave home for short periods and return after 'cooling off' but for some this leads to repeated returns to homelessness and a premature break with the family. The second group is permanently detached from the family of origin but need only a minimum of support to move into independent living situations. A small-scale study of Perth

'street-kids' in 1986 revealed that most move beyond homelessness within six months. A third group are chronically homeless and unable to move into independent living situations whether because of age, intellectual disability, emotional disturbance, poor education, inadequate living skills and extreme poverty.

The causes of youth homelessness

Youth homelessness, as a phenomenon, has been ascribed to the break-down of the traditional family as well as to larger structural factors in the economy.

A youth service in Queensland identified the fragmentation of the family as "by far the biggest contributing factors to youth homelessness."

4

Family break-ups often send many youths into situations of

homelessness, either temporary or long-term. From our observation, one frequent consequence of the family break-up and its effect is particularly on young girls between 15 and 18 years of age...Mum and Dad break up; Mum ... has a relationship with a de facto and they share the family home. The de facto...is often in conflict with the daughter and Mum says to daughter, 'Look, I want to get a new life together - you'll have to leave'. And we are seeing a lot of young

girls forced into the streets because of situations like that.4

In Perth the inquiry was told that about three-quarters of the young people coming into Home Sharers (a refuge) were from single-parent or blended families. An analysis by a King's Cross youth refuge of the reasons for leaving home of 150 clients between 1981 and 1983 found that 42 per cent had been 'thrown out' and another 48 per cent had left after an argument or problem. Some 44 per cent of the second group described a bad step-parent relationship. A Mildura youth

accommodation project stated that family breakdown "is present in the history of 99 per cent of the young people using our service." In a 1984 study by the Institute of Family Studies it was found that by age 17, 45 per cent of young people whose parents had separated and either remained single or repartnered had left home compared with only 26 per cent of young people whose natural parents were both present. Of the 100 young homeless interviewed for the Burdekin Report, 40 per cent were members of reconstituted or step-families and another 26 per cent were from single parent families. Conflict with step-parents was a consistent theme in

interviews.

Abuse Many of the young homeless appear to have left home prematurely due to abuse within the family. One youth service described its clientele;

There are runaways that have left home for any number of reasons including to escape physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse. They are from broken families and they are from families that have not provided a role model that is socially acceptable, for example, parents that are alcoholic.5

In one case cited in the Burdekin Report a homeless adolescent was the product of a broken home. Her parents had divorced and both had remarried. She had been both physically and sexually abused by a step-parent and had tried to commit suicide. She was then institutionalized in psychiatric care and left that to live in a youth refuge.

4 Op. cit. , 88-89 5 Op. cit., 86

5

A large number of individuals and organisations gave evidence that physical and

sexual abuse are major factors motivating many children and young people to leave home. An Alice Springs women's refuge reported that about 65 per cent of clients aged 12 to 25 entered the refuge as a result of domestic violence. In Cairns, evidence was given by the director of one accommodation service for girls

and young women that;

...most of our girls have experienced incest from a very early age, quite a number of them from pre-school years, most of them from primary school years. The majority of these girls have actually been raped by their step-fathers, some of them by their fathers, or by their mothers' boyfriends.s

A Port Hedland refuge worker estimated that around half of the young women who came to the refuge were survivors of incest or sexual abuse. A Victorian welfare service for young women submitted that sexual abuse was a significant cause of homelessness. Of 555 young women residing in the Western Port Youth Refuge in

1986-7, 109 or 19.6 per cent "were victims of incest, rape and sexual assault predominantly associated with members of the family and in the home environment", while another 113 or 20.4 per cent had experienced physical violence, mostly in the home. Of the 100 young people interviewed for the

Burdekin Report "most had been subject to physical punishments and often unprovoked assaults from a young age."

It was only when the abuse was particularly excessive, or when the young person reached an age when they were no longer prepared to accept the ongoing assaults, that young people left. It must be stressed that where abuse precipitated the decision to leave, it was because of repeated abuse rather than one unfortunate incident where tempers were frayed.7

Twenty-eight of these young people (18 female and 10 male) reported being sexually abused before leaving home. The Inquiry heard that it is estimated that one in four girls and one in six to nine boys are sexually abused before reaching adulthood in Australia.

Neglect Neglect or rejection is a factor in some cases of homelessness although this is not necessarily linked to parental repartnering. It is often related to parental substance abuse. In one case, a fourteen year old boy was brought into a refuge by the police. His parents had decided to take a two week holiday on the Gold Coast and didn't want to take the boy and did not trust him in the house on his own. So they locked him out and expected him to live on the streets for the period. In

6 Op. cit. , 90 7 Op. cit. , 90

1.1

another case, a twelve year old boy from Canberra went on a school camp only to

return to a house, emptied of everything including furniture, his parents having decamped to another State without a word.

While some submissions to the Inquiry stated that children left home for frivolous reasons of independence, Barnardo's Australia submitted that children only run away from home and refuse to return for overwhelming reasons such as incest, violence or neglect.

Other factors Other factors implicated in youth homelessness are broadly structural. Poverty is an overriding cause of youth homelessness. Between 1972-73 and 1981-82 the proportion of Australian income units in before-housing poverty comprised by those with dependent children rose from 28 per cent to 45 per cent. In 1981-82, one-half of all income units in after-housing poverty included dependent children. Poverty has decreased among aged people but has increased among prime aged adults and children with the most significant increases being among single parent and larger families.

By 1987 one in five Australian children was believed to be living in poverty due to increased rates of unemployment among family breadwinners, increased numbers of sole-parent families, decreased real value of Federal income support payments and increased housing costs. While the total number of unemployed was about 34

per cent higher in 1986 than in 1980, the number of uemployed husbands or wives with dependent children increased over the period by 75 per cent and the number of unemployed sole parents rose by 64 per cent. People with family responsibilities continue to experience the longest period of unemployment. By June 1988, five per cent of all Australian children (around 200,000) were in families where the breadwinner was unemployed. The number of sole parents increased from 176,000 in 1974 to 439,000 in 1986. By 1983, 82 per cent of sole parents were in receipt of Commonwealth income support payments, a proportion which has remained much the same since. Along with the long-term uemployed, sole parents are among the poorest groups in society - 54.5 per cent of sole parent families were in before-housing poverty in 1985-86. In the survey of 100 young people for the Burdekin Report, 26 per cent were from single parent families.

The real value of government income security payments has declined over the past 15 years. The decline has been greater for large families and sole parent pensioner families than for married couple beneficiary families. By December 1986, benefits for married couple beneficiaries with two or four children were 93 per cent or 87 per cent respectively of their poverty lines. For single parent pensioner families their pensions in December 1986 were between 90 per cent (one child) and 80 per cent (four children) of their poverty line.8

8

P. Whiteford, 'Unemployment and Families', (1987) 14(1) Australian Bulletin of Labour , 338, 343

rA

The other major cause of child poverty is increased housing costs, particularly in

Sydney. In June 1981 there were 97,000 people on public housing waiting lists throughout Australia. By June 1987, this had increased to almost 166,000.

The Burdekin Inquiry also identified isolation and lack of support for families as important in the creation of homelessness:

The breakdown in supports traditionally provided to families -extended families, local communities and community services - has meant that the nuclear family and, increasingly, the sole parent family, must meet the demands of child-rearing and sustenance unaided. Parents, as a result, are 'stressed and under-resourced.i9

The family support measures announced by the Government in 1987 focused on low-income families, introducing an income-tested Family Allowance Supplement, uniform rental assistance to all FAS recipients and a Child Disability Allowance free of means test from December 1987. It was argued at the Burdekin Inquiry that

Probably the single most effective measure required to assist people move out of poverty and away from vulnerability to poverty is to provide access to secure employment and relevant support services (such as child care).10

Until 1978 family services were the sole province of the States. In that year the Commonwealth Government initiated the pilot Family Support Services Scheme within its Children's Services Program. The scheme aimed "to support families in their responsibilities in the rearing and development of children", and to avoid State welfare intervention by preventive measures in advance. In 1986 the Family

Support Services Scheme was superceded by a joint Commonwealth-State Family Support Program. The Commonwealth pulled out of that program in 1988 leaving future priority and program plannng to the States and Territories. The joint program funded eligible local government authorities and community organisations which provided specified services to "families with dependent children whose capacity to function is limited by internal or external stress." The Burdekin Inquiry commented on this Commonwealth defection:

The Commonwealth's withdrawal from the Family Services Program had two likely motivations: cost-saving and a reluctance to impose national policies in a field generally considered to belong to the

States, namely, child and family welfare. It has been argued, however, that Federal involvement in this area is appropriate and, indeed necessary: '...there are not many areas of public concern other than child welfare that can be considered to be of greater

9 O. cit. , 102

10 Op. cit., 103

8

national interest'"

Youth unemployment is also an important ingredient in the cocktail of youth homelessness. Between 1966 and 1986, teenage males lost 80,000 full-time jobs and teenage females lost 110,000 jobs. The total teenage share of full-time work

fell, over that period, from 14.1 per cent to 7.6 per cent. The Burdekin Report noted that youth unemployment was not a result of recession but due to long-term permanent changes in the economy that eliminated jobs traditionally performed by early school-leavers, that is, the unskilled and semi-skilled occupations in heavy industry, retail and office work.

In the Federal Government's May Economic Statement of 1987, the Junior Unemployment Benefit was abolished from I January 1988 and replaced for 16 and 17 year olds by a Job Search Allowance, set at $25 per week unless the recipient was either from a low-income family or established that he or she was homeless. In either case the JSA could be paid up to a maximum rate of $50 per week (the equivalent of the former junior Unemployment Benefit). For homeless young people, the JSA could be supplemented by the Young Homeless Allowance of $26 per week. The waiting period for JSA was extended from six weeks to 13 weeks for both school and tertiary education leavers. A further six week qualifying period applied to the YHA. The stringent conditions of eligibility for the Youth Homeless Allowance, introduced in July 1986, mean that very few of the young uemployed qualify. At the end of June 1988, out of at least 12,000 homeless young people in Australia, only 14 per cent or 1,653 were in receipt of YHA and another 20 per cent (2,384) were on the independent rate of Austudy. To be eligible for YHA, a young person must have no dependants and have lived away from home for at least six weeks because he or she does not have a home, is not allowed by the parent to live at home under any conditions or cannot, because of circumstances such as domestic violence, sexual abuse or other such exceptional circumstances, reasonably be expected to live with his or her parents.

Compounding the problem of the young unemployed is that those in this situation have been found to belong to families likely to be dependent on social security or to be low earners. It has also been found to be the case that the children of sole parent families are also more likely to be over-represented among the young

unemployed. These children then become more likely to become homeless.

Children in State wardship and young people in juvenile correctional institutions are on a fast-track to youth homelessness according to the Burdekin Report because of the failure of the State to either provide independent coping skills outside the walls of an institution or to provide back-up support once the young people are

discharged. In any one year, 3,000 young people who are wards because of offending or because they were in need of care are discharged from State wardship, and a further 3,000 are discharged each year from juvenile correctional institutions. The Inquiry received evidence from non-government agencies that

Op. cit., 104

9

State and Territory welfare departments deal with many of these children and

young people by referring them to youth refuges which are not designed and not resourced to cope with difficult young people.

Recommenda tions of the Burdekin Inquiry

The Burdekin Inquiry handed down its findings in February 1989. The major recommendations were: 1. That the total benefit paid to a homeless young person be equivalent to the adult rate of Unemployment Benefit.

2. That eligibility and ID requirements must not bar eligible young people on technicalities.

3. That there be a significant expansion of medium and long-term supported accommodation. The present short-term refuge capacity should not be increased.

4. That youth accommodation services be resourced, trained and required to actively pursue the possibility of reuniting homeless children with their families, where this is appropriate, through negotiation, conciliation, counselling, provision of information and assistance with access to services the family requires.

5. That young people not be compelled to return home where their right to protection against neglect, cruelty, and exploitation is threatened.

6. That the Commonwealth should reaffirm its key role in public housing, particularly with respect to special needs groups, including homeless young people. The Commonwealth should provide adequate funds to meet the housing needs of homeless young people.

7. That additional funds be provided through the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement to enable the States and Territories to acquire and build the necessary housing stock for young people.

8. That all levels of government confer to identify and remove disincentives to the provision of appropriate and affordable rental and boarding-house accommodation for young people, and measures to encourage such provision.

9. That services should not separate a child from his or her existing networks, including, wherever possible, the family.

10. That State and Territory health authorities urgently revise current policies of deinstitutionalization to ensure that psychiatrically ill young people are not released into the community without appropriate therapeutic and physical support.

10

11.

That the Federal Government re-enter the field of preventive and support services for families.

12. That both job creation and job training should be part of a co-ordinated response to assisting homeless youth.

13. That Federal, State and Territory governments negotiate a new Youth Accommodation and Support Services Program to be jointly funded.

What is to be done?

The Burdekin Report drew attention to a significant social problem which is emblematic of a crisis in the family and society at large, youth homelessness. It pointed out that the economic costs of youth homelessness consist not so much in Government expenditure on income support for the homeless which is slight but rather on the attendant evils of increased health-care costs due to substance

abuse, prostitution and sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS, increased crime, and long-term, chronic unemployment, necessitating dependence on the social security system.

One of the criticisms of the Burdekin Report is that its analysis of youth homelessness is not matched by its recommendations for action. It has been accused of failing to evaluate economic policy in terms of its social costs. Peter Dwyer of the Youth Research Centre at Melbourne University's Institute of Education, charges for example that some of its recommendations have little chance of succeeding because they ignore the social context within which families of the homeless and the agencies for the homeless are operating. The collapse of the youth labour market since the mid-seventies, the increase in poverty in families with dependent children, especially sole parent families and larger families, and the

rapid escalation of costs in the housing market since 1986, all, he argues, warrant an examination of "the unjust and divisive impact of current economic policies in Australia." Unless these structural issues are tackled, he claims, family breakdown will continue to be promoted by economic pressures.

The National Youth Coalition For Housing is also critical of the Burdekin Report, refusing to support the proposal to establish a new accommodation program. "It is another programmatic response, and the danger is that its superficial attractiveness to governments will lead to its promotion at the expense of the harder decisions."

Others have jibbed at what they regard as the "rubbery figures" of the homeless young. Hugh Crago, co-ordinator of the Gold Coast Project for Homeless Youth from 1989 to 1991, states that there is no solid evidence for the claim that youth

homelessness is actually increasing. It may, rather be, he argues, that media attention has simply made it more visible. Another half-truth, he argues is that homeless youth are actually homeless.

