Research News Issue 36



Author:  Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs

 Table of contents

ISSN: 1835–5633
Research and Analysis Branch
Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs
PO Box 7576
Canberra Business Centre ACT 2610

Editorial enquiries:
tel: (02) 6244 5458
fax: (02) 6133 8387

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Social Policy Research Workshop 

The ninth annual Social Policy Research workshop, hosted by Research and Analysis Branch, was held at FaHCSIA national office on 30 November and 1 December 2009.

FaHCSIA's Secretary, Dr Jeff Harmer, opened the workshop and Deputy Secretary Serena Wilson then delivered a presentation on 'Evidence and policy-making'. Ms Wilson explained that the key to evidence-based policy is ongoing dialogue between researchers and policy makers.

Ms Wilson discussed the Paid Parental Leave Scheme as a good example of successful evidence-based policy development. The scheme was developed using evidence from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey, the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, and data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Australian mothers with young children, who generally have had low employment levels, were shown to have a greater attachment to the work force if they had access to paid parental leave. Furthermore, paid parental leave also enabled mothers to not return to work too early, which has been shown to have adverse effects on child and maternal wellbeing.

The two-day workshop was split into a number of sessions, corresponding with FaHCSIA's outcome themes.


The first session, on families, began with a presentation from Ms Lynne Pezzullo, Director, Access Economics on a 'Scoping study into the economic value of positive family functioning'.

The scoping study aimed to determine the feasibility of a full study quantifying the goods and services produced from positive family functioning. It also aimed to determine the methodologies for measuring the benefits of positive family functioning and for conducting cost-benefit analyses aimed at improving family functioning.

Six domains of family functioning were identified: emotional, governance, engagement and cognitive development, physical health, intra-familial relationships, and social connectivity. Three broad types of outcomes were identified: health, productivity and criminality. The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children and the Australian Temperament Project show promise as data sources for a full study. These longitudinal studies would be overlaid as they cover different age cohorts and would enable the development of a powerful tool for evaluations and cost benefit/effectiveness analyses.

Ms Lorraine Thomson, from the Institute of Child Protection Studies, Australian Catholic University, spoke on 'Getting what we need: families' experiences of support services'. This qualitative research study was based on 80 interviews of parents receiving parenting payments (single or couple) or a disability pension to discover what they identify as their needs, what formal and informal supports they draw on, and what their experiences of accessing and utilising formal support services are like. The most frequently reported difficulty was not having enough money. Other difficulties included housing; balancing parenting and work; having worries about children; having recently arrived in Australia; experiencing domestic violence; and having mental health issues.

The most common barrier to supports and services was not knowing how to access them; however, other barriers included: cost; waiting time; unequal treatment; humiliation or fear; and having to repeatedly retell experiences. Practical issues could also cause difficulties, such as opening hours of the services and the availability of transport. Nonetheless, parents did report a range of positive experiences when accessing supports and services.

Recommendations from the research included building on informal networks and supports; focusing on meeting children's basic needs; increased collaboration for dealing with complex issues; and adopting more flexible procedures.

Dr Bruce Smyth, from the Australian Demographic and Social Research Institute, Australian National University (ANU), delivered a presentation titled 'Do quality relationships really lead to quality outcomes for children and parents after divorce? Recent evidence from the child support reform study'. The research was a collaborative effort with researchers from the ANU, FaHCSIA and the Child Support Agency.

The research study, which is still in progress, is examining the pre and post child support reform circumstances of separated families, and exploring the dynamics of change as families moved from the old to the new system. Approximately 5,000 Child Support Agency clients were interviewed prior to child support reform in 2008, then again in mid-2009, one year after the reform. The clients will be interviewed again in mid-2011.

The key domains of interest are: parenting time and parental responsibility; financial arrangements and transfers; the nexus between child support and parenting time; perceptions of fairness; family dynamics; and child and parent wellbeing. Preliminary glimpses at the data have revealed that, among other findings, the relationship between separated parents is increasingly likely to become distant and less likely to involve conflict as time elapses post-separation.

Ms Lynne Pezzullo, Director, Access Economics

Ms Lynne Pezzullo, Director, Access Economics

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Disability and carers

The second session contained three speakers on the topic of disability and carers. Professor Bettina Cass and Dr Trish Hill, from the Social Policy Research Centre (SPRC), University of New South Wales (UNSW), spoke about findings from the Indigenous Carers Project. A review of the existing studies showed that alongside poorer health and higher rates of disability of Indigenous Australians at younger ages are the higher rates of informal care provision in Indigenous households and communities. Analysis of 2006 Census data also revealed a number of 'hidden' or 'potential' Indigenous carers who lived with another person with disability but did not indicate that they provided care. This may be explained by unfamiliarity with the concept of disability used in the statistics and welfare system.

The results suggested that both caring and potential caring are associated with additional disadvantages for the Indigenous population. The presentation also discussed the implications of the findings for further research and possible policy development.

Dr Christiane Purcal, also from the SPRC, UNSW, talked about the 'Effectiveness of individualised funding approaches for disability support'. Individual funding involves portable packages that facilitate consumer control about how disability support funds are spent. The research involved data analysis of the Commonwealth, State and Territory Disability Agreement (CSTDA) National Minimum Dataset, interviews with policy officials from all states and territories, case studies with 10 disability service providers, and questionnaires for people with disability and service providers. People were more likely to receive individual funding if they: were male, were of working age, were non-Indigenous, had a learning disability or ADD, had one disability, did not have an informal carer, and/or had lower support needs. The results suggested that the average management costs of individual funding are similar to other approaches and the overall total costs to government did not increase, while most users of the approach were happier and healthier. Dr Purcal concluded that individual funding approaches are an effective way of organising disability support.

Another paper on disability, 'Regional living and community participation: are people with disability at a disadvantage?', was presented by Dr Samara McPhedran, from FaHCSIA. Using Wave 6 of the HILDA survey, the paper investigated whether health-related disadvantage is compounded by locational disadvantage (double disadvantage) to affect the social connectedness of prime working-age people (aged 18–45 years). The research found that people with disability in regional Australia experienced greater relative disadvantage and reported lower levels of perceived social support compared to people with no disability. Irrespective of disability status, men in regional Australia reported lower levels of social support than women. However, engagement in community activities such as volunteering did not differ as a function of disability status. The research suggests potential avenues for further consideration in terms of strengthening social connectedness, and reducing the risk of social exclusion, among regional people with disability.

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Community capability and the vulnerable

The session on community capability and the vulnerable discussed a common theme of the importance of harnessing community capacity to work towards a solution.

Ms Natalie Jurisic, a Senior Research Consultant with the Cultural and Indigenous Research Centre Australia, presented the results of research into the development of culturally appropriate problem gambling services for Indigenous communities. The researchers found problem gambling in Indigenous communities was quite a different issue from the mainstream population and could be harder to identify. Barriers to seeking help are higher in Indigenous communities than in mainstream communities and no single style of intervention could be considered best practice. Ms Jurisic advised organisations to consider using a range of approaches—including investing in the development of culturally appropriate screening tools, recognising that services may need assistance with building relationships/networks with local communities, allowing greater flexibility in treatment methods and ensuring a more holistic approach to service delivery/promotion—to raise community awareness and consciousness of problem gambling with the aim of increasing service uptake.

Victor G Carrion MD, Director of the Stanford Early Life Stress Research Program, at the Stanford University School of Medicine, presented 'Lessons from Katrina: helping youth after a disaster'. Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, with millions of people displaced throughout the United States. Dr Carrion said that while not all children affected by disaster will develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, those who do may have elevated symptoms for years afterwards. A younger age, being female and continued disrepair of homes were all found to be predictors for elevated symptoms in youth exposed to Hurricane Katrina. Cue-centred therapy is an effective treatment but is expensive as it is done on an individual basis. Professor Carrion also compared the effects of Hurricane Katrina and the 2009 Victorian bushfires.

Outcomes of the Victorian bushfires were also discussed by Dr Margaret Grigg, Assistant Director, Victorian Bushfire Psychosocial Recovery Team, Victorian Department of Health. Dr Grigg's presentation, 'Psychosocial response to the bushfires: a policy perspective', discussed the principles and priorities that informed the government's response, such as integration of services, community involvement, sharing of information and the need for flexibility. Dr Grigg emphasised the need to invest in rebuilding the community and went on to speak of the challenges of coordinating and sustaining the response effort and said that the psychosocial recovery of communities was likely to take many years.

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Housing and homelessness

The session on housing and homelessness opened with a presentation from Dr Rachel Ong, Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) and Curtin University, entitled 'Factors shaping the decision to become a landlord and retain rental investments'. Highlighting the acute and ongoing shortage of private rental accommodation, Dr Ong explored the degree to which economic determinants affect decisions about investing in rental property. She sought to determine the role financial and monetary policy could have. Using HILDA data, Dr Ong's research tracked landlords over time, finding that one-quarter of all landlords were short-term and gave up their investment property within a year. A substantial number of investors were long term and maintained their rental property over the six waves of the HILDA survey. Several factors were related to investment retention. Retirement status had a particularly negative impact, but the main determinant of rental investment behaviour was the cost of capital. Dr Ong highlighted the potential role that tax and monetary policies could have on investors' willingness to invest and remain in the market.

Dr Paul Flatau, from AHURI and Murdoch University, followed on with a presentation on intergenerational homelessness in Australia. Despite an increasing amount of research on the intergenerational transmission of poverty, there are significant gaps in the literature on the prevalence, structure, dynamics and consequences of intergenerational homelessness. Dr Flatau presented an introductory exploration of the Intergenerational Homelessness Survey, currently in the process of data collection. This is a survey of clients, aged 18 years and over, of specialist homelessness agencies across Australia. The survey examines potential pathways into homelessness, and can be used to explore the experiences of homeless people as they were growing up. In particular, questions surrounding the early life risk factors associated with later life homelessness are addressed by the Intergenerational Homelessness Survey. Dr Flatau highlighted that such research is important in not only designing early intervention programs for people who experience homelessness, but also programs that focus on homelessness prevention.

