Children’s Contact Services

Introduction

Children’s Contact Services provide safe and positive contact arrangements for children whose parents are separated (Children’s Contact Services Guiding Principles Framework for Good Practice 2018, p.3). They operate in two key capacities. Firstly, they enable parents to exchange their children without meeting. During these supervised changeovers, children are left under the supervision of the service staff until the exchange takes place. Children’s Contact Services also offer supervision, where safe visitation takes place with the direct and constant guidance of service staff (Sheehan & Carson, 2006).

Children’s Contact Services occupy a unique position in Australia’s family law system. They provide integral “independent, observational reports on supervised visits” which are useful for the collaboration between Family Law services (FRSA submission, 2019 p.10). Further, Children’s Contact Services seek to emphasise the importance of children’s ongoing relationships with their parents and other significant people in their lives (Children’s Contact Services Guiding Principles Framework for Good Practice, 2018 p.3). Children’s Contact Services are considered integral to realising the children’s right to participation (Article 12 Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989).

The ultimate goal of Children’s Contact Services is to assist, where safe to do so, families to move to self-managed contact (Attorney-General’s Department 2018, p.3). Despite this, research from the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) suggests that only a small number of families move to self-managed arrangements (Commerford & Hunter 2015). Further, AIFS suggests that there is little guidance as to how services should manage this transition for families, with varying expectations of the role Children’s Contact Services should play during this transition. This was reflected by the Attorney-General’s Department, which found that “there are inherent tensions…that place competing demands on CCS’s” (AGD 2018).

The Attorney-General’s Department released an updated Guiding Principles Framework for Good Practice in relation to Children’s Contact Services in 2018. This restates the aims, safety requirements, policies and procedures for good service delivery (2018). Children’s Contact Services can be government funded, full-fee paying (usually established by a NGO with some government funding) or privately owned (ACCA 2019). In the Review of the Family Law System final report released in April of this year, a recommendation was put forward that any organisation offering Children’s Contact Services should be accredited (ALRC Report 135). However, there are long waiting lists for services and funding is currently desperately underfunded. Further, to ensure consistency and stability while preparing for possible reforms, recent funding was limited to organisations who currently deliver family law services (Community Grants 2019).

Given the paucity of research into Children’s Contact Services, Relationships Australia has conducted research with website users to explore the public’s thoughts on the service.

Previous research finds that…

  • Children’s Contact Services reduce children’s exposure to marital conflict, which betters enables contact with both parents and enhances children’s wellbeing (Smyth, 2004).
  • Sheehan and Carson found that Children’s Contact Services can enable children to explore their relationship goals throughout contact visits (2006).
  • Humphreys and Harrison suggest that the level and vigilance of supervision required during contact visits should be determined by the nature of risk factors to the child (2003). Crawford, however, advocates for the ‘within sight and hearing principle’ (2005).
  • Commerford and Hunter found that many families who use Children’s Contact Services have complex needs. This can render the goal of self-managed contact unachievable (2015). This was reflected in a Canadian study which found that despite being framed as a ‘stepping stone’, Children’s Contact Services are mostly permanent solutions (Bala, Saini & Spitz, 2016).
  • Ongoing studies are currently being conducted across Australia to consider the effectiveness of enhanced models of contact for children (Taplin et al., 2015; Bullen et al., 2016).

Results

547 people responded to the July 2019 survey on the Relationships Australia website. Seventy‑four percent of these respondents were women and a further twenty-five percent were men, one percent did not state their gender (figure 1). As with past surveys, the majority of respondents were aged 30-49 years (54%). The demographic profile of survey respondents remains consistent with our experience of the groups of people that would be accessing the Relationships Australia website.

Before starting this survey, fifty-seven percent of survey respondents were unaware of Children’s Contact Services (figure 2). A further six percent were unsure. Despite many being unfamiliar with Children’s Contact Services, prior knowledge of the program had little effect on the types of services respondents felt they should provide (figure 3). In fact, while supervision of handovers received the most support (79%), all services listed were supported by forty-seven percent to sixty-five percent of respondents (figure 3).

Similarly, figure 4 demonstrates that a respondent’s prior knowledge of Children’s Contact Services had little effect on whether they felt government should have oversight over all facilities. While fifty-two percent felt they should be overseen by the government, forty‑eight percent were either unsure or felt that they should not be supervised. Among these responses, there was an insignificant difference between those who previously knew about CCSs (either by using their services or just a general awareness) and those who did not. This suggests that previous experience with, or knowledge of, Children’s Contact Services has not significantly affected people’s thoughts on their management and service provision.

When asked about the standards governments should impose on the Children’s Contact Services that they do oversee, great support was found for establishing minimum qualifications for staff (figure 5). Eighty percent agreed staff should be acquiring minimum qualifications, including training in child development, child protection, psychology or social work, as well as ongoing supervision and professional development. Additionally, providing mental health services, managing risks and security and creating mechanisms for responding to complaints was of high priority for respondents (62%, 66% and 65% respectively) (figure 5).

It is widely recognised that contact with both parents is important for a child’s wellbeing and future development, following a family break-up (except in a small number of circumstances). Across several survey questions, it was found that thirty-six percent of respondents recognised this, illustrating that they felt contact with a parent should be granted despite any associated risks to caregiver or child, as long as supervision is sought (table 1). Alternatively, twenty-seven percent of respondents felt that if there are risks to either the child or the caregiver, no contact should be granted.

Table 1. People’s feelings towards access when danger is involved for the caregiver or child

Politics and Relationships

Introduction

Talking politics with family or partners can be a recipe for conflict. However, completely avoiding these topics in our romantic and familial relationships is somewhat difficult. Politics and political ideas reflect our core values. Therefore, having discussions about these can be a useful way to share, discuss and discover how we differ from our nearest and dearest.

Our political ideas often come from our parents. Political socialisation studies have found a strong correlation between parents’ and children’s political ideations, suggesting a generational transfer of political ideas (Hyman, 1959; Greenstein, 1965; Hess & Torney, 1967).

Romantically, many people seek a partner who aligns politically with them. Alford and associates found that a couple’s political affinity is one of the strongest of all social and biometric traits (2011). Findings suggest that this similarity is usually part of what draws couples together, rather than appearing through accommodations by the couple over time (Alford et al. 2011). However, this is contested and difficult to test for, as studying couples before they have met is challenging. Online dating has provided an antidote to this conundrum. Anderson and colleagues found that online, individuals evaluate potential partners more favourably and are more likely to reach out to them if they have similar political leanings (2017).

While some feel that ‘love is enough’, navigating a relationship with discordant political values can be challenging. The relationships indicators survey conducted by Relationships Australia found that ‘different expectations/values’ is a leading cause of relationship breakdowns in Australia (2011). In response, families and couples sometimes avoid talking about politics altogether. Strategic topic avoidance is a strategy used to maintain emotional closeness while avoiding potentially divisive discussions (Dailey & Palomares, 2004). However, learning to talk about politics in a respectful and open-minded way can be part of the process of socialisation and a way to learn democratic skills (Levinsen & Yndigegn, 2015). Similarly, political discussions between generations leads to greater civility (Bloemraad & Trost, 2008).

The June 2019 survey sought to explore individuals’ attitudes towards bipartisan relationships, how their politics align with their partner’s and family, and strategies for having political discussions with their families.

Previous research finds that…

  • The best predictor of an individual’s party preference is the preference of their parents (Knoke 1972).
  • While it is well noted that couples often align politically (Martin et al. 1986; Alford et al. 2011), it is unknown whether this is reflective of a choice or a side-effect of other factors that are correlated with shared political orientations (Anderson 2017).
  • Women’s relationship satisfaction is closely linked to a similarity in political attitudes with their partners (Leikas  et al. 2018)
  • Similarity in attitudes enables understanding and therefore assists couples who are experiencing relationship-related distress (Gonzaga et al. 2007)

Results

865 people responded to the Relationships Australia June 2019 survey. Seventy-two percent of respondents were female, a majority (27%) of those were aged between 30-39, with another forty percent of women aged between 20-29 and 40-49 (Figure 1).  Fifty-one percent of men were aged between 30-49 (Figure 1).

As for previous surveys, the demographic profile of survey respondents is consistent with our experience of the groups of people that would be accessing the Relationships Australia website.

Partners and Politics

Over half (52%) of respondents said they would, or have had, a long-term relationship with someone who supported a different political party than them. People aged below 19 and above 60 were less willing to cross political lines in their romantic relationships (Figure 2). However, despite an overall willingness to date cross-politically, forty-six percent of respondents were in a relationship with someone with the same political views (Figure 3).

Further, only five percent of respondents said they had experienced a relationship break‑down due to political differences (Figure 4). This suggests the willingness of respondents to enter into relationships with political counterparts (illustrated in Figure 2) is either theoretical (they are willing to but have not done so) or, if the relationship has broken down, it has done so for reasons other than politics.

Family and Politics

Overall, fifty-nine percent of respondents said they did not share their family’s political views (Figure 5 – these statistics did not include answers ‘unknown’ or ‘not applicable’). However, of those who provided a rural postcode, it was even less common to share their family’s political views (63% did not) [rural postcodes defined with reference to the Department of Health 2018 list]. Contrastingly, those with non-rural postcodes were more likely to share their family’s political views (55% did). This suggests that differences in political affiliations among family members is more prominent in rural locations.

When discussing politics, fifty-three percent of respondents suggested that they would adopt a neutral/positive response, stating that they would either listen respectfully (49%) or reconsider their own opinion (4%) (Figure 6). Despite this, only nineteen percent of these respondents felt positively (happy or very happy) when speaking about politics with their families (Figure 7). This suggests that politics remains a somewhat uncomfortable topic, despite widespread understanding that openness to others’ opinions is appropriate.

References

Alford, J., Hatemi, P., Hibbing, J., Martin, N., & Eaves, L. (2011). The Politics of Mate Choice. The Journal Of Politics73(2), 362-379.