There are, of course, a number who are helpless products of institutional upbringing, whose natural parents have totally disowned

11

them from an early age. But an equal or greater number (including

some of those who choose to live literally on the streets and to sleep in squats) have kin willing to accommodate them. In such cases, the young people are more accurately described as self-defined homeless. Then there are the reverse cases, where it is the parents who defined the child as homeless, by insisting to welfare authorities that the child is "uncontrollable" or "impossible", even though another set of parents might feel that the behaviour in question was testing,

but within reasonable limits.12

Crago maintains that the vast majority of homeless young people are products of marriages that have either broken down, or ended violently and prematurely through accident or violent death but that it is simplistic to claim that marriage breakdown is the "cause" of youth homelessness because other children in the same family may remain in the family home until early adulthood.

Crago calls for fundamental changes in the way we think about youth homelessness:

In short, what I am proposing is fewer, better-trained and better paid welfare professionals, running more specialized agencies for more carefully selected clientele, combined with a network of subsidised, professionally supported non-professionals capable of offering real physical and emotional support to the more mature, less damaged kids for whom 'love is enough.'

He believes that the welfare system needs to confront the irresponsible "running away" mentality of the homeless young rather than allow it to continue. "This may in some cases involve bringing kids back when they run away, and requiring them to deal squarely with the painful situations they are trying to escape." He also

cautions that it is not enough to offer jobs and accommodation to young people who stay with homelessness because it offers them something positive, a life of freedom and petty crime which boosts a fragile ego.

As the result of the Burdekin Report, the Federal Government announced in its 1989 Budget a $100 million package over four years for young Australians. More than half of this was to directly assist the homeless young through a doubling of accommodation capacity, improvements in the Young Homeless Allowance and better health services. The proposed measures included:

$5.5 million over four years for an innovative adolescent mediation program.

an extra $10 million capital funding in 1989-90 which, together with

t2

Hugh Crago, 'Homeless Youth - How the solution becomes part of the

problem', Quadrant, September 1991

12

funding under the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement, was to

enable a doubling of medium and long-term accommodation capacity by 1991-2.

a further $17 million to be made available over four years under the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program ($34 million with State matching grants) to underpin this expansion of accommodation services and to help link homeless young people with other services.

an increase of $7.50 a week in the YHA rate in January 1990 and automatic annual indexation of the rate which in total will raise YHA by $14 to around $95 a week.

abolition of the YHA six week waiting period for young people considered at especial risk because of physical or sexual abuse at home and a reduction to two weeks for others.

a new independent rate of JSA at the higher YHA level for young people who do not live at home, do not qualify for YHA, but who have clearly established their independence from their parents.

a $15 a week living away from home allowance for unemployed 16 and 17 year olds who leave home to attend short-training courses.

annual indexation of the minimum JSA rate of $25 a week from January 1990.

$7.5 million over three years ($22.5 million with State matching) for Government schools with low secondary retention rates to assist 'at risk' students.

an increase of $7.50 a week in independent and living away from home Austudy rates for 16 to 17 year olds.

more than $2 million over two years to upgrade hostel facilities for rural secondary school students living away from home.

a comprehensive program of joint DSS/CES interviews, labour market program assistance and transition to work incentives for unemployed 16 to 17 year olds who are long-term JSA recipients.

extension of NEWSTART joint interview arrangements and labour market assistance to long-term unemployed 18 to 20 year olds.

an extra $10 million over four years for a new program to help especially disadvantaged young people gain access to labour market programs.

13

establishment of innovative community-based health services for

homeless young people through Federal funding of $7 million over four years, with matching State funds to be sought.

better access for disadvantaged youth to relevant information and services through the establishment of 20 new Youth Access Centres.

That, at least, was the rhetoric of the Government response to youth homelessness. But almost 18 months later when the Burdekin Inquiry reconvened to consider the implementation of its recommendations, the human rights commissioner, Mr Burdekin charged that the States had been slow to take up and

match federal funds, claiming that funds earmarked for homeless youth initiatives were being swallowed up in State departmental general budgets or simply used to top up existing programs. He stated that while the Federal Government had allocated more than $50 million in the Budget in the previous year to help homeless young people, attempts to establish guidelines for States to match some of that funding fell well short of recommendations. He said:

I am particularly concerned by reports that our recommendations highlighting the need for flexibility, consultation and co-operation have been misinterpreted and shaped into yet another set of rigid, bureaucratic funding conditions.13

Because of the lack of consultation, inappropriate programs were being developed without community support and with inadequate resources.

Other issues which had not been adequately addressed included measures for dealing with child abuse and responsibility for 12 to 15 year olds in a society where more than half the homeless young became so before the age of 15. The reconvened Burdekin Inquiry also heard evidence from the Institute of Family Studies that demand was still increasing at crisis accommodation centres and allowance levels were still well below the poverty line. The Institute submitted that long-term accommodation problems were unlikely to be solved in isolation from the broader housing problems of high mortgages and high rents. In Victoria, both the Victorian Council of Social Services and the Salvation Army identified poor co-ordination between government departments and community groups as a serious problem. VCOSS noted that the governments' responses were limited and unlikely to have a significant effect on reducing the number of young homeless.

Even if we were to accept that only a quarter of the children and young people estimated by the Burdekin Inquiry to be homeless or 'at risk' of homelessness are actually homeless, the report is nonetheless disturbing for what it tells us about the breakdown of traditional family supports in the community and the stresses on the nuclear family. The Burdekin Report urged the Federal Government to re-enter the

13

Deborah Stone, 'Funds for homeless youth miss the mark', The Australian , 28 June 1990

14

field of

preventive and family support services it has largely abdicated and which the States with their preoccupation with ' welfarist' activity, mostly on behalf of younger children, have generally shown no inclination to take up. The Burdekin Report pointed out the lack of services for adolescents in the family and outside the family for homeless girls and young women, particularly those with dependants.

Fiscal restraints have meant that there is still a large shortfall between the rhetoric about the value of children and action to put those values into effect. As one submission to the Burdekin Inquiry which stated:

..there are not many areas of public concern other than child welfare that can be considered to be of greater national interest.

Issues for consideration

Are current programs aimed at the prevention and relief of youth homelessness effective?

What other action could the Commonwealth take to deal with youth homelessness?

Is the balance between refuges and other longer term accomodation adequate?

15

FAMILIES AND WOMEN

FAMILY VIOLENCE

Introduction

While the family may be, at its best, "a haven in a heartless world", the dysfunctional family can be hell on earth for its members and a seed-bed of social problems which tend to renew themselves from generation to generation at enormous economic cost to the community. Child abuse, wife-beating and incest are signs of the dysfunctional family. All of these may be subsumed loosely under

the heading of violence in the family, and violence in the family is overwhelmingly the problem of male violence against female partners and dependant children. Women and children are more at risk of being injured or murdered by their husbands, boyfriends, fathers or stepfathers than from any 'stranger danger'.

Female infants under twelve months have the highest risk of homicide in Australian society. While men make up the majority of victims of violence, they are the victims of male-on-male violence which is most likely to have been inflicted by a stranger or strangers in public places or around licensed premises. Women who comprise approximately 20 per cent of victims of violence overall, are more likely to have sustained their injuries in their homes. They are less likely to have been under the influence of alcohol and are most likely to have been assaulted by a person known to them.'

The cost of refuge accommodation for victims of domestic violence was reckoned at $27.6 million for the year 1986-87. 2 In Queensland, cases of serious domestic assault entailed estimated total costs of $108 million per year.3

Paradoxically, the ideal of the happy family which is propagated in various television sitcoms, may have acted also to keep some women and children locked in destructive family situations, in some cases with fatal consequences. A rigid respect for the privacy of the family has prevented and still prevents the police,

magistrates, the judiciary, social services and the community at large from protecting women and children in the home. This notion of the privacy of the

Marjorie Cuthbert, 'Investigation of the Incidence and Analysis of Cases of Alleged Violence Reporting to the Accident and Emergency Centre, St. Vincent's Hospital', Paper , National Conference on Violence, Canberra, October 1989.

2 J. Mugford, Violence Toda y , No. 2, Australian Institute of Criminology, 1989

3

Queensland Domestic Violence Taskforce

1

home relates to the residual community belief that a man's home is still his castle

and that assault of a partner or dependant children is less heinous and, possibly even reasonable in the circumstances, compared with assault on a non-family member.

While child abuse was 'discovered' as an issue in the early 1960s, it was not until the eighties that wife abuse was generally recognised as a problem. As late as the 1975 World Conference of the International Women's Year in Mexico City, the world plan of action for women failed to flag violence against women in the family as an

injustice needing redress, stating only that adequate family counselling services should be set up wherever possible and family courts staffed with personnel trained to assist in family dispute resolution. It was only in 1980 that the World Conference of the United Nations Decade for Women stated that so-called domestic violence was an offence against the dignity of human beings and a

program of research and assistance for victims of family violence was instituted.

Community a ttitudes

Erin Pizzey who founded Women's Aid, the first refuge for battered women and children in London, in the early seventies, identifies the destructive ideas then held by the social service organisations, charged with helping families, in her pioneering book, Scream Quietly or the Neighbours Will Hear (1974). Marriage Guidance was targeted at nice middle class people whose marriages were going "gently wrong":

None of the mothers who have come to Women's Aid found Marriage Guidance any help at all. They didn't understand most of what was said to them and usually found that the councillor was sitting behind

her desk with her fingers interlocked, breathing in-phrases like marriage is a fit'and relapsing into meaningful silences.4

The Family Service Unit which had existed then for 25 years was a voluntary agency, staffed by social workers and funded by local authorities, set up to deal with the 'problem family'. In the FSU's quarterly journal of winter 1973, the FSU revealed a frightening but all too common (and not universally outdated) view of

'normal marriage'. The journal stated:

We feel it is important to differentiate between sporadic 'battering' which can be regarded as part of a normal marriage, particularly in certain cultural groups, and more persistent beating.

It was because of such attitudes that women were encouraged to stay in dangerous situations so that the family could be kept together at any cost. Pizzey writes of a case in which a woman with a child had been cohabiting with a habitual drunkard who was regularly violent:

4 Erin Pizzey, Scream Quietly or the Neighbours Will Hear , Penguin, 1974, London, 106-107

2

..the FSU worker would come into Women's Aid demanding her return.

Even though this woman was going to court to get a non-molestation injunction and an eviction order, the FSU worker insisted that time, love and patience could bring them together again...One FSU worker told a mother who had been beaten over many years that she should consider herself

lucky that he [her husband] beat her because it proved that he still cared about her and was trying to communicate with her.5

Public perceptions still blame women for their ill-treatment at the hands of men. One in ten Victorians believe women provoke violence by being flirtatious or outspoken, staying out late, or by the way they dress, a study by the Ministry for Police and Emergency Services found last year s A 1988 survey of attitudes to domestic violence carried out on behalf of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet's Office of the Status of Women found that one in five Australians think it is alright for men to hit their spouses in some circumstances. Dr. Rosemary Wearing's recently released report, Monitoring the Impact of the Crimes (Family Violence) Act 1987, reveals that despite legislation unsympathetic attitudes to the plight of battered women and children remain entrenched amongst the authorities. According to the report, for example, 21 out of 40 magistrates interviewed said they would never grant an order banning a violent offender from his home, even though the legislation to do so has existed since 1987. A quarter of the magistrates said the preferred option was for the victim, usually the women and children, to leave the home. The report also found that magistrates were increasingly basing their judgments on proof, such as evidence of injuries. This was, in part, because some

magistrates believed that women were more inclined to misuse the system as an excuse to get rid of a partner or gain custody of children. But Dr. Wearing reported that women only turned to the court for protection out of extreme fear.

Police were generally ignorant of the Act and reluctant to lay charges. The number of incidents in which police reported that they took no action increased slightly from 72 per cent to 75 per cent. The arrest rate remained steady at six per cent.

Dissatisfaction with police and other professionals

Dissatisfaction with the police was also borne out in the fifth and final study by the Victorian Community Council Against Violence. Eighty-nine per cent of female victims interviewed believed that police did not understand their situation while 55 per cent saw them as "not very sympathetic'. Women reported police arriving four

hours after being phoned for help. In one case police failed to arrive at all. The same study found that doctors generally failed to help victims of 'domestic' violence with only five per cent of victims being properly recorded as such by their doctors. This was partly due to the doctors' inability to recognise the conditions of assault and partly due to the reticence of women to admit the cause of their

injuries. Eighty-one per cent of women who used a general practitioner said they

5 Ibid., 108 - 109 6 B. Mahleb, The Sunday Age , 16 June 1991 3

were "not very helpful". Of the 60 per cent of the sample who used emergency or

hospital outpatients, 92 per cent said they were dissatisfied with the lack of information and ineffective protection. A significant proportion found hospitals "not very sympathetic". As women living with a violent partner make multiple visits to medical services, the economic consequences from this alone cannot be

underestimated. The National Injury Surveillance and Prevention Project (NISPP) estimated the cost of all injuries in Australia at $11 billion dollars a year. If, as has been estimated, 2.6 per cent of all injuries are intentionally inflicted by a person other than the victim, the total costs of assault would be $286 million per year. Women are roughly twenty per cent of victims of physical violence that causes

injury. Victims of domestic violence have disproportionate medical records of alcoholism, hysteria, neurosis, hypochondria and psycho-somatic disorders, labels doctors use to explain away violence.

Impact on children

The importance of the family as the key force for the socialisation of children is underlined by violence in the family. Young children are often the witnesses of violence in the home even when they are not the objects of it as shown by the records of one Clerk of Court over three years cited in the Wearing report.

Children under five were present at 65 per cent of family disputes involving the threat or use of a gun. They witnessed 79 per cent of disputes involving a weapon, usually a knife. Toddlers were also present at more than two-thirds of the domestic disputes in which property was damaged. Children were also molested

or assaulted in one quarter of domestic disputes. Children were threatened in 14 per cent of the disputes and were held in unlawful custody by the offender in four per cent of cases. Child witnesses of violence are likely to develop severe behavioural . problems along with negative attitudes towards women and to inculcate the belief that the use of violence is acceptable.

The Terrigal Massacre on NSW's Central Coast in October 1992 in which a man killed his ex-girl-friend and five other people, highlights the seriousness of 'domestic' violence. 'Domestic' murders account for one third of all homicides in

Australia. Violence against women and children in the family is so pervasive as to be a mainstream not a marginal issue. It is not a matter of simply patching up families and putting them back together again but of determining the real causes of violence,. within families and educating our community, particularly our children and

new parents, about the values of human dignity, respect for each other and providing them with the skills to relate well. It can also mean liberating some women and children from the perpetrators of violence who threaten their personal safety. Violence in the family has little to do with economic recession, alcoholism or personal misfortune which are only triggers and rationalisations for behaviour which would be clearly seen as criminal outside the home. The nuclear family carries within it the seeds of its own destruction if the attitudes of men who regard women and children as chattels with whom they may do as they please do not change.

4

The nature and

incidence of violen ce in the family

Historical Background The law once enshrined a husband's right to chastise or even kill his wife if she was sufficiently disobedient. Blackstone in his Commentaries on the Laws of England (1775) stated that the husband was empowered to correct the wife "in the

same moderation that a man is allowed to correct his apprentice or children." Judicial decisions in England and North American confirmed this judgment so that chastisement of wives went unpunished unless injury or death resulted and then the husband could be exonerated or let off lightly on the grounds of provocation.

By the same token, husbands were empowered by the law to force their wives to have sexual intercourse as part of their conjugal 'rights'.

Definitions

The United Nations report, Violence Against Women in the Famil y states that "violence against women by their partners is variously termed spouse abuse, marital violence, domestic dispute, domestic violence and family violence." The report continues:

Such terms are misleading because all evidence suggests that the problem is not one of spouse abuse, but rather of wife abuse. Neutral terms obscure the issue, hide the connection between battering and male supremacy, and suggest that women are as much to blame for the violence as are men. So also is the term "battered wives" misleading. As one researcher cogently remarks, it is "as

though the problem of international terrorists hijacking aeroplanes was described as 'the problem of hostages'. In other words, the term 'battered wives' serves again to shift the emphasis from the instigators of the violence to the victims of the violence, making it a short step to lay the blame for the problem and encourage the search

for solutions against the victims rather than the perpetrators. In short, the issue is one of violent husbands and wife assault or wife abuse.'

Violence against women in the home is not confined to married couples but also to couples who are cohabiting or couples living apart. It also covers violence inflicted by male relatives or friends or agents of the husband such as his mother or other

wife.

Violence against women in the home causes physical injury, ranging from bruising to death. It can include pushing, pinching, spitting, kicking, pulling the woman's hair, hitting, punching, choking, burning, clubbing, stabbing, throwing acid or boiling water, or shooting. Gayford's U.S. survey of 100 battered women reported;

All had received the minimum of bruises, but 44 had also received

Violence Against Women in the Family _, United Nations, New York, 1989

5

lacerations of which 17 were due to attack with a sharp instrument

such as bottle, knife or razor. Twenty-six had received fractures of nose, teeth or ribs and eight had fractures of other bones, ranging from fingers and arms to jaw and skull. Two had their jaws dislocated and two others had similar injuries to the shoulder. There was

evidence of retinal damage in two women and one had epilepsy as a result of her injuries. In 19 cases there were allegations that strangulation attempts had been made. Bruises and scalds occurred in eleven and bites in seven cases. All the women had been attacked with the minimum of a clenched fist, but 59 claimed that kicking was a

regular feature. In 42 cases, a weapon was used, usually the first available object, but in fifteen cases this was the same object each time, eight being a belt with a buckle.8

Physical attack is often accompanied by sexual abuse and rape. Attacks against women by their partners also frequently occur during pregnancy and are aimed at the women's stomachs, resulting in miscarriages, deformity and brain damage to the unborn child. Twenty of the thirty battered women interviewed for the Wearing study reported that beatings had begun during pregnancy. While isolated and violent attacks causing injury may come within the ambit of the definition of battery, violence against women in the family is usually understood as systematic, regular abuse, whether, physical, sexual or psychological.

Incidence of Violence

While studies indicate that one in three marriages in certain communities contain episodes of violence, little is known of the precise prevalence of violence against women in the home. There is an absence of information on abuse against women in the home in Eastern Europe and outside Western Europe. There is also an over-representation of the economically deprived in the literature on violence against women across the world. As the wealthy are able to protect themselves from the prying eyes of the welfare system, it is less likely that the well-to-do will

show up in the profiles of the typical battered woman who then emerges as young, working class and on welfare where it exists. This may indicate that better economic conditions and higher education counter violence, but intensive

interviews conducted by the British Medical Research Council three years with a random group of 286 women, not then in refuges, suggested otherwise. This revealed that 57 per cent of the middle class women in the sample of 59 had suffered violence while 51 per cent of the working class women had been victims of violence.9

8

J.J. Gayford, 'Wife battering: a preliminary survey of 100 cases', British Medical Journal , No. 1, 1975, 21-22 9

B. Andrews and G. Brown, 'Marital violence in the community: a biographical

approach', British Journal of Psychiatr y , Vol. 153, 1988, 305

6

Violence against women from assaults to homicide is a significant pattern within

family life in probably all countries of the world according to criminal and police statistics. Dobash and Dobash reported that in England and Wales for the years 1885 and 1905 out of 487 murders committed by men, 124 or more than a quarter of victims were wives and a further 115 were mistresses or girlfriends. 10 Twentieth century figures for the United Kingdom show that this pattern has not changed."

In Australia, the Wearing report (April 1992) which analysed 6,214 family incident reports made by Victorian police called to domestic disputes in two periods between 1987 and 1990, found that men continued to be the main offenders in domestic violence, making up more than 84 per cent of offenders in both periods. Women represented more than 80 per cent of the victims over the same period. Two-thirds of offenders were Australian-born. The percentage of offenders born in

South-East Asia doubled over the 1987-90 period while the distribution between other countries remained the same. The largest group of offenders (31 per cent) were aged 25 to 34. Thirty per cent of offenders were blue-collar workers and 20 per cent of offenders were unemployed. But the report found the full range of

occupations was represented in disputes. The numbers of offenders in managerial positions increased from two per cent to four per cent between 1987 and 1990. According to Dr. Wearing, white collar and professional workers are under-represented because they are more likely to turn to private legal and counselling services for help rather than contact the police. About half the abused victims were not part of the paid work-force. Nearly one-third of these carried out home duties. The number of victims in managerial positions had more than doubled to 4.1 per

cent over the 1987-90 period.12

According to the National Committee on Violence, while it is difficult to estimate the extent of domestic violence in Australia because of the lack of suitable data, broad estimates suggest that "the behaviour is widespread, almost to the point of being a normal, expected behaviour pattern in many homes". 13 In 1986-87, 25 per cent of all offences against the person reported to police occurred in a private dwelling.

Further, the Public Policy Research Centre survey of community attitudes in 1987 found that 46 per cent of respondents reported knowing someone involved in domestic violence. Another study on homicide revealed that 47 per cent of all female homicide victims were killed by their spouse, compared with 10 per cent of

10 R.E.Dobash and R. Dobash, Violence Against Wives in Scotland , Scottish Home and Health Department, 1979, 14

Criminal Statistics, 1982, England and Wales, Cmnd. 9048, HMSO,London, = table 4.4

12 R. Wearing, Monitoring the Impact of the Crimes (Family Violence) Act 1987 , La Trobe University, April 1992.

13 J. Mugford, 'Domestic Violence', Violence Toda y , No. 2, Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra, 1989

7

male victims.14

A University of Queensland study found that nearly one in ten women (23 per cent) seeking emergency treatment at the Royal Brisbane Hospital had her life threatened or had been bashed in the family home. The survey of 654 males and 557 females seeking emergency treatment during a six week period in 1991 found

that 130 females reported being victims of domestic violence and 14 of these had to be hospitalised for their injuries. Females were seven times more likely to have been victims of violence, and injuries inflicted on women were far more serious than those reported by men. A separate pilot study showed that of those women

reporting a history of domestic abuse, 40 per cent said their lives had been threatened and one in five had been threatened with weapons. Forty per cent reported being bashed, while 80 per cent said they had been subjected to mild physical abuse such as being "slapped around", usually by male partners. Apart from physical violence, women reported a wide range of emotional problems

including anxiety, depression, sleep deprivation and fear. Many abused drugs as a result of their predicament.t5

Causes of violence including violence against women

There is a correlation between aggressive parents and aggressive children. It has been found that aggression among young boys resulted from a combination of the boy's temperament and the extent to which his mother was hostile, rejecting, cold or indifferent. The mother's tolerance of child aggression and parental use of

physical punishment and threat also helped to explain the development of aggression. Another study found a significant association between violent adult behaviour and family background where the father was rejecting, neglectful or unable to provide adequate care.

It is also alleged that the inconsistent or erratic use of physical discipline also fosters aggression in children. The National Committee on Violence report, Violence - Directions For Australia , comments:

In a very real sense, families constitute the training ground for aggression. If families do not instil non-violent values in their children, those children are more likely to develop violent behaviours as they become adults.16

Nor is divorce per se a factor in the creation of violent children. On the contrary, a

14 A. Wallace, Homicide: the Social Realit y , New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, Sydney, 1986

15 Greg Roberts, 'One in 10 is home violence victim', Sydney Morning Herald , 19 February 1992

16

National Committee on Violence, Violence: Directions for Australia , Australian Institute of Criminology, 1990, 77ff.

8

bad parental relationship in the home may affect the child more than parental

separation. One study compared stressed, non-divorced families and low conflict-ridden divorced families and found that at two years of age, boys from conflict-ridden nuclear families manifested more aggressive behaviour and less prosocial behaviour than boys in low-conflict, divorced families. The Hetherington study found that boys from divorced families where high conflict persisted after the divorce showed the most problems of all."

In the area of female-headed families, evidence remains inconclusive. Hetherington for example, found that it was not the father's absence that caused the problems but that other factors such as the continuation of hostility in post-divorce relations, custody arrangements and the amount of social support available to the mother which made the difference as to how well the children coped with their parents' separation.

As to the belief that abused children become abusers, it has been pointed out that only perhaps one-third of abused or neglected individuals will maltreat their children. This means that the majority of abused children do not grow up to abuse their own children.'$

The National Committee on Violence dismissed media violence as a direct causal factor in the promotion of violence, but acknowledged that little is known about the long-term effects of prolonged exposure to media violence and conceded that some research has indicated that media violence is bi-directional. Watching violence stimulates aggression and aggression prompts people to watch violence.

It also concluded that school and peers are incidental to personal character traits and family experience in determining a predisposition to violent behaviour.

Violence is typically more common in societies characterised by widespread poverty and inequality. Homicide rates are lower in nations with less income inequality, higher welfare expenditures and lower divorce rates.

The National Committee on Violence found that "the orientation of a culture, or the shared beliefs within a sub-culture help define the limits of tolerable behaviour. To the extent that a society values violence, attaches prestige to violent behaviour, the values of individuals within that society will develop accordingly." It concluded that the use of violence to achieve ends perceived as legitimate is deeply embedded in

17

E.M. Hetherington, M. Cox and R. Cox, 'Effects of Divorce on Parents and

Children', in M.E. Lamb, Non-Traditional Families , Erlbaum, Hillsdale N.J., 1982

18

• Kaufman and E. Zigler, 'Do Abused children become abusive parents?'

American Journal of Orthopsychiatry , Vol. 57, No. 2; C.S. Widom, 'The Intergenerational Transmission of Violence', in Pathways to Criminal Violence, eds. N. Weiner and M. Wolfgang, Sage Publications, Newbury Park, California, 137-201

0

Australian culture with violence on the sporting field, in the home and in schools

tolerated by many Australians.

Notions of masculinity are crucial to an understanding of violence. Polk and Ranson who studied 117 homicides in Victoria between 1985 and 1986, over half of which were "intimate" homicides involving lovers, relatives, or former friends, identified a dominant theme of masculinity:

The vast majority of homicides which take place within the framework of relationships which are of a sexually intimate character appear to be the result of possessiveness, often jealous possessiveness on the part of males. The confrontational homicides are exclusively male, and imply the existence of a set of norms regarding 'honour' or 'face' which are acted upon in such a way as to lead down an interactional

path to homicide.19

Until recently violent crimes against women were considered by social theorists to be caused by the personalities of offenders and victims. It was believed in the case of rape that the offender must suffer from a pathological personality and that the victim provoked her own victimisation. In domestic assault, it was assumed that wives were masochistic, nagging and sexually frigid while their husbands were

shy and passive, acting out of extreme frustration. Numerous studies of perpetrators of domestic violence and of rapists have shown that the personality structure of these men did not differ from that of 'normal' men. As the prevalence of domestic violence has become known, theories of individual deviance have been

viewed as inadequate.

There has been an increasing trend amongst researchers to see the problem of violence against women as entrenched in the structure of society and the family. The unequal status of women is seen as legitimating violence against women. Straus, for example, states that cultural norms permitting husband-to-wife violence:

reflect the hierarchical and male-dominant type of society which characterises the Western world. The right to use force exists...to provide the ultimate support for the existing power structure of the family, if those low in the hierarchy refuse to accept their place and roles.20

There is no general support for the proposition that women provoke violence in the home. Men often abuse women without warning, sometimes waking them from sleep. Dobash and Dobash observe:

19 K. Polk and D. Ranson, 'Patterns of Homicide in Victoria', Paper , National Conference on Violence, Canberra, October 1989

20 M. Straus, 'Sexual inequality, cultural norms and wife-beating', Victimology, Vol. 1, No.1

`t$]

Being too talkative or too quiet, too sexual or not sexual enough, too

frugal or too extravagant, too often pregnant or not frequently enough all seem to be provocative. The only pattern discernible in these lists is that the behaviour, whatever it might be, represents some failure or refusal on the part of the woman to comply with or support her husband's wishes and authority.21

Researchers have found that violence occurs when men fail to live up to traditional stereotypes of male superiority. This occurs when men view themselves as under-achievers in employment or education, when men are denied power or prestige outside the home or if they perceive their wives as superior achievers. Other studies have pointed to jealousy, disputes over money and the wife's right to personal autonomy. Surveys of abused women reveal that their husbands liked to dominate financial management within the family, often keeping them short of money and even forcing them to hand over their wages or welfare benefits. The common thread, according to the U.N. report on violence against women, is the assumption by the man that he should be the dominant party in a relationship that is traditionally unequal and that where such dominance is threatened, even by the woman's separateness as a human being, then dominance must be reasserted by violence if necessary. Studies from developing countries affirm this analysis of violence as structural rather than psychological. So, for example, in China, a

husband will abuse his wife when something is not done to his satisfaction, such as giving birth to a girl rather than a boy.

Why women have trouble leaving violent rela tionships

Women frequently give up on taking out court orders against violent men not because the situation at home is resolved but because they are demoralised by the court processes. Clerks estimated that 30 per cent of complainants did not appear before the court and in some courts 70 per cent of victims withdrew their applications to get an intervention order. The Wearing report stated:

When we asked the women why they withdrew from the final hearing their reasons were mostly related to the traumas associated with the legal system and the police, and not because the violent situation at home had been resolved.

The report noted that for many of the complainants the violence was more intense after their first approach to the police or the court. Women withdrew charges or were reluctant to lay them if they were not confident the police believed them or that the police were motivated to follow up with immediate action. The traumas of the court process included having to make statements to the Clerks of Court in public surroundings, overheard by strangers. One woman reported that a clerk had insisted she act, out where and how she had been abused in front of an audience of onlookers.

21 O cit., 135

11

Battered women usually have little or no money as the partner's control of them

often includes a monopoly on the purse-strings. A large proportion of those who are abused are not in the paid workforce. About half of the abused women in the Wearing report were not in the paid work-force and nearly one-third did home duties.

There are few places in refuges and there is a time limit on how long women can stay in them. Four out of five women trying to flee from a violent partner are unable to find accommodation in a women's refuge of which there are 264 throughout Australia. The Victorian Community Council Against Violence reported that refuge workers say that the lack of affordable medium and long-term

accommodation means that many women have no option but to return to their violent homes once their three month maximum stay at the refuge has expired. Where women have jobs, the conditions of security at 24 out of 26 of Victoria's

refuges, require that they give them up to prevent the address of the refuge being traced by a violent partner. This effectively takes away the little economic power left to women in this predicament. Long waiting lists for public housing and the

expense of the private rental market leave battered women and their dependants out in the cold.

Many women believe that they must make relationships work and keep the family together. Women are often encouraged in such beliefs by friends and neighbours who have no understanding of the violence being inflicted on the wife and children. As many perpetrators of violence in the home behave like Jekyll and Hyde, vicious one moment and genial the next, female victims of violence are wont to convince themselves that their partners can change for the better and that the marriage vows "for better, for worse" include regular physical battering. There is also an

element of 'face'. Women are reluctant to admit the failure of a marriage or relationship, believing the chief responsibility to lie with themselves.

Fear. Women fear the consequences of leaving violent men who have sworn to kill them if they do. Some leave only to be hounded and dragged back by their partners. Victims of violence by intimates say that at least there is a certainty in knowing where the violent partner is at any time rather than waiting in fear for him to burst through the door.

Passivity, learned helplessness and low self-esteem. Women are socialised in passivity which makes them liable to stay in situations of victimisation. Star, for example, concluded that the characteristics she found in battered women -repressed anger, timidity, low coping ability - pointed to passivity rather than masochism as the rationale for the endurance of abuse. 22 'Learned helplessness'

22

B. Star, 'Comparing battered and non-battered women', Victimoloav, 3, (1978), 32-44

12

has also been put forward to explain why women endure the unendurable.23

Based on laboratory experiments with rats, it has been found that repeated punishment results in people accepting pain rather than continuing to try to escape from it. So when escape does become possible, they are unable to see it, having internalised an image of themselves as worthless and imprisonment as inevitable.

This is 'the battered wife syndrome.' It has been successfully upheld as a defence in a landmark Australian homicide case.

Government initiatives

A series of initiatives have been undertaken in Australia over the past two decades, as the following summary indicates.

1. Refuges for battered women and children were established in the 1970s on a voluntary basis as the result of the women's movement. State and Commonwealth Governments subsequently began to provide funding for the refuges. The Federal Government's Supported Accommodation Assistance

Program (SAAP) provides funding for refuges in Australia. 2. Enquires and reports were undertaken in the states in the 1980s and committees were established such as the Victorian Domestic Violence Committee in 1981 to provide advice and promote community awareness of

the problem.

3. In 1985 the Australian Institute of Criminology held a National Conference on Domestic Violence which formulated recommendations to Government departments. 4. In 1986 as part of the Federal Government's National Agenda For Women,

extensive consultations were carried out with women in the community which highlighted violence in the home as a major concern. 5. In 1987 a National Domestic Violence Education Campaign was sponsored by the Federal Government. This involved, in part, a survey of community

attitudes towards domestic violence conducted by the Public Policy Research Centre in late 1987. $2.1 million was allocated by th Government to the community education program in 1987-1990. The program was managed and coordinated from within the Federal Office of the Status of Women. State, Territory and community input were facilitated by a

Commonwealth/State Domestic Violence Coordinating Task Force which met approximately every two months. In its second year, a number of strategies were implemented to raise public awareness of domestic violence. The Prime Minister launched Domestic Violence Awareness Month in April

1989 with the theme 'Break the Silence'. Surveys pre and post the month of publicity showed a 30 per cent increase in awareness of the issue. 26 April was later proclaimed National Stop Domestic Violence Day. Activities were also promoted at local level through community networks with the aid of

publicity material put out by the Office of the Status of Women. The final

23 L.E. Walker, 'Battered women and learned helplessness', Victimology , Vol. 2, 1977-78, 525-526

13

year culminated in a National Forum on Domestic Violence Training in April

1990.

6. A National Committee on Violence was set up in December 1987 following two mass firearms killings in Melbourne in the same year. Its task was to assess the state of violence in Australia, to look at explanations for violent behaviour and to make recommendations for its prevention and control. Its

report, Violence: Directions For Australia was published in early 1990. 7. As a result of the recommendations of the National Committee on Violence, the Violence Prevention Unit in the Australian Institute of Criminology was established in January 1991. The unit monitors actions implemented

nationally in fulfilment of the recommendations of the National Committee on Violence and also monitors national trends in violence. It is also involved in evaluating responses to violence, operating as a clearing house of information about projects dealing with violence and developing training workshops on violence issues. 8. On the conclusion of the National Domestic Violence Education Program, a

further allocation of $1.35 million over three years 1990-93 was made to establish a National Committee on Violence Against Women (NCVAW). The secretariat of the NCVAW is in the Federal Office of the Status of Women. The NCVAW was set up to assist the coordination and development of policy, programs, legislation, and law enforcement on a national basis. To

this end, it aims to guide and formulate research required for policy making, conduct further community education nationally and facilitate the implementation of the recommendations of the National Committee on Violence as they affect women. 9. The Federal Government has allocated $3.48 million over 1991-95 to the

Office of the Status of Women to augment the community education work of the NCVAW and to implement a national community education program. $1 million has also been allocated to the Curriculum Corporation for the development of school curriculum materials to address the link between

gender inequality and violence against women. 10. At State and Territory level, community education has also been carried out. In Victoria, a campaign, 'Violence is Ugly', was conducted in 1991. In

Queensland, five regional domestic violence services have been funded as well as a 008 Domestic Violence Telephone Crisis Service. In Western Australia, the Domestic Violence Policy and Research Unit in the Office of the

Family (now the new Department for Community, Family and Children's Services) provides information and advice to the community about domestic violence. The unit also administers the Domestic Violence Community Initiatives Grants Program under which a maximum of $10,000 is available for non-profit community groups to undertake projects or conduct research. 11. The Government allocated $700,000 over two years in 1990 for the National

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Family Support Program. $4.69 million was also allocated to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission for a Family Violence Intervention Program to train Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the use of intervention strategies and educative

programs.

12. Legislative reform is ongoing in most States and Territories. For example,

14

rape within marriage is now a crime in all States and Territories. There

have been three convictions. 13. The Federal Government has introduced new provisions in the Migration Regulations to allow applicants for permanent residence on spouse grounds to remain eligible for permanent residence if they are proven victims

of domestic violence. 14. The Australian Police Ministers' Council recently resolved to require the suspension of firearms licences, prohibit the issue or renewal of licences,

and require the seizure of all firearms in the possession or control of a person against whom a protection order is in effect, or other violent offenders. They also resolved that police be allowed to seize firearms temporarily where it is warranted and to request jurisdictions to introduce a 28 day cooling off period after expiration of a Protection Order before the person subject to the Order may be issued with a firearms licence. Some States have introduced legislation in accord with these resolutions and others are at different stages of the process. 15. Some States and Territories provide accommodation for battered women

after the refuge. In New South Wales, for example, the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program funds 22 projects which provide medium term - three to twelve months - accommodation for women, while the State Government's Women's Accommodation Scheme sponsors a further ten projects that provide longer term options, such as subsidised

rental houses. In all States and Territories, except Victoria, where priority housing is given on the basis of domestic violence, battered women can apply for priority public housing, but their entitlement to such housing is measured by the extent to which they have other housing arrangements. 16. In Victoria there are financial grants and loans for women leaving a refuge.

The Bond and Relocation Scheme allows for the provision of up to $600 to help eligible applicants with bond and removal expenses for private rental accommodation, while priority loans are given to victims of domestic

violence or custodial parents to refinance an existing mortgage or purchase other accommodation under the Priority Property Settlement Program. 17. $0.3 million is granted annually by the Department of Immigration, Local Government and Ethnic Affairs to groups working on projects specifically for

women victims of violence. Another $0.3 million is granted to organisations whose clients include women victims of violence. 18. Most States and Territories operate counselling services for victims of domestic violence. 19. The National Committee on Violence Against Women published a Position

Paper on Mediation in December 1991 which establishes guidelines for alternative dispute resolution if a woman gives free and informed consent. It urges that mediation should never be seen as an alternative to criminal action or other legal protection. Controversy surrounds the suitability of mediation for women victims of violence. 20. Similarly with programs for perpetrators of violence. Funding is provided for

such programs in some states and in Victoria courts which issue protection orders are empowered to direct the defendant to participate in prescribed counselling. But this is uncommon as of 1427 orders issued between 1

15

July 1990 and 31 December 1990, only nine contained an order that the

perpetrator undergo counselling. There is doubt about the value of such programs and concern that funding is being directed away from the area of most extreme need, women victims and their dependants.

What remains to be done and what isn't working?

There is insufficient crisis accommodation for battered women fleeing violent partners. The four out of five women who can't obtain this type of accommodation represent only the tip of the iceberg as most women seek refuge with friends and family. Particularly acute is the lack of medium and long-term accommodation which necessitates that many women have no alternative but to return to their violent homes which for some will have fatal consequences. Sixty per cent of

domestic homicides are preceded by recurrent acts of violence. Rural women who are victims of domestic violence are particularly disadvantaged by lack of transport, accommodation, limited opportunities for financial independence, oppressive community attitudes and underdeveloped community services. Non-English speaking women have also been identified as particularly vulnerable to domestic violence with a survey conducted by the Office for the Status of Women finding that

70 per cent are ignorant of the protection afforded them under Australian law.

Lack of coordination of service delivery by Government departments and agencies is also a concern. While many women return to situations of danger in the home because they do not know where to turn to, many government departments and agencies are also unaware or poorly informed about the activities of other departments or services involved in the same type of work according to the Victorian Community Council Against Violence. Communication difficulties with agencies and Government departments dealing with domestic violence are standard. Constantly engaged telephone lines have meant that in some instances police have had to drop charges because of their inability to contact complainants in refuges.

There is, however, a limit to the number of refuges any society can be expected to build for its 'at risk' women and children. A member of the Victorian Community Council Against Violence, Kate Gilmore, says:

You can't endlessly go on building specialist services... refuges are the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff stuff and that can't be the complete answer. There's still great ignorance around. People find it very hard to think of the family as something other than a haven.24

This attitude affects police, magistrates and the judiciary. Police are still reluctant to initiate application for intervention orders and magistrates do not like to evict men from homes in which they possess equity whatever the nature of their violence

24 Caroline Milburn, 'Women with nowhere to run', The Acne, 10 September 1992

16

against the other members of the family. A predominantly white, male, middle-

aged judiciary is also held to be particularly in need of re-education as to the rights of women and children. There is, in short, a great need for community re-education on the evils of family violence. Workers in the field, the Victorian Community Council Against Violence reported, believe that community disapproval of family violence is too passive and needs to be more active.

In Victoria, the failure of the Crimes (Family Violence) Act 1987, as reported by Dr. Rosemary Wearing, indicates that it is attitudes, not laws which are at fault. This act did not make acts of assault and other violence against wives 'criminal' as this had been the case since 1900. The problem is not the law then but rather inaction by those charged with enforcing it - the lawyers, police and courts. All States and Territories have legislation which provides for the issuing of court orders, which can

be obtained on the civil standard of proof, to the victims of domestic violence. Breach of such an order is a criminal offence and the police have the power to arrest without warrant. The legislation varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The order provides for the restriction of contact between the respondent and the applicant and there are provisions for the respondent to be removed and excluded from the home. But many women report that it is very difficult to obtain an order in these terms given the general reluctance of the courts to exercise this power.

Failure to take breaches of these orders seriously has been identified as a serious problem in numerous reports on domestic violence. Barrister, Dr. Jocelynne Scutt, points out that by insisting that intervention orders against a violent man be sought rather than taking him immediately into custody for a criminal act effectively decriminalises violence in the home. Writing of the Crimes (Family Violence) Act

1987, Dr. Scutt observes:

The act has effectively decriminalised violence in the home. It gives police (and courts) an imprimatur to ignore criminal acts: the initial assault on a woman provides the basis for the intervention order. This means that if an intervention order is obtained, the man 'has got away' with the initial bashing. When he attacks again, if he is arrested at all, it will be for breaching an order of the court. The legislation effectively tells battered women and violent husbands that breaching a court order is more serious than beating up a ' wife'.25

Protection orders are also not enforceable interstate. Legislation by the Federal Government, States and Territories is being prepared to allow for the portability of restraint orders.

The National Committee on Violence Against Women has called for automatic preventative detention or refusal of bail to violent offenders who breach domestic violence protection orders. They have also drawn attention to the need to automatically confiscate firearms and other dangerous weapons when a domestic violence protection order is issued against a violent offender. The NCVAW also

25 J.A. Scutt, Letter to the Editor, The Age , 16 September 1992.

17

urges automatic cancellation of custody and access orders in favour of violent

offenders when protection orders are breached and death threats are made.

The National Committee on Violence concluded that support for families was crucial to containing violence within the community. While hard economic times do not cause' men to batter, there can be no doubt that they may exacerbate family tensions. To reduce the isolation of individuals and families in Australian society, the Committee recommended the establishment of an 008 hotline for parents to call for support and advice in dealing with children. The Committee also recommended the provision of free or low-cost respite or occasional care to at-risk families. Of its

138 recommendations, most have been accepted by the Government in principle.

