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Age group 12 to 17 years

Supportive relationships

All young people have the right to be loved and to feel safe and supported by positive and healthy relationships. Young people who are supported by safe and positive relationships are more likely to have good mental health, be resilient, able to learn and sustain healthy relationships into the future.

Young people aged 12 to 17 years are experiencing the various physical, cognitive and emotional changes associated with adolescence. Positive relationships with family, friends and other adults are critical to provide support during this period.

Overview and areas of concern

Limited data is available on whether WA young people aged 12 to 17 years are supported by safe and healthy relationships at home.

Overview          

This indicator reports on a number of key measures that aim to track whether young people in WA have supportive relationships including relationships with parents, friends and other adults.

Three-quarters of WA young people aged 15 to 19 years feel their family gets along with each other.

The majority (77.9%) of young people aged 12 to 17 years say they usually get along with their classmates.

Areas of concern

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.

There is limited information available on whether WA young people in care are supported by healthy and positive relationships.

No data is available on whether WA young people with disability are supported by healthy and positive relationships.

Measure: Feeling supported and cared for in the home
#1217-home-support

All young people have a right to be well looked after and loved by the people who care for them in their home. As children enter their teenage years the relationships with their friends and peers become more central to their lives, however, positive relationships with family members and carers are still essential.1

Throughout the Commissioner’s many consultations, WA young people identify having a loving and supportive family as being fundamental to their wellbeing.

Communicative, warm and consistent parenting is associated with positive child and adolescent developmental outcomes.2 Increasing parent-child conflict is normal during adolescence as young people test boundaries put in place by parents. Evidence suggests that the capacity of parents to maintain connection and communication even during conflict is critical to young people feeling supported.3

There is limited data or research on how WA young people feel about the care and support they receive in their home.

The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC)includes a number of questions which are related to Australian children and young people’s relationships with their parents. These include whether participants aged 10 to 15 years enjoy spending time with their parents, their closeness to their parents and who they talk to when they have a problem.5

This data shows that the majority of Australian participants aged 10 to 15 years enjoyed spending time with their parents. However, the proportion of participants who said they enjoyed spending time with their parents decreased as they got older from around 70.0 per cent at age 10 to 11 years, to just over 50.0 per cent at age 14 to 15 years.6

At 12 to 13 years of age, around 60.0 per cent of participants said that they were very close to their mother. However, by 14 to 15 years-old, 50.0 per cent of male and only 45.0 per cent of female young people said they were very close to their mother. Fewer participants felt close to their father, with 47.0 per cent of male young people aged 14 to 15 years and only 35.0 per cent of female young people saying they were very close to their father.7

At the same time, more young people enjoyed spending time with their parents than considered their relationship to be close. In particular, 53.0 per cent of female young people enjoyed spending time with their father, while only 35.0 per cent said they were close.8

Young people's ability and willingness to talk to their parents about problems is an important indicator of a supportive and positive relationship.9

Between the ages of 12 and 13 years, 84.0 per cent of male participants and 82.0 per cent of female participants said they would go to their mother if they had a problem. In this same age group, only 72.0 per cent of male and 55.0 per cent of female participants would go to their father.10 This survey does not have data for older age groups on this measure.

In the annual Mission Australia 2019 Youth Survey, 25,126 Australian young people aged 15 to 19 years responded to questions across a broad range of topics including education and employment, participation in community activities, general wellbeing, values and concerns and preferred sources of support.

The 2019 sample included 2,766 young people from WA.11 One-half of WA respondents (50.3%) were male and 45.8 per cent were female and 5.9 per cent of WA respondents identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander.12

Mission Australia recommend caution when interpreting and generalising the results for certain states or territories because of the small sample sizes and the imbalance between the number of young females and males participating in the survey.

In 2019, 75.2 per cent of Australian respondents and 73.5 per cent of WA respondents said they would go to their parent/guardian for help with important issues.13 One-half (50.8%) of Australian respondents and 49.7 per cent of WA respondents reported that they would go to their siblings.14

Respondents to the Mission Australia survey were also asked how well they felt their family gets along with each other.

How well young people aged 15 to 19 years feel their family gets along with each other, in per cent, WA and Australia, 2019

WA

Australia

Excellent

22.3

22.6

Very good

30.6

31.7

Good

23.3

23.9

Fair

14.9

14.1

Poor

8.9

7.7

Source: Mission Australia, Youth Survey Report 2019

How well young people aged 15 to 19 years feel their family gets along with each other, in per cent, WA and Australia, 2019

Source: Mission Australia, Youth Survey Report 2019

A slightly higher proportion of WA than Australian young people felt that their family gets along with each other either fairly or poorly (23.8% WA compared to 21.8% Australia).

There were also some differences between genders: for WA, male respondents were more likely than female respondents to say that their family’s ability to get along with each other is ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’ (59.1% male compared to 47.3% female).

How well young people aged 15 to 19 years feel their family gets along with each other by gender, in per cent, WA, 2019

Male

Female

Excellent

26.7

17.7

Very good

32.4

29.6

Good

22.1

25.1

Fair

12.3

17.5

Poor

6.5

10.1

Source: Mission Australia, Youth Survey Report 2019

How well young people aged 15 to 19 years feel their family gets along with each other by gender, in per cent, WA, 2019

Source: Mission Australia, Youth Survey Report 2019

In the Commissioner’s Speaking Out Survey, WA children and young people aged eight to 17 years were asked questions about their relationships with family and feelings of support in the home. Results from the study will be published in 2020.

Endnotes

  1. Yu M and Baxter J 2018, Relationships between parents and young teens, in LSAC Annual Statistical Report 2017, Australian Institute of Family Studies.
  2. Robinson E 2006, Young people and their parents: Supporting families through changes that occur in adolescence, Australian Family Relationships Clearinghouse, Australian Institute of Family Studies.
  3. Moretti MM 2004, Adolescent-parent attachment: Bonds that support healthy development, Paediatrics Child Health, Vol 9, No 8.
  4. The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) follows the development of 10,000 young people and their families from all parts of Australia. The study began in 2003 with a representative sample of children (who are now teens and young adults) from urban and rural areas of all states and territories in Australia.
  5. Yu M and Baxter J 2018, Relationships between parents and young teens, in LSAC Annual Statistical Report 2017, Australian Institute of Family Studies.
  6. Ibid, p. 36.
  7. Ibid, p. 37.
  8. Ibid, p. 37.
  9. Ibid, p. 38.
  10. Ibid, p. 38.
  11. Carlisle E et al 2019, Youth Survey Report 2019, Mission Australia, p. 192.
  12. Ibid, p. 192.
  13. Ibid, p. 206.
  14. Ibid, p. 206.
Measure: Parents feel confident and supported

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

Young people aged 12 to 17 years are experiencing the various physical, cognitive and emotional changes associated with adolescence. These include striving for greater autonomy and self-reliance from parents and engaging in activities which provide them with a sense of identity separate from their family.4,5 Increasing parent-child conflict is therefore normal during adolescence as young people test parental boundaries.6

Parental confidence is important. Parental confidence or ‘parenting self-efficacy’ has been shown to be related to better outcomes for children.7 Parenting self-efficacy can be defined as a caregiver’s or parent’s confidence in their ability to successfully raise their children.8 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.9,10

While parental confidence does influence competence, research has highlighted that people’s assumptions about what effective parenting involves often do not align with the views of child health and development experts.11

There is no recent data available on whether WA parents feel confident and supported in their parenting.

The following data is sourced from surveys of parent’s self-reported feelings of confidence. There are limitations with surveys of this nature, as a question about parental ‘confidence’ does not measure competency or capability at specific parenting tasks.12

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.13

In response to the question, ‘How confident would you say you are with your parenting skills and abilities?’, 60.0 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.14

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,15 which comprised 16 questions on a five-point scale.16 This study found that a significant majority (91.0%) of parents had confidence in themselves as a parent.17 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).18 

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.19

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.20 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.21

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.22 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.23 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.24 This study also found that parents experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage attended Maternal and Child Health first-time parents groups less.25

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.26

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.27 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.28

There is no data available on how confident or supported WA Aboriginal parents and carers feel about their parenting.