Anderson, A., Goel, S., Huber, G., Malhotra, N., & Watts, D. (2014). Political Ideology and Racial Preferences in Online Dating. Sociological Science, 1(1), 28-40.

Bloemraad, I., & Trost, C. (2008). It’s a Family Affair: Intergenerational Mobilization in the Spring 2006 Protests. American Behavioral Scientist52(4), 507-532.

Dailey, R., & Palomares, N. (2004). Strategic topic avoidance: an investigation of topic avoidance frequency, strategies used, and relational correlates. Communication Monographs71(4), 471-496.

Gonzaga, G., Campos, B., & Bradbury, T. (2007). Similarity, convergence, and relationship satisfaction in dating and married couples. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology93(1), 34-48.

Greenstein, F. (1969). Children and Politics. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Hyman, H. (1969). Political socialization. New York: Free Press.

Knoke, D. (1972). A Causal Model for the Political Party Preferences of American Men. American Sociological Review37(6), 679.

Leikas, S., Ilmarinen, V., Verkasalo, M., Vartiainen, H., & Lönnqvist, J. (2018). Relationship satisfaction and similarity of personality traits, personal values, and attitudes. Personality And Individual Differences123, 191-198.

Levinsen, K., & Yndigegn, C. (2015). Political Discussions with Family and Friends: Exploring the Impact of Political Distance. The Sociological Review63(2), 72-91.

Martin, N., Eaves, L., Heath, A., Jardine, R., Feingold, L., & Eysenck, H. (1986). Transmission of social attitudes. Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences83(12), 4364-4368.

R. D. Hess and J. V. Torney, The Development of Political Attitudes in Children. Chicago: Aldine Press, 1967, pp. 288.

Relationships Australia. (2011). Relationships Indicators Survey (p. 11). Retrieved from https://www.relationships.org.au/what-we-do/research/australian-relationships-indicators/relationships-indicator-2011

Conflict between neighbours

Introduction

Relationships Australia has been strongly advocating for increased awareness of the benefits of social connection and the risks of poor mental and physical health associated with social disconnection.  One factor that has not received as much attention is the effect of neighbour disputes in damaging social capital and reducing community connectedness.

Many community legal centres and local governments are reporting increases in the number of neighbour disputes over the past few years.  Increasingly, conflict between neighbours has been associated with increasing housing density as the Australian population grows, particularly in expanding major cities[1].

In 2012, the South Australian Legal Services Commission reported neighbour disputes as the primary reason people sought information from the Commission, with more than half of neighbourhood disputes involving conflict about fences, encroachments and retaining walls.  Each year, thousands of noise complaints are also reported to local councils, police and state mediation authorities (Kemp, 2012).

People who are negatively affected by a neighbour have three main avenues open to them to resolve the issue.  Many services advise the best course of action is to try to resolve the issue through a personal approach such as talking with your neighbour and sorting it out in a friendly and informal way.  If the problem remains unresolved, you may have an option for formal mediation or legal avenues.  Many regulatory bodies are also turning to alternative dispute resolution models to providing a more cost-effective, faster approach that limit negative impacts on neighbour relationships.

Relationships Australia’s March 2019 online survey sought to discover whether visitors to our website have experienced conflict with their neighbours and understand common avenues used to resolve disputes.


[1] For example, see www.qld.gov.au/law/housing-and-neighbours/disputes-about-fences-trees-and-buildings, and City of Sydney (2013)

Previous research finds that…

  • In 2010, over 10% of Australians living in privately owned dwellings had some experience in dealing with noisy neighbours (ABS, 2012).
  • 7000 of 20,000 calls for advice to the Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria related to fences.
  • Common causes of conflict over noise include problems with barking dogs, musical instruments, parties, construction, alarms, garden machinery and power tools (The City of Sydney, 2013).

Results

More than 1,150 people responded to the Relationships Australia online survey in March 2017.  Three-quarters of survey respondents (75%) identified as female, with more females than males responding in every age group (see Figure 1 below).  Just under eighty-five per cent of survey respondents were aged between 20‑59 years, and more than 50 per cent of respondents comprised women aged between 20‑49 years (inclusive).

As for previous surveys, the demographic profile of survey respondents remains consistent with our experience of the groups of people that would be accessing the Relationships Australia website.

More than 60 per cent of women and 68 per cent of men reported they had experienced conflict with neighbours.  There were significant differences in the reports of men and women when they were asked about the frequency of conflict with neighbours.  Men (21%) were more likely than women (17%) to report the conflict was a one-off experience, while around 17% of men and women reported the conflict with their neighbour(s) was ongoing (figure 2).

Just under half of male survey respondents (43%) and female survey respondents (41%) reported that the conflict with their neighbour was not very serious or not serious at all.  In contrast, more than one-quarter (26%) of survey respondents reported the conflict with their neighbours was very serious or serious (figure 3).

The most common methods for responding to conflict with neighbours reported by survey respondents was to try to resolve the issue by talking to the person (37%), or by ignoring it (12%).  Anonymous notes and moving house were the least likely methods reported for responding to conflict (table 1).

Table 1. Reports of responses to conflict with neighbours by gender

Response to conflictWomen%Men%
I ignored it1116
I tried to resolve the issue by leaving an anonymous note/s12
I tried to resolve the issue by communicating with the person in writing88
I tried to resolve the issue by talking to the person3738
I tried to resolve the issue with the help of a third party, such as a mediator, local council or community service97
I tried to resolve the issue by approaching the police or court67
I moved to another home43

Fewer than half of survey respondents were satisfied with the outcome, regardless of which response to the conflict they had undertaken (table 2).

Table 2. Reports of responses to conflict with neighbours by satisfaction with outcome

Response to conflict with a neighbourSatisfaction with outcome
Yes%No%Unsure%
I ignored it462826
I tried to resolve the issue by leaving an anonymous note/s474013
I tried to resolve the issue by communicating with the person in writing443521
I tried to resolve the issue by talking to the person434017
I tried to resolve the issue with the help of a third party, such as a mediator, local council or community service384511
I tried to resolve the issue by approaching the police or court334621

Finances and Relationships

Introduction

Relationships Australia has previously explored how couples manage finances in their relationships in the August 2015 online monthly survey, and through Relationships Australia’s 2011 Relationship Indicator’s survey, a study which was conducted at regular intervals over a ten-year period to 2011 (Woolcott, 2011).

Prior studies identify financial stress and money worries as key issues for separating couples, noting there is a complex interplay between money and other known predictors of relationship stress such as gambling, mental health, family violence, and drug and alcohol use.

Relationships Australia’s January 2018 online survey sought to further understand how couples negotiate their finances by asking a few questions of visitors to our website during January 2019.

Previous research finds that…

  • In an American study of more than 1,000 couples, forty-three percent (43%) of couples who had been married for more than 25 years started off in debt, while 86% of couples married for five years or less started off in debt, twice the number of their older counterparts (Cruze, 2018).
  • Significant debt was found to be having a negative impact on marriages, regardless of household income.  Forty-one percent (41%) of couples who had consumer debt report they argue about money more than any other issue (Cruze, 2018).
  • An American Express survey found that only 43 percent of the general population talked about money before marriage, but the number rises to 57 per cent for affluent couples and 81 per cent for young professionals.  Twelve per cent of the general population report they have never talked about money with their spouse (American Express Spending & Saving Tracker, June 2010)

Relationships Australia Results

More than 930 people responded to the Relationships Australia online survey in January 2019.  Three-quarters (75%) of survey respondents identified as female, with more females than males responding in every age group (figure 1).  Eighty-nine per cent of survey respondents were aged between 20‑59 years, and more than 55 per cent (57%) of respondents comprised women aged between 30-49 years (inclusive).

As for previous surveys, the demographic profile of survey respondents remains consistent with our experience of the groups of people that would be accessing the Relationships Australia website.

There were no significant differences in the reports of men and women when asked whether they had discussed their personal financial situation before they made a commitment to their current or most recent partner.  More than one third of survey respondents (37%) reported they had discussed their personal financial situation, while just under one third (26%) had not discussed their personal financial situation prior to committing to their current or most recent partner.  Similar reports were made about discussions of financial priorities.

For the majority of survey respondents, the state of their partner’s finances was not important (53%), or of little importance (20%), when they decided to enter into their current or most recent relationship.  The state of their partner’s finances were an important consideration for a significant minority of women (16%) and men (8%) when they decided to enter into their current or most recent relationship.

Survey respondents were asked if they had discussed with their partner how their individual incomes would be shared.  Men (36%) were more likely than women (31%) to report they had discussed how their individual incomes would be shared before they made a commitment to their current or most recent partner.  Forty-three per cent of survey respondents had not discussed how their individual incomes would be shared before they made a commitment to their current or most recent partner.

Prior to making a commitment to their current of most recent partner, 56% of survey respondents reported they had not discussed how they would manage their couple finances if one of them no longer had an income.  A further 14% had only discussed their couple finances ‘a little’.

A significant majority of women (74%) and men (69%) reported they had not discussed how they would divide their finances if their relationship ended prior to committing to their current or most recent partner (figure 2).

References

Cruze, R. (2018).  Money, Marriage, And Communication: The Link Between Relationship Problems and Finances. Available at https://cdn.ramseysolutions.net/media/b2c/personalities/rachel/PR/MoneyMarriageAndCommunication.pdf

American Express Spending & Saving Tracker, June 2010 available at https://www.businessinsider.com/love-and-money-what-statistics-say-2012-2/?r=AU&IR=T

Woolcott Research. (2011). Issues and concerns for Australian relationships today, available at < http://www.relationships.org.au/what-we-do/research/australian-relationships-indicators/relationships-indicator-2011>

Relationships with ageing parents

Introduction

Underpinning many contemporary discussions of family relationship issues is the impact of demographic ageing on the structure of modern families.  Decreasing birth rates and increasing life expectancy, along with changes in partnering, re-partnering, separation and divorce, have affected the shape and complexity of the modern family.  It is now common for people in middle to late adulthood to have living parents, with demographic ageing operating to extend the shared life span of parents and adult children.  This can bring about new roles, expectations and potential sources of support, but also may increase the risk of conflict and strain (Ferring, 2009), especially where there are requirements for extended periods of care.