Family violence inflicted by men against women and children is a human rights issue. 'The National Strategy on Violence Against Women', prepared by a committee of federal and state officials and community groups, aims to ensure all women escaping violence have immediate access to police action, legal protection and safe shelter, and to make Australians realise that violence against women in the home is a crime and not a fact of life. A formal response to the strategy is now

being prepared by Government officials which will go to Cabinet by early 1993. The strategy includes a three year $3.5 million education program to tell men that they must take responsibility for their violence against women and the Prime Minister will make an annual statement on the progress of women's rights to be

safe from violence from intimates in their own homes.

If violence is so deeply embedded in the Australian male psyche that it is doubtful whether advertising campaigns along the lines of the 'if you drink and drive you are a bloody idiot' campaign will have anything like a comparable success. While every rational person can appreciate the value of preserving his or her life and that of others on the roads, male violence against women touches on male notions of identity. Society needs to send violent men a strong message that their violence will not be condoned by treating their offences as criminal rather than vaguely

objectionable. Good parenting and non-violent media role models are probably the only means ultimately of re-educating our children not to carry on the sins of many of their fathers. This conclusion has implications for programs of relationship,

marriage and parenting education sponsored by the Commonwealth government.

Issues for consideration

How can the Commonwealth best discourage the use of family violence?

What is the role of the media in the discouragement of violence?

How can individuals, professionals and the community be better educated about violence?

Is the enforcement of violence adequate?

18

SEPARATED FAMILIES

Introduction

Of all the recent developments concerning the family, the most dramatic has been the rise in numbers of the single parent family, approximately 90 per cent of which are headed by women. Between 1974 and 1986 the number of sole parent families in Australia increased by 75 per cent. Sole parent families represented 14.4 per cent of all Australian families with dependent children in 1985, compared with 9.2 per cent in

1974. By 1988, there were 342,600 sole parents representing 15 per cent of all families with children. The problem or phenomenon, depending on one's point of view, of the single parent family, then, is that of mothers bringing up children alone. It is not merely a question of numbers but of economic status. Women, throughout the Western world, lack the economic clout of men. Women earn less than men and

spend protracted periods out of the workforce caring for children. For instance, in November 1989 Australian women working standard hours full-time earned 83.1 per cent of men's earnings ($454.50 per week compared with $547.00 per week) and less if overtime and other elements are considered, 78.5 per cent of men's earnings. Compared with other OECD countries, Australia's workforce is highly sex-segregated with 85 per cent of women concentrated in just 5 of 12 industry divisions. Women are

concentrated in community services and the wholesale and retail trade where there is a high and increasing level of part-time and casual work.

When women become single parents, they are likely to experience financial hardship. Hence, the feminisation of poverty which has developed since the seventies in tandem with the increase in mother-only headed families. Single parent father-only families do not experience the same disadvantage. For example, in the United States, single-

parent father only families have much lower incomes than male-headed two-parent families with one wage-earner but still more than twice the income of mother-only families.' In Australia, the labour force participation rates of sole parent fathers are

much greater than for sole-parent mothers, even when the age of the youngest child is controlled. Fathers are also much more likely to work full-time than single mothers. In May 1990 81 per cent of sole fathers worked compared with only 53 per cent of sole mothers and 95 per cent of married fathers.2

Except in the United States where there are over one million ex-nuptial births a year, sole parenting by mothers is predominantly the result of family breakdown. There is a direct link between divorce and female poverty. Until the late seventies, historically the single parent was a widow and there were small numbers of young women

bearing children out of wedlock who became charges on the public purse. The shotgun wedding which took care of many of the rest is now as defunct as bell-

'S. B. Kamerman and A.J. Kahn, Mothers Alone - Strategies for a Time of Chancre , Dover, Mass. 1988, 15.

2Ruth Weston, "Trapped in Poverty", Family Matters , No. 31 April 1992

bottom trousers. The liberalization of divorce laws around the world in the seventies

and the decline in mortality rates for the middle years produced a surge in the number of single mothers. Since then later rates of marriage are a factor in increasing the pool of single women who may become mothers. While social stigma still applies to the mother on welfare who is often targeted as a sign of a society's economic and social ills, the same stigma does not appear to apply to single parenthood per se and many young women who conceive out of wedlock now keep their babies where once they would have been forced by public pressure to put the child up for adoption. Simultaneously, older professional women in their thirties are choosing to have babies on their own, a change documented by the American television sitcom, "Murphy Brown" in 1992.

Trends

The American experience illuminates the general trend. From 1940 to 1970, single-parent families with children formed a consistent proportion of all families with children at around ten per cent. By 1986 this had climbed to twenty-six per cent of all families with children. In 1970, there were 3.8 million single parent family units with children

under age 18. In 1986, there were 8.9 million. 3 In the U.S. there are distinct racial and ethnic patterns. While mother only headed families have more than doubled among white families, the rate for black families has increased by almost 75 per cent since 1970. Close to 60 per cent of black families with children are now headed by mothers and over 20 per cent of white families with children are maintained by one parent. What is distinctive in world terms about the American experience is the quadrupling of never-married mothers in the same period, from seven per cent of all lone mothers in 1970 to almost 30 per cent in 1986. Among whites, divorced families are far more numerous and among blacks never-married mothers comprise the largest group.4

The mother only headed family should be viewed as a trend with enormous implications for the family as a whole. It is reckoned that as many as 50 to 60 per cent of children born in the mid-eighties will experience a period living in a single parent family before they are 18. More than half of children who remain with their mothers after divorce will live five years in such families. It is projected that 37 per cent of women who were in their late twenties in 1984 can be expected to maintain a

one-parent family with children under age 18 - 8 per cent because of non-marital births, 23 per cent because of divorce, 4 per cent because of widowhood, and 2 per cent because of separation.

The mother-only headed family is viewed as aberrant in social policy terms with respect to the unwed teenage mother, the creation of whom it is in the interests of both the young woman and of society to circumvent. Only draconian anti-divorce legislation could prevent the general increase in single parent numbers and this is

3Kamerman and Kahn, 6. 4 Kamerman and Kahn, 10

clearly not an option, although mandatory marriage education could only improve the

ability of people to make suitable marriage choices. It may be preferable in some cases for children to be brought up in stable single parent families rather than tortured or violent two parent marriages. Society should ensure that those families are not impoverished by their situation but receive every support, initially by way of shoring

up in the post-family breakdown transition phase and later to help themselves.

The Feminisation of Poverty

In the U.S. 60 per cent of children living in mother-only families are poor. This is more than five times the proportion in husband-wife families (11 per cent) and close to 75 per cent of children under six in such families are poor. Median family income for the mother-only family has been below the poverty line for the past two decades. The

difference now is that there are a lot more of these families. Black mother-only families are significantly more disadvantaged with 61 per cent classed as poor as against 40 per cent of white mother-only families. The rate of poverty shoots up to two-thirds of mother-only families for children under six. For mothers not in the workforce, family income was half or less than half of the poverty line. According to Kamerman and Kahn, "Only if single mothers are employed is there even a possibility of income over that level." 5

Poverty is more extensive and persistent in the case of births to unwed mothers. But

the financial trauma occasioned by family breakdown is still significant. Forty per cent of mother-only families, one year after divorce or separation, had family incomes cut by more than one-half, whereas only 16 per cent of men experienced such a drop.

After five years, one-third of women-headed families in which the mother remained unmarried had incomes less than half of the pre-divorce level. Mother-only families are 60 per cent of all poor families with children.

The growth in the numbers of this group together with the decline in poverty of husband-wife families and the aged and disabled has created a trend towards 'the feminisation of poverty". It is estimated that about half of the feminisation of poverty since 1967 was due to increases in the number of mother-only families and half to

improvement in the living standards of other groups.6

5 Kamerman and Kahn, 16. 6

See Greg J. Duncan and Saul D. Hoffman, "A Reconsideration of the

Economic Consequences of Marital Dissolution," Demography 22 (November 1985): 495-98; Greg J. Duncan and Willard Rodgers, "Lone-Parent Families and Their Economic Problems: Transitory or Persistent?" Paper 4, "Lone Parents: The Economic Challenges of Changing Family Structures" (Paris: Organisation for Economic Co-

operation and Development, 1987), 13; Diana Pearce, "The Feminisation of Poverty: Women, Work and Welfare," Urban and Social Chance Review (February 1978): 28-36; Irwin Garfinkel and Sara S. McLanahan, Single Mothers and Their Children: A New American Dilemma

3

The Australian figures for sole parent families are not quite so high as those for the

United States but indicate, nevertheless, that sole parent families are one of the most disadvantaged groups in society. 47.3 per cent of sole parent families live below the poverty line,' compared with 12.6 per cent of all households and 23.9 per cent of two-parent families with four or more children, that is, families with the highest incidence of poverty.

The effects on children of the Mother-only headed family

According to Kamerman and Kahn, researchers studying the effects on children of living in mother-only families often confuse the effects of poverty with father-absence. But anecdotal evidence suggests that where the mother has a reasonable income such as to provide good housing and superior schooling, no disadvantage follows to the child. On the contrary, the child may reap all the benefits of a stable, peaceful

household where the mother is fleeing from a marriage in which the husband is violent.

Apart from financial security however, there is the issue of longer-term psychological harm.

The debate about the long-term effects of divorce was touched off with the publication by Judith Wallerstein, a Californian psychologist of a book in 1989 described as the first ever long-term study of children and divorce. In the book, Second Chances: Men and Women and Children a Decade After Divorce , Wallerstein reported that many of the children of 60 middle-class divorced families from the San Francisco area studied

over a 12 year period experienced difficulties in education, social and inter-personal relationships.'

Many of the children felt intense rejection, anger and loneliness at the time of the divorce. While some of them resolved these problems over time, other children who had seemed to be adjusting well developed severe emotional reactions to the divorce 10-15 years later.

Wallerstein found that 10 years after their parents had divorced only 34 per cent of the children in the study were doing well. Another 37 per cent were depressed, could not concentrate in school, had trouble making friends and suffered a wide range of other behavioural problems. The remaining children were doing well in some areas but faltering in others.

In a magazine article drawn from the book, Wallerstein described the 37 per cent figure as "a powerful statistic" and declared: "It would be hard to find any other group

(Washington, D.C.: The Urban Institute Press, 1986)

Judith S. Wallerstein & Sandra Blakeslee, Second Chances: Men. Women & Children a Decade After Divorce - Who Wins Who Loses - and Wh y , Ticknor & Fields, 1989.

4

of children - except perhaps the victims of a natural disaster - who suffered such a

rate of serious psychological problems ".8

It is arguable that care should be taken not to confound the interests of men with the

interests of the family as a whole, forgetting the particular and possibly divergent interests of the wife and children. This conceptual problem would be obviated if children were always genuinely considered first as the intrinsic importance of the family is the nurturing, sheltering and socialising of children unable to fend for themselves.

Kamerman and Kahn assert that "..as the variables balance out there are perhaps no more sustained negative effects from the single-parent family status per se than from negative effects elsewhere." 9 On the other hand, intact families which function well

produce on average more successful children as defined by college enrolments, occupational histories and adult careers and the likelihood of problems are high for certain identifiable single-parent sub-groups. McLanahan and Bumpus conclude that "women who grow up in single parent families are more likely to marry and bear children early, to have births before marriage, and to have their own marriage break up." Although unable to directly control for income, they do not believe that intergenerational consequences are related to socio-economic factors so much as to role models - children copy the behaviour they observe in parents.1°

The consequences of having an unwed teenage mother are, predicably, more negative for a child with detrimental effects on intelligence, achievement, and aspects of socio-emotional development. These are results which do not decrease over time. However, they are mediated by other variables such as whether the teenage mother lives with her parents and later marries in which case the negative effects are reduced. If she remains single and has additional out of wedlock births, the effects on the children are likely to be worse. The mother's education has been correlated with the intelligence and achievement of her child which means that the teenage mother is doubly disadvantaged both in terms of her own future prospects and those of her children. The reason for this is not yet clear. The children of adolescent mothers are more likely to engage in anti-social behaviour if boys or to become teenage mothers in their turn if girls.

Divorce is also associated with a range of negative outcomes for children. But as others point out, "marital conflict in intact homes, especially if persistent, may have as

Judith S. Wallerstein, 'Children After Divorce: Wounds that Don't Heal' The New York Times Magazine , Jan.22, 1989, 20.

9 Kamerman and Kahn, 23 10 Sara McLanahan and Larry Bumpass, "Intergenerational Consequences of

Family Disruption" (Madison: University of Wisconsin, Institute for Research on Poverty, DP#805-86, 1986)

k1

equally harmful effects as divorce itself."" Post-divorce experience is important in

affecting outcomes and maintaining good relations with parents can reduce the effects of disruption. 12

In Australia, there has been very little work done on inter-generational poverty and the

reproduction of dependency. However, anecdotal evidence from Department of Social Security offices and other agencies indicates that there are areas, especially in the major cities, of generations of families dependent on social security payments. According to the JET (Jobs, Education and Training) Evaluation Report, released in May 1992, "Young people in such circumstances are especially vulnerable to long-term dependency. it3 Research in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States suggests that poverty is likely to result in career disadvantages for children, so increasing the likelihood that the children will themselves be impoverished in adulthood.14

The Australian experience of Sole Parenting by Women

In Australia, in 1988 there were 342,600 sole parents of whom 87.6 per cent were women and of these, 260,000 (including 450,000 children) received a social security benefit or pension. Sole parent pensioners comprised 11.7 per cent of all families with children. 47.7 per cent of sole parent families live below the poverty line, compared with 12.6 per cent of all households and 23.9 per cent of two parent families with four

" Kamerman and Kahn, 25

12 See Sandra L. Hofferth, "The Children of Teen Childbearers," in Riskincl the Future : Adolescent Sexuality. Pregnancy . and Childbearing , vol. 11, ed. S.L. Hofferth and Cheryl D. Hayes (Washington, D.C.: National Academy

Press, 1987), 174-208; Kristin A. Moore, "The Children of Teen Parents" (Washington, D.C.: Child Trends, 1986; E. Mavis Heatherington, "Parents, Children and Siblings: Six years After Divorce," in Relationships Within Families: Mutual Influences , ed. R.A. Hinde and J. Stevenson-Hinde (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988); James L.

Peterson and Nicholas Zill, "Marital Disruption, Parent-Child Relationships, and Behaviour Problems in Children," Journal of Marriage and the Famil y , Vol. 48, no. 2 (May 1986): 295-307 13 JET Evaluation Report, Depts. of Social Security, Employment, Education and

Training and Health, Housing and Community Services, 17-18.

