Children and Parenting Program

Program Manager: Sarah Wise
Program staff

Current Research Projects
Completed Research Project

Survey of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Parents

Recent Publications


Program Overview

The Children and Parenting Program focuses on ways in which factors within the family such as diversity of family forms and the changing roles of parents, as well as changes outside the family such as parental work and aspects of community life, affect children's interactions with their caregivers and their broader social world and their development and wellbeing. This knowledge can provide a basis for policy frameworks and services that can best support parents and children.


The Australian Temperament Project (ATP)

Project Manager: Diana Smart

The longitudinal Australian Temperament Project (ATP) aims to follow young people's psychosocial development from infancy into adulthood, and to investigate the contribution of personal, familial and broader environmental factors to their adjustment and wellbeing. Commencing in 1983 with children 4-8 months of age, thirteen waves of data have been collected by mail surveys over the first 20 years of life.

The Institute has housed and taken the lead in the project since 2000. It manages the study in collaboration with researchers from the University of Melbourne and the Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne. The project seeks to promote understanding of the ways in which children's development can be enhanced within the context of their families, and to identify developmental pathways and key transition points at which changes may occur, thereby providing information which can inform prevention and intervention initiatives.

Some of the issues investigated are: a) the contribution of an individual's temperament style, together with his/her family characteristics and wider environmental influences, to adjustment and wellbeing; b) pathways to positive developmental outcomes (for example, satisfying interpersonal relationships, social competence, civic mindedness and social responsibility); c) the emergence of problems in childhood (such as aggression, hyperactivity and anxiety) and links between these types of problems and later adjustment difficulties in adolescence and early adulthood (such as antisocial behaviour, substance use and depression); and d) the transition to adulthood (pathways to educational and occupational participation, and the commencement of intimate relationships and parenthood).

During 2003-2004, statistical analyses and reporting of the 13th data wave, collected when participants were aged 19-20 years, were undertaken. These will form the foundation of a forthcoming report examining a broad range of indicators of and influences on young adult adjustment and wellbeing. Statistical analyses and reports of findings from the entire longitudinal ATP dataset were also completed and used in a number of publications and presentations.

Forward planning has commenced for the 14th ATP survey wave, which is expected to take place in 2006 when participants are in their mid-twenties. Among the issues that this next data collection will investigate are: aspects of positive and problematic adjustment, occupational participation, financial circumstances, relationships with parents, friends and partners, parenthood and aspirations for parenthood, and engagement in community life and civic activities.

Ongoing collaboration with the Centre for Mental Health Research, Australian National University Canberra, investigating genetic influences on mental health outcomes is continuing. The genetic data, which was collected in 1999, is currently being used to investigate connections between DNA profiles, family environmental characteristics, and the incidence of depression.

Dissemination activities undertaken during the past year include conference and workshop presentations, and publications in national and international journals. Further information about the project and a complete list of publications can be found on the ATP Web site.

ATP Generation 2
Project Manager: Suzanne Vassallo

A new ATP sub-study, the Generation 2 study, is currently in the planning stages. This sub-study aims to investigate issues such as the factors which assist young people to become capable and competent parents, the intergenerational continuation of problems, and the role of grandparents in providing support and assistance for young families. This sub-study will be able to make use of the information already collected over the course of the young adults' lives to investigate the ways in which they meet the challenges of parenthood.

ATP/Crime Prevention Victoria
Project Manager: Diana Smart

This collaborative project with Crime Prevention Victoria commenced in December 2001. The project aimed to examine the nature and extent of antisocial and criminal behaviour over the adolescent years, and to identify precursors of these types of behaviour. The first and second reports and their executive summaries are on the ATP website.

The project is now drawing to a close. A draft of the Third Report has been completed and is under review. The Third Report focuses on six key issues: a) the continuity of antisocial behaviour into young adulthood; b) connections between antisocial behaviour and victimization in young adulthood; c) relationships between antisocial behaviour and motivations to comply with the law, including attitudes towards the criminal justice system and civic mindedness; d) concordance between self reports of offending and official records; e) connections between adolescent substance use and antisocial behaviour; and f) pathways to adolescent antisocial behaviour among low-risk children.

ATP / Transport Accident Commission / RACV Collaborative Project

This collaborative project between the Institute, the Transport Accident Commission (TAC) and the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria (RACV) to investigate the individual, family and peer factors which contribute to differing patterns of driver behaviour at 19-20 years (including risky driving), as well as family contributions to driver education and their influence on subsequent driving behaviour, is nearing completion.

The project involved the collection of data as part of the 13th Australian Temperament Project survey wave, statistical analysis of the data collected and of the longitudinal data set, and the production of a commissioned report. The report will document findings on a) learner driver experiences, current driving behaviour, and history of crash involvement, b) the individual, family and peer factors which contribute to risky driving behaviour and c) the overlap between risky driving and other problem behaviours. It is anticipated that the report will be released in the second half of 2004.

ATP Publications


Child Care Choices

Project Manager: Sarah Wise

A consortium involving Macquarie University's Psychology Department and the Institute of Early Childhood, Charles Sturt University's School of Teacher Education and the Institute received an Australian Research Council Linkage grant in 2002-2004 to conduct a longitudinal study designed to investigate the use of multiple and changeable care and the impact of such care on children, families and care providers. The New South Wales Department of Community Services is an Industry partner on this project. The Child Care Choices Study has followed an initial 689 families with children aged 0 to 3 years over a three year period.

Wave 2 data collection is complete and analysis of the data sets and dissemination of the findings is ongoing. The project has gained strong interest from the media, policymakers, practitioners and the public.

The collaboration has been successful in obtaining around an additional two million dollars from the NSW Department of Community Services to extend this project in two further projects. These new projects will begin in August 2004 and will extend to 2008, although a lot of the development work including ethics approval has already been completed. The first project will be the Longitudinal Extension to eight years of the Child Care Choices Research Project. This project offers a unique opportunity to systematically examine the relationship between aspects of child care and children's developmental progress from birth to age eight years as it follows the same sample of children and families from the original Child Care Choices project. This new research will be able to assess the long-term impact of child care as these children make the transition to school and progress into the early years of primary school.

The Child Care Choices of Indigenous Families Research Project

The second project will be The Child Care Choices of Indigenous Families Research Project. This project will gather an additional sample and data about Indigenous children's early years experiences and outcomes prior to, during the transition to and upon entry to the primary school years of education. The multiple aspects of the project will provide data for analysis each year, longitudinal data, qualitative and quantitative perspectives. These data will be used to consider aspects of the Indigenous experiences as being similar or different to the general population.

Child Care Choices - Publications


Child Care in Cultural Context

Project Manager: Sarah Wise

Cross-culturally parents are known to differ in their beliefs about children, childrearing and the importance of children achieving different developmental tasks and goals. In Australian today, a substantial number of children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds using child care services are exposed to two sets of cultural influences; the culture of the country of origin, and the culture of the host nation.

The Child Care in Cultural Context study focuses on the match between parents' cultural values, beliefs about children, and core practices, and those of child care services, and the impact on children when child-related features of home and child care environments diverge. The value that parents from different cultural groups place on various characteristics of child care, and the functions they expect child care services to provide, are also examined. Currently in the dissemination phase, this study continues to inform government, policy development, and stakeholders by contributing towards better understanding and good quality practices in child care environments.

Child Care in Cultural Context - Publications


Children and Family Life

Project Manager: Sarah Wise

This study examines the family life, development and wellbeing of children growing up in intact couple, single-parent, step-parent and same-sex parent families. The study targets a large representative sample of Victorian primary school aged children (5-12 years) and their families. It aims to provide data about how these families are functioning, and the development and adjustment of children.

A description of differences across family types on child outcomes and risk and protective factors will be provided. The study will test hypothesised predictors of child outcomes within different family types, and clarify the relative importance of family structure, intra-familial processes and external supports on child functioning. Data will be collected on inter-parental relationships, parent-child relationships, parental characteristics, family functioning and family transitions, as well as measures on children's adjustment and families interaction with the broader society.

This rich data base will add to the knowledge on factors influencing how contemporary Australian families function and in turn the impact of family life on children and provide an important foundation for policy direction.

Children and Family Life - Publications


Children Conceived through Donor Insemination

Project Manager: Sarah Wise

Since one in 20 Australian children is now born through IVF, understanding the development and dynamics of family life for this sizeable group of children is extremely important. Yet gaining access to this particular population can be difficult. The Institute is fortunate to have formed a strategic relationship with Professor Gabor Kovacs of the Monash Medical School, Box Hill Hospital, renowned for his contribution to the IVF research field from its early days.

A Memorandum of Understanding between the Institute and Professor Kovacs has been signed. Under the agreement, the Institute will collect information on approximately 100 families and children where the child was conceived using donor insemination technology, and compare these children and their families with families and children involved in the Children and Family Life study on key outcome variables. A central research question for this study is the extent to which 'openness' about children's conception contributes to child and family wellbeing.


Parenting Influences on Adolescent Alcohol Use

Project Manager: Diana Smart

A short-term contract has been negotiated with the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing to undertake a literature review of Australian and international research concerning parenting influences on adolescent alcohol use, identifying implications for policy and practice and noting gaps in the research. This project will produce a report in the second part of 2004.


Efficacy of Early Childhood Interventions

Project Manager: Sarah Wise

Along with the Melbourne Institute, the Institute has undertaken some important contract research for the Australian Government Department of Family and Community Services to assist decision making in relation to investing in early childhood interventions in Australia.

Gathering evidence on the costs and benefits, and returns on investment, from various types of early childhood interventions is required to build and communicate the case for greater investment in children's development. The principal objective for the project was to evaluate methodologies for producing cost-benefit analyses of early childhood interventions. Information on the various types of interventions which have been (and are being) conducted in Australia and overseas was gathered along with information on the size of effects from these interventions. The appropriateness of existing methodologies for calculating rate of investment for early childhood interventions was evaluated. This work should support the development of informed policy making in this arena.


Survey of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Parents - Completed project

Project Manager: Sarah Wise

Researchers from the Department of General Practice and Public Health of the University of Melbourne approached the Institute to collaborate on a Melbourne survey of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) parents, parents' partners and their donors. It was also a survey of prospective LGBTI parents who were in the process of attempting to conceive, adopt or foster a child. The project was funded by a grant from the Department of Human Services, Victoria. The AIFS component of the survey focused on social acceptance and social support among LGBTI parents and their children, contact with professionals/services and parenting difficulties. The data collection phase of the study was completed in 2001, and a report was prepared for the Department of Human Services. Additional funding was obtained to extend the data collection to South Australia and Adelaide. Findings from the full data set are currently being analysed.

Dr Ruth McNair presented findings from the study at an AIFS seminar in February 2002.



Recent Publications

See also publications from the Australian Temperament Project, Staff Conference papers and presentations and for earlier publications the AIFS publications list. The AIFS annual report also provides an appendix of 'Staff publications, presentations and professional involvement'.

Child Care Choices

Bowes, J., Harrison, L., Sanson, A., Wise, S., Ungerer, J., Watson, J., and Simpson, T. (2003), 'Families and child care arrangements: Findings from the Child Care Choices study'. Proceedings of the Health, Work and Families Forum, August 2003. Canberra, ACT: National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, Australian National University, p82-87. