All children have the right to be loved and to feel safe and supported by positive and healthy relationships.
The relationships between young children and their families are among the most important influences on a child’s development and wellbeing. Children who are supported by safe and healthy relationships are more likely to develop good mental health, be resilient, able to learn and sustain healthy relationships into the future.
No data is available on whether WA children aged 0 to 5 years are supported by safe and healthy relationships at home.
This indicator considers two measures that are critical to children feeling safe and supported: children’s views on whether they feel safe and whether parents and carers feel confident and supported.
No recent data is available on whether WA parents of young children feel confident and supported and what they need to help them parent effectively.
Areas of concern
The lack of data on whether WA young children feel supported and WA parents feel confident and supported.
While research to gather the views of young children can be difficult, it is nevertheless important and should be resourced and funded.
Loving and supportive parent-child relationships in the early years provide young children with the building blocks to develop good mental health, the ability to sustain healthy relationships and effectively participate in learning.1
Research shows that family environments can have a strong impact on children’s social and emotional wellbeing. Responsive, involved, warm and consistent parenting is associated with positive child and adolescent developmental outcomes. Conversely, poor parenting can be highly detrimental.2,3 Children in families that are disengaged (exhibit below-average levels of parental warmth and parent-child shared activities and above-average levels of hostile parenting) are more likely to experience socio-emotional difficulties and behavioural problems.4
Parents and other carers’ relationships with their children remain important through every stage of development, from early childhood into childhood and adolescence, although the nature and impact varies with age.5,6
Throughout the Commissioner’s consultations with older children and young people, they identify having a loving and supportive family as being fundamental to their wellbeing.
There is limited data or research on how very young children feel about the support and love that they receive in their home. This is in part because research with children of a young age includes the complexity of gaining informed consent from young children.7 It is also because gathering young children’s perspectives often requires creative data collection methods such as the use of photography, visual aids or role play, rather than survey questionnaires.8,9
There is limited data or research on how WA children aged 0 to five years feel about the care and support they receive in their home.
- National Scientific Council on the Developing Child 2009, Young Children Develop in an Environment of Relationships, Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University, p. 1.
- Centre for Community Child Health 2007, Policy Brief 9 2007: Parenting young children, Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne, p.1.
- Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2011, Report of the Inquiry into the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people in Western Australia, Commissioner for Children and Young People WA, Perth, p.104.
- Mullan K and Higgins D 2014, A safe and supportive family environment for children: key components and links to child outcomes: Occasional Paper No 52, Department of Social Services, Australian Government, p. viii.
- National Scientific Council on the Developing Child 2009, Young Children Develop in an Environment of Relationships, Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University, p. 3.
- Utting D 2007, Parenting and the different ways it can affect children’s lives: research evidence, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, York, England, p. 2.
- Dockett S et al 2009, Researching with children: Ethical tensions, Journal of Early Childhood Research, Vol 7, No 3.
- Clark A et al 2003, Exploring the field of listening to and consulting with young children, Research Report 445, Thomas Coram Research Unit, Department for Education and Skills, p. 8, 30.
Parents who are confident and supported by family, friends and community are more likely to be able to parent effectively and consistently.
Parenting is often difficult and can be influenced by multiple factors including the health and wellbeing of the parent, the behaviour and temperament of the child, the parent’s support network and circumstances in the home environment.1 There is general agreement that parenting is now more challenging, stressful and complex than ever before.2,3
Furthermore, the economic and social structure of families has changed considerably in the last 20 years. In particular, a greater proportion of mothers with young children are now in employment which can reduce the amount of time available for a parent to spend with young children.4,5
Parental confidence is important. Parental confidence or ‘parenting self-efficacy’ has been shown to be related to better outcomes for children.6 Parenting self-efficacy can be defined as a caregiver’s or parent’s confidence in their ability to successfully raise their children.7 Research shows that an individual’s belief in their ability to successfully perform a task influences their behaviour; for example, if a parent believes they are able to influence their child’s behaviour and development they are more likely to undertake activities towards that end.8,9
While parental confidence does influence competency, research has also highlighted that people’s assumptions about what effective parenting involves often do not align with the views of child health and development experts.10
Research also clearly shows that both mothers’ and fathers’ relationships with their children and their parenting styles are important for child development.11,12
There is limited recent data on how WA parents feel about their parenting skills or whether they have the support they need to parent effectively.
