Flinders University: Adelaide, Australia Families With Young Children

Participating Institutions
Project Aims
Team Members

Baghurst et al. (2002)
Jarrett (2002)
Slee & Saebel (2002a)
Slee & Saebel (2002b)
Roe (2002)
Cameron & Woollacott (2002)
Cameron et al. (2000)

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Baghurst, P., Woollacott, T., Slee, P., Murray-Harvey, R., & Cameron, H. (2002, September). Determinants of formal and informal support use by families with young children living in disadvantaged areas of Adelaide. Paper presented at the 34th Annual Conference of the Public Health Association of Australia, Adelaide, South Australia.

Having a strong social support network is generally associated with better health status. Whether the availability of informal supports (relatives, neighbours, and friends) to the carers of small children leads to lower reliance on formal health services is not immediately apparent.

In a study of 390 families living in the most disadvantaged regions of northern Adelaide, carers were asked about the frequency with which they contacted family, friends, neighbours, community health services, and formal health services for help with sickness and injury problems, developmental problems, and emotional/behavioural problems in their children.

On-going concerns about a health problem was the strongest predictor of high formal service use by carers. Young mothers and male carers appeared to make more use of formal services for sickness and injury problems, but less use of services for developmental, and emotional/behavioural problems. Low confidence and low satisfaction with parenting were also associated with higher formal service use.

However, high formal service use was strongly associated with both high use of informal supports and high use of community services, which suggests that the psychological profiles of the carers may be a dominant determinant of the use of both formal and informal supports - and that good informal support does not imply less reliance on formal health services.

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Jarrett, S. (2002, August). Integration: Together in poverty? 65 families in Adelaide. Paper presented at Bennelong Society Conference, Celebrating Integration, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

This paper arises from The Families With Young Children Project, in which 500 families with young children 0-7 years of age and living in disadvantaged suburbs of Adelaide were interviewed (a) to 'understand the barriers to service delivery perceived by families at risk, and (b) as basis for further development of services, to identify the strengths and resources of these families'. It also explores the level of social capital within the neighbourhoods of these families. Our random method of family recruitment enlisted 65 families with Aboriginal children, including 30 white parents with Aboriginal children. This enables comparative quantitative analysis of project results on the basis of identity.

Results indicate that (a), overall a high percentage of project families regardless of identity have demographic profiles that present challenges to positive child outcomes (such as early school leaving, low income, high unemployment, teenage parents, high fertility, high mobility). However (b), both Aboriginal and white parents of Aboriginal children register even higher rates of these challenges. At the same time, there are (c), signs that white parents of Aboriginal children experience different problems from those of Aboriginal parents in their task of parenting their young children. All of these results (a, b, and c) have implications for policy and service delivery to secure positive child outcomes and positive integration.

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Slee, P., & Saebel, J. (2002, April). The social psychological factors associated with child well-being: Links with social capital. Poster presented at the 8th Annual Meeting of the Society of Australasian Social Psychologists, Adelaide, South Australia.

Semi-structured interviews with parents from disadvantaged areas in Adelaide are currently being conducted about children's problems in physical, developmental, and behavioural domains, parents' use of support services, and families' social capital. The families must have at least one child younger than 8 years. This report is based on selected data from 466 families interviewed so far. Its focus is on the relationship between the well-being of children and social capital (derived from the personal social relationships within families and communities; see Runyan et al., 1998). For each of the three domains, parents were asked about any ongoing concerns or diagnoses for any of their children. No problems/concerns in any of the domains (doing well) were reported by 44% of parents. Concerns/problems in only one domain were reported by 34% of parents. Two or three problem domains (doing least well) were reported by 22% of families. There were significantly fewer families with high social capital among families in the 'least well' group than among families in either of the other two groups. Parents from the 'least well' category also showed the lowest satisfaction with parental role on 2 of the 3 measures. The findings highlight the need for strong communities and support for families with children at risk for poor health and psychological outcomes.

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Slee, P., & Saebel, J. (2002, August). An ecological analysis of disadvantaged children's physical, developmental, and behavioural health problems in an urban environment: Links with social capital. Poster presented at Biennial Meeting of the International Society for the Study of Behavioural Development (ISSBD), Ottawa, Canada.