Endnotes

  1. Department of Social Services 2015, Footprints in Time: The Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children—Report from Wave 5, Australian Government.
  2. Centre for Community Child Health 2006, Policy Brief No 1 2006: Early childhood and the life course, Royal Children’s Hospital, p. 1.
  3. Tucci J et al 2005, The changing face of parenting, Australian Childhood Foundation, p. 21.
  4. Yu M and Baxter J 2018, Relationships between parents and young teens, in LSAC Annual Statistical Report 2017, Australian Institute of Family Studies.
  5. Melbourne Children’s Research Institute 2015, Transitioning from childhood to adolescence, Commonwealth of Australia.
  6. Moretti MM 2004, Adolescent-parent attachment: Bonds that support healthy development, Paediatrics Child Health, Vol 9, No 8.
  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.
  8. Ibid.
  9. 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.
  10. Coleman P and Karraker K 1997, Self-Efficacy and Parenting Quality: Findings and Future Applications, Developmental Review, Vol 18, p. 67.
  11. Volmert A et al 2016, Perceptions of Parenting: Mapping the gaps between Expert and Public Understandings of Effective Parenting in Australia, Parenting Research Centre.
  12. 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.            
  13. Anglicare WA 2013, The Parenting Perceptions Report 2013, Anglicare WA, p. 1.
  14. Ibid, p. 17.
  15. 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.
  16. This research was conducted by IPSOS using a random sampling methodology to ensure a representative sample was surveyed.
  17. 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.
  18. 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.
  19. Tucci J et al 2005, The changing face of parenting, Australian Childhood Foundation, p. 10.
  20. Ibid, p. 11.
  21. Ibid, p. 22.
  22. Centre for Community Child Heath 2007, Policy Brief No 9 2007: Parenting young children, Royal Children’s Hospital, p. 1
  23. Anglicare WA 2013, The Parenting Perceptions Report 2013, Anglicare WA, p. 17.
  24. Parenting Research Centre (PRC) 2018, Research Brief: Parenting with disadvantage, produced for the Victorian Department of Education and Training, PRC.
  25. Ibid.
  26. 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.
  27. Department of Social Services (DSS) 2015, Footprints in Time: The Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children—Report from Wave 5, Australian Government, p. 21.
  28. Ibid, p. 26.
Measure: Supportive relationships with friends

Relationships with friends are critical for young people aged 12 to 17 years. Adolescence is a critical period where young people are increasing their independence from their family and friendships become more important.

Friendships provide young people with social and emotional support and can be a protective factor against bullying and mental health issues.1,2,3 Supportive relationships with friends also help young people develop patterns of persistence and motivation in their schooling.4 At the same time, attitudes of friends can also have negative influences on a range of behavioural, social-emotional and school outcomes.5

The Commissioner’s consultations with children and young people across WA have consistently found that having friends is one of the most important things to them.

Limited data exists on the proportion of WA young people aged 12 to 17 years who have supportive relationships with their friends.

Relationships with peers at school are one of the main sources of friendships for adolescents. These relationships foster a sense of belonging and feeling valued and make young people more likely to enjoy attending school.

In 2016, the Commissioner for Children and Young People WA conducted the School and Learning Consultation across all regions of WA. In this survey, 77.9 per cent of young people aged 12 to 17 years said they usually get along with their classmates. For more information on WA young people’s relationships at school refer to the Indicator: A sense of belonging and supportive relationships at school or the Commissioner’s School and Learning Consultation: Technical Report

In regards to where young people go for help with important issues, in the Mission Australia 2019 Youth Survey,6 81.1 per cent, or four in five, WA young people responded that they go to their friends for help with issues.7 This was the most popular response.

The Mission Australia 2019 sample included 2,766 young people from WA.8 Mission Australia recommends caution when interpreting and generalising the results for certain states or territories because of the small sample sizes and the imbalance between the number of young females and males participating in the survey.

The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC)9 includes a number of questions which are related to Australian children and young people’s relationships with their peers. This study is not designed to provide jurisdictional breakdowns.

A significant majority (80.0% to 90.0%) of Australian young people aged between 12 and 15 years reported having good friends who they trusted and who they felt respected their feeling and listened to them.10

On almost all items, female young people reported higher peer attachment than male young people. For example, female respondents were far more likely to have friends who encouraged them to talk about their difficulties (70.0% of female young people compared to 45.0% of male young people).11

A high proportion of both female (86.0%) and male (82.0%) young people reported that their friendship groups displayed positive attitudes, including positive attitude towards school and academic achievement, and positive moral behaviour.12

In the Commissioner’s consultations, Aboriginal children and young people have expressed slightly different views on friendship from non-Aboriginal children and young people. While Aboriginal young people highly valued their friends, they considered their family to be the most important source of happiness, support and guidance.13

Family is very important to Aboriginal children, and close family includes grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins, who are all actively involved in caring for Aboriginal children. While Western influences have changed the way Aboriginal families function, traditional belief systems and values, especially around the importance of family, are still very strong.