The following data is sourced from surveys of parent’s self-reported feelings of confidence. There are limitations with simple surveys of this nature, as a question about parental ‘confidence’ does not measure competency or capability at specific parenting tasks.13 An assessment of the broader concept of parenting efficacy involves multiple questions on situations and tasks.14
In 2013, Anglicare WA conducted a survey of 810 WA parents of school-aged children and young people (Pre-primary to Year 12). One-half of respondents were from Perth, 200 from the Great Southern region and the South West, and 200 from the Kimberley and Pilbara.15
In response to the question, ‘How confident would you say you are with your parenting skills and abilities?’. Sixty per cent of respondents answered that they were extremely confident with their parenting skills and 32.0 per cent were confident. The respondents also said that talking to their children about their needs and wants was the most influential factor in their parenting skills and abilities.16
Similarly, a 2017 survey of Victorian parents (the Parenting Today in Victoria research project) assessed parents’ perceptions of their parenting skills using the ‘Me as a parent’ scale,17 which comprised 16 questions on a five-point scale.18 This study found that a significant majority (91.0%) of parents had confidence in themselves as a parent.19 However, parents’ assessment of their self-efficacy progressively decreased as their children aged (i.e. parents of children aged 0 to two years reported higher scores than parents of young people aged to 13 to 18 years).20
These results contrast with the findings of a 2005 research project commissioned by the Australian Childhood Foundation and Monash University that surveyed 501 Australian parents (83 parents in WA). The study included parents of children from ages 0 to 18 years.21
The 2005 study found that the majority of parents (63.0%) were concerned about their level of confidence as parents. Many of the parents (38.0%) admitted that parenting did not come naturally to them.22 Parents in this study felt that they needed to ‘get parenting right’ and that this added unnecessary stress. One in five stated that they would not request help for fear of being negatively judged and criticised.23
The difference in results between these studies could be due to different methodologies, survey designs and possible changes in attitudes in the intervening years.
More recent research in WA is required to determine whether WA parents continue to feel confident in their parenting roles.
Most parents find parenting demanding and stressful at times and they periodically may require resources and support.24 In particular, some parents do not feel well-prepared when their first child is born and issues such as persistent crying and sleep problems can cause stress.25 It is important that parents feel comfortable asking for help when they have parenting issues or concerns.
In the 2013 Anglicare parenting survey, the majority of WA parents (64.0%) said that family members and friends were a critical support mechanism. Resources such as books, classes and the internet were used by 55.0 per cent of respondents to develop their parenting skills and knowledge.26
No further breakdown by parents’ gender, region or age of children was published.
While not WA-based, the Parenting Today in Victoria survey reported that parents from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and especially those with lower educational attainment tended to be slightly more punitive in their parenting. However, for those parents experiencing disadvantage, feeling confident and effective was important, with those who were confident more likely to display positive parenting behaviours.27 This study also found that parents experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage attended Maternal and Child Health first-time parents groups less.28
In regards to Aboriginal families, Aboriginal parenting practices can differ quite significantly from those in non-Aboriginal families. One particular difference is that Aboriginal families have a collective approach to child‑rearing, where raising children is a shared responsibility within the community. The definition of ‘family’ in Aboriginal communities is based around a kinship system which is much broader than a traditional western concept of family. Extended family members (grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins etc.) and other community members are heavily involved and provide significant support to Aboriginal parents and children.29
The Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children (LSIC) measured parenting efficacy using the Parent Empowerment and Efficacy Measure (PEEM) which was developed during the NSW Pathways to Prevention project.30 They concluded that for Aboriginal primary carers, resilience, satisfaction with relationships, feeling part of the community and community safety were important factors that led to them feeling more confident and effective.31
There is no data available on how confident or supported WA Aboriginal parents and carers feel about their parenting.
- Department of Social Services 2015, Footprints in Time: The Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children—Report from Wave 5, Australian Government.
- Centre for Community Child Health 2006, Policy Brief No 1 2006: Early childhood and the life course, Royal Children’s Hospital, p. 1.
- Tucci J et al 2005, The changing face of parenting, Australian Childhood Foundation, p. 21.
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2015, Australia’s welfare 2015 – 5.2 Who is looking after our children?, AIHW.
- Baxter J 2013, Parents working out work: Australian Family Trends No. 1, Australian Institute of Family Studies.
- Wittkowski A et al 2017, Self-Report Measures of Parental Self-Efficacy: A Systematic Review of the Current Literature, Journal of Child and Family Studies, Vol 26, No 11.
- Tazouti Y and Jarlégan A 2019, The mediating effects of parental self-efficacy and parental involvement on the link between family socioeconomic status and children’s academic achievement, Journal of Family Studies, Vol 25, No 3.
- Coleman P and Karraker K 1997, Self-Efficacy and Parenting Quality: Findings and Future Applications, Developmental Review, Vol 18, p. 67.
- Volmert A et al 2016, Perceptions of Parenting: Mapping the gaps between Expert and Public Understandings of Effective Parenting in Australia, Parenting Research Centre.
- Baxter J and Smart D 2010, Fathering in Australia among couple families with young children, Occasional Paper No. 37, Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, p. 15.
- Utting D 2007, Parenting and the different ways it can affect children’s lives: research evidence, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, p. 7.
- Wittkowski A et al 2017, Self-Report Measures of Parental Self-Efficacy: A Systematic Review of the Current Literature, Journal of child and family studies, Vol 26, No 11.
- Anglicare WA 2013, The Parenting Perceptions Report 2013, Anglicare WA, p. 1.
- Ibid, p. 17.
- The ‘Me as a parent’ scale is a 16-item self-report scale in an Australian context for clinical and research use. The scale measures global beliefs about self-efficacy, personal agency, self-management, and self-sufficiency, thought to constitute parent self-regulation perceptions. Source: Hamilton VE et al 2015, Development and Preliminary Validation of a Parenting Self-Regulation Scale: “Me as a Parent”, Journal of Child and Family Studies, Vol 24.
- This research was conducted by IPSOS using a random sampling methodology to ensure a representative sample was surveyed. Parenting Research Centre 2017, Parenting Today in Victoria: Technical Report, Parenting Research Centre.
- Parenting Research Centre (PRC) 2017, Parenting Today in Victoria: Report of Key Findings, produced for the Victorian Department of Education and Training, PRC, p. 103.
- Parenting Research Centre (PRC) 2017, Parenting Today in Victoria: Report of Key Findings, produced for the Victorian Department of Education and Training, PRC, p. 98.
- Tucci J et al 2005, The changing face of parenting, Australian Childhood Foundation, p. 10.
- Ibid, p. 11.
- Ibid, p. 22.
- Centre for Community Child Heath 2007, Policy Brief No 9 2007: Parenting young children, Royal Children’s Hospital, p. 1
- Centre for Community Child Heath 2009, Policy Brief No 15 2009: Caring for Young Children: What Children Need, Royal Children’s Hospital, p. 1.
- Anglicare WA 2013, The Parenting Perceptions Report 2013, Anglicare WA, p. 17.
- Parenting Research Centre (PRC) 2018, Research Brief: Parenting with disadvantage, produced for the Victorian Department of Education and Training, PRC.
- Lohoar S et al 2014, Strengths of Australian Aboriginal cultural practices in family life and child rearing, CFCA Paper No 25, Australian Institute of Family Studies.
- Department of Social Services (DSS) 2015, Footprints in Time: The Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children—Report from Wave 5, Australian Government, p. 21.
- Ibid, p. 26.
At 30 June 2019, there were 1,341 WA children in care aged between 0 and four years, more than one-half of whom (56.8%) were Aboriginal.1
There is no information available on whether WA children in care aged 0 to five years feel supported and cared for. There is also limited data on whether the carers of WA children in care feel confident and supported.
Positive and supportive relationships are critical for children who are in care. Having experienced severe disadvantage and often dysfunction in their family environments, children in care particularly need safe, positive and stable relationships that will help them lead healthy and fulfilled lives into the future.
National Standards for out-of-home care have been designed to improve the quality of care provided to children and young people in care around Australia. National Standard 11 states that children and young people in care should be supported to safely and appropriately identify and stay in touch, with at least one other person who cares about their future, who they can turn to for support and advice.2
AIHW publishes data on a set of indicators reporting against the National Standards as part of the National framework for protecting Australia's children indicators. Data for these indicators are collated by AIHW from the various Australian jurisdictions using different approaches.
To support this indicator, in 2018 AIHW presented data in The views of children and young people in out-of-home care: overview of indicator results from second national survey, 2018, collected by all Australian jurisdictions as part of their local case management processes. In total 2,428 Australian children and young people aged eight to 17 years completed the various surveys, including 643 children and young people in WA.3
No data is available on whether children in care younger than seven years of age have supportive relationships.
Wherever possible, children in care should also be supported to maintain a connection to their family. Standard nine of the National Standards is that ‘children and young people are supported to safely and appropriately maintain connection with family, be they birth parents, siblings or other family members’.4
The Department of Child Protection (now Department of Communities) included an indicator ‘proportion of children who have an ongoing relationship with their parents’ in the 2015–16 Outcomes Framework.5 No data was available at that time and no more recent data has been reported.
Support for carers
Kinship, foster and other carers need to be properly supported and confident in their ability to effectively look after the children in their care.
In 2016, the Australian Institute of Family Studies and the Department of Social Services conducted a survey of foster and kinship carers across Australia as part of the Working Together to Care for Kids Survey (WTCKS).6 In total, 175 family (kinship) and foster carers in WA participated.7
In this survey, over 90.0 per cent of carers strongly agreed or agreed that they could make a positive difference in the life of a child in care. Almost two-thirds stated that they felt very well or well prepared for their caring role, indicating that over one-third did not feel well prepared.8
The majority of carers (61.0%) reported they were provided with adequate information about the child’s history before they came into their care, with relative/kinship carers being more likely than foster carers to believe this was the case (69.0% compared to 52.0%). Almost one-half (46.0%) of foster carers reported they were not provided with adequate information prior to the child’s arrival.9
Overall, carers perceived the services they had received to be very helpful’ or fairly helpful’, with only a minority indicating that the services received were unhelpful. However, nearly four in ten carers said that they had some difficulty in getting the professional support they needed, with the most commonly-reported barrier being long waiting lists/low support staff availability.10
Children in care are a highly vulnerable group who need strong, positive and stable relationships to support them to have a good life. There is a critical need for more detailed and robust data about these children’s and their carers’ experiences and opinions.
- Department of Communities 2019, Annual Report: 2018-19, WA Government p. 26.
- Department of Social Services 2011, An outline of National Standards for out-of-home care, Commonwealth of Australia.
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2019, The views of children and young people in out-of-home care: overview of indicator results from the second national survey 2018. Cat no CWS 68, AIHW, p. 2-3.
- Department of Social Services 2011, An outline of National Standards for out-of-home care, Commonwealth of Australia.
- Department of Child Protection 2016, Outcomes Framework for Children in Out-of-home care in Western Australia: 2015–16 Baseline Indicator Report, WA Government.
- Study participants were foster and relative/kinship carers who were registered as formal carers across Australia and had at least one child under 18 years of age in out-of-home care who was living with them at 31 December 2015. Qu L et al 2018, Working Together to Care for Kids: A survey of foster and relative/kinship carers. (Research Report), Australian Institute of Family Studies, p. 4.
- Qu L et al 2018, Working Together to Care for Kids: A survey of foster and relative/kinship carers. (Research Report), Australian Institute of Family Studies, p. 5.
- Ibid, p. viii-ix.
- Ibid, p. viii.
- Ibid, p. viii-ix.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics Disability, Ageing and Carers data collection reports that approximately 5,100 WA children (3.0%) aged 0 to four years have reported disability in 2015.1,2
There is no data on whether WA children with disability aged 0 to five years feel supported and cared for in their home. There is limited data about whether WA parents of children with disability feel confident and supported in their parenting role.
Children with disability need positive and supportive relationships with parents and caregivers who feel confident in their parenting.
Being a parent or carer of a child with disability can be very challenging and stressful for a variety of reasons including, the intensity of day-to-day care routines, difficulties finding appropriate services for their child, financial stress and social isolation.3
Parents of children with disability often have a strong belief in their child’s future with an optimistic outlook tempered with a realistic understanding of their disability, however, they find it difficult to maintain their own social life and routines.4
Parents of children with disability (particularly mothers) have a higher risk of experiencing poor mental health.5 They will often need support from family, friends and professionals to help with their everyday caring responsibilities and also to provide them with support and respite to attend to their own mental health and wellbeing.
Australian research considering the mental health needs of mothers of children with disability found that 75.0 per cent of mothers felt a need for support for their own mental health, yet only 58.0 per cent tried to access support. The main barriers to accessing support were that their caring duties made it difficult to schedule appointments (45.0%) and they did not think their mental health issue was serious enough to need help (36.0%).6
- ABS uses the following definition of disability: ‘In the context of health experience, the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICFDH) defines disability as an umbrella term for impairments, activity limitations and participation restrictions… In this survey, a person has a disability if they report they have a limitation, restriction or impairment, which has lasted, or is likely to last, for at least six months and restricts everyday activities.’ Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016, Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia, 2015, Glossary.
- Estimate is to be to be used with caution as it has a relative standard error of between 25 and 50 per cent. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016, Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia, 2015: Western Australia, Table 1.1 Persons with disability, by age and sex, 2012 and 2015 estimate, and Table 1.3 Persons with disability, by age and sex, 2012 and 2015, proportion of persons.
- Davis E and Gilson KM 2018, Paying attention to the mental health of parents of children with a disability, Australian Institute of Family Studies [website].
- Heiman T 2002, Parents of Children With Disabilities: Resilience, Coping, and Future Expectations, Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, Vol 14, No 2.
- Gilson KM et al 2018, Mental health care needs and preferences for mothers of children with a disability, Child: Care Health and Development, Vol 44, No 10.
The relationships between young children and their families are among the most important influences on a child’s development and wellbeing. Responsive, involved, warm and consistent parenting is associated with positive child developmental outcomes.
There is a lack of data about whether very young children in WA have positive and supportive relationships. More work needs to be done to develop research methodologies and instruments that are appropriate for very young children that will allow them to share their experiences of relationships and parenting. This work should be appropriately funded and resourced.
Consultations with children and young people across Australia have consistently found that family is of critical importance to them and that they greatly value supportive and involved family members. They have also highlighted how family breakdown, conflict and a lack of family interest in their lives can have a negative impact.1
The support available to parents, both informal and formal, is an important factor in their capacity to parent.2 Supportive community attitudes, practical and social support from extended family, friends and community, timely information about child development and parenting issues, and access to quality programs, services and facilities are all crucial.3,4
A range of evidence-based and effective parenting programs and services are offered by government, non-government and private agencies in WA however they are not sufficiently coordinated or integrated and many are under-resourced.
It is particularly critical that parents who are experiencing adversity and disadvantage are provided with access to specialised and intensive parenting support services.5 Recent research has found that parents who received parenting interventions, either during pregnancy or while their children were infants, were significantly more responsive to their baby compared to those who did not.6
In 2015, as part of the Our Children Can’t Wait: Review of the implementation of recommendations of the 2011 Report of the Inquiry into the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people in WA report, the Commissioner recommended better coordinated universal and targeted parenting programs and supports, including for parents of older children and young people.
In 2017, the Centre for Parenting Excellence commissioned the Assessment of Parenting Services in Western Australia report. The final report has not been published. The Commissioner will continue to monitor for changes in the area of parenting support services, particularly for disadvantaged and vulnerable families, and advocate for improvements.
Emerging research from the UK suggests that supportive relationships with other adults from the broader community and civil society (non-government organisations) are also essential to parents’ and children’s wellbeing.7 This includes neighbours, school staff and other local community members who all have a significant role in supporting parents and vulnerable children and young people, both to mitigate the need for service intervention early on and later if children and young people fall through gaps in the service system.
Children in care are a particularly vulnerable group and a critical issue for these children is whether they feel cared for and supported by the key people in their lives.8 It is well established that children and young people in care have a higher risk of involvement with drugs, alcohol, youth justice and long-term disadvantage over their lifetime.9 Ensuring children in care experience safe, reliable and responsive caregiving and support as early as possible is essential.10
There is minimal research on the experiences of children in care under six years-old. Hearing the voices and experiences of young children in care should be a priority for governments and researchers.
Wherever possible, children in care should also be supported to maintain a connection with their family. It is essential that biological parents are helped to manage any unresolved trauma and grief and address parenting issues.11
Recent research has found that parenting programs for parents of children with disability improve parents’ capabilities and confidence (efficacy). In particular, parents of children younger than five years of age demonstrated the highest increase in parenting efficacy across a number of programs.12
The Stepping Stones Triple P program teaches parents how to encourage healthy behaviour and emotions in children with developmental disabilities. A recent evaluation of the Stepping Stones Triple P program found that children’s behaviour and parent’s skills both improved when they participated.13
Programs of this nature should be supported. However, current funding models for the NDIS may make programs like Stepping Stones Triple P unavailable for most families as there is inadequate funding provision for organisations to deliver group-based programs.14,15
No data exists on whether WA children under six years of age feel supported and cared for and what they need to help them feel loved.
There is a lack of data on WA children in care and with disability and their experiences.
There is limited data on whether WA parents and carers feel confident and supported in their caregiving.
- Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians (ACCG) 2018, ACCG Joint Participation Paper, ACCG.
- Centre for Community Child Health 2006, Policy Brief No 1 2006: Early childhood and the life course, Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne, p. 1.
- Centre for Community Child Health 2004, Parenting Information Project Volume One: Main Report, Department of Family and Community Services, Canberra, p. ix.
- Anglicare WA 2013, The Parenting Perceptions Report 2013, Anglicare WA, Perth, p. 22.
- Volmert A et al 2016, Perceptions of Parenting: Mapping the gaps between expert and public understandings of effective parenting in Australia, FrameWorks Institute, p. 6.
- Commerford J 2017, Effects of early parenting interventions on parents and infants, Australian Institute of Family Studies.
- Little M 2017, Conference paper: Relational Social Policy - Implications for Policy and Evidence, Evidence for impact: International and local perspectives on improving outcomes for children and young people, The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne.
- McDowall JJ 2018, Out-of-home care in Australia: Children and young people’s views after five years of National Standards, CREATE Foundation, p. 45.
- Cameron N et al 2019, Research Briefing: Good Practice in Supporting Young People Leaving Care, Australian Childhood Foundation: Centre for Excellence in Therapeutic Care, Southern Cross University.
- McLean S 2016, Children’s attachment needs in the context of out-of-home care, Child Family Community Australia, Australian Institute of Family Studies.
- Hohlfeld ASJ et al 2018, Parents of children with disabilities: A systematic review of parenting interventions and self-efficacy, African Journal of Disability, Vol 7, No 0.
- Einfeld SL et al 2018, Is statewide delivery of Stepping Stones Triple P effective?, The University of Sydney.
- Joint Standing Committee on the National Disability Insurance Scheme 2017, Provision of services under the NDIS for people with psychosocial disabilities related to a mental health condition, Chapter 4 – Funding and services, Australian Government, p. 44.
For further information on the importance of supportive relationships including confident and supported parents, refer to the following resources:
- Centre for Community Child Heath 2007, Policy Brief No 9 2007: Parenting young children, Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne.
- Lohoar S et al 2014, Strengths of Australian Aboriginal cultural practices in family life and child rearing, CFCA Paper No 25, Australian Institute of Family Studies.
- National Scientific Council on the Developing Child 2009, Young Children Develop in an Environment of Relationships, Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University.
- Utting D 2007, Parenting and the different ways it can affect children’s lives: research evidence, Joseph Rowntree Foundation.