This report is based on selected interview data from 500 economically disadvantaged families with young hildren (0-7 years) in an Australian city, and is part of a larger, ongoing 3-year project. The study presented here is partially guided by past research that examined children's health and behavioural problems from an ecological perspective LeClair, 2001). Previous work raised significant debate about the extent to which health in poor areas can be explained by residents' socio-economic characteristics, and about the effects of the environment on health. In the current report, details about children's physical, developmental, and behavioural problems, parents' use of support services and selected family demographic data were analysed. Information was collected from families in 27 collection districts (CDs). Analyses that included prevalence rates for the various categories of problems/parental concerns offered only limited support for the hypotheses about the link between socio-economic characteristics of an environment and prevalence of childhood health problems. Analyses (logistic regressions) at family level did not yield any statistically significant results. Nevertheless, they suggested that the odds that a family will report problems in physical or developmental domain will almost double if the family cannot make ends meet. In addition, single parents were more likely to have problems/concerns related to their children's behaviour than parents with partners. More fruitful were analyses that focused on the connection between presence/absence of problems/parental concerns and social capital and parenting dissatisfaction. In particular, the results indicated that in families with two or three problem domains, parents were more likely to have no-one to help when in need of break from children, than parents in families with no reported or perceived children's problems. On the other hand, the same parents were almost twice as likely to use child-care services and were significantly more bothered as a parent than parents from families with only one or no problem domain. Parents who reported no problems/concerns were also significantly happier with their children than the other two groups.

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Roe, M. (2002). The relationship between service providers and parents in family support services. PhD research project (in progress).

This study will examine what constitutes appropriate and effective support and 'empowerment' for families with young children through the lens of existing successful 'partnerships' between service providers and service users.

The following broad questions will be explored through listening to the experiences and ideas of service providers and mothers of young children who use their services:

  1. How can family support services best build the 'capacity' of families and communities to meet the challenges of parenting?

  2. What is it about the relationship between service provider and service user that is 'empowering'?

Participants are:

  1. Mothers of children under 7 years and to family support services in the northern metropolitan area of Adelaide which have a stated policy of working as 'partners' to 'empower' and strengthen parents in their care-provider role.

  2. Service providers from government and non-government agencies providing baby and child support, parenting support, midwifery, counselling, housing support and community development.

The project will illuminate the perspectives and experiences of service users and front-line service providers about what families need and the ways in which services support their strengths and resources.

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Cameron, H., & Woollacott, T. (2002, April). Safety in the suburbs. Paper presented at the 8th Annual Meeting of the Society of Australasian Social Psychologists, Adelaide, South Australia.

This paper derives from funded research with over 400 Adelaide families resident in ABS Collection Districts with very low socio-economic scores on the ABS SEIFA Index of Relative Socio-Economic Disadvantage. Perceptions of neighbourhood safety, feelings of trust in others in the neighbourhood, and civic engagement levels are matched against statistics on the incidence of crime and social disruption according to offences recorded by police. Higher incidence rates of a range of offences are apparent in the neighbourhoods studied. Family scores indicate low levels of perceived safety, and other data show families believe there are few people to trust. They also demonstrate consistently low levels of civic involvement overall. Correlation of data on perceptions of safety, trust and civic engagement indicates a positive relationship between these. Further analysis shows links with these to the number of single parents who live without another adult in the house. It is also apparent that many families in the study are residentially very mobile, and families who have lived longest in a neighbourhood, indicate stronger perceptions of trust and safety. All these variables are discussed in this paper within the construction of community efficacy, and the interrelationship between this and family factors.

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Cameron, H., Murray-Harvey, R., Russell, A., & Slee, P. (2000, June). Families in change - for better or for worse. Paper presented at the Second International Conference on Child & Adolescent Mental Health, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Families are dynamic units operating in the midst of shifting cultural frames in Australian society. They are often dealing with loss, grief and despair, the pressures of loss of employment, and the destruction of family coherence. Approaches that affirm positive coping strategies in the midst of internal change and external pressure, are seen as essential in assisting families to function well. The voices of children echo that the family remains for them the main source of support. They name loving care and sharing, and practitioners need to listen to them. In a critical analysis of theoretical frames from the literature, we question the value of models of the family as a static group, or at best moving through preordained stages over time. An emphasis on developmental stages for instance, lays a template over family functioning that may hide the unique functionality of some families, and remove from view the their unique coping strategies. Identifying what families are doing right is more important than analysing their problems. When practitioners look beyond traditional theoretical frames, they can discern the value and strength of families. Children also see it. Their recognition of love, support and care speaks about the survival of the family in the midst of everything that we, and they, know is happening to families today. This paper explores approaches where the recognition of coping strengths is the key to effective family practice.

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Last updated September 2003