Relationships between adults and their parents are different to other social and familial relationships due to their long shared history and changes in child-parent dependencies from infancy through adulthood, and the quality of these evolving relationships has far reaching impacts on both adult child and parental well-being.  In their review of ageing and family life, for example, Silverstein and Giarrusso (2010) discussed the association between strong, positive relationships between aging parents and their adult children and reduced risk of dementia.  There is also evidence that the extent to which adult children support their ageing parents depends to a large extent on adult children’s emotional relationship quality with their parents (Merrill, 1997).

This month’s online survey report further explores our interest in the dynamics of family relationships and ageing by asking visitors to our website to answer a few questions about their relationships with their ageing parents.

Previous research finds that…

  • Relationships between daughters and mothers have been repeatedly found to be the closest kind of child–parent relationships (for example see Lawton et al. 1994).
  • Women have been found to experience more strain in relationships with parents due to normative expectations to provide support and care for their ageing parents while at the same time having to care for their own growing children (Brody 1999).
  • High quality intergenerational relationships are associated with improved ability to navigate the challenges of intergenerational support provision and receipt for both generations: parents and children (Merz et. al. 2009).

Results

More than 1150 people responded to the Relationships Australia online survey in November 2018.  Just under 80 per cent of survey respondents (78%) identified as female, with more females than males responding in every age group (figure 1).  Eighty-seven per cent of survey respondents were aged between 20‑59 years, and more than 50 per cent of respondents comprised women aged between 30-49 years (inclusive).

As for previous surveys, the demographic profile of survey respondents remains consistent with our experience of the groups of people that would be accessing the Relationships Australia website.

More than eighty per cent of male (82%) and female (83%) survey respondents reported they had ageing or elderly parents.

Fifty-eight per cent of female survey respondents rated their relationships with their parents as excellent or very good, while 51 per cent of male survey respondents rated their relationships with their parents as excellent or very good.  A further one-quarter of female (26%) and male (27%) survey respondents rated their relationships with their parents as good, while one-sixth rated their relationships with their parents as poor.

The majority of survey respondents reported the main cause of conflict between them and their parents was their outdated or different viewpoint (men – 26%; women – 30%) or conflict between other family members (men – 20%; women – 23%).  Parental living arrangements was the main cause of conflict between them and their parents for 8 per cent of survey respondents (figure 2).

More than one-quarter of men and women reported that the conflict between them and their ageing parents has increased over time (figure 3), while one-third of survey respondents reported the tension in their relationships with their parents has decreased over time.  Twenty-one per cent of women and 15 per cent of men reported the levels of tension had remained about the same.

Despite reports of tension in relationships, 80 per cent of women and 71 per cent of men reported they contacted their ageing parents more than once a week, and a substantial majority expected they would have caring responsibilities for ageing parents, should the need arise.  Seventeen per cent of adult female and 13 per cent of adult male survey respondents expected that they would be the sole carer of their ageing parent, while a further 49 per cent of female and 41 per cent of male survey respondents expected to share the care of their ageing parent(s) with their siblings.  Fewer than ten per cent of survey respondents expected an aged care facility to care for their ageing parents when they were in need of assistance.

References

Brody, E., M. (1999). Women in the middle: their parent-care years. New York: Springer.

Ferring, D., Michels, T., Boll, T. & Filipp, S. (2009). Emotional relationship quality of adult children with ageing parents: on solidarity, conflict and ambivalence. European Journal of Ageing, 6(4), 253-265. doi: 10.1007/s10433-009-0133-9.

Fingerman, K., L. & Birditt, K., S. (2011). Handbook of the Psychology of Aging (Seventh Edition), 219-232, https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-380882-0.00014-0.

Lawton, L., Silverstein, M., Bengtson, V.,L. (1994). Affection, social contact, and geographic distance between adult children and their parents. Journal of Marriage and Family, 56:57–68. doi: 10.2307/352701.

Merz, E., Consedine, N., Schulze, H., & Schuengel, C. (2009). Wellbeing of adult children and ageing parents: associations with intergenerational support and relationship quality. Ageing & Society, 29(05), 783-802. doi: 10.1017/s0144686x09008514.

Merrill, D. (1997). Caring for elderly parents: juggling work, family, and caregiving in middle and working class families. Westport: Auburn House/Greenwood.

Silverstein, M., & Giarrusso, R. (2010). Aging and Family Life: A Decade Review. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72(5), 1039-1058. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3737.2010.00749.x

Alcohol use and relationships

Introduction

Alcohol can be an enjoyable component of social occasions and time spent with family and friends if consumed responsibly.  However, it is now commonly recognised that excessive drinking has the potential to negatively impact health and wellbeing, and family relationships.

According to the Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol, for healthy men and women, drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day reduces the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury.  For healthy men and women, drinking no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion reduces the risk of alcohol related injury arising from that occasion.  About 1 in 4 people who regularly exceed alcohol guidelines already has an alcohol use disorder, and the remaining people exceeding these limits are at greater risk of developing alcohol-related problems.

Alcohol misuse can significantly increase the stress within a family, whether the person drinking is a parent, child or extended family member. Common family problems related to alcohol abuse include increased arguments about drinking or things related to drinking, such as not taking care of responsibilities in the home and neglecting family relationships, and increased family violence.  It is also well established that alcohol abuse can lead to serious financial problems, due to the actual money spent on alcohol, lost productivity at work and decreased inhibitions when spending money.

Recent critiques of alcohol consumption in Australia have emphasised the harms of an ‘excessive drinking culture’ that is embedded in Australian society.  The focus of Relationships Australia’s October 2018 online survey was to examine the alcohol use of visitors to our website and report on harms that survey respondents may have experienced in their own lives.

Previous research finds that…

  • 24 percent of Australian men exceeded the lifetime risk guidelines for alcohol intake in 2016‑17. One in three Australian females drink at levels harmful to their health.
  • Alcohol is a factor in close to half of all physical and sexual assaults against women.
  • Children whose parents abuse alcohol are more than four times more likely to be neglected, and almost three times more likely to be sexually assaulted than children of parents who do not abuse alcohol.
  • 82% of 12–17 year olds reported abstaining from alcohol in 2016; a significant increase from 72% in 2013.

Results

More than 1300 people responded to the Relationships Australia online survey in July 2018. Three quarters (77%) of respondents identified as female, with more female than male respondents in every age group (see Figure 1 below).  More than 85 per cent of survey respondents were aged between 20-59 years, and more than 55 per cent of respondents comprised women aged between 30-49 years (inclusive).

As for previous surveys, the demographic profile of survey respondents remains consistent with our experience of the groups of people that would be accessing the Relationships Australia website.

Most survey respondents reported that they drink alcohol, at least occasionally.  Around one-quarter of men and one-sixth of women consume alcohol four or more days a week (figure 2).

Almost 40% of female survey respondent reported that their partners consumed alcohol four or more days per week, while fewer than 20% of male respondents reported their partners drank alcohol this frequently (figure 3).

Both men and women were most likely to report unwinding or relaxing as the main reason they consumed alcohol (figure 4), followed by ‘I liking drinking’.  One-fifth (18%) of women and 14% of men reported the main reason for consuming alcohol was because it is expected in a situation.

More than 20% of men and 25% of women reported that alcohol always or often increases the frequency of family arguments (figure 5).

Other harms caused by a partner’s drinking included emotional damage such as hurt, neglect or embarrassment; family breakdown; financial stress; and their partner failing to meet their obligations (table 1).

Table 1. Harms due to partner’s drinking, past 12 months

HarmWomen %Men%
Been emotionally hurt, embarrassed or neglected2519
Stopped seeing your partner/broken up/separated69
Failed to do something you were/your partner was being counted on to do710
Felt threatened64
Broke or damaged something important35
Been negatively affected on a social occasion99
Had a serious argument (excluding physical violence)1214
Experienced financial stress88

Commonly reported sources of help for excessive drinking reported by survey respondents included family and friends (women – 34%; men – 26%); GPs (women – 18%; men – 19%) and counsellors/psychologists (women – 20%; men – 21%).

References

Australian Government (2017). National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) 2016—key findings. [online] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Available at: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/illicit-use-of-drugs/ndshs-2016-key-findings/contents/alcohol-use

www.aamft.org/Consumer_Updates/Substance_Abuse_and_Intimate_Relationships.aspx

www.aihw.gov.au/reports-statistics/behaviours-risk-factors/alcohol/overview

www.nhmrc.gov.au/about-us/publications/australian-guidelines-reduce-health-risks-drinking-alcohol#block-views-block-file-attachments-content-block-1

www.rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/How-much-is-too-much/Is-your-drinking-pattern-risky/Whats-At-Risk-Or-Heavy-Drinking.aspx.

Hearing the voices of children in family disputes

Introduction

From its commencement, the Family Law Act 1975 has sought to promote the best interests of children. The Actfocuses on the rights of children and the responsibilities that each parent has towards their children, rather than on parental rights, with the aim of ensuring children can enjoy a meaningful relationship with each of their parents, and are protected from harm.  The family law system helps people resolve the legal aspects of family relationship issues, including family relationship breakdown, and encourages people to agree on arrangements without going to court.

However, despite its focus on children’s interests, experts and scholar have argued that the family law system has not always been good at finding the safest and most effective ways of hearing children’s voices (see for example, Kaspiew et. al. 2014).  In 2017, the Australian Government announced its intention to direct the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) to “conduct the first comprehensive review into the family law system since the commencement of the Family Law Act in 1976, with a view to making necessary reforms to ensure the family law system meets the contemporary needs of families and effectively addresses family violence and child abuse” (ALRC, 2017).  One of the terms of reference is for the ALRC to consider the paramount importance of protecting the needs of the children of separating families.