14 C. Kilmartin and M.G. Wulff, "Educational and labour force participation of Australian people living in two and one parent families", Journal of the Australian Population Association , Vol. 1, (1984) 121-139; S. McLanahan, "The intergenerational consequences of divorce: the United States

perspective", in M. Maclean and L.J. Weitzman, (eds). Economic Consequences of Divorce , (Clarendon Press, Oxford 1991) 285-310

6

or more children. The Sole Parent Pension acts as a safety net for single parents who

cannot work full-time while caring for their children. Marriage breakdown accounts for 65 per cent of parents receiving this benefit.

A study by the Australian Institute of Family Studies surveyed the movement of Social Security of mothers with dependent children five to eight years after separation. These mothers, drawn from a random sample of divorces in Victoria in 1981 and 1983, had been married for 5 to 14 years, had two children, were likely to be English speaking and better educated than the population. The study found that four out of five women

(77 per cent) relied on the Sole Parent Pension at some time, most commencing their first and only period on the benefit within six months of the final separation. The average time on the Sole Parent Pension for this group was 3.4 years. In the first year, one in five of these Sole Parent Pensioners became independent of Social

Security and by the end of five years, two thirds were no longer in receipt of welfare benefits. Entry into paid employment got 57 per cent off the Sole Parent Pension and re-partnering achieved the same end for the other 43 per cent. Those who were employed at the time of separation or during the marriage were more likely to spend less time on Social Security. The slowest to move into paid employment were those with children under school-age and the fastest were those women with professional occupations. The third of women still living on Social Security benefits after five years were characterised by psychological and physical illness, lack of skills, poor access to jobs or their children as having special needs. 15

In December 1991, there were 275,991 sole parent pensioners.

95 per cent of the sole parent pensioner population are female. 4 per cent of sole parent pensioner population are teenagers.

30 per cent of sole pensioner population had been receiving the pension for more than 12 months and had a younger child over six. 7 per cent of sole parent pensioners population had a youngest child over 14. 9 per cent of sole parent pensioners are non-English speaking. The majority of sole parent pensioners are aged 25 to 44.

Sole mothers are more likely to be participating in full-time work and married mothers to be participating in part-time work. For both sole and married fathers the pattern is full-time work. The lowest work participation rates are among the youngest and oldest groups of lone mothers and among those with children under school age. Both

married and sole mothers have lower levels of qualifications than their male

15 Kate Funder, "Sole Parent Pension - A Bridge for Solo Players?", Family Matters No. 28 April 1991

7

counterparts and amongst mothers with children under 15, sole mothers are still less

qualified than married mothers. 33.7 per cent of sole mothers with a dependent child aged under 15 had post-school qualifications compared with 41.2 per cent of married mothers. A high proportion, nearly 60 per cent of sole mothers not in the workforce at the time of an Australian Bureau of Statistics Labour Force Survey, expressed a wish to work. Those who have been out of work for some time, however, lack up to date skills and experience. Of those sole parents in 1988 who were neither employed or formally unemployed but wanted to work, 5 per cent had never been in a job before and 43 per cent had left their last job 5 or more years ago. They also have limited skills in traditional lower-paid female occupations and express their preferences in terms of these occupations.

The greatest concern for the sole parent is the poverty trap. This arises through the interaction of the pensions income test and the tax system and is the result of targeting support to those in greatest need. The poverty trap is measured in terms of effective marginal tax rates (EMTRs), the percentage of each extra dollar of private

income that is lost through paying extra tax and forfeiting pension or income assistance as earned income rises. In 1986 the sole parent's effective marginal tax rate was 62 per cent if he or she had one child and non-pension income of between $73 and $236 a week, increasing to 80 per cent and 100 per cent for non-pension

incomes of between $250 and $305 a week. By 1989 these had been altered so that EMTRs of over 70 per cent are not reached until non-pension income is over $330 a week. The Pensioner Health Benefits Card which provides access to a range of health, transport and household accounts concessions is withdrawn as earned income

rises, so eroding the value of extra income earned. In a 1989 DSS survey of sole parents, the health and transport concessions were found to be of greatest importance. Of those surveyed, 44 per cent said loss of concessions would have some effect on their decision to work, 7 per cent said it would be decisive and 49 per cent said it would have no effect on their decision.

Policy options and cross cultural solutions

There are broadly four policy strategies dealing with mother-only families which are adopted by advanced industrial societies.

1. An anti-poverty strategy

A national uniform policy of financial assistance for all poor families provides a guaranteed minimum income for all the poor. This permits women raising children by themselves to stay at home.

Example - Britain

A single mother in Britain may remain at home and receive a means-tested assistance grant until her child or children are 16 years of age. There is no pressure to take training or a job. The tax and welfare system create a disincentive for part-time work. Full-time jobs are hard to find and child-care is largely unavailable or unaffordable

even if available. For a mother who works at least 24 hours per week, and is a low

8

earner, there are benefits from a Family Credit program. There are also child

allowances, a National Health Service, and access to public housing. The at-home role is the norm for the single mother.

Almost half the income of mother-only families (45 per cent) is from public income transfers. The major source of income for single mothers is Income Support (IS) which used to be called Supplementary Benefit (SB), a means-tested cash benefit available to all poor families. It is indexed and provided at the same level as that

offered to the aged and disabled. It is set at a higher level than that for poor husband/wife families or childless individuals or couples. Family income is supplemented by a universal child benefit, equal to about five per cent of average wage and provided for each child, and by a special one-parent benefit provided for

the first child in a mother-only family. Family Credit is an income-tested cash benefit that is designed to supplement the incomes of the working poor. Almost half the beneficiaries are sole parents.

In Britain, mothers of very young children have low labour force participation rates, and lone mothers are no exception. Lone mothers are less likely to work than married mothers (47 per cent versus 53 per cent), in part because they are more likely to have younger children. Lone mothers who are in the paid workforce are more likely to work

part-time like married mothers. But of those who work more lone mothers are likely to work full-time (almost half) than are working married mothers (one third). Twelve per cent of lone mothers, compared with six per cent of married mothers with children under five work full time. Part-time jobs are not financially advantageous given the

availability of IS.

2. A categorical, single-mother strategy

Cash benefits specifically for all single mothers enable them to stay at home to raise their children until they attend school.

Example. Norway

Single mothers are expected to stay at home until the youngest child is ten. But family policy in Norway aims to make it possible for lone mothers to choose between staying at home and taking a job through a package of income transfers.

Child benefit or Child Allowance. This is received by all families with children under 16. This cash transfer is universal and not means-tested, beginning with the first child and ending with the fifth. It is adjusted according to the age of the child with more benefit being paid for a very young child so a parent can remain at home. The benefits are tax-free. Single parents receive a special supplement of one child benefit beyond the number of children they actually have. Tax Allowances and Child Care Tax Credits. Tax allowances are granted to taxpayers supporting a child under age 20, and an additional allowance is given to single

parents. Working families - either husband and wife or sole parents - are entitled to a child care tax credit for one, two or more children up to the age of 14 against the

costs of centre care.

Child Care Cash Benefit. Single parents also receive a monthly child care cash benefit. This is universal, tax free and can be important in paying for family day care or relative care. Education Benefit. Unmarried, divorced, or separated parents may be entitled to an education benefit, covering the costs of an educational or training program, if the parent needs training (or schooling) to become employable. These benefits are available until the youngest child is age 10, or in the case of older children, for one year (or longer in special cases). Transitional Benefit. This is the most important source of income for single mothers.

It is a cash income transfer to support lone parents who are temporarily unable to support themselves and their children. It is income tested and available for at least one year or until the woman's youngest child is age 10 or longer in special circumstances. It is available even if the woman is cohabiting as long as the person is not the former or separated husband or the father of one of the children. More than half the recipients are never-married mothers; the rest are largely divorced, and a small number are separated mothers. Two-thirds of all lone mothers receive this benefit, including 75 per cent of unwed mothers and 60 per cent of the divorced. The rate for the benefit in May 1985 was about 35 per cent of an average full-time female wage. Advanced Maintenance Payments. These are provided by the social insurance agency as a guarantee of child support. All lone parents are therefore assured of a

minimum level of maintenance when they are not in receipt of maintenance from the child's father or he pays below this level. Above this minimum maintenance payments are offset against the Transitional Benefit.

Housing Allowances. Single parents may qualify for means-tested housing allowances.

Only 8.6 per cent of children in lone-parent families are below the poverty threshold, compared with 3 per cent of two parent families. Employment status is a critical variable in determining the economic situation of these families. The average income

of a mother-only family in which the woman works is twice as much for a mother-only family in which the woman stays at home. However, because the tax-free income transfer benefit and service package is relatively generous, a work disincentive exists which is in line with Norwegian policy for young families.

3. A family polic y strategy with a special focus on young children

Modest cash benefits are provided to all families with children and are supplemented for families with very young children so that one parent may remain at home.

Example. France

The aims of French policy are to equalise the economic burdens of those with children and those without, to assure a minimum standard of living to families with children, to aid in the care and rearing of very young children, to make child-rearing compatible with employment for parents and to encourage families to have a third child. Helping

those with children aged under three is the central focus of the policy.

10

The family benefit package includes:

The universal family allowance, financed largely by employers' contributions of 9 per cent of payroll, is provided for each child beginning with the second to all families regardless of income. It is tax-free, linked to prices and related on a formula basis to a base amount equal to about one-half the French minimum wage.

An income-tested family allowance supplement.

A young child allowance that includes both a universal short-term benefit (lasting nine months from the beginning of the fifth month of pregnancy through the month in which the child is born and for three months after birth), as well as an income-tested longer term benefit (lasting until a

child is three years old) covering about 80 per cent of all families with a child under three.

A paid maternity leave covering 16 weeks at the time of childbirth (with full wage replacement).

A universal, modest paid, parenting or child rearing leave available until the child is two, for working parents with three or more children, who reduce their working hours by half or more.

An income-tested housing allowance.

Therefore, a divorced mother with two children, including one under age 3, or with three school-aged children, could receive cash benefits each month almost equal to what a minimum wage job would provide or what could be earned by working part-time at an average job. A lone mother might also qualify for the means-tested single-

parent allowance, worth almost 75 per cent of an average female wage, so that even with only two young children she could stay at home for a year or until the youngest turned three. Alternatively she could qualify for minimum child support benefit which the government would then try to collect from the absent father and supplement this with earnings from a job or, she could work and still obtain all the cash benefits as supplements to her earnings.

Under French policy, all parents, including single mothers, are expected to work if they are in financial need once the youngest child turns three. Transitional benefit is paid for only one year to poor single mothers with children over age three. Single mothers have a 78 per cent labour force participation rate in France which is far higher than for married women. Extensive pre-school programs make this possible for those whose children are three and older.

4. A family policy strategy of integrating work and family life

Single parent families are enabled to work and carry out parental responsibilities. This involves policies aimed at facilitating participation in the workforce through economic

11

benefits and social supports.

Example. Sweden.

Swedish policy aims to reduce inequality and promote gender equity rather than to reduce poverty. Paid work is viewed as the prime source of family income and gender equity. Women, therefore, are like men expected to work. Labour force participation for women with children is among the highest in the industrialised work, regardless of marital status. In 1981, 85 per cent of all lone mothers with children under age 17 were in the labour force. The corresponding figure for married women was 83 per cent. 23 per cent of married mothers work full-time compared with 50 per cent of lone mothers.

Government benefits serve only to supplement rather to substitute earnings. Where earnings are not available, social assistance is provided but only 16 per cent of lone mothers avail themselves of this each year and those who claim it receive it for only three to four months on average. The major income supplements are:

Child or Family Allowance. This is paid to all families for each child up to the age of 18 or beyond if the child is still in education. It is equivalent to about five per cent of average wage for each child. It is adjusted each year though not indexed, but tax free.

Child Support or Maintenance. Lone mothers receive, in addition, child support or maintenance from the government as an advance payment of the absent father's support obligation. It varies by the age of the child, but is equal to between 40 and 60 per cent of the Swedish

reference wage.

Housing Allowances. Lone parents receive housing allowances which are income tested cash benefits to offset some of the costs of housing, either rental or owner-occupied. The income ceiling is generous so that in 1979 about 50 per cent of all families with children received this benefit. (This had declined to 35 per cent by 1983 because it was not adjusted for inflation).

Parental Benefits. These include subsidised health care and child care services, a paid and protected one year parental leave following childbirth and unpaid but protected leave up to 18 months after childbirth, the right to work a six hour day until the youngest child is eight, five weeks of paid vacation each year, up to 60 days a year paid sick leave to care for a sick child, time off when a child begins a new child care program or begins preschool or school, and access to high-quality subsidised child care.

It has been pointed out that society has a right to consider the costs of such strategies and ways of controlling them or targeting them because welfare is paid for

12

by the taxes of the working poor and the hardly affluent lower middle classes.16

Against this, Dr. Don Edgar of the Australian Institute of Family Studies has consistently argued that it is in the interests of society as a whole to assist all those who have taken on the task of raising children. Where those parents, through poverty, abuse or ineptitude, produce damaged individuals, society reaps huge financial and social costs as reflected in the costs of correction homes, penitentiaries, refuges for the homeless, anti-social behaviour and welfare dependency. Kamerman and Kahn argue "...individuals in their deliberate and conscious actions on behalf of their own

preferences or interests have no right to impose high economic costs upon others."" A public policy dilemma is that single parenthood may be joyously embraced or fallen into through circumstance. The costs of child-raising fall disproportionately on the custodial parents, usually women, who, as a sex, generally lack economic power and therefore need appropriate social support.

Yet others point out that Government expenditure on separated families greatly favours them over two-parent families. As Tapper writes:

Take two couples with children, identical in every way. The first splits up, the second stays together. Should we assist the first but not the second? Why should we assume that the first couple is less capable of supporting their children than the second?

I can think of only one difference here, that the first is now running two households. But how is that a reason for governments to intervene on their behalf? And even if that was the rationale it would in no way justify a ten-to-one expenditure disparity.18

The Australian Government response

A Social Security Review was conducted in 1986 because of concern about the high number of sole parents on social security and their high rate of poverty. The Review found that despite the decline in sole mothers' participation rates in the early 1980s, the actual numbers of sole mothers in the labour force had increased significantly in

comparison with married mothers. The number of sole mothers in the labour force increased by almost 60 per cent between 1974 and 1985 whereas the number of married mothers in the labour force increased by only 30 per cent. The previous

decline in participation rates was attributed to the increased number of sole mothers. This reflects the time needed for sole mothers to adjust to their new situation.