Cultural and linguistically diverse (CALD) children and young people can find it more challenging to develop supportive friendships in Australia. In 2015, the Commissioner asked almost 300 WA children and young people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds (CALD) about the positive things in their lives, the challenges they face, their experiences settling in Australia and their hopes for the future. In this consultation, CALD children and young people spoke about how difficult it was to make friends in a new country, particularly when you look or act differently or have trouble understanding English. Naturally, however, they saw making friends they could connect with and trust as really important.14

Adolescence for CALD young people can be particularly difficult where development of their cultural identity is important to them, however, due to discrimination and stereotypes this identity may not be viewed favourably by the wider Australian community.15 Additionally, research has highlighted that CALD young people can sometimes be restricted from making new friends or socialising with friends by their families, due to cultural differences.16

Help and support are critical for CALD children and young people, particularly navigating a new environment that they are not used to. In the Commissioner’s consultation with WA CALD children and young people, they said they go to family, friends and school when they need help or support.17 

In the Commissioner’s Speaking Out Survey, WA children and young people aged eight to 17 years were asked questions about their relationships with their friends. Results from the study will be published in 2020.

Endnotes

  1. Healy KL and Sanders MR 2018, Mechanisms Through Which Supportive Relationships with Parents and Peers Mitigate Victimization, Depression and Internalizing Problems in Children Bullied by Peers, Child Psychiatry and Human Development, Vol 49, No 5.
  2. Bayer J et al 2018, Bullying, mental health and friendship in Australian primary school children, Child and Adolescent Mental Health, Vol 23, No 4.
  3. Gray S et al 2018, Adolescents relationships with their peers, in LSAC Annual Statistical Report 2017, Australian Institute of Family Studies, p. 47.
  4. Martin A and Dowson M 2009, Interpersonal Relationships, Motivation, Engagement, and Achievement: Yields for Theory, Current Issues, and Educational Practice, Review of Educational Research, Vol 79 No 1, pp. 327-365.
  5. Gray S et al 2018, Adolescents relationships with their peers, in LSAC Annual Statistical Report 2017, Australian Institute of Family Studies.
  6. In the annual Mission Australia 2019 Youth Survey, 25,126 Australian young people aged 15 to 19 years responded to questions across a broad range of topics including education and employment, participation in community activities, general wellbeing, values and concerns and preferred sources of support. The Mission Australia 2019 sample included 2,766 young people from WA. One-half of WA respondents (50.3%) were male and 45.8 per cent were female. 5.9 per cent of WA respondents identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander. Source: Carlisle E et al 2019, Youth Survey Report 2019, Mission Australia, p. 192.
  7. Carlisle E et al 2019, Youth Survey Report 2019, Mission Australia, p. 206.
  8. Ibid, p. 192.
  9. The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) follows the development of 10,000 young people and their families from all parts of Australia. The study began in 2003 with a representative sample of children (who are now teens and young adults) from urban and rural areas of all states and territories in Australia.
  10. Gray S et al 2018, Adolescents relationships with their peers, in LSAC Annual Statistical Report 2017, Australian Institute of Family Studies, p. 48.
  11. Ibid, p. 49.
  12. Ibid, p. 57.
  13. Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2016, Speaking out about wellbeing: Children and young people speak out about friends, Commissioner for Children and Young People WA.
  14. Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2016, Children and Young People from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Backgrounds Speak Out, Commissioner for Children and Young People WA, p. 21.
  15. WA Office of Multicultural Interests 2009, Not drowning, waving: Culturally and linguistically diverse young people at risk in Western Australia, WA Government, p. 17.
  16. Ibid, p. 11.
  17. Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2016, Children and Young People from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Backgrounds Speak Out, Commissioner for Children and Young People WA, p. 27.
Measure: Supportive relationships with other adults

Positive relationships with other adults outside of the immediate family are important for young people’s wellbeing.1

Supportive and positive relationships with other adults should be warm, caring and respectful. They provide young people with the opportunity to tell an adult about a situation they would not like to tell their parents and ask for advice from someone with greater experience and knowledge than their friends.2

Research suggests that positive relationships with non-parental adults support young people’s wellbeing by providing them with a sense of value, purpose, identity and attachment to their community.3 Conversely, negative relationships or experiences (such as discrimination, being treated unfairly or badly) with other adults can foster a sense of worthlessness, powerlessness and negative self-concept.4