'Future directions for home maintenance and modification services for older Australians' was a presentation by Professor Andrew Jones, AHURI Qld and University of Queensland. There is an emerging body of evidence concerning the outcomes of home maintenance and modification (HMM) services in Australia. Professor Jones discussed the need for a clear policy framework for HMM services. He noted that the lack of a framework has lead to problems in the overall organisation of services, highlighted by the absence of benchmarks for levels of service provision, disparities in service provision across Australia and underdeveloped linkages with the health system.

At the same time, Professor Jones emphasised that HMM services have great potential to address the needs of older Australians, partly due to a high level of satisfaction among service users. Highlighting innovative service models, such as the Queensland Government's Home Assist Secure Program, Professor Jones mentioned the possibility of replicating such service provision across Australia. He concluded by emphasising the important role that HMM services play in responding to an ageing population.

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Session 5 consisted of three presentations relating to the underlying structural system of finances for seniors. This research helps to provide a greater understanding of income and consumption patterns and will assist in understanding the requirements of future retirement systems.

The first presenter was Associate Professor Garry Barrett, from the School of Economics, UNSW. Using the HILDA dataset, Associate Professor Barrett provided results of research into the retirement consumption puzzle in the Australian context. The consumption puzzle derives from the theory that retirees will try to smooth any shocks to their income patterns through savings or credit so that their current expenditure patterns can be maintained. The puzzle is that this theory does not generally appear to hold true.

A focus of the research study was to compare outcomes for 'voluntary' and 'involuntary' retirees. For the majority of voluntary retirees, changes in consumption occur after retirement but this does not result in reduced wellbeing. Involuntary retirees, however, experienced substantial decreases in all aspects of wellbeing.

Dr Bruce Bradbury, from the SPRC, UNSW, presented research on 'Housing costs and living standards among the elderly'. Dr Bradbury explored how the living standards of the elderly in Australia have changed over time. The main findings of the study were that over the last 20 years, there has been a widening in the inequality at the bottom end of the wealth distribution. It also found that over periods of high economic growth, income for the elderly dropped slightly.

Dr Chris Ryan, from the Social Policy Evaluation, Analysis and Research Centre, ANU, presented 'Estimating future wealth of cohorts approaching retirement'. Predicting the potential number of future retirees and the extent of government financial assistance they will require will have major policy and budgetary implications for the future. The focus of Dr Ryan's presentation was on the estimation of the future wealth of cohorts approaching retirement. The study used the HILDA dataset and analysed the wealth accumulation patterns for different age cohorts, and for different wealth distribution cohorts.

The study found that accumulation patterns were consistent across age cohorts and wealth distributions. The implications of the study were that for greater future financial retirement independence, incentives were less important than establishing good asset or growth pathways early in life.

Dr Bruce Bradbury, SPRC, UNSW

Dr Bruce Bradbury, SPRC, UNSW

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Session 6 of the workshop focused on women. Dr Antonia Quadara, from the Australian Institute of Family Studies started the session with a presentation entitled 'What can victims/survivors tell us about sexual offending?' At the moment, most knowledge about sexual offenders is drawn from the small percentages that end up convicted. These are usually those that were violent strangers, but are not necessarily representative cases. This research is a qualitative study of 33 women who experienced sexual violence.

All but four of the victims were attacked by someone they knew—partners, husbands, ex-partners, friends. The research took this as an indication that trust is a resource cultivated by the perpetrators to enable assault, and can take years to develop. In the victims this led to self-doubt and in some, the feeling they were going mad. Offenders cultivate community and social standing, making it difficult for the women to speak out without being marginalised or undermined. The attacks were often so embedded in normal/social culture that women struggled to explain it. Some victims felt that the perpetrator was so efficient or effective that it was 'par for the course': the perpetrator considered it normal sexuality.

Dr Rochelle Braaf, Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse, presented research on 'Investigating financial security for women affected by domestic violence'. The goal of the research was to promote safety and investigate how domestic violence can undermine financial security. The study took place in Queensland, South Australia and Victoria and combined quantitative and qualitative methods, using focus groups, meetings and forums with staff of service organisations.

The study found that victims had a history of unemployment and were often denied access to bank loans and information about accounts. They were disadvantaged in negotiations and if they were refugees, were often afraid to access services. Women defined financial security quite modestly: feeling empowered, meeting day-to-day needs, having control of own finances, not having to worry about money, and being independent from family, ex-partner, or government. Most women were very financially literate, but lacked resources or had to deal with partner-incurred debt.

There is often a perception that once out of the immediate relationship, women can move on with their lives. But often the abuse continues for years afterwards, with fresh violence, stalking and threats.

Advocacy was important for dealing with trauma as well as helping those with disability, limited English, no visa status, and other factors that served to marginalise victims further.

The final presentation in the session on women's issues was 'Work and family life: Australia in comparative perspective', presented by Dr Lyn Craig, SPRC, UNSW. How families share work and care responsibilities is seen as a matter for individual choice, but work and social norms define the landscape in which choices are made and valued. Without support and choice, carer status tends to revert to women.

This study compared the United States (US), Italy, Australia, France and Denmark. Dr Craig looked at the different time-use patterns in each of these countries to see the effect of policy and cultural differences, using national time-use data from each country.

Combined workloads are highest in the US and Australia. In all countries, having children has a much bigger effect on mothers than on fathers, especially in Australia and the US. Italy, the US and Australia had the most unequal family division of labour.

If mothers are in paid work, fathers contribute a little more unpaid work, but not commensurate with the amount of time mothers spend in paid and unpaid work. Parenthood exacerbates gendered division of labour.

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Indigenous Australians

Indigenous Australians were the focus of the seventh session of the workshop. '”Disadvantage” or “poverty”? The absence of a development approach in Indigenous affairs policies' was the first presentation, by Professor Marcia Langton, Chair of Australian Indigenous Studies, University of Melbourne. Professor Langton drew on Amartya Sen's capabilities approach, social choice theory and work on international welfare, arguing for a classical international development approach to address poverty, or the deprivation of capability, among Indigenous Australians. She contrasted this to an 'exceptionalist', theoretical approach, which she asserted that the public sector tends to take, based on a disadvantage paradigm. Analysis of agreements between Indigenous landowners and mining companies showed that, in the minority of cases where agreements were benefiting the former, mining companies were pragmatically building Indigenous capability as part of their core business, using approaches similar to those applied in the developing world. Professor Langton asserted that models other than cash payments and charitable trusts were needed for effective, long-term, downstream economic development.

Frances P Byers and Kim Grey, Office of Indigenous Policy Coordination, FaHCSIA, presented 'Social norms and Cape York welfare reform'. The theory that social norms influence decisions and behaviour has been applied in a range of policy areas. The presenters showed how the Cape York Welfare Reform trials have aimed to cultivate positive social norms. Members of Indigenous communities are influenced to improve levels of care for children and move from welfare dependence to engagement with the real economy. The presenters described an evaluation of a particular policy intervention with this goal, the Queensland Family Responsibilities Commission (FRC).

The FRC provides a forum where local elders and a former magistrate reach agreements about changed behaviours, and develop case plans that set out referrals to support services. This includes budgeting assistance, case management for school attendance and counselling for drug and alcohol addiction.

The final session on Indigenous Australians was 'Windows onto Indigenous temporary population mobility: lessons from the West Kimberley', presented by Dr Sarah Prout, from the ANU's Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research. Dr Prout demonstrated the need for a framework to understand and describe Indigenous population dynamics in terms of stocks and flows, seasonality, motivations, destinations and other factors and characteristics. The study began developing a framework, using school attendance records to show how Indigenous temporary mobility practices interface with large regional service centres. The existing research and data sources, although limited and in some ways unsuitable for this type of analysis, indicate that many Indigenous people undertake regular, short-term movements, often through regional centres. The study has shown how this mobility can be analysed in detail, as it affects continuity of service delivery, resource allocation, the defining of service catchments and the measurement of outcomes and gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations. Dr Prout further suggested that this type of research is ultimately important because cultural assumptions shape the relationship between the state and its citizens.

The final session of the workshop focused on cross-outcome topics. Ms Sue Taylor, Social and Progress Reporting, Australian Bureau of Statistics, presented on the topic 'Current Australian social trends within the FaHCSIA policy portfolio'. Ms Taylor outlined some interesting trends, such as:

  • Fertility is below replacement levels, but has been increasing over the last couple of years.
  • Household and family projections indicate that there will be greater number of lone-person families and families without children by the year 2025.
  • The number of jobless families have declined since 1997.
  • In August 2008, nearly 50 per cent of women were entitled to maternity leave.
  • Caring trends for men and women are different, with women partaking in caring across their life and men more likely to care in older age groups.
  • There was a decrease in Indigenous people aged 15 years and over living in houses with structural damage between 2002 and 2008 (from 38 per cent to 28 per cent).
  • Over three-quarters of Indigenous children aged 0 to 3 years were breastfed.

Dr Andrea Lanyon, Social Policy Group, FaHCSIA, presented the findings from the 'Analysis of FaHCSIA's evaluation effort and cross-outcome issues 2005–09'. Dr Lanyon noted that across the last six years, there has been a significant increase of investment in evaluations of Indigenous-specific strategies, program and services. She outlined the importance of, and successes and challenges faced in integration, coordination, collaboration and networking. The challenges were identified at the service and individual levels, as well as within and between government agencies and cross-sector.

The findings consistently show that building on local connections can assist in ensuring flexibility and sustainability of programs. For example, the efficiency and effectiveness of programs is often greater when leveraged off investment in community organisations that have an established presence and understanding of local issues. Dr Lanyon discussed the value of and challenges in ensuring flexibility of program design, including funding and service delivery. This was consistently highlighted for programs and services that aimed to strengthen the capacity of a community to address its own needs or respond to complex needs clients. The difficulty in achieving access to services/programs for hard-to-reach groups and people in rural and remote areas was also apparent across the evaluations. However, the reviews found there were a number of enabling factors that promote access, for example, collocation of services, interpreter services and transport. Dr Lanyon emphasised that data quality and consistency are critical for reporting, planning and ongoing review, and it also assists with information sharing and stakeholder engagement.