The Review also looked at whether the level of income support discouraged labour

16 Kamerman and Kahn, xiii. 17 Kamerman and Kahn, xiii 18 A Tapper, 'Government and Families with Children in Australia Today',

The Australian Famil y , 12 (4) December 1991, 3,7.

13

market participation. Since the mid-seventies the sole parents' pension has only kept

pace with inflation while additional payments for children have not even done this. Meanwhile, the real disposable incomes of sole parent pensioners increased well below the increase in average disposable incomes in the general community. It was, therefore, considered that the benefit actually discouraged employment. This was

corroborated by survey evidence that a majority of sole parents not in the labour force stated that they wanted to take up paid work. The Review concluded that the constraints on workforce participation by sole parents included responsibility for child-

care, low work skills and education levels, difficulties of access to jobs and child-care and little net financial gain from working because of the withdrawal of benefits and concessions interacting with the imposition of tax.

The Review led to a change of direction in policy. Policy objectives shifted from a focus on the adequacy of benefit for lone parents to encouragement of lone parents into the workforce. This meant the provision of additional labour market assistance and greater access to child care and child support. Measures included;

1) Two main benefits for lone parents, Supporting Parents benefit and Class A widows' pension were replaced in March 1989 with a new benefit, the Sole Parent Pension. This rationalised a situation where two groups received similar payments under different benefits determined by gender and reason for lone parenthood. It also extended the benefit to a small group of people who have substantial care and control of a child but not legal custody.

2) From July 1987 the 'free area' within the pension income test (the amount of income that a sole parent can have before a benefit is reduced) was increased from $30 to $40 a week. The income test disregard in respect of children was doubled from $6 to $12 a week, and the separate income test on rent assistance was abolished. These measures increased substantially the level of income which sole parents can earn and still retain some pension income. From November 1987 sole parents have been able to build up an 'earnings credit' of up to $1,000 a year, the method of accrual of which was simplified from April

1990. This means they can earn up to $1,000 from casual work without suffering a reduction in pension.

3) From September 1987 eligibility for Supporting Parent's benefit was restricted to those whose youngest child was under 16 years. Previously a qualifying child included a student aged 16 to 24. This measure, together with a gradual phasing out of Class B Widow's

pension, a benefit for older widows without dependants, has resulted in many of those affected transferring to unemployment benefits. In the majority of cases the basic rate of assistance remains the same as long as the child is a student but the parent is required to register and look for work and faces a tighter income test.

4) In December 1987, the Family Allowance Supplement (FAS) replaced

14

Family Income Supplement, and provided more generous payments to

low-income families with children (including lone parent families) who are not in receipt of pension or benefit. From July 1989 the rate of FAS for older children and the rates of Family Allowance were increased substantially, as part of a planned approach to reaching benchmarks of adequacy in benefits for children by 1990.

5) The basic rate of Sole Parent Pension is indexed twice a year by the consumer price index. Since January 1990 all other family and child payments of lone parents and other families have been indexed annually.

6) With the introduction of FAS in December 1987, rent assistance to private renters was extended to FAS recipients, so covering low income families as well as pensioners. Rent assistance was increased in the 1988-89 and 1989-90 Budgets. In the first of these, separate and higher

rates for families with children were introduced. These increases and indexation from March 1991 improve the adequacy of payments of low income private renters. (43 per cent of Sole Parent pensioners at June 1989 were renting privately).

7) Annual indexation of the basic pension income test free area commenced in July 1991.

8) The sole parent tax rebate has been substantially increased to just over $1,000 for the current tax year and its real value will be maintained by annual indexation. Sole parents also benefit from increases in the separate pensioner rebate.

The effect of these changes has been to reduce disincentives to taking up part-time employment. Between March 1986 and March 1990, the real gain in overall income support payments to sole parents renting privately with a child or children under 13 has been between 4.0 and 4.8 per cent, depending on the age and number of children. For sole parents who are non-renters the real gain has been between 2.4 and 3.1 per cent. The proportion of sole parent pensioners with earnings rose in the same period from 11.4 per cent in 1985 to 21.7 per cent in 1990 and labour force participation rates for sole mothers rose from 44.6 per cent in May 1986 to 53 per cent in May 1990.19

The restriction of the Sole Parent Pension to those with a child younger than sixteen aroused some controversy. This is particularly pertinent as a Coalition Government is pledged to further restrict eligibility to those with a child younger than 12 while allowing those who have children above that age with disabilities requiring special care

19 See Maureen Colledge, "Workforce Barriers For Sole Mothers in Australia", DSS paper

15

to retain the SPP. Those who become sole parents when their children are aged 12

to 15 will be able to receive the Sole Parent Pension for 12 months. The argument against this position is stated by Cass and McClelland:

There are serious efficiency and equity consequences that flow from the contradiction between, on the one hand, those policies which seek to reduce a child's age for the purpose of parental income support, and, on the other hand, those

policies which are designed to increase the age at which a young person is expected to be dependent on their parents.20

Cass and McClelland were, in making this point, addressing their attention to the Government's policies which both by design and by default through the failure of macroeconomic policy have resulted in increased school retention rates and tertiary participation. As with the Government lowering of the age of the youngest child for eligibility for the SPP, the Coalition proposal effectively means shifting many of the least employable of sole parent pensioners onto unemployment benefits. The

provision of training and jobs is therefore crucial.

The major initiative undertaken by the current Government as the result of the Social Security Review, is the Jobs, Education and Training (JET) program which was begun in March 1989. The aim of the program was to provide the advice and practical support needed to help sole parent pensioners enter or re-enter the work-force. It targets those with a youngest child over 14, those who have been receiving a pension for more than 12 months and whose youngest child is at least six and teenagers. A full evaluation of the program was conducted by the Departments of Social Security,

Employment, Education and Training, and Health, Housing and Community Services and released in early 1992.

It was found that JET clients had low levels of education and lengthy periods out of the workforce. 95 per cent of JET clients are women. 76 per cent are aged 25 to 44. Over half of a group surveyed in 1991 had left school before the age of 15. 22 per cent of JET clients interviewed in 1990 had never been in paid work, 12 per cent had

not worked in the previous year, and a further 10 per cent had not worked for over 10 years. Teenage JET clients are most likely to have no work experience at all (42 per cent) while those who have been receiving a pension for more than 12 months and whose youngest child is at least six (16 per cent) and those with a youngest child over 14 (19 per cent) are most likely to have been out of the workforce for more than ten years. Around 12 per cent of JET clients are non-English speaking.

JET clients are more likely to undertake a training course rather than to participate in an employment assistance program such as JOBSTART, reflecting JET clients'

20 B. Cass and A. McClelland, "Changing the Terms of the Welfare Debate:

Redefining the Purpose and Structure of the Australian Social Security System", Paper presented at Social Welfare Research Centre, National Social Policy Conference, 5-7 July 1989, University of NSW.

16

perceptions that they lack skills and confidence. They also tend to train for

occupations which reflect the gender segregated nature of the work force such as office skills, retail work, textile processing and hospitality. The evidence from the JET client survey is that involvement in JET enables sole parent pensioners to move into more skilled employment. 30 per cent who had worked at some time in the past had

unskilled jobs while only 15 per cent of JET clients employed at the time of the survey were in unskilled occupations. The client survey found that 65 per cent of those in work had obtained permanent jobs as opposed to temporary (less than three months) or casual work. 59 per cent of JET clients who had entered paid work since the

introduction of the program in March 1989 were still in paid employment at December 1990. 30 per cent of those who were not in work at the time of the JET client survey had a job since being in the JET program. Around a quarter had been in temporary or casual work and another quarter had been retrenched. Of the 357 JET clients interviewed in the survey, 248 (70 per cent) were not in work at the time and of these

15 per cent were in training or education. Over a third not working had completed a training course. 60 per cent of those not working said they were looking for work but, of these, a third felt that limited qualifications or lack of work experience were barriers to obtaining work. Others cited a sick child or their own illness as the reason for not

looking for work. 19 per cent of those not looking for work said they preferred to stay at home with their children.

An important plank of the JET program is the provision of child care. Of 2,462 requests to JET support workers for assistance in locating child care for JET clients in 1990-91, 17 per cent of clients accepted permanent places arranged by JET support workers and 69 per cent accepted temporary places. Five per cent of clients did not accept the place arranged and support workers were unable to assist 8 per cent of cases referred. The relatively high success rate in finding permanent places for children of JET clients in services funded under the Services for Families with

Children Program contributed to under-expenditure of JET funds allocated for temporary child-care in 1989-90 and 1990-91. In 1989-90, $5 million was allocated for temporary child-care and $5.5 million in 1990-91 but $4.2 million was unspent in 1989-90 and $3.4 million was unspent in 1990-91. The client survey found that only 36 per cent of JET clients who were employed were using child care, with 45 per cent using

informal care (family and friends). Of those in training or education, nearly half had child care arrangements, about half using formal care and half using informal care. Those who used informal care did so because it was easier and cheaper. One of the major concerns of JET clients is the cost of child care, particularly gap fees which

range from $9 in the Northern Territory to $36 in Victoria. There is, according to the JET Evaluation Report, anecdotal evidence that JET clients are experiencing difficulties with child-care, particularly with placing children under two, locating after hours care for shift workers and finding a permanent place in areas where services are already full. There is also a lack of funded care for children over 12 and care for sick children.

Gross savings in pension outlays for JET clients were estimated to be $9.8 million in 1990-91. Costs of the program for the same period were $30.5 million. The total net cost of the program to the end of 1990-91 was $36.1 million. The higher than originally estimated proportion of clients needing training together with the recession served to add to the lag in achieving pension savings.

17

Future Directions ?

It is a stock response of the single mother lobby to assert that it is the "right" of a mother to stay at home. This "right" to stay at home is observed to different and limited degrees in various industrialised societies. Pro-natalist France which promotes the well-being of families in general insists that women return to work when the youngest child reaches three years unless they can fund themselves. Sweden which gives priority to sex equality allows a parent only a year off with paid parental leave to encourage its parents back into the workforce. In Norway, benefits encourage single parents to remain at home until the youngest child is ten years. In welfarist

Britain, the single parent is sustained on public benefits until the youngest child turns 16.

In contrast to other OECD countries, Australia and Britain share the distinction of having a labour force participation rate among sole mothers significantly below that of married mothers. For example, in 1985, West Germany had 60 per cent of sole mothers in the workforce compared with 42 per cent of married mothers; France, in

1981, had 78 per cent of sole mothers working as against 50 per cent of married mothers working and the USA, in 1987, had 67 per cent of sole mothers working as against 64 per cent of married mothers working. In Britain, in 1982-84, there were 39 per cent of sole mothers in the workforce compared with 49 per cent of married mothers. In Australia, in 1985, there were 41 per cent of sole mothers in the workforce compared with 51 per cent of married mothers. This differential remains despite an improvement in the rate of workforce participation of sole mothers in Australia to 52 per cent in 1989. This raises the question of whether sole mothers should receive a privilege which is largely unavailable to married mothers who have to work to shoulder the family burden. Conversely, should married mothers be provided support to not enter the paid work-force, but stay at home to raise children?

While transitional support for a sole mother after marriage breakdown is important to minimise family disruption, an over-extended transitional phase tends to create welfare dependency and a poverty trap which has detrimental effects on the development of children. It is then that poverty relative to the rest of the community becomes severe and likely to be passed on to the next generation. This is noticeable in the British experience which is closest to the Australian one with both countries supporting sole parents until the youngest child is sixteen. In 1979, the average gross income of one-parent families in Britain was equal to about 51 per cent of that of a couple with two children. By 1984, this was down to 39.5 per cent because the value of child benefits had not kept up with inflation while the income of two-parent families had increased. In Australia, poverty among sole parent families has risen faster than the overall poverty rate. Amongst lone mothers not in the workforce the poverty rate is a staggering 72 per cent. This falls to 63 per cent for part-rate workers and is halved to 32 per cent for permanent part-time workers, falling to below six per cent for full-

18

ti

me, full-year workers.21

Where women stay out of the workforce for protracted periods, they become virtually unemployable. As the women who remain on welfare benefits for the longest period are those who are older, less educated and less skilled, this only exacerbates a grim situation. Government policy has operated to keep women in a poverty trap by making it uneconomic to do part-time work. Yet the greatest growth in employment throughout the eighties has been in part-time jobs. Part-time work is particularly suitable for sole mothers while their children are very young because they are time-

poor and often lack extended family support. The supplementing of part-time earnings for women with very young children and the provision of full-time work for women with older children are known ways to extract sole mothers from the limbo of poverty, given that income transfer payments can never compensate for the loss of a wage. Education, training and employment are required to help women back into the workforce along with a solid social infrastructure. Without a strong social

infrastructure, work is simply not an option for the sole parent. Even where re-marriage is the way out of poverty for the mother-only family, the better educated and employed sole mother has the advantage in achieving this solution over her sisters. While the present Government is now emphasising training and employment through its JET program, this needs to accompanied by a macro-economic policy which will stimulate the provision of adequately paying jobs without which such a policy is futile.

Some Issues for consideration

Are current programs adequate for the support of separated families?

Should Government policy encourage sole parents to return to the workforce?

What Government measures will best address the issues raised by the existence of sole parents?

Should the position of separated families and other families be equated in Government policy?

21 Russell Ross and Peter Saunders, "The Labour Supply Behaviour of Sole

Mothers and Married Mothers in Australia: An Overview", Proceedings of a Conference on Sole Parents and Public Policy , 30 August 1990, Sydney.

19

FAMILY PROMOTION AND RESEARCH

THE INSTITUTE OF FAMILY STUDIES

The Institute of Family Studies was established under the Family Law Act 1975'but was not opened until 1980. 2 Under the Act, the functions of the Institute are:

to promote, by the conduct, encouragement and co-ordination of research and other appropriate means, the identification of, and development of understanding of, the factors affecting marital and family stability in Australia, with the object of promoting the protection of the family as the natural and fundamental group unit in society; and

To advise and assist the Minister in relation to the making of grants, and with the approval of the Minister to make grants, out of moneys available under appropriations made by the Parliament, for purposes related to the functions of the Institute and the supervising of the employment of

grants so made.3

These broad functions were interpreted in detail in a statement outlining the role and functions of the Institute. This statement was endorsed by the Federal Government in November 1988. In summary, the Institute's stated role in relation to the Family Law Act involves:

Research : To study and evaluate matters which affect the social and economic well-being of all Australian families.

