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MAREEA MELB 2017

by

Bruce Smyth

on 27 June 2018

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Transcript of MAREEA MELB 2017

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Education for family life in Australia
Smyth, Hunter, Macvean, Walter & Higgins
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Some big questions
What's family life education? [Not formal disc/training]
What 'works'? Timing? Content?
Mode of delivery in what context, and for which groups?
How evaluate?
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Emerging challenges for families
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Recent family policy
Improving the wellbeing of Indigenous Australians
Encouraging shared parenting after separation
Valuing & protecting children
Eradicating family violence & abuse
Reducing social welfare
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Family life education
Aust policy agenda seeks to strengthen families at key turning points.
Our foci:
intimate partner relationships
parenthood (incl birth of 1st child)
separation / repartnering

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Australia—–one of the most work-oriented high-income countries
Long work hours, time stress & work-family balance (65% mat)
Long-term economic challenges
Rising inequality; housing stress; casualis'n/underemploy't
Cultural diversity: 1/3 foreign born; 1/2 either born O/S or parent
Secularisation
Add your
own image here
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Families: complex & changing
Parents:
less likely to be married than in the past
getting older before parenting children
having fewer children in individual relationships
having children in more than one relationship
Children:
significant (34%) proportion born out of wedlock (90% dads named bc)
1/5 of all children have a parent living elsewhere
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Couple relationship education
Aussies seem to have little appetite for CRE ——— low numbers attending (relig)
Heyday: '90s Govt & academic interest
< early '90s pre-marriage ed almost exclusively precursor to church wedding
Since 1999, civil celebrants conduct most marr (in 2015: over 75%)
Training of CC reduced to knowledge of basic rules & regulations
Unclear to what extent CC believe in value of pre-marriage ed (brochure)
Nature/timing of info? 'starry eyed' -- there for wedding, not relationship
Back-end loaded model: political interest post-sep services not prevention
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As elsewhere, CRE delivered in range of contexts & delivery methods.
Vast majority via religious orgs, but also via secular NGOs to variety of couples (cohab; remarriage; stepfamilies)
Focus on r/ship or as part of other programs (pre-natal/parent ed)
Targeted/adapted to particular contexts: military; first child


Programs, content, mode of delivery
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Our argument
FLE in Australia complex story -- still being written.

Punctuated by divestment of energy, resources & political will in enriching and supporting couple relationships on the one hand
Beacons of promise in the area of parenting education on the other.

Seems odd that support for and investment in CRE and parenting ed appear to be moving in opposite directions, and that the important complementarity of the two has been missed.
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Like USA, 2 evidenced based approaches:
assessment with feedback (FOCCUS; PREPARE/ENRICH)
curriculum-based knowledge & skills training (comm, conflict mgmt)
One of most highly researched programs in Aust: CoupleCARE & adapt'ns


Approaches to CRE
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Small pop & low # of CRE attendees: little rigorous assessment of effectiveness, esp in the long-term
Little research on assessment with feedback
By contrast, more on curriculum-based approaches (but usually by those with investment in program)
Locally developed programs either not eval or post-intervention only
Participants report high levels of satisfaction
Effective in short-term, but little support for long-term


CRE Evaluation in Australia
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Schools important sites for teaching and reinforcing respectful r/ships
But curriculum varies across the country (state level) - though often with policy coordination & funding linked to Cth policy objectives
Sex education & personal safety/protective behaviour programs
bullying, homophobic & transphobic behvr/intersex prejudice
Training & evaluation
Distinct lack of evidence for effectiveness of any of the individual school programs or overall strategies to enhance safety of young people
Respectful relationships (incl sex ed)
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In contrast to CRE, plethora of parenting education programs in Aust
Some Aust'n initiatives, others from elsewhere —— implemented as initiated or adapted to local conditions
Although growing in no. & scope, no systematic mapping of these and their providers undertaken over past 2 decades.
But recent Rapid Evidence Assessment - PRC: 129 Aust prog/181 papers


Parenting Education
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Not many programs supported by good evidence that targeted
basic child care
safety & physical wellbeing
child development
family relationships
Most Australian programs with good evidence targeted preschool children; few targeted infants or adolescents
Children with behavoural problems targeted by several programs
Not the case for children with other specific issues
Some parent groups not well catered for: Indig; CALD; teen parents; parents with complex needs (mental health; substance; learning difficulties)
Gaps in the Australian Evidence
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Plethora of post-sep family & relationship support services (2006 reforms)
Breadth & depth of programs reflect govt focus: child WB at critical juncture
Back-end loaded model?
FRCs; Parenting Orders Program; CCS
Behaviour change programs for men
Mutual support groups
But very few programs evaluated
Unsatisfyingly circular Catch-22
little $/skills for rigorous eval
without eval, hard to attract $
Separation & Repartnering
Party A
Party B
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To recap: Indig families have comparatively high rates of:
sole parenthood
hh with children
teen pregnancy
disadvantage and marginalization
Strain families' relationships, and parenting resources & capabilities
While potentially in strong need of r/ship & parenting supports, lessons learned is that programs devloped for non-Indig unlikely to attract Indig, or to be effective for those that do use them
Trend: Mainstream service providers (eg RA) employ Indig workers to offer distinct Indig programs. Also Indig community orgs but $ uncertainty
Indigenous families
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Studies from '90s suggest number of beliefs act as barriers to FLE
pre-marriage ed = counselling for those with 'problems'
marriage is private r/ship —— no-one else's business
marr/r/ships come naturally, and parenting instinctive: seek help =failure
other ways to learn about r/ships and parenting (online etc)
r/ship ed can open up old wounds, do more harm; 1 partner may not engage
r/ship support etc can be costly -- time, money, emotions
more extreme criticisms:
FLE inherently middle class;
child of conservative right politics
Access FLE more complex for Indig: scarce in remote; culturally appropriate
Barriers to engagement in FLE
Attitudinal barriers vs external (institutional barriers) barriers
Former more important than latter- need to highlight value of programs

Eg: Complimentary vouchers for marriage ed: 1999 pilot; 2014
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Discussion
25 yrs ago, Eastman: 'lack of national strategy, lack of financial support, and lack of 1st class training for relationship education'. Any progress?
Emerging challenges: time/financial stress, secularization, cultural diversity, lack of appetite for CRE
No single event, course, training will sustain thru all eventualities (van Acker)
Not everyone can benefit from FLE - esp those with deep seated problems
CRE and parenting ed'n at odds: one on the decline; the other on the move
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So what can be done?
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Nationally-coordinated policy agenda with adequate funding - focus on early intervention and prevention at key life stages
Income redistribution policies to reduce financial stress on vulnerable
Family-friendly work practices and policies -- coupling
Coordinated research strategy on teaching, and evaluation (esp for Indig)
When a program not a program (embed into other universal/spec services)
Flexible modes of delivery––esp for rural and remote (technology?)
PARTING REFLECTION...
Marked disparity b/w progress in these two highly complementary endeavours is puzzling given that enrichment and strengthening of couple relationships have implications for parenting
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