Dr Sarah Prout, ANU, Ms Lynne Curran, FaHCSIA, Ms Kim Grey, FaHCSIA, Ms Frances P Byers, FaHCSIA, Professor Marcia Langton

Dr Sarah Prout, ANU, Ms Lynne Curran, FaHCSIA, Ms Kim Grey, FaHCSIA, Ms Frances P Byers, FaHCSIA, Professor Marcia Langton

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National Housing Supply Council 

Over the past decade house prices have risen sharply, reflecting the fact that the supply of housing has not kept pace with demand. At the same time, rental vacancy rates are improving but remain low (see Figure 1) and more households are in housing stress. 1

Figure 1: Average quarterly vacancy rate

Figure 1: Average quarterly vacancy rate

Source: REIA 'Real Estate Market Facts—June Quarter 2009', p. 8

One of the key levers for governments to improve housing affordability is increasing the supply of housing (or, at least, stimulating the conditions for greater supply). As a result, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) has introduced a range of housing and planning reform measures, including increasing the supply of social and affordable rental housing.

As part of the reform agenda, COAG established the National Affordable Housing Agreement framework for all areas of government to work together to improve housing affordability and improve homelessness outcomes. The National Housing Supply Council, as part of this framework, will build a national evidence base on land supply. The council has also been tasked with providing advice to government on a 20 year horizon on factors affecting the supply of housing. This will include the effects of an ageing population, internal and overseas migration, family separation, skill shortages and planning delays.

The council's first State of Supply Report 2008 was released in March 2009, outlining its demand and supply projections to 2028. The second State of Supply Report will be available in March 2010.

Key findings of the council's first report

The State of Supply Report 2008 focused on:

  • projections of underlying demand and of land and housing supply from 2008 to 2028
  • the gap between housing demand and supply, with particular attention on consequential affordability issues for lower income households
  • a number of current influences on supply and demand, as well as the need for research to better understand how these impact on the housing market
  • discussion of data collection and methodology, including the need for more sophisticated modelling and improved data collection and analysis, particularly on land supply for residential development.

Demand for housing

The State of Supply Report 2008 demand projections demonstrated that present levels of dwelling production are not high enough to meet Australia's emerging housing needs. Projections commissioned from the Australian Demographic and Social Research Institute (ADSRI) 2  found that underlying demand for dwellings would grow by about 3 million over the period 2008 to 2028, with a net increase of 2.7 million dwellings expected over the period 2008 to 2028. 3

Supply of housing

New supply in any given year is primarily the result of development planning and approval processes in previous years. So the projection of future supply is complex and not a simple addition of all the elements.

Two methods were used to estimate the future supply of housing in the report. They were:

  • the trend in growth of aggregate housing supply since 1980
  • information provided to the council by state and territory planning agencies on the land and dwelling supply pipeline in major cities.

As a starting point for the projections of supply, the stock of private dwellings in Australia was estimated to be 8,860,000 in June 2008. The following supply projections of construction activity are based on the trend line for Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data on completions (less demolitions) over the period 1 July 1980 to 31 December 2007. 4  Figure 2 shows that 142,000 dwellings are projected to be completed by 2027–28.

Figure 2: Projected dwelling yield. 5

Figure 2: Projected dwelling yield

These estimates are affected by demolitions of housing stock and infill development (that is, the development of housing on an existing block that contributes to the supply of housing); as such, the council will revise its supply projections in future reports as well as refining its methodology.

The demand/supply gap

The housing shortfall in 2008 was estimated at 85,000 dwellings and was based on the incidence of homelessness and level of vacancy rates in the private rental market. A unique feature of the 2008 State of Supply Report was the projection of this housing shortfall to 2028. Based on the assumption of net overseas migration of 180,000 each year, the shortfall would rise to 431,000 dwellings, if the market did not respond with additional supply. It is important to note that these projections present a view of the world based on current trends rather than provide an indefinite view of the future.


One of the major consequences of demand/supply gaps (discussed above) is higher house prices and rent levels, if supply remains relatively fixed. At the moment, the gap between demand and supply (particularly at the lower end of the rental market), leads to increased levels of housing stress.

The 2008 State of Supply Report found:

  • Housing affordability for first home buyers and private renters declined over the decade to 2008.
  • In 2005–06, there were 280,000 home buyers in so-called 'housing stress'. Of these 131,000 had housing costs that exceeded 50 per cent of their household income.
  • In every state capital, vacancy rates in the private rental market have been lower than 3 per cent since 2005, and real rents have increased dramatically in the past two years.

More commentary about affordability and updated findings will be available in the 2010 State of Supply Report.

The 2010 State of Supply Report

The 2nd State of Supply Report (2010) will not only update demand and supply projections and indicators from 2008 as well as the evidence on affordability, but will also focus on topical housing market issues. For instance, the 2010 report will consider the implications of the global financial crisis for the housing market.

Please contact the National Housing Supply Council Secretariat on tel (02) 6102 7340 to secure a copy of the 2010 State of Supply Report.

A copy of the 2008 State of Supply Report can be found on the FaHCSIA website.

  1. Housing stress is largely subjective based on people's experiences of managing housing costs (Yates & Milligan 2007) and/or material hardship. Applying the 30/40 rule, that is, households in the bottom 40 per cent of the income distribution spend more than 30 per cent of their income on housing costs, data from the 2002–03 Survey of Income and Housing show that just over 11 per cent of all households (and 28 per cent of all lower income households) were paying at least 30 per cent of their gross income on housing costs (Yates & Gabriel 2006).
  2. Further information about the demand projections can be found at the FaHCSIA website.
  3. These findings were calculated using a medium level migration assumption of 180,000 Net Overseas Migration (NOM). This aligns to the assumptions used by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in their projections of households and population growth. The council also models projections based on a low migration assumption of 100,000 NOM and a high migration assumption of 230,000 NOM to account for possible policy changes to migration intake numbers.
  4. Based on a medium NOM assumption of 180,000.
  5. Expected net additions, per year
    2009–10 130,000
    2012–13 132,000
    2017–18 135,000
    2027–28 142,000

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Closing the Gap Clearinghouse 

A new clearinghouse website is now available to provide reliable evidence and information on best practice and success factors for overcoming Indigenous disadvantage.

The clearinghouse was established following agreement by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in April 2007 on the need for a national clearinghouse for reliable evidence and information on best practice and success factors for overcoming Indigenous disadvantage.

The clearinghouse is jointly funded by all Australian Governments and is delivered by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) in collaboration with the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS).

The clearinghouse website provides access to a collection of quality information on what works to overcome Indigenous disadvantage. This will provide policy makers and program managers with an evidence base for addressing Indigenous disadvantage and related Indigenous reforms. Indigenous Australians will benefit through the delivery of policies and services that address Indigenous disadvantage more effectively.

The specific objectives of the clearinghouse are to:

  • build an evidence base for what works to close the gap in Indigenous disadvantage
  • improve access by policy makers, service providers, Indigenous communities, and the general public to evidence on best practice and success factors to close the gap in Indigenous disadvantage
  • rigorously assess the quality of evidence for policies and activities aimed at closing the gap in Indigenous disadvantage
  • contribute to better coordination of research and evaluation efforts across Australia
  • identify the gaps in the available evidence on what works to close the gaps in Indigenous disadvantage.

Evidence collected by the clearinghouse will be able to inform policy processes and government activities related to COAG Indigenous reform targets. In its first year of operation it will address the following priority areas:

  • school readiness, including the health and learning aspects of early childhood development
  • early literacy and numeracy
  • school attendance and retention
  • participation in the labour force, particularly by urban/regional/remote
  • community safety
  • Indigenous mortality risk factors, particularly how policies and programs could address these in a culturally appropriate way.

The clearinghouse team and subject specialists will identify, collect and assess material according to these priorities.

What the clearinghouse provides

General collection

The general collection is a broad collection of material relating to the COAG building blocks and targets. It currently includes over 4,000 items, including research, evaluations and other reports.

The material in the general collection is catalogued, indexed and classified by subject, COAG building block, and type of publication, to enable effective searches to be done.

Quality assessed collection

A key feature of the clearinghouse is the quality assessed collection, which will hold research that has been assessed by experts. These assessments will enable users to understand the type and quality of research held by the clearinghouse.

The clearinghouse team has developed a formal quality assessment process and standards with guidance from a Scientific Reference Group and the Clearinghouse Board. Subject specialists will be asked to review identified research and evaluations to determine the quality of research. All items reviewed will have a quality assessment checklist which will give users information on the material they are accessing.

Online research and evaluation register

The clearinghouse website provides an online register of research and evaluations (both completed and currently underway) relevant to overcoming Indigenous disadvantage. This includes research directly relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, as well as studies with non-Indigenous Australians on topics relevant to Indigenous outcomes.

The register will allow government agencies and researchers to better coordinate their efforts by avoiding duplication and collaborating where possible. It will also allow governments and researchers to see where there is insufficient focus on particular topics.

Information about research and evaluations that are currently underway or have been completed in the last few years that are relevant to overcoming Indigenous disadvantage would be welcome. To contribute to the register, download and complete the proforma (28KB RTF) and email it to

Papers and summary sheets

Results of the quality assessments of relevant research and evaluations will be used to develop resources for distribution through the clearinghouse website. These resources include two issues papers and eight resource sheets to be commissioned in 2009–10.

Resource sheets are concise summaries, of approximately 2,000 words each, of what works to address specific issues relevant to overcoming Indigenous disadvantage. The focus of resource sheets will correspond with the six priority areas for the first year of the clearinghouse.

Issues papers will provide in-depth reviews of what works and the overall quality and breadth of the evidence on a particular priority topic. The first two issues papers will be on improving:

  • school attendance and retention
  • school readiness, including the health and learning aspects of early child development.

Identifying gaps in the available evidence and priorities for future research

As part of the quality assessment process and preparation of issues papers and resource sheets, subject specialists will identify gaps in the available research and evaluation evidence. Based on this, an annual paper on gaps in the available research and evaluation evidence and identifying priorities for future research will be produced. The online register will also assist with identifying the gaps and topics which are under or overrepresented.

Other resources

The clearinghouse will also provide:

  • four quarterly e-newsletters to provide updates about clearinghouse publications and additions to the online clearinghouse collection
  • links from the clearinghouse website to other clearinghouses and resources on relevant Indigenous policy issues
  • an event calendar on the website covering relevant events such as research, evaluation and policy conferences.

For more information about the clearinghouse, or help with accessing any of the above resources, contact the clearinghouse team at AIHW by tel 1800 035 938 or email

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Top 500 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Corporations 

The Registrar of Indigenous Corporations has released a research report entitled The Top 500 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander corporations, which examines the income and asset trends of the top 500 corporations registered under the Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Act 2006. This is the first such publication by the Australian Government and will be reported on annually.

The report found that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander corporations make a significant contribution to the national economy. The top 500 corporations generated $1.08 billion in income and employed nearly 7,000 people in 2007–08. In 2007–08 the average income generated by the top 500 corporations was $2.1 million, which is an increase from the 2004–05 average of $1.8 million, highlighting the growth of Indigenous corporations.

Figure 1: Changes in total income, assets and equity

Figure 1 shows the changes in total income, assets and equity generated by the top 500 corporations from the period 2004–05 to 2007–08.

More than 95 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander corporations are not for profit, community-controlled organisations that provide important services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities. The dominant sectors the top 500 corporations operate in are health and community services, employment and training, land management, education, housing, art centres, and municipal services.

Figure 2: Number of corporations operating in each sector 2007—08

Figure 2 shows the number of corporations operating in each sector. The dominant sectors include:    Health and community services—232  Employment and training—135  Land management—94   Education—90  Housing—76  Art centres—62  Municipal services—49

Other key characteristics of the top 500 corporations examined include income sources, asset and equity growth, state and territory location, and gender of directors.

The report highlights the valuable role played by corporations in contributing to the economy, delivering important services on behalf of government, and improving the lives and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities.

The report can be downloaded from the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations website.

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Australasian Evaluation Society international conference

On 2–4 September 2009, the Australian Evaluation Society (AES) held its annual international evaluation conference, of which FaHCSIA was a major sponsor. The theme of the conference was ‘Evidence and evaluation: gathering evidence, using evidence, evidence and stakeholders' and was held at the National Convention Centre in Canberra.

The conference was structured around six plenary sessions where keynote speakers presented to the entire conference on a broad range of evaluation and evidence-based topics.

The majority of presentations were run concurrently across several session times. Individuals presented evaluation papers on a wide variety of topics ranging across health, corporate, international development, social, education and environmental–based evaluation.

Throughout the conference several recurring topics developed. A number of presenters emphasised the importance of integrating evaluation and policy development. A keynote speaker discussed the role evaluations play in ensuring government policy is effective and efficient, while meeting citizens' needs. The speaker argued that evidence-based evaluation enhances accountability, democracy and trust between the government, public service and citizens.

Another topic widely discussed was the advantage of using less quantitative methods of evaluation. The presenter argued that quantitative-based analysis, such as administrative data or randomised experiments, has the potential to lead to false conclusions and that more qualitative methods of evaluation have greater capacity to attribute causality. Similarly, other presenters discussed the advantages and disadvantages of particular qualitative styles, such as using anecdotal evidence in evaluations.

Other presentations covered frameworks and strategic steps in conducting evaluations. One presenter argued that a common framework for evaluations is desirable. Outcomes theory's Five Building Blocks Model was presented as a potential framework that may help clarify the types of evidence and level of outcomes that are appropriate depending on the focus of the evaluation. The presentation also emphasised the importance of using logic models or a program logic to demonstrate the links between inputs, outcomes and outputs. Another presenter outlined a number of steps that are essential to conducting evaluations. The first step is to define a topic then clarify the objectives, decide what to measure, collect the evidence, ensure quality and credibility of the evidence, draw implications, ensure objectivity and consider biases and finally implement findings.

The most prominent theme throughout the conference was best captured in the opening plenary session by Professor William Trochim. Professor Trochim plays a leading role in the American Evaluation Association as well as being a Professor of Policy Analysis and Management at Cornell University.

Professor Trochim's presentation discussed the conflicting ideologies surrounding evaluation methodology. He argued that randomised control trials (RCTs) and other randomised experimental designs are seen by some evaluators as a gold standard for program evaluation. Professor Trochim notes that while these methods can contribute to some evaluations they are not appropriate for all evaluations and in some circumstances the validity of RCTs can be questioned.

Professor Trochim argued that a pluralist approach to evaluation is most appropriate, valid and has more rigour. Using multiple methods for an evaluation creates a more complete and accurate picture of the situation.

Professor Trochim also argued that different stages of a program often require a different method of evaluation. Premature or inappropriate methods of evaluation may not show the correct picture. Therefore, one needs to use a variety of different methods over the course of the evaluation to build and synthesise already accumulated knowledge.

Professor Trochim proposed that evaluation always takes time and one should research, compare, debate and trial different types and different combinations of methods for each evaluation.

The AES conference covered a wide variety of ideas and debates about evaluation and evidence. More information about the conference and the evaluation papers that were presented can be found on the AES website.

Australia's welfare 2009 conference

On 17 November 2009 the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) held its ‘Australia's welfare 2009' conference at the Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, NSW. A range of highly regarded Australian and international speakers, including FaHCSIA staff, tackled topics such as those relating to social inclusion and how well the needs of Australians are being met by government services and programs designed to promote wellbeing. Other topics included: disability and disability services; housing and housing assistance; children, youth and families; carers and informal care; ageing and aged care; and homelessness.

At the conference The Hon Jenny Macklin MP launched the AIHW report on welfare services in Australia. The report, Australia's welfare 2009, found that while most Australians enjoy a good standard of living, many are struggling to care for people with a disability, or with issues related to ageing, homelessness, children and families.

A full list of presenters and copies of their presentations can be found on the AIHW website.

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Child protection as regulation: clarifying principles conference

Several FAHCSIA staff attended the ‘Child protection as regulation: clarifying principles conference' hosted by the Regulatory Institutions Network (RegNet) at the Australian National University in November 2009.

Drawing together regulatory scholars and national and international experts in child protection, the conference provided an interdisciplinary exchange exploring child protection as a form of regulation. Conceptualising child protection as a form of regulation may be an uncommon approach; however, it does offer ways of new thinking about the principles that governments and other interested parties might wish to endorse in their approaches to regulating families when it comes to children's safety.

Regulation is traditionally understood to mean rules and procedures. Regulatory scholars broaden this definition to regulation as a social activity or a process by which we all engage in when we intervene in our social world. This expanded definition allows for a wider repertoire of informal as well as formal strategies that can be utilised when aiming to influence or steer certain behaviour or the flow of events. While most families self regulate when it comes to the care and protection of their children, most need some informal help along the way. For example, friends help out with babysitting, or a grandparent provides much needed respite care. These activities are examples of regulatory processes which ensure children are provided with supervision and help parents meet their child rearing responsibilities. Child care programs and before and after school care are examples of formal assistance parents rely on in the process of raising their children.

When limits to self regulation and informal care fall short, intervention may come from state authorities when a child is considered at risk. Diversionary programs that help families access support services and encompass a ‘whole-of-family' approach offer a responsive alternative to heavy-handed, highly investigative, expensive and time consuming interventions that characterise many child protection systems. Conference presenters noted that families have great difficulty getting involved on their own terms and resent heavy-handed requirements for their ‘cooperation' with authorities, although families do tend to cooperate when child protection issues are raised. What is often missing but sorely needed, is someone to ‘open the space' for dialogue and deliberation, which in turn can lead to care plans that articulate what needs to be done for the child, by whom, how and by when. Most families do have someone they know who wants to or will help them when child protection authorities become involved. They come to planning meetings, prepare safety plans that are acceptable to professionals (including courts) and make their resources freely available. In New Zealand (NZ), data are showing that the chances of children re-entering the care and protection system is six times less likely if the family is engaged at the point of notification first being made.

Almost half of the states in the United States (US), for example, have now embraced the language of ‘engaging families' in child protection work; however, family engagement approaches in child protection are still evolving in the practice domain. Some key lessons that have been learnt from effective practice include: infusing the possibility of family involvement at any stage before ‘formal' involvement; bringing the family in when big decisions are at stake that need to be made quickly; keeping space open for ongoing work and planning; and making clear differentiation between danger and risk and what are complicating issues/factors. One such complicating issue identified during the conference was domestic violence. Discussion then centred on the NZ experience of child protection practice when domestic violence is an identified issue and when the risk to children is ambiguous.

Why does this idea of regulation matter? Conference participants—irrespective of their disciplinary backgrounds—recognised that regulatory systems impact on families and children. When it comes to child protection, the negative consequences of regulation have been documented in stories such as ‘Orphans of the living' and by groups such as the Alliance for Forgotten Australians. Conference presenters suggested that questions are not asked about the child protection regulatory system itself, nor are the assumptions in the system—the purpose, intervention by and outcomes of the system—adequately debated.

The conference—with its national and international participants—has provided support to a regulatory analysis of child protection systems and offered practical strategies based on a range of overseas and national evidence.

The conference was based on the special edition of the Journal, ‘Communities, children and families Australia,' vol. 4, no. 1 (2009), which can be accessed from the Australian Catholic University website or email

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Growing up in Australia: the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC)

The Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) hosted the second Growing up in Australia: the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) research conference on 3–4 December 2009 at Rydges on Swanston, Melbourne. The conference involved two concurrent sessions each day including 33 oral and seven poster presentations based on LSAC data. The following is a brief summary of presentations of particular relevance to the FaHCSIA portfolio.

Professor Alan Hayes, Director of AIFS, opened the conference and expressed his confidence that the event would build on the great success of the first LSAC conference held in 2007. Professor Hayes noted that ‘the goal of the study, this conference and, no doubt, many of your own projects, is to improve outcomes for future generations'. At the conclusion of the opening speech Professor Hayes launched the 2008–09 LSAC Annual Report.

The talk ‘Using LSAC to examine the adequacy of Australian children's living standards'explored how LSAC data could inform the extent to which children have the rights, described in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, ‘to develop to their fullest potential' and have a standard of living that is ‘adequate to their developmental needs'. LSAC data was used to compare three distinct approaches to assess this question: economic welfare, child capabilities and social inclusion. These approaches highlight similar patterns of disadvantage, and each approach has advantages and disadvantages in addressing different human rights principles.

The presentation ‘Measuring family disadvantage in the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children' described the development of a measure of social disadvantage for families within LSAC. The measure is adapted from the index of multiple disadvantage presented by the UK Social Exclusion Board Task Force. The proposed index is comprised of a range of parent-based factors including: poverty, joblessness, education, housing, mental health and physical health. This measure can assist in identifying at-risk families and in the implementation and evaluation of social inclusion policy interventions.

The presentation ‘Parenting in place: exploring parenting behaviours and socioeconomic position in the context of neighbourhoods' looked at how socioeconomic position (SEP) and neighbourhood characteristics are associated with overprotective parenting practices. Preliminary analyses indicated that SEP and some parent perceptions of neighbourhood are associated with parenting behaviours. The results suggest that researchers and policy makers need to consider not just parenting practices in isolation but also in the context in which they occur.

The ‘Breastfeeding and infant time use' presentation explored how infant time use may partly explain the well-established relationship between child cognitive outcomes and breastfeeding. The results showed that breastfed infants were more likely to spend more interactive time with parents and less time in a range of other activities such as sleeping, eating, drinking or having other foods compared to non-breastfed infants. This suggests that future research should further explore the relational benefits of breastfeeding as a mechanism for explaining improved cognitive outcomes for breastfed infants.

Another paper utilising time use data looked at how different time use activities influence children's cognitive and non-cognitive development. The researchers found that, as expected, time spent in educational activities was associated with higher levels of cognitive development. More surprisingly, the researchers also found that time using media and time spent socialising was more strongly associated with children's cognitive development than time spent in formal care and education. The researchers found that children's non-cognitive skills did not vary significantly depending on how they spent their time but was related to the warmth and strictness of the mother.

The paper ‘Talking to children clearly but respectfully: the effect of inductive reasoning and hostile parenting at age 4–5 on child's conduct problems at age 6–7 using LSAC Waves 1 and 2' found a significant gender difference in the relationship between hostile parenting and inductive reasoning (explaining the consequences of a child's misbehaviour on others) in their impact on children's later conduct problems. When parents inductively reasoned with boys there were lower levels of hostility and conduct problems and this was significantly lower than when parents communicated with boys in a hostile way. For girls, conduct problems were better explained by sociodemographic factors.

The keynote presentation, ‘Children's physical, cognitive and socio-emotional outcomes: do they share the same drivers?', tested the commonly held view that the ‘same, or similar risk factors account for a wide range of problematic child and adolescent outcomes'. This argument rests on the findings from different studies, each of which typically focuses on only one outcome, whereas LSAC offers the opportunity to directly test this proposition within a single dataset. The findings showed that while the ‘common drivers' proposition generally applied, there were interesting nuances both in the timing and specific impacts on particular child outcomes.

The paper ‘Parental leave, maternal mental wellbeing, couple relationship and quality of parenting: evidence from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children' looked at the extent to which the use and duration of parental leave affected parental outcomes, which may in turn influence child outcomes. The paper focused on the relationship between maternity leave, maternal mental wellbeing, couple relationship and quality of parenting. Drawing on LSAC data from Waves 1, 1.5 and 2, the paper found that factors such as the presence of older siblings, mothers' education, age, family income and neighbourhood facilities are more likely to affect parental outcomes than the use and type of parental leave. The analysis highlighted the complexity of investigating the impact of parental leave.

The paper ‘The impact of child support payments on the labour supply decisions of resident mothers'investigated the impact of child support on mother's workforce participation; in particular, hours worked and their probability of employment. The paper found that the receipt of child support did not affect the labour supply for the majority of resident mothers. Specifically, there was a modest negative impact on the number of hours worked, but not on the probability of employment.

The presentation ‘The effect of mothers' experience of extended work–life tension on child outcomes'examined the impact of mother's work responsibilities on children's outcomes. Using the longitudinal characteristics reflected in multiple waves of LSAC, this research considered potential links between mothers' ongoing experience of work–life tension and the physical, social, emotional and learning outcomes of their children.

Based on an analysis of the Australian Temperament Study supplemented by LSAC Waves 1–3, the presentation ‘Intergenerational mobility in Australia: how do vulnerable kids fare?' assessed the extent to which intergenerational mobility is associated with social–emotional and cognitive learning, educational attainment, changes in household structure, access to child care/education and changes in benefit entitlements. The presentation compared the trajectories of children who formed the top and bottom 10 per cent of the distribution of learning and social–emotional outcomes at around the age of 4 years. The presentation revealed the extent to which these starting points (as indicators of their ‘personal characteristics') can predict outcomes in middle childhood and early adulthood, and the extent to which factors such as socioeconomic position amplify or confound children's trajectories.

The presentation ‘The negative effects of persistent poverty on children's physical, socio-emotional, and learning development' examined the negative effects of persistent poverty on children. The researchers divided families into ‘persistently poor', ‘out of poverty', ‘fell into poverty' and ‘never been poor' and assessed child outcomes for these groups. Consistent with previous literature, the results showed that children from persistently poor families exhibited poorer outcomes on all measures.

The presentation ‘Persistence and emergence of conduct difficulties in children with an intellectual limitation'found that children with intellectual limitations are at significantly greater risk of persistent conduct difficulties, are more likely to be exposed to environmental risk factors and are less resilient when exposed.

Overall, the conference was a great success and was well attended by a range of government and non-government agency representatives and academics. For detailed conference abstracts and notes see the AIFS website.

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Maximising the value of longitudinal studies for policy and science: methodological and analysis issues

On 12–13 December 2009, FaHCSIA and the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) Australian Research Council (ARC) Research Network hosted a workshop titled ‘Maximising the value of longitudinal studies for policy and science: methodological and analysis issues' at the Pavilion hotel in Canberra. The workshop was jointly facilitated by Professor Ann Sanson, Network Coordinator, ARACY ARC Research Network, and Dr Helen Rogers, Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) Section Manager within FaHCSIA. The workshop included nine oral presentations, three panel discussions and a poster session addressing a range of issues in longitudinal studies including: participant retention and attrition, data collection, weighting, imputation, data linkage and data harmonisation.

The first keynote presentation, ‘The value and challenges of doing longitudinal research well in the 21st century', drew on findings from the famous Dunedin Longitudinal Study to investigate study retention and gene environment interactions. The Dunedin study began in 1975 with 1,037 participants and has achieved a 96 per cent response rate at the most recent wave of data collection in 2004–05. The study investigators attributed this success to the time and effort devoted to tracing and engaging with study participants and demonstrating the value of the study by highlighting the quantity and quality of publications the study has generated. The researchers also showed the importance of minimising attrition by demonstrating that the 20 per cent of participants who were most difficult to trace were also significantly more disadvantaged on a range of measures.

The first panel discussion further highlighted the challenges of attrition. A range of strategies for engaging with participants were discussed including the use of cash payments, gifts and new communication technologies such as text messaging, emails and social networking sites.

The presentation on ‘Longitudinal scale performance: quality characteristics of ordinal measures' described statistical techniques for evaluating and creating ordinal measurement scales. Many longitudinal studies use these scales by combining several items to measure self-reported subjective phenomena like wellbeing or depression. It is important to establish measurement fidelity in these scales to ensure they reliably measure the same construct over time. The presentation described the benefits and practical implications of the covariance approach for assessing measurement fidelity.

The second keynote presentation, ‘The experience of the United Kingdom Millennium Cohort Study', described the methodological challenges and management strategies used in the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS). The MCS is a longitudinal birth cohort study following over 19,000 children born in the UK in 2000 and 2001. The presentation discussed a range of issues including minimising attrition, measurement quality, the special challenges of conducting research with children, and the achievements of researchers using MCS data to produce policy relevant research.

One presentation was devoted to the issue of weighting in the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) dataset. The presentation explained the importance of weighting as a way to adjust panel data so it more accurately represents the population from which the survey sample is drawn. Specifically, weighting adjusts for the unequal probabilities of selection into a panel survey, non-response to particular questions and non-response to an entire data collection wave. The presentation outlined some important considerations in producing weights and the various possible options. It went on to describe the process of developing and using the cross-sectional and longitudinal weights for the HILDA survey.

The presentation on ‘Imputation approaches for handling missing data in longitudinal studies' described the relative benefits of handling missing data using multiple imputation compared to traditional approaches of analysing complete cases only, non-response weighting, and single imputation. The presentation then covered the process, strengths and risks of multiple imputations.

The presentation on data linkage discussed how data linkage brings together two or more separate data records about the same individual. This method has become increasingly commonly used and is a powerful technique for using administrative datasets in research. The presentation provided an overview of a range of issues including consulting with data owners, privacy and confidentiality, and the data linkage process.

The workshop provided a good opportunity for researchers and people involved in the development and management of longitudinal surveys to come together and discuss relevant methodological and analysis issues.

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Longitudinal research updates 


The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey

HILDA logo

Unique among Australian datasets, Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) is an Australian large-scale nationally representative longitudinal survey which has been providing data for social and economic research since 2003.

HILDA is an ongoing project and has contracts in place for 12 waves of data collection. The Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research have a contract with FaHCSIA to administer the survey on behalf of the Australian Government.

Roy Morgan Research has been contracted to collect the data for Waves 9 to 12.


Data from the HILDA survey allow for a longitudinal evidence-based approach to research enabling researchers, policy makers and advisors to explore the interdependencies and interrelationships between the various choices made by individuals and households. It also allows for investigation into the impact of various life events and the examination of the contextual determinants of change.

The Melbourne Institute produces an annual statistical report based on the findings from the latest wave of HILDA. This report covers a wide range of topics and gives a valuable overview of trends in Australian life.  Volume 4 of this report covers the period 2002 to 2006 and is available for downloading from the HILDA website.

Access to the HILDA survey data

Wave 8 was released on 2 February 2010. FaHCSIA staff wishing to apply for access to HILDA data can obtain the necessary application package from the FaHCSIA HILDA intranet site or the HILDA FIRSt public folder. All other researchers wishing to obtain the data can apply by downloading the application form and applicable licence from the HILDA website.

Deeds of licence issued

As at 30 January 2010 there were 40 organisations approved to have an Organisational Licence for the data (including FaHCSIA). A full list of organisations with an Organisational Licence is available on the Melbourne Institute website.

In 2009 HILDA was used by a record of 457 users, 276 of whom were users under organisational licensing arrangements.

Wave 9

The fieldwork for Wave 9 is in its final stages. Computer Assisted Personal Interviews (CAPI) were used for the first time in the collection of the data.

The main innovation in Wave 9 was the inclusion of a dedicated health module, expected to be included every four years. Among the topics covered were: child health; difficulties caused by health conditions; serious illness conditions; retrospective childhood health; health expectations; private health insurance; utilisation of health services; and diet.

Wave 10

Wave 10 content development is currently underway. Wave 10 of the survey is scheduled to be in the field in September 2010.

Further information:

Enquires about the HILDA survey should be directed, in the first instance, to the HILDA website. For technical enquiries about the survey email and for data access enquiries email

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Growing up in Australia: the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC)

LSAC logo

LSAC aims to provide data to enable a comprehensive understanding of children's development in Australia's current social, economic and cultural environment. The study provides an important part of the evidence base for informing future policies regarding children and their families. Policy areas of interest include: family relationships and functioning; parenting and child care; education; employment and schooling; and mental and physical health.

The study follows two cohorts. In 2004, 5,000 infants, aged 3 to 19 months (B cohort), and 5,000 four to five year olds (K cohort) were surveyed for the first time. Since then, two further biennial main waves, Waves 2 and 3 have been conducted, and Wave 4 will begin in March 2010. In addition, between-wave questionnaires were distributed in the years in-between the main waves. Data is collected from children, parents, carers and teachers using various data collection methods including computer assisted face-to-face interviews, self-interviews, telephone interviews and self-complete questionnaires.

Wave 3

The data collection phase of Wave 3 was completed in January 2009, reaching a total of 8,685 respondents, or 91 per cent of the retained Wave 2 sample. Wave 3 data was released on 31 August 2009.

Wave 3.5

Between-wave questionnaires help maintain contact with study families and therefore assist with retention rates in the main waves. Wave 3.5 is the third between-wave questionnaire and covers a range of topics including schooling, child care, travel to school, sleep, onset of puberty (among the older, K cohort children), major life events and use of media and technology. The Wave 3.5 form was mailed out in June 2009 and approximately 63 per cent of participants responded. The data is due for release in April 2010.

Wave 4

The dress rehearsal for Wave 4 was conducted from early August to late September 2009. The main fieldwork for Wave 4 will commence in March 2010. Wave 4 uses significant methodological innovation that includes Audio-Computer Assisted Self Interviewing (A-CASI) for older children to maintain their interest and privacy. The older children will also fill in a time use diary recording all of the activities they undertake on the day before their interview. The main parent will also experience a change in their interview methods. As well as the computer assisted face-to-face interviews completed in previous waves, they will have a computer assisted self-interview to replace the paper and pencil self-complete form. To reduce time in the home, prior to the home visit, the main parent will be interviewed by telephone for basic household details.

Waves 5 to 8

Planning for the next four waves of LSAC data collection has started. At Wave 5, the children in the K cohort will be 12 to 13 years old. The LSAC team will be meeting with areas within FaHCSIA and across government seeking input for new content. If you have any ideas for items that could help build knowledge and improve policy about children and their families, please contact the LSAC team.

2009 LSAC conference

The 2009 LSAC research conference was held in Melbourne on 3–4 December 2009. The conference provided an opportunity to discuss the contribution of LSAC data to research and policy about children and families. Highlights from the conference are described at Growing up in Australia: the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC).

Recent publications

The LSAC Annual Report 2008–09 was released at the 2009 LSAC conference and provides an overview of Wave 3 data and preliminary findings when study children were aged 4 to 5 years old and 8 to 9 years old. The report also includes articles about breastfeeding and infants' time use, child and infant outcomes, and stress and psychological distress in mothers of infants. A list of all recent publications using LSAC data can be found on the AIFS website.

Data access

FaHCSIA staff wishing to apply for access to LSAC data can obtain the necessary application package, including an IT systems access form, from the FaHCSIA LSAC intranet site. All other researchers wishing to obtain the data can apply by downloading the application form and applicable licence from the LSAC website.

Further information:

FaHCSIA: Dr Helen Rogers (Research and Analysis Branch), tel (02) 6244 7726 or
email: or or
web: AIFS website

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Footprints in Time—the Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children (LSIC)

LSIC logo

Footprints in Time is collecting important information about the lives of Indigenous children, covering areas such as health, culture, education, housing and family relationships. The study is designed to better understand the developmental pathways of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, what helps improve their wellbeing and support good outcomes as they grow up. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff are employed as Research Administration Officers (RAOs) to conduct interviews in each of the 11 sites included in the study. A team of National Office staff support and manage the fieldwork.

Wave 1 data release

Wave 1 data was collected in 2008. Interviews were conducted with the families of more than 900 babies aged approximately 6 to 18 months and more than 700 children aged approximately 3 years 6 months to 4 years 6 months. Most of the information was collected through face-to-face interviews with a parent or carer (usually mother). Wave 1 data was released on 5 February 2010. To apply for access to the data or obtain a copy of the Wave 1 report: Footprints in Time, The Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children: key summary report from Wave 1, please visit the FaHCSIA website.

Wave 2 data

Wave 2 data collection was conducted between March 2009 and December 2009 with an 85.7 per cent response rate, which represents 1,445 families including 814 babies aged approximately 1 year, 6 months to 2 years, 6 months and 595 children aged approximately 4 years, 6 months to 5 years, 6 months. Wave 2 builds on the dataset collected in Wave 1 and explores the changes in many of the areas previously covered. These include: social and emotional wellbeing; major life events; child vocabulary; child and parent health and child development milestones; and housing issues. Additional content collected in Wave 2 includes questions about the stolen generation, childhood injuries, child support payments and starting school. A report outlining the highlights from Wave 2 data will be released late 2010.

Wave 3 collection

Wave 3 data collection will commence in March 2010 and completed by the end of the year. Wave 3 builds on the dataset collected in Wave 1 and Wave 2 and, again, will explore changes in many of the areas previously covered. These include: major life events; child and parent health; and housing issues. Additional content collected in Wave 3 will include questions about Indigenous culture and identity, gambling, and a stronger focus on education and school life for the older cohort. Teachers and carers will be surveyed in Wave 3 to ascertain children's learning and development in the school and out-of-home care context.

Further information:

FaHCSIA: Tess McPeake (Research and Analysis Branch)
tel: (02) 6244 7545 or email or email

web: FaHCSIA website

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The Youth in Focus data

Youth in Focus (YIF) is a unique longitudinal survey of young people in Australia. With a sample drawn from the Centrelink income support administrative data, the survey was originally designed to examine the transmission of economic and social disadvantage across generations. The collected information also allows for complex analyses of education, labour market and health outcomes of young people in their transitions to adulthood.

Beginning in 2004, the project was jointly funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC) under an ARC Linkage Grant to the Australian National University and the Australian Government represented by the then Family and Community Services (FaCS). Following the Machinery of Government changes in 2007, the project was transferred to the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR). However, FaHCSIA remains a key partner in this project.

To date, two waves of the survey have been completed. The first wave was conducted in 2006 comprising 4,000 young people aged 18 years and 3,900 parents, resulting in 2,430 matched youths and their parents. The second wave was undertaken in late 2008 and 2,360 young people were successfully interviewed.

In 2009, the Australian Government provided additional funding for a top-up survey to boost the sample size. Attempts were made to interview those young people who could not be contacted at the time of Wave 1, or have given a 'soft' refusal to participate (that is, did not object to the project subject matter but rather explained their refusal by such factors as lack of time). The top-up survey resulted in 1,260 additional interviews.

The YIF survey data have been analysed and will continue to be used by the academic community and government departments, particularly FaHCSIA and DEEWR. Examples of completed reports, papers and fact sheets include:

  • 'Taking chances: the effect of growing up on welfare on the risky behaviour of young people' by Deborah Cobb-Clark, Chris Ryan and Anastasia Sartbayeva (2009)
  • 'Achievement, aspiration and autonomy: how do youth from stepfather families compare with other young Australians?' by Paula Mance and Peng Yu (2009)
  • 'Cultural transmission of work–welfare attitudes and the intergenerational correlation in welfare receipt' by Juan Barón, Deborah Cobb-Clark and Nisvan Erkal (2008)
  • 'The relationship between income support history and the characteristics and outcomes of Australian youth' by Deborah Cobb-Clark and Anastasia Sartbayeva (2007).

While most of the aforementioned analyses are based on the YIF survey data alone, the project is unique in that it allows matching of the survey data to the information on income support payments in the administrative dataset. The linking of the survey and administrative datasets allows more detailed analyses of how the timing, intensity and type of the income support received by the youth's family while they were growing up might affect youth's future outcomes and their own reliance on the income support system. One example of such analysis is presented in the report entitled 'Childhood family circumstances and young adult people's receipt of income support'by Deborah Cobb-Clark and Tue Gørgens (2009).

Further information and access to the YIF project publications is available from the YIF website.

Further information:

FaHCSIA: Paula Mance (Research and Analysis Branch)
tel (02) 6244 6607 or email


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Seminars at FaHCSIA 

Evidence and methodology

On 2 September 2009, Professor William Trochim from Cornell University presented a guest lecture at FaHCSIA titled 'Evidence and methodology'.

Professor Trochim began by discussing the move to evidence-based practice as one of the most important developments of the past decade in a wide variety of applied fields. His talk explored this development and its relationship to the field of evaluation. During his presentation, he explored a number of questions including:

  • Where did this evidence movement come from and why is there so much emphasis on it today?
  • What is the relationship among evidence-based practice, practice-driven evidence and research–practice integration?
  • What constitutes evidence and how do we know it when we see it?
  • What is the 'unit' of evidence and how is evidence stored, retrieved and disseminated?
  • How do we determine the quality of evidence?
  • What role do methods play in determining quality of evidence?
  • What role does evaluation play in generating or creating evidence and in influencing this movement?
  • What role should evidence play in influencing evaluation?
  • How does the move to an evidence focus influence our thinking about evaluation?

A major theme of this talk was that while there is a need to encourage high-quality research and evaluation for producing evidence, it is dangerous to link quality of evidence to specific methodologies. While some methods, particularly randomised experimental designs, have properties that commend them, there is a significant danger that 'premature experimentation' can undermine the evidence generation endeavour. By examining how biomedicine handles the issue of evidence generation, especially through the use of the multiphased clinical trials model, evaluators can identify approaches that will help assure that methodology is appropriately used in evidence generation models. In addition, evaluation can play a unique role in the evidence-based movement. Professor Trochim suggested that evaluation needs to develop its own evidence base and can learn much from what is happening elsewhere about how to enhance the field of evaluation in the 21st century.

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Families on the Fringe—promoting the social inclusion of young families moving to non-metropolitan areas

On 22 September 2009, Professor Karen Healy from the University of Queensland presented a seminar to FaHCSIA staff on the research and key findings of the 'Families on the fringe' study. Representatives from Mission Australia and the Benevolent Society were also present and contributed their insights on the study.


The study was conducted between 2006–2008 in response to evidence suggesting that increasing numbers of young families were relocating to non-metropolitan areas. The aim of the study was to gain an understanding of the experiences and needs of these families as they relocated to non-metropolitan communities.

The study focused on four sites which were selected based on their sociodemographic characteristics and significant population growth from June 2001 to 2006:

  • Gosford/Wyong Shire—a regional coastal location, 90 minutes north of Sydney
  • Camden—a peri-metropolitan inland community, 70 kilometres south-west of Sydney
  • Oakey—an inland rural town, 175 kilometres west of Brisbane
  • Gladstone—a coastal mining town, 532 kilometres north of Brisbane.

The study made use of quantitative and qualitative methods, a sociodemographic analysis of population growth in Queensland and NSW between June 2001 to 2006 and an analytical comparison of growth trends and changing levels of disadvantage in the four sites.

In-depth interviews were conducted with 55 service providers and 43 parents of young families who had relocated to one of the four sites in the previous three years. Community forums involving social service agencies, community leaders and parents were also held at each study site.

Key findings

Motivating factors for relocation

The study revealed that young families relocated to non-metropolitan areas for several key reasons—affordable housing, employment, lifestyle and safety.


Camden, Wyong Shire and Oakey respondents identified access to quality and affordable housing as a motivating factor in their decision to relocate. Oakey respondents uniquely identified speedy access to public housing as a motivating factor.


Gladstone and Oakey respondents identified employment opportunities as a motivating factor in their decision to relocate. Particularly, Gladstone respondents identified well-paid employment opportunities in the mining industry as a major incentive for relocating.

By contrast, respondents from Wyong Shire and Camden identified a lack of employment opportunities in the local community and the need for them to commute long distances to work in neighbouring metropolitan areas, for example, Sydney.

Lifestyle and safety

Respondents in all four sites identified the perception that non-metropolitan communities offered an improved quality of life and were less affected by crime, as a key motivator for them to relocate.

Wyong Shire and Gladstone respondents perceived living by the ocean as attractive, while Camden and Oakey respondents perceived the country lifestyle as attractive.

Respondents from Camden and Wyong Shire also reported an attraction to having the 'best of both worlds'—a non-metropolitan lifestyle with access to metropolitan employment opportunities—as an incentive to relocate. Uniquely, Camden respondents also reported access to quality education as an incentive to relocate.

Social participation

The social participation of young families in their new communities was of particular interest to the researchers. Participants were invited to rank, on a scale of 1 to 5, their perception of how much they belonged to and participated in the local community. It was of note that the majority of respondents rated their social participation with low scores of three or less.

Camden and Oakey

Camden and Oakey respondents reported the lowest ratings. In Camden, poor social participation was attributed to long-distance commuting and the limitations this imposed on time and opportunities to participate in the community. In Oakey, respondents attributed poor social participation to difficulties in breaking into existing community networks.

Wyong Shire

Responses from Wyong Shire varied. Some respondents reported high rankings of social participation, attributed to participating in local sporting clubs and cultural/social service groups. Other respondents reported low rankings, attributing this to time limitations due to long-distance commuting.


Gladstone respondents clustered their scores around middle rankings, indicating they felt neither part of or apart from the community.

Social exclusion

The study findings indicate that young families who relocate to non-metropolitan areas experience, or are at risk of experiencing, varying degrees of social exclusion.

Dislocation from networks

Social exclusion from the local community was exacerbated for respondents who could maintain family and friendship networks beyond their local community. For example, families who had relocated to Wyong Shire could retain their networks in Sydney.

In Gladstone, where employment was a powerful motivator for relocation and a key facilitator of social participation, family members (particularly parents) not in paid employment experienced particular vulnerability to social isolation.

Similarly, Wyong Shire and Camden respondents (and other family members) not in paid employment were also vulnerable to social isolation. This was exacerbated in instances where a family member commuted substantial distances to work and/or access to a vehicle was restricted.

Interestingly, social networks were a secondary consideration for respondents in all four study sites; though a majority identified having some prior familiarity with the area due to extended family members, acquaintances or friendship networks having prior experience with the areas.

Inadequate transport

Respondents at all sites identified a lack of local transport as a notable barrier to social participation, particularly for families who did not have access to a vehicle.

Long-distance commuting

The study findings highlighted the negative impact long-distance commuting has on family work–life wellbeing and social participation. Respondents at all study sites reported at least one family member commuted substantial distances to work—at times commuting up to four hours a day. This daily loss of time was identified as time consuming and a key cause of fatigue, limiting the capacity of family members to participate in the local community and engage in child-related activities.

High cohesion of local networks

Oakey respondents identified that the existence of strong community networks limited their ability to participate in the local community due to the perception that it was difficult to 'break into' existing community networks.

Community mobility

Gladstone respondents indicated that high-paying, short-term mining employment opportunities provided economic benefits to employed families and facilitated social participation in employment-centred events and networks. However, the centrality of employment in social networks also encouraged apathy and social disengagement among respondents. This was because the mobility of the community discouraged families from establishing networks that were perceived as temporary and likely to end in the near future.

Inadequate service systems

Respondents in all four sites noted that existing medical, dental and community services were inadequate to meet the demands of a growing population. For example, respondents at Wyong Shire noted a shortage of local doctors willing to accept new patients.

Respondents likewise reported they were required to travel long distances to access essential services. Particularly, Gladstone respondents noted the need to travel to Rockhampton to access the services of an obstetrician.

Policy, program and practice directions

The study findings highlight the need for government agencies to recognise the trend that young families are relocating to non-metropolitan communities and the need to minimise their vulnerability to becoming socially excluded.

The researchers identify that policies promoting the social inclusion of young families need to:

  • Reduce push factors
    The study findings emphasise the need for policies to aim to reduce push factors that cause young families to relocate. Policies addressing housing affordability are identified as key to this, particularly policies that facilitate private housing market participation for low and middle-income families.
  • Improve transport and service infrastructure
    The researchers noted that the study findings highlight the need for all three tiers of governments to cooperate and support the economic development of local communities, particularly the creation of medium to high income and permanent employment opportunities in non-metropolitan areas.
    The findings suggest that quality local public transport, as well as improved roads, are required in growing communities to enable families to easily access local services.
    The study findings also indicate that employers need to consider the communities from which they recruit employees and their capacity to provide an adequate range of services for their families. This was particularly discussed in reference to the mining industry in Gladstone and whether companies encouraging young workers to relocate for work opportunities should consider the availability of obstetric and child services available to their employees and families in the local area.
  • Build community capacity
    The researchers noted several observations on how dislocation from family and friendship networks can negatively impact the wellbeing of families and family members.
    It was identified that communities should be assisted in building their capacity to welcome and engage new families. Discussions with respondents indicated that informal support groups, non-stigmatising community-based activities (playgroups, child-focused groups), sporting clubs and community clubs that build community spirit and pride could be effective for this purpose.
    The role of teachers and nurses, in terms of outreach and community support, was also discussed, including the need to consider the job descriptions and roles of key people in community as instigators of networks and social inclusion. Likewise, the role of non-government organisations (NGOs) in building community capacity was discussed. Of particular interest, the need for a more conscious focus on 'social inclusion' among NGO worker roles was identified, as was the ability for NGOs to be more holistic in their approach to families and centred on creative and assertive outreach.

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Patterns of involvement of people with mental health disorders and cognitive disabilities in the NSW criminal justice system

On 27 October 2009, Dr Eileen Baldry, Associate Professor, University of New South Wales presented a guest lecture titled 'Patterns of involvement of people with mental health disorders and cognitive disabilities in the NSW criminal justice system'. This guest lecture was presented to FaHCSIA staff and guests from other agencies.

In this presentation, Dr Baldry began by discussing the methodology of this project. This project represents an innovative approach to researching complex populations by creating a detailed dataset on the life-long criminal justice and human service involvement for a cohort of offenders using linked but de-identified extant administrative records from criminal justice agencies (NSW Departments of Corrective Services; Juvenile Justice; Police; Justice Health; Courts, and Legal Aid) and human services (NSW Departments of Community Services; Disability, Ageing and Home Care; Housing; and Health). This research is working to trace the trajectories of a cohort of people with mental health disorders and cognitive disabilities to reveal a coherent picture of the multiple factors contributing to the complicated pathways of these people into, through, around and out of the NSW criminal justice system.

Dr Baldry outlined that the aim is to detail the different patterns of involvement of particular groups in the cohort including those with mental health disorders, intellectual disability, borderline intellectual disability and co-morbidity, and by gender and culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Dr Baldry discussed the early findings of this research, including providing greater detail regarding the mental health disorders and cognitive disabilities of the cohort, gender, age and type of first involvement, education, numbers and types of cautions, arrests, sentence lengths, incarceration/re-incarceration, use of social housing and use of mental health and disability services. Future aims include a more detailed analysis of smaller subsets of the cohort and to use the findings to identify gaps in policy, protocols and service delivery and areas of improvement for criminal justice system and relevant human service agencies in regard to people with mental health disorders and cognitive disabilities.

Further information:
FaHCSIA: Angela Braniff (Homelessness Branch)

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Understanding transitions in children's living arrangements

On 15 December 2009, Professor Peter D Brandon from the Sociology and Anthropology Department, Carleton College, Minnesota, USA presented a guest lecture for FaHCSIA staff. The title of the guest lecture was: 'Understanding transitions in children's living arrangements'. This research used the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey to examine:

  • the characteristics of children, particularly those living with parents/guardians in alternatives to marriage situations
  • monitors change and variation of their living arrangements
  • compares results from different countries.

The researchers examined the Wave 1 date with a focus on answering initial questions on what the distribution of living arrangements was and what characteristics differentiate the sample of children. After examining the results, additional questions were developed to further examine whether children change living arrangements, which ones they change to and how quickly this occurs. Results and potential policy implications were presented and discussed during this seminar.

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New Publications 

Social Policy Research Paper 38

Young carers in Australia: understanding the advantages and disadvantages of their care giving
Bettina Cass, Ciara Smyth, Trish Hill, Megan Blaxland and Myra Hamilton


The study consisted of a literature review, quantitative analysis of existing national data sets, qualitative analysis of focus groups with young carers and analysis of findings from focus groups and interviews undertaken with Australian Government policy makers and service providers in the non-government sector.

Literature review and overview of the issues

The literature strongly suggests young carers tend to be located in identifiable socioeconomic–cultural circumstances, often in low-income families, and in families of migrant and/or culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds where care giving is central to mobilisation of intergenerational resources and strengths. The Australian and United Kingdom literature also emphasises the issue of recognising and making contact with 'hidden young carers', so they are in a position to access the services and supports available to them.

Quantitative analysis derived from Census of Population and Housing 2006, ABS Survey of Disability Ageing and Carers 2003 and the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey 2005

Overall, the evidence suggests the costs of care are in terms of lower levels of completion of all years of education, lower rates of employment participation, lower levels of household economic resources and lower scores on self-reported mental health for young carers.

Qualitative analysis: focus groups with young carers

  • Care is labour: the areas of young people's lives generally most affected by care giving include their schooling and for older carers their employment, and for many young carers their opportunities for friendship and social life. However, the diversity of young carers' responsibilities and the continuum of intensity of the care they provide must be recognised.
  • Care is located in a normative framework of familial obligations within which young people may not identify themselves as carers. This is the context in which many young carers expressed the view that despite the evident strains of care giving they were able to identify, they nevertheless wished to continue their responsibilities so as to protect the strength and integrity of their families and contribute to the health and wellbeing of the person for whom they care.
  • Caring incurs costs: participants in the young carer focus groups reported strains with respect to their efforts to combine school education and care, enter further education and training, and combine employment and caring. Caring often incurs costs to friendships and social life, and costs to emotional and mental health. Most significantly, the evidence of these focus groups is strongly suggestive of the financial strains imposed by both care giving and disability or long-term ill health within the family. This is especially important with respect to perceived access to services, and to participation in social and friendship activities that may alleviate the burden of care giving.
  • There are benefits as well as costs. The young people perceive profound contributions to the wellbeing of the care receiver and the whole family; they see their caring responsibilities contributing to the wellbeing and integrity of the whole family. Young carers also perceive that they acquire valuable skills, including a sense of maturity, independence and a deep sense of achievement, which they believe should be much better recognised and more widely valued and respected.

There are a number of formal services that young carers and their families received and appreciated and that they and service providers would like to see more widely available:

  • adequate financial support given the costs of ill health and disability and the constraints imposed on their parents' employment
  • respite care for longer hours to benefit both the care recipient and the young carer so they can complete their education with less strain and participate in friendship and social activities.

Assistance with domestic activities, especially with transport, was often emphasised. To help relieve the strain of balancing education and care, and employment and care, focus group participants spoke of the need for schools, TAFE colleges, universities and workplaces to institute much more flexible arrangements to fully and appropriately accommodate their care giving responsibilities.

Qualitative analysis: focus groups with policy makers and service providers

Analysis of the interviews and focus groups with policy makers, service providers and carer advocacy organisations revealed three key themes: the importance of recognising young carers and identifying hidden young carers; the centrality of education as a site for identifying and supporting young carers; and the need for expanded provision of age-appropriate and culturally-sensitive support services, and appropriate forms of financial support.


The research identified the following issues for policy development:

  • raising awareness of young carers in a range of institutional settings, including schools, the health care system, and mainstream family and young people's services
  • recognising the centrality of education as a site for identifying and supporting young carers through whole-of-school commitments
  • taking a whole-of-family approach to service development and provision that recognises the close connections between support for young carers and support for the family members for whom they provide care
  • providing appropriate and timely information about available services and supports to young carers and their families
  • recognising the importance of age-appropriate and culturally-appropriate services and supports
  • addressing unmet support needs for domestic help, respite, transport assistance and counselling
  • providing appropriate and adequate financial assistance to young carers and their families
  • providing help with entry into post-school training and further education
  • providing help with seeking and entering employment
  • recognising the specific support needs of young carers whose circumstances and concerns may not be appropriately addressed, including young people of Indigenous background, culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and those in rural and remote areas.

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Social Policy Research Paper No 40

Child care and early education in Australia
Linda J Harrison, Judy A Ungerer, Grant J Smith, Stephen R Zubrick and Sarah Wise with Frances Press, Manjula Waniganayake and The LSAC Research Consortium


The report addresses a number of questions relating to child care and early education in Australia and contains findings on these topics:

  • child care and early education attendance patterns for infants and 4 to 5 year-old children
  • parents' reasons for using care and satisfaction with their infant or child's care/education
  • family, child and community factors related to current attendance at child care and early education services
  • indicators of quality in formal and informal care/education programs attended by the LSAC infant or child
  • developmental outcomes, such as health, social and cognitive development, for infants and children in relation to care/education attendance patterns, quality indicators, and other influencing family, child and community factors.

Key findings
Parents' use of infant child care

  • Just over one-third (34.9 per cent) of the LSAC parents were using regular child care for their infants; however, the proportion varied by infant age. It was lowest (18.0 per cent) for children 6 months and younger and highest at 48.9 per cent for children older than 12 months.
  • The majority of the parents using child care (62.1 per cent) accessed informal care provided by relatives, usually grandparents, or non-relatives; 37.9 per cent used formal, government-regulated long day care or family day care services; and 10.0 per cent used a combination of formal and informal care.
  • There were notable differences in the use of formal and informal care by LSAC families. Long day care centres were more likely to be used by mothers who had a university education, were employed full-time rather than part-time and whose family income was higher. Relative care was less commonly used by older mothers (over 35 years) and more common when there was only one child in the family. Mothers using long day care centres tended to report lower levels of social support, parenting self-efficacy and positive parenting behaviour than mothers using family day care or informal home-based care.
  • Weekly hours of child care in formal care settings (average of 20 to 21 hours a week) were longer than for informal (average of 14 hours a week). The longest hours in care were experienced by infants attending a combination of formal and informal arrangements (average of 24 hours a week).
  • Parents typically used child care to enable them to meet their employment, study, family or personal responsibilities.

Infant health

  • Child care was an important predictor of parents' report of their infants' low physical health, particularly for recurrent problems with gastrointestinal, ear and other infections. Infants attending long day care centres were almost twice as likely as children not receiving care to have problems with infections. Home-based child care settings provided by family day care or informal carers were not associated with a higher incidence of infection.
  • In comparison to child care factors, family demographic, socioeconomic and psychosocial predictors showed relatively few significant associations with infant health outcomes.
  • When analyses were restricted to infants in regular non-parental child care, poorer health outcomes were highest in the group of infants who attended long day care centres for 21 or more hours per week and lowest in the groups who received one to eight or nine to 20 hours per week of care with relatives.

Early education and care services attended by 4 to 5 year-old children

  • Almost all 4 to 5 year olds (96.3 per cent) were attending some type of child care or early education service each week, with the vast majority (95.1 per cent) receiving a formal centre or school-based early childhood program.
  • Children who did not attend formal early childhood programs were more likely to be younger or growing up in families who were more disadvantaged; that is, mothers were less well educated, not employed, and reported higher psychological distress and poorer parenting; families had a lower income, more financial stress and more children in the household; families were lone parent, Indigenous, non–English speaking, or from a more economically-disadvantaged area.

Child social development

  • Pro-social and problem behaviour outcomes were rated by parents and teachers. Child outcomes were strongly associated with child and family demographic, socioeconomic and psychosocial factors, but only weakly linked to early education/child care factors. Teacher ratings of social development were lower for children who attended more child care settings each week.

Child cognitive achievement

  • Cognitive achievement was indexed by tests of receptive vocabulary and early literacy and numeracy skills. Child and family demographic, socioeconomic and psychosocial factors were identified in regression analyses as the major predictors of child language outcomes, but early education and child care effects were also noted.
  • Children who did not attend a formal early childhood program had lower scores for receptive vocabulary than children in pre-Year 1 and preschool programs (whether this was in a single setting or with other additional care), and comparable scores to children in long day care. Children who attended long day care plus other additional care had the lowest scores. The relationship between child care factors and children's receptive vocabulary appeared to be a function of the amount of time in care rather than type of early childhood setting, as shown by a significant drop in test scores as weekly hours of care/education approached 30 or more hours a week.


web: FaHCSIA website

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Forthcoming conferences 

The national policy officers' forum 2010

Liquid Learning
10–11 March 2010
Canberra, ACT

Further information
tel: (02) 9431 8755
fax: (02) 9431 8766

Working communities international congress: uniting to improve social and economic participation

National employment services association (NESA)
24–26 March 2010
Melbourne, Victoria

Further information
tel: (03) 9686 3500

6th Australian women's health conference

Australian Women's Health Network
The National Agenda
18–21 May 2010
Hobart, Tasmania

Further information
tel: (03) 6234 7844
fax: (03) 6234 5958

Early Childhood Intervention Australia conference 2010

Early Childhood Intervention Australia (ECIA)
20–22 May 2010
Canberra, ACT

Further information
tel: (07) 3210 1646
fax: (07) 3210 1606

11th Australian Institute of Family Studies conference

Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS)
7–9 July 2010

Further information
tel: (03) 9417 1350
fax: (03) 8610 2170


Disclaimer: Readers should confirm details through the contact details listed. FaHCSIA assumes no responsibility for the accuracy of dates, venues or other information presented in this selection. To submit details of upcoming seminars or conferences, please email:

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