Young people who have a significant non-parental adult in their lives have also been shown to have more positive academic attitudes, motivation, school attendance and achievement, than young people without a supportive non-parental adult.5

In the school environment, positive relationships between students and teachers can have a long-lasting impact and contribute to students’ academic and social development. They also enable students to feel safe and secure in their learning environments and promote engagement with school and learning.6,7

In 2016, the Commissioner for Children and Young People WA conducted the School and Learning Consultation across all regions of WA. In this survey, more than three-quarters (76.7%) of Year 7 to Year 12 students reported that they usually get along with their teachers while almost 20.0 per cent answered they sometimes get along with their teacher. For more information on whether WA young people get along with their teachers, refer to the Indicator: A sense of belonging and supportive relationships at school or the Commissioner’s School and Learning Consultation: Technical Report.

There is limited data on whether WA or Australian young people aged 12 to 17 years have supportive relationships with other adults.

During adolescence, supportive relationships with non-parental adults can be in the form of mentoring relationships.8 US research using representative data from a longitudinal survey9 showed that informal adult mentors can have a significant positive influence on young people’s academic outcomes, particularly young people experiencing disadvantage.10

This research also found that young people with more resources (e.g. supportive family and friends, higher socioeconomic status and parental educational attainment) were more likely than other young people to have mentors, but young people with fewer resources were likely to benefit more from having a mentor particularly teacher mentors.11

In the Commissioner’s Speaking Out Survey, WA children and young people aged eight to 17 years were asked questions about their relationships with other adults. Results from the study will be published in 2020.

Endnotes

  1. Goswami H 2012, Social Relationships and Children’s Subjective Well-Being, Social Indicators Research, Vol 107, No 3.
  2. Sterrett EM et al 2011, Supportive Non-Parental Adults and Adolescent Psychosocial Functioning: Using Social Support as a Theoretical Framework, American Journal of Community Psychology, Vol 48, No 0.
  3. Goswami H 2012, Social Relationships and Children’s Subjective Well-Being, Social Indicators Research, Vol 107, No 3.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Sterrett EM et al 2011, Supportive Non-Parental Adults and Adolescent Psychosocial Functioning: Using Social Support as a Theoretical Framework, American Journal of Community Psychology, Vol 48, No 0.
  6. Berry D and O’Connor E 2010, Behavioural risk, teacher-child relationships, and social skill development across middle childhood: A child-by-environment analysis of change, Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, Vol 31, No 1, p. 1-14.
  7. Hamre B and Pianta R 2001, Early Teacher-Child Relationships and the Trajectory of Children’s School Outcomes through Eighth Grade, Child Development, Vol 72, No 2, p. 625-638.
  8. A mentor can be defined as someone who takes a special interest in a young person and offers advice and support to help that young person. Source: Erickson L et al 2011, Informal Mentors and Education: Complementary or Compensatory Resources?, Sociology of Education, Vol 82, No 4.
  9. The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, also known as Add Health, is a multi-wave longitudinal study of adolescents in the United States.
  10. Erickson L et al 2011, Informal Mentors and Education: Complementary or Compensatory Resources?, Sociology of Education, Vol 82, No 4.
  11. Ibid.
Young people in care

At 30 June 2019, there were 2,420 WA young people in care aged between 10 and 17 years, more than one-half of whom (53.3%) were Aboriginal.1

There is limited information available on whether WA young people in care are supported by healthy and positive relationships. There is also limited data on whether the carers of WA children and young people in care feel confident and supported.

Positive and supportive relationships are critical for young people who are in care. Having experienced severe disadvantage and often dysfunction in their family environments, young people in care particularly need safe, positive and stable relationships that will help them lead healthy and fulfilling 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 is 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

WA data was collected through existing survey processes via Viewpoint, a self-assessment questionnaire. This process is not random and respondents are usually supported by a facilitator to respond to the questionnaire. Older children and young people can choose to respond independently using their own device.4  

Nationally, 97.4 per cent of all survey respondents were able to nominate at least one significant adult who cared about them and who they believed they would be able to depend upon throughout their childhood.5

However, only 64.0 per cent of young people aged 15 to 17 years reported that they were getting as much help as they needed to make decisions about their future. A further 26.0 per cent reported that they were getting some help but they wanted more.6

In 2017, CREATE Foundation asked 1,275 Australian children and young people aged 10 to 17 years about their lives in the care system. CREATE Foundation noted in their report that the recruitment of participants proved difficult and that it resulted in a non-random sample with the possibility of bias.7

Nevertheless, 81.0 per cent of respondents indicated that they felt quite happy in their current placement; while 93.0 per cent reported feeling safe and secure.8 Respondents also said that if something worried them about their life in care they would most likely talk to their carers, followed by friends.9

This study also found that respondents found making friends relatively easy, however, those in residential care found this more difficult. Aboriginal respondents found it easier to make friends than non-Aboriginal respondents.10

Refer to the CREATE report for more detailed information on the children and young people’s relationships, including with case managers, siblings and carers.