With a view to understanding the contemporary opinions of visitors to our website, the focus of Relationships Australia’s September 2018 online survey was on capturing the voices of children in family disputes.

Previous research finds that…

  • Only 44% of mothers and fathers agreed that that the family law system meets the needs of children, just under half of all parents agreed that the system effectively protects the safety of children, and just over two-fifths of all parents agreed the system effectively helps parents find the best outcome for their children (AIFS, 2012)
  • High conflict divorce on children roughly doubles the rate of emotional and behavioural adjustment problems in children (Savard & Zaouche, 2014)

Results

Around 950 people responded to the Relationships Australia monthly online survey in September 2018.  More than three-quarters (76%) of respondents identified as female, with more female than male respondents in every age group (see Figure 1 below). Just under 85 per cent of respondents were aged between 20-59 years, and more than half (52%) comprised women aged 20-49 years. As for previous surveys, the demographic profile of survey respondents remains consistent with our experience of the groups of people that would be accessing the Relationships Australia website.

A substantial majority of survey respondents reported that they (women – 92%; men – 88%) believed children should have a right to express their own views and opinions in family disputes.

There were significant differences in the reports of men and women when survey respondents were asked their opinion on the types of participation that would be appropriate for children.  A substantial majority of men (92%) and women (94%) considered that children should directly participate in mediation and other forms of out-of-court family dispute resolution.  One third of male and female survey respondents reported that children should directly participate in mediation or other forms of out-of-court family disputes without the need to consider age or maturity (figure 2).  Men were more likely than women to agree that children should directly participate if they were a certain age or maturity (men – 40%; women – 32%), while women were more likely than men to report that children should only participate indirectly such as through a report from a child psychologist or youth worker (men – 28%; women – 21%).

A smaller, but substantial, majority of men (86%) and women (89%) reported that they considered children should directly participate in Family Law Court proceedings.  Just under one-quarter of survey respondents reported that children should be given the chance to directly participate in Family Law Court proceedings regardless of age or maturity (figure 3).  Men were more likely than women to agree that children should participate directly if they were a certain age or maturity (men – 36%; women – 28%), while women were more likely than men to report that children should only participate indirectly such as through a report from a child psychologist or youth worker (men – 29%; women – 38%).

The monthly survey asked respondents to consider the age at which they considered children’s views and opinions should be validly taken into account in resolving family disputes.  One quarter of survey respondents reported that children’s views and opinions should only be taken into account if they were aged over five years.  Just under one quarter (22%) thought that children’s opinions should be taken into account if they were aged over ten years, while more than one quarter of survey respondents thought that the decision to take a child’s opinions into account should depend on the individual child (27%).

More than fifty per cent of survey respondents thought that people working with children during family disputes should be a psychologist or social worker with experience and skills in working with children.  More than thirteen per cent thought the minimum requirement should be a three-year psychology or social work degree and a further ten per cent reported that people working with children during family disputes should have a minimum of five years’ experience in working with children.  Only six per cent of survey respondents considered a legal or dispute resolution qualification was sufficient (table 1).

Table 1. Reports on the desired qualifications and skills of people working with children in family disputes.

Qualifications and skills of workers%*
Working with vulnerable people police check6
At least 2 years’ experience working with children9
At least 5 years’ experience working with children10
Psychology or social work diploma (2 years)8
Psychology or social work degree (3 years)13
Legal or dispute resolution qualification6
Psychologist or social worker with experience and skills in working with children51
Other6

*respondents may have chosen more than one qualification/skill

References

Australian Law Reform Commission. (2017).  Rview of the Family Law System.  https://www.alrc.gov.au/inquiries/family-law-system

Rae Kaspiew, Rachel Carson, Sharnee Moore, John De Maio, Julie Deblaquiere and Briony Horsfall. (2014).  Independent Children’s Lawyers Study, Final Report, 2nd edition

Rae Kaspiew, Rachel Carson, Jessie Dunstan, Lixia Qu, Briony Horsfall, John Maio, Sharnee Moore, Lawrie Moloney, Melissa Coulson and Sarah Tayton, (2012). Synthesis report – Evaluation of the 2012 Family Violence Amendments, AIFS

Savard, N., & Zaouche G., C. (2014). Violence conjugale, stress maternel et développement de l’enfant [Domestic violence, maternal stress and child development]. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science / Revue canadienne des sciences du comportement, 46(2), 216-225. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0030622

Bullying in schools

Introduction

The national definition of bullying for Australian schools defines bullying as an ongoing misuse of power in relationships through repeated verbal, physical and/or social behaviour that causes physical and/or psychological harm (Dept. of Education, 2015). 

Three main types of bullying are commonly identified: overt bullying, which includes visible physical or verbal bullying, or exclusion; covert bullying, which is not as easily identified and includes the spreading of rumours; and cyber bullying, a newer form of bullying that is facilitated by increased use of social media.

The term bullying is sometimes confused with harassment and discrimination, but while there is some overlap, the difference is that bullying happens within social relationships, featuring repeated and harmful behaviours that stem from a misuse of power.  Research finds a complex relationship between perpetrators and victims of these behaviours, with a portion of students acting as ‘bully-victims’ who are both victim to and perpetrators of bullying at different stages.

Bullying has been found to adversely impact both bullies and victims.  Bullies, for example, are at higher risk of substance abuse, depression, anxiety and hostility than non-bullies.  For bullying victims, being targeted can result in increased suicide risk, depression, poor school performance and physical health, and low self-esteem.  Further, the impact of bullying in childhood may last for many years (Alannah & Madeline Foundation, 2018), with direct and diverse effects of bullying evident long after schooling is complete.  Children who are both victims and perpetrators of bullying often suffer the worst effects (Copeland et al. 2013).

In March 2018 Relationships Australia explored aspects of bullying in schools via the monthly online survey by asking visitors to our website a series of questions about their opinions and awareness of bullying, along with avenues they might source if they needed help.

Previous research finds that

  • The annual economic impact of bullying in Australia totals an estimated $2.3 billion, incurred while children are in school and for 20 years after school completion
  • Almost 25 % of school students in Australia, or an estimated 910,000 children, experience bullying at some stage during their time in school
  • It has been estimated that there are around 45 million bullying incidents across all schools each year, instigated by around 543,000 perpetrators
  • There are an estimated 218,000 victims

Results

More than 1,200 people responded to the Relationships Australia online survey in March 2018.  Around three-quarters of survey respondents (76%) identified as female, with more females than males responding in every age group (figure 1).  Four-fifths (79%) of survey respondents were aged between 20‑59 years, and more than 50% of respondents comprised women aged between 30‑49 years (inclusive).

As for previous surveys, the demographic profile of survey respondents remains consistent with our experience of the groups of people that would be accessing the Relationships Australia website.

Almost all survey respondents thought that bullying was a problem in schools (see figure 2).  More than 65% of female survey respondents and 53% of male survey respondents reported that bullying in schools was a big problem.

Survey respondents were asked which types of bullying they considered caused the most harm to children. Options include physical bullying (pushing, tripping, hitting or damaging or stealing property); verbal (name-calling, hurtful teasing, insults or humiliating or threatening someone); social (excluding someone from a group or an activity, gossiping or spreading rumours about someone); or electronic (using the internet or a mobile phone or device to send e-mails, text messages or pictures to threaten someone or hurt their feelings).  More than three-quarters of female survey respondents and 60% of male respondents reported all types of bullying caused harm to children.  The next most commonly reported type of bullying causing harm was social bullying (figure 3).

Figure 4 shows that schools are commonly where people seek help for bullying, with almost 50% of men and women reporting that they would seek help from the school if they were worried that a child was being bullied.  Almost 50% of women and one-third of men would seek help from a variety of sources, including schools, if they were worried that a child was being bullied.

Infidelity

Introduction

Infidelity is commonly defined as being unfaithful in a married or committed relationship.  It can include a range of behaviour such as emotional and sexual infidelity, and inappropriate physical contact.

Research suggests that emotional affairs are more common than sexual affairs.  This may be because the person engaging in the behaviour does not perceive the behaviour as infidelity.  However, if one partner is getting their emotional needs satisfied outside of the marriage and thinks more about the other person than their partner, the behaviour may be considered as being unfaithful.  According to a one study, women are more hurt by emotional infidelity, while men are more hurt when the infidelity is sexual.  The study asked 64,000 people whether they would be more upset by their partner having sex with someone else without falling in love with them, or falling in love with someone else but not having sex with them.  More than half of heterosexual men surveyed would rather have their girlfriend fall in love with someone instead of having sex with them, while only 35 per cent of women felt the same way.

While the prevalence of infidelity is difficult to measure, rates have been found to vary by country and culture.  In one study, for example, 59 per cent of Italian men and 35 per cent of Italian women admit to betraying a spouse or partner at least once, while, almost half of British men and one-fifth of British women admit to cheating on their partner at least once.

In Australia, while societal norms around relationships are changing, some authors argue that the overwhelming majority of people have the expectation of fidelity of sexual and emotional connection in committed relationships.  In furthering our understanding of the relationship expectations of people accessing Relationships Australia’s website, in January 2018, Relationships Australia’s monthly online survey asked visitors to our website to report on their understanding of infidelity.

Previous research finds that…

  • The most common reason for infidelity cited by women is emotional satisfaction, while men cite sexual satisfaction.
  • Affluent women are 8 per cent more likely to be unfaithful to their husbands than middle class wives, while the prevalence of infidelity for poor and rich men is equal.
  • People who are unfaithful in one relationship are three times more likely to be unfaithful in their next relationship, compared to those who have not been unfaithful in the first one.

Results

Approximately 1800 people responded to Relationships Australia’s online survey in January 2018.  Three‑quarters (76%) of survey respondents identified as female, with more females than males responding in every age group (figure 1).  Eighty-nine per cent of survey respondents were aged between 20 to 59 years, and more than half (56%) of respondents comprised women aged between 30 to 49 years (inclusive).

As for previous surveys, the demographic profile of survey respondents remains consistent with our experience of the groups of people that are accessing the Relationships Australia website.