Information: To inform Government and other bodies concerned with family wellbeing and the public about issues relating to Institute findings.

Promotion : To promote the development of improved methods of family support, including measures which prevent family disruption and promote marital and family stability.

Dissemination : To publish and otherwise disseminate the findings of Institute and other family research.4

' Family Law Act 1975, s. 114B

2 'New Institute a landmark', The Sun , 16 September 1980. 3 s. 114B(2) 4 Australian Institute of Family Studies, Annual Repo rt 1990-91 , 10 1

According to the Institute, it fulfils this role by performing the following functions:

Monitoring demographic and social changes in Australian families and identifying implications of such changes for social policy;

2. Conducting research on the operation and effects of the Family Law Act and other legislation affecting the rights and obligations of family members;

3. Conducting research on factors influencing how families function, with the object of understanding the consequences of social policy changes and of recommending relevant means of promoting family wellbeing and stability;

4. Evaluating on a continuing basis the economic status and wellbeing of Australian families and the effect on families of economic change;

5. Conducting research, consulting and reporting on the effect of federal and state legislation and proposed changes in legislation and programs on the ways families function;

6. Disseminating information and research results via media information publications, public seminars and other means with the object of improving public understanding of factors affecting marital and family wellbeing;

7. Coordinating and encouraging wider research on Australian families by the making of grants; and

8. Acting as a national centre of information about Australian families.s

The direction taken by the Institute reflects a number of decisions about its role. These may be summarised as, firstly, the adoption of a 'pure' rather than 'applied' research role; secondly, the popular dissemination of research; and thirdly, the decision not to undertake piecemeal family problems type research. 6 Despite the reference to 'the family as the natural and fundamental group unit in society' in the Act, the Institute

adopted a more broadly defined approach:

... our statement of functions included all families, at every stage of the life-cycle, whether advantaged or disadvantaged. We adopted as our maxims: 'Every individual has a family' and 'The family does not stop at the front door'. In other words, our scope and our audience was to be

5 Id.

6 D. Edgar, 'A Decade of Family Research - And the Next?', Family Matters, No. 26, April 1990, 2-3

2

the whole of society, not just those already drawn into the safety net of

welfare, because our goal was support of the family unit itself, not advocacy for only one end of the spectrum.'

The research agenda encompassed four areas: descriptive information research; theoretical, explanatory research; program monitoring; and policy research. Other contract research has been undertaken although on the basis that "no funds are accepted by the Institute without an agreement that the findings will be published

(either by the funding body or the Institute) and made available for public scrutiny"."

The Act authorises the Institute to advise the Minister in relation to the making of grants and, with the Minister's approval to make grants, out of Parliamentary appropriations for purposes related to the Institute's function.

The Institute made a number of support grants from 1981-82 to 1984-85 to assist various bodies to undertake research into, and to promote understanding or, factors affecting marital and family stability in Australia. However since then, budgetary restrictions have limited the allocation of resources in this area.9

A comprehensive review completed in 1989-90 concluded that a cost-effective means of reinstating a research grants scheme would be to provide assistance to a limited number of selected PhD candidates undertaking innovative family-related research in Australian higher education institutions to complete their theses within a specified time

frame. However the implementation of this policy has been deferred because of priority given to Institute research projects.1°

The 1989-90 Annual Report made reference to a request by the then Minister for Social Security, the Hon. Brian Howe, for the Institute to consider making a research support grant to the Australian Catholic Social Welfare Commission to survey pregnancy and patient support services in Australia. The grant was awarded the following year and it is expected that the study will be completed this year."

Operation of the Institute

From its establishment in 1980 until June 1989, the Institute operated within the Attorney-General's portfolio. Since June 1989, however, the Institute has functioned within the portfolio of the Minister for Social Security.

Id.

8 Id.

9

Annual Report 1990-91 , 43

10 Id.

" Id.

3

The general direction of the Institute is entrusted to a Board of Management consisting

of the Director and four or more other members. 12 Subject to the Board's general direction, the Director is required to manage the affairs of the Institute.13

Funding

The Institute has received the following Commonwealth funds in the past three years:

1990-91 $2,715,500 1991-92 $3,025,000 1992-93 $3,090,000 (appropriation)

In addition to these funds, the Institute attracted $1.7 million in contract research in 1990-91, although some costs of research for Government departments are expected to be absorbed by the Institute.14

The Board has complained about the "stagnation of Institute budgets in recent years" and argued that it has insufficient funds to undertake all the research it would wish to.15

Future directions

A number of major aspects of the Institute's performance were highlighted by workshop participants in March 1991. including:

Gaps in Institute research attention to such issues as ageing and its impacts on family life, family violence (its causes and prevention), families with disabled members to care for, and low income families and how they manage;

2. A tendency for Institute research to be 'data driven', statistical and descriptive rather than conceptually based and analytical;

3. The need for more theoretical and forward-looking papers which would draw both on overseas policies and research and on the Institute's synthesis of previous work to help set the agenda for family policy debates in the 1990s;

4. Some lack of 'reach' in its published output for audiences such as

12 Family Law Act 1975, s. 114C 13 s. 114D 14 Annual Repo rt 1990-91 ,4 15 Ibid., 5

4

school children, the business world, and service providers; and

5. The need to monitor more closely, and devise ways of judging, the actual impact of Institute findings on policies and practices that affect families.

The Institute is addressing these issues.16

In addition, the Federal Government has established an external panel to review the functions, programs and performance of the Institute."

The Institute's Director, Dr. Don Edgar, has identified a strategy of working in partnership with "bureaucrats and policy advisers who are most influential in the policy development process" and alluded to some continuing difficulties in this regard.18

Issues for consideration

While the current Review of the Institute is acknowledged, some issues for consideration include:

Are the functions, programs and performance of the Institute adequate?

Are the directions taken by the Institute appropriate?

Should the work of the Institute be more closely aligned to Governmental programs?

Are there other functions that the Institute should perform?

INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF THE FAMILY

1994 has been designated as the International Year of the Family by the United Nations Organisation.

The theme chosen for the International Year of the Family is families in the development process, also described as `family resources and responsibilities in a changing world'. The slogan is: Building the Smallest Democracy In the Heart of Society.

16 Annual Report 1990-91 , 3 17 'Review of the Institute', Family Matters , No. 32, August 1992, 3 18 D. Edgar, Op. cit. , 6-7 5

The key United Nations objectives for 1994 are to increase policy makers' awareness

of family issues and to ensure that all policies promote family wellbeing and strengthen family support:

It is hoped the Year will encourage families to participate in the decisions that affect them, discourage family dependence on the State, enhance families autonomy and encourage more responsible parenthood. Close attention will be paid to the changing status of women.19

The subsidiary objectives, seen as means to these ends, include better information and research worldwide on family structures and functions, plus more systematic evaluation of the effects on families of existing policies and programmes.

The following key issues have been discussed in the U.N. documents:

1. The family's role in the moral strength of society, through the socialisation of children and the responsibilities of caring.

2. The family's caring function, both as its own social welfare safety net and as the main "welfare" institution in society.

3. Balancing individual freedom with a sense of personal responsibility for family, community and nation.

4. Helping women and men combine family and vocational responsibilities.

5. Developing polices based on an accurate assessment of dominant newly emerging family patterns and models, and the support functions they are actually performing and of which they are capable.

6. Better integration services.

7. Family planning

8. Family violence and the need for protection and prevention.

9. The crucial role of non-government organisations in family support.

10. The developmental dimension of families as agents of change, especially in relation to improving their living environment.

11. The role of the family in teaching children values and behaviour that

19

D. Edgar, 'Family Values in the International Year of the Family 1994', Family Matters , No. 29, August 1992, 38

6

exemplify the equitable sharing of male and female roles.20

Ten major themes for the Year have been chosen. The first is families as agents for protecting human values, cultural identity and historical continuity.

The second theme deals with the economic functions, condition and status of families in terms of family resources, responsibilities and intra-familial support systems; familial and work responsibilities; families in poverty, destitution and other marginal situations; families as income generated enterprises; and health, nutrition planning.

The third theme is education - the family as a supportive environment for learning -while the fourth theme concerns family law, and basic social, cultural and political values as they apply to families.

The fifth and sixth themes are violence in the family, and its prevention; and family disillusion and its reduction.

The seventh theme considers individual family members, including issues such as men and more responsible parenting; women exploring new opportunities; dependent family members, their rights and support mechanisms; and youth, education and employment as a basis for adult family life.

The eighth theme is developmental social welfare with preventative support as the goal.

The ninth is policies for families and the tenth is research and information.

The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Health, Housing and Community Services, Hon. Brian Howe, has announced that the Federal Government will draw up an "agenda for families" before 1994 that would be designed to ensure that jobs, health, housing and education services are accessible to all Australian families.

The first meeting of an interdepartmental committee began discussion about Australia's plans for the Year in November 1991. This followed approval by the Prime Minister for the Minister for Aged, Family and Health Services to carry respnsibility for IYF94 in Australia.

As well as IYF94, this committee has been given responsibility for drawing up Australia's action plan for implementation of the recently ratified World Declaration on the Survival, Protection and Development of Children. The UN Plan of Action was

published in New York in September 1990 following the World Summit for Children. Australia signed the Declaration in May 1991.

The Committee comprises representatives from all relevant Commonwealth departments and the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

20 Id

7

To date the IYF94 secretariat has:

Commenced the preparation of preliminary drafts of possible activities;

Initiated consultations with the States and Territories;

Commenced planning for wider community consultation; and

Considered a possible administrative structure, including a National Council for the International Year of the Family.

An appropriation of $1.7 million has been made in the Commonwealth budget for planning and related activities in 1992-93.

Issues for consideration

What programs should be conducted as Australia's contribution to the International Year of the Family 1994?

GOVERNMENT FOCUS ON FAMILIES

Current arrangements

Programs relating to families are administered by a variety of Commonwealth and State Departments and agencies and by a range of voluntary and welfare bodies.

In fact there is no comprehensive listing of programs and sponsoring agencies. The Commonwealth Department of Health, Housing and Community Services is currently compiling such a report.

A summary of Commonwealth programs indicates that programs relating to families are conducted by the Departments of Social Security, Treasury, Health, Housing and Community Services, Attorney-General, Employment, Education and Training,

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission and Prime Minister and Cabinet.

There appears to be little co-ordination between the various agencies sponsoring programs.

While the Australian Institute of Family Studies has some influence on policy development, this is not co-ordinated either.

Two Ministers have responsibilities relating specifically to family, namely, the Minister for Family Support (within the Social Security portfolio) and the Minister for Aged, Family and Health Services (within the Health, Housing and Community Services

portfolio). In addition, there is a Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women. In summary, the Health, Housing and Community Services portfolio is responsible for programs relating to health advancement, health care access, aged care, disability programs, children's services, and housing and urban development.

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The Social Security portfolio provides programs of income security for the retired,

people with disabilities and the sick, the unemployed, families with children, and other special provisions. The Office of Status of Women is part of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Office of Legal Aid and Famil y Services

The Office of Legal Aid and Family Services within the Attorney-General's Department is responsible for the funding of service providers for programs of marriage counselling, marriage education, family mediation, adolescent mediation and family therapy, and family skills training. The Department also funds community agencies

providing financial counselling services to low income groups.

The family services programs are funded to the maximum of 85 per cent of their costs pursuant to provisions in the Marriage Act 1961 and the Family Law Act 1975. Programs are accredited by the Office and monitoring visits conducted by Office personnel.

The monitoring program has been widely criticised by agencies in the field for being cumbersome, expensive, intrusive, and not matched to the actual performance of the agencies or their staff. The funding of the programs has also been subject of widespread criticism.

Voluntary agencies

Voluntary and family agencies provide an enormous range of services to Australian families. Some are funded under Commonwealth and State programs, many others are not.

The efforts of Australians to provide voluntary services is of considerable significance. An Australian Bureau of Statistics survey in 1988 found that almost 25 per cent of the population aged 15 years and over undertook some form of community work. It has been estimated that the value to the nation of voluntary services is some $5 billion a year. A Canadian survey estimated the value of volunteer work in that country in 1990

as $13.2 billion - an imputed wage bill equivalent to 53 per cent of the total wage bill of the retail industry in Canada.

But the value of community can not be measured in economic terms alone, or even primarily:

Beyond the commercial marketplace, there is a whole sphere of private life where relations between people are based on affection, altruism and voluntary association. It is here -in the families, churches, clubs and local activities of of Australians - that the foundations of community are laid down. It is here that the real networks of mutual support, of welfare and sustenance, exist.21

21 Fightback ! , 27

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While the programs offered by Government are important, the contribution of the

voluntary and semi-voluntary sector to the support of Australian families should not be underestimated.

Office of the family

Suggestions have been made from time to time that an office of the family would provide an appropriate focus for policies relating to families in Australia. Senator Tate proposed an Office of the Family in 1986-87, possibly within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. Its suggested task was to coordinate and monitor the impact of policies on the promotion of the family as a unit within which most Australians find economic and social support.

Others have suggested the need for a Government focus of families, an agenda for family policy, or an office of the family.22

In Western Australia, an Office of the Family was created to focus policy issues on family matters and the provide program grants to service providers under the Western Australian Family Foundation Community Grants.

More recently, the Tasmanian Government has established a Tasmanian Family Council to report and make recommendations to the Premier in relation to matters of concern to families in Tasmania, to set up working committees, and to undertake or sponsor research, community consultation and community education in areas of importance to families. 23 The Government also established an Office of the Family.

Dr.John Hewson announced at the National Family Summit that the Coalition would establish an Office for the Family in government.

Family Impact Statements

Suggestions have been made from time to time that Governments should subject all proposed legislation to a Family Impact Statement prior to its enactment. Difficulties have been expressed also about the operation of such a process, with the suggestion made that the Statements receive only perfunctory consideration sometimes. A related mechanism is the co-ordination of consultation and policy development programs within Government so that the interests of families are taken account of.

However, the Coalition Leader, Dr John announced in November that a Liberal/National Government would subject all Cabinet submissions to a Family Impact Statement.

22 See for example, D. Edgar, Family Matters, No. 32, August 1992; J.K. Bowen, The Australian Famil y , 1992

23 'Group aims to help families', Launceston Examiner, 12 October 1992 10

Issues for consideration

How can the Commonwealth Government better consider families in the formulation of policies and the delivery of programs?

Can Government programs relating to families be better coordinated?

What should be the role of the proposed Office of the Family.

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