McDowall JJ 2018, Out-of-home care in Australia: Children and young people’s views after five years of National Standards, CREATE Foundation

Wherever possible, children in care should also be supported to maintain a connection with 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’.11

In 2018, AIHW reported on: The views of children and young people in out-of-home care: overview of indicator results from second national survey, 2018 finding that, 9.0 per cent of 10 to 14 year-old respondents and 9.6 per cent of 15 to 17 year-old respondents reported they feel close only to their non-co-resident (biological) family. In contrast, 65.0 per cent of 10 to 14 year-olds and 57.3 per cent of 15 to 17 year-olds felt close to both their non-co-resident family and their co-resident family.12

It should be noted that ‘felt close to’ does not indicate whether the child or young person is supported to maintain contact with those family members.

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.13 No data was available at that time and no more recent data has been reported.

In 2016 the Commissioner asked 96 WA children and young people with experience of care about their views on raising concerns and making complaints in the care system. The consultation highlighted that having strong, stable and trusting relationships with caseworkers and carers was essential as these were the most frequently cited people children could speak to about their concerns.14 The absence of these important relationships placed children and young people at greater risk of believing they have nobody to speak to and nobody who would listen to or act on their concerns, and this led to feelings of disempowerment.15

Young people in care particularly need supportive relationships when they leave care at 18 years of age (or sometimes earlier). Many of the challenges young people face with transitioning from care are related to their lack of social or familial support.16

The Beyond 18: Longitudinal Study on Leaving Care is being conducted in Victoria and the wave two results were recently released. The study found that young people leaving care who were participating in the Beyond 18 study had generally poorer mental health, employment and education outcomes than other young people their age.17 This research also found that:

  • Two thirds (66.0%) of care leavers stayed in contact with friends they had made while in care.
  • Around three quarters (76.0%) of the continuing participants kept in contact with a former carer. This was less frequently an option for young people from residential care.
  • Young people in residential care felt that the restrictions on spending time away from the care home, and limited opportunities for participating in after-school or community activities, could make it difficult to maintain outside social relationships.18

The Victorian survey results provide some indication on the experiences of young people in care generally and for the WA context, despite there being differences in the child protection system for each jurisdiction.

The lack of research and data reporting on the experiences and outcomes of WA young people in the care system is a significant gap.

Support for carers

Kinship, foster and other carers need to be properly supported and confident in their ability to effectively look after the young people 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).19 In total, 175 family (kinship) and foster carers in WA participated.20

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 or young person 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.21

The majority of carers (61.0%) reported they were provided with adequate information about the child or young person’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/young person’s arrival.22   

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 and low support staff availability.23 

Young people 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 young people’s and their carers’ experiences and opinions.

Endnotes

  1. Department of Communities 2019, Annual Report: 2018-19, WA Government p. 26.
  2. Department of Social Services 2011, An outline of National Standards for out-of-home care, Commonwealth of Australia.
  3. 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.
  4. 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. 31.
  5. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2019, National framework for protecting Australia's children indicators: National Standards Indicator – 11.1 Significant Person, AIHW.
  6. 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. iv.
  7. McDowall JJ 2018, Out-of-home care in Australia: Children and young people’s views after five years of National Standards, CREATE Foundation, p. 17-19.
  8. McDowall JJ 2018, Out-of-home care in Australia: Children and young people’s views after five years of National Standards, CREATE Foundation, p. xix.
  9. McDowall JJ 2018, Out-of-home care in Australia: Children and young people’s views after five years of National Standards, CREATE Foundation, p. 86-87.
  10. McDowall JJ 2018, Out-of-home care in Australia: Children and young people’s views after five years of National Standards, CREATE Foundation, p. 73-74.
  11. Department of Social Services 2011, An outline of National Standards for out-of-home care, Commonwealth of Australia.
  12. 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: Table A9.2a: Children aged 8–17 years in care who report they have an existing connection with at least one family member which they expect to maintain, Cat no CWS 68, AIHW.
  13. Department of Child Protection 2016, Outcomes Framework for Children in Out-of-home care in Western Australia: 2015-16 Baseline Indicator Report, WA Government.
  14. Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2016, Speaking Out About Raising Concerns in Care, Commissioner for Children and Young People WA.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Purtell J et al 2019, Beyond 18: The Longitudinal Study on Leaving Care Wave 2 Research Report: Transitioning to post-care life, Australian Institute of Family Studies, p. 27.
  17. Ibid, p. 2.
  18. Ibid, p. 5.
  19. 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.
  20. 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.
  21. Ibid, p. viii-ix.
  22. Ibid, p. viii.
  23. Ibid, p. viii-ix.
Young people with disability

The Australian Bureau of Statistics Disability, Ageing and Carers, 2015 data collection reports that approximately 23,700 WA children and young people (7.5%) aged five to 14 years have reported disability.1,2

There is no data on whether WA young people with disability are supported by healthy and positive relationships. There is limited data about whether WA parents of young people with disability feel confident and supported in their parenting role.

Young people with disability need positive and supportive relationships with parents and carers who feel confident in their caregiving.

In 2013, the Commissioner consulted with 233 WA children with disability aged six to 18 years to find out what matters to them and how they feel about their lives.

Almost all participating children and young people said that family was one of the most important things to them and supportive parents were one of the good things in their lives.3

Establishing and sustaining friendships is important for all young people. Friendships promote social development and provide young people with emotional stability and enhance their resilience.4

In the Commissioner’s 2013 consultation with WA children and young people with disability, most children and young people felt they had ‘enough good friends’ and many talked about enjoying spending time with friends. However, some identified a lack of friends or supportive friendship networks.5 A number of young people also highlighted how technology can be an important tool for sharing views and ideas with others.6

For more information on supportive relationships for young people with disability refer:

Robinson S and Truscott J 2014, Belonging and Connection of School Students with Disability – Issues Paper, Children with Disability Australia.

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.7

Parents of young people 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.8

Parents of young people with disability (particularly mothers) have a higher risk of experiencing poor mental health.9 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%).10

Endnotes

  1. The 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.
  2. Estimate is 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.
  3. Commissioner for Children and Young People WA (CCYP) 2013, Speaking Out About Disability: The views of Western Australian children and young people with disability, CCYP.
  4. Morrison R and Burgman I 2016, Friendship experiences among children with disabilities who attend mainstream Australian schools, Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, Vol 76, No 3.
  5. Commissioner for Children and Young People WA (CCYP) 2013, Speaking Out About Disability: The views of Western Australian children and young people with disability, CCYP.
  6. Ibid.
  7. 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].
  8. Heiman T 2002, Parents of Children With Disabilities: Resilience, Coping, and Future Expectations, Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, Vol 14, No 2.
  9. 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.
  10. Ibid.
Policy implications

Young people aged 12 to 17 years are experiencing the changes that the transition to adulthood brings. These include striving for greater autonomy and self-reliance, and engaging in activities which provide them with a sense of identity separate from their family.1,2

Young people can also face specific challenges associated with adolescence including mental health issues related to body image, sexual identity and self-esteem.3 In their mid to late teens, many young people start to experiment with substances and sexual activity as part of the transition to adulthood. Some young people are also at risk of disengagement from school which can lead to diminished employment prospects and adverse life outcomes including social exclusion and poverty.4,5

Strong and positive relationships are protective against a range of behaviours that can affect young people, including mental health issues, school disengagement, drug and alcohol misuse and unsafe sexual activity.6,7,8

Whether young people in WA feel supported by family, friends or other non-parental adults is important. Yet, there is a lack of robust data about whether young people in WA have positive and supportive relationships.

Research shows that both mothers’ and fathers’ relationships with their children and their parenting styles are important for child and adolescent development.9,10 Most parents will find parenting at times demanding or stressful and will require resources and support at least occasionally.11

The support available to parents, both informal and formal, is an important factor in their capacity to parent.12 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.13,14

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.15

While the focus of parenting programs is often for parents with young children, parents of teenagers also require support and assistance for the various issues that arise during this period. 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 highlights that many of the most vulnerable children and young people in a community do not receive the help they need from intensive support services. Rather, the majority of children and young people who do receive intensive support services are not those in greatest need.16

However, many vulnerable children and young people receive more informal assistance and support from civil society (non-government organisations) and the broader community.17 This includes neighbours, school staff and other local community members who all have a significant role in supporting 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.

Opportunities to participate in cultural and community activities that enable young people to build relationships outside of their immediate family are therefore important.

Friendships are highly influential for young people aged 12 to 17 years as during this period they are often increasing their independence from their family and turning to friends for support. Friendships provide young people with social and emotional support and can be protective against bullying and mental health issues.18,19,20

Some young people can have difficulty creating and maintaining friendships. These include young people in care, young people with disability and culturally and linguistically diverse young people. Recognising that positive and supportive friendships are critical for young people, organisations interacting with young people, including schools, should encourage programs which foster friendships.

Young people in care are a particularly vulnerable group and an important issue for these young people is whether they feel cared for and supported by the key people in their lives.21 It is well established that young people in care have a higher risk of involvement with drugs, alcohol, youth justice and long-term disadvantage over their lifetime.22 Ensuring young people in care experience safe, reliable and responsive caregiving and support as early as possible is critical.23

It is also essential to ensure that young people leaving care have the support they need to successfully transition to independence.

Wherever possible, young people 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.24    

Parenting a young person with disability can be challenging. Parents of children and young people with disability have been shown to have a higher risk of mental health issues than those with children without disability.25 High-quality programs that support parents of children and young people with disability are essential.

Data gaps

Limited data exists on whether WA young people aged 12 to 17 years have positive and supportive relationships. Data from the Commissioner’s Speaking Out Survey scheduled for release in 2020 will provide some information however more research – both quantitative and qualitative – is required.

There is a lack of data on WA children and young people 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.

Endnotes

  1. Yu M and Baxter J 2018, Relationships between parents and young teens, in LSAC Annual Statistical Report 2017, Australian Institute of Family Studies.
  2. Melbourne Children’s Research Institute 2015, Transitioning from childhood to adolescence, Commonwealth of Australia.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Hancock KJ et al 2013, Student attendance and educational outcomes: Every day counts, Report for the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.
  5. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2015, Australia’s welfare 2015, Australia’s Welfare Series No 12, Cat No AUS 189, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
  6. Child Family Community Australia 2013, Family factors in early school leaving, Australian institute of Family Studies.
  7. Robinson E 2006, Young people and their parents: Supporting families through changes that occur in adolescence, Australian Family Relationships Clearinghouse, Australian Institute of Family Studies.
  8. Moretti MM 2004, Adolescent-parent attachment: Bonds that support healthy development, Paediatrics Child Health, Vol 9, No 8.
  9. 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.  
  10. Utting D 2007, Parenting and the different ways it can affect children’s lives: research evidence, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, York, England, p. 7.
  11. Centre for Community Child Heath 2007, Policy Brief No 9 2007: Parenting young children, Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne, p. 1
  12. Centre for Community Child Health 2006, Policy Brief No 1 2006: Early childhood and the life course, Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne, p. 1.
  13. Centre for Community Child Health 2004, Parenting Information Project Volume One: Main Report, Department of Family and Community Services, Canberra, p. ix.
  14. Anglicare WA 2013, The Parenting Perceptions Report 2013, Anglicare WA, Perth, p. 22.
  15. 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.
  16. Little M et al 2015, Bringing Everything I Am Into One Place, Dartington Social Research Unit and Lankelly Chase, p. 50-51.
  17. 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.
  18. Healy KL and Sanders MR 2018, Mechanisms Through Which Supportive Relationships with Parents and Peers Mitigate Victimization, Depression and Internalizing Problems in Children Bullied by Peers, Child Psychiatry and Human Development, Vol 49, No 5.
  19. Bayer J et al 2018, Bullying, mental health and friendship in Australian primary school children, Child and Adolescent Mental Health, Vol 23, No 4.
  20. Gray S et al 2018, Adolescents relationships with their peers, in LSAC Annual Statistical Report 2017, Australian Institute of Family Studies, p. 47.
  21. 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.
  22. 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.
  23. McLean S 2016, Children’s attachment needs in the context of out-of-home care, Child Family Community Australia, Australian Institute of Family Studies.
  24. Ibid.
  25. 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.
Further resources

For further information on the importance of supportive relationships including confident and supported parents, refer to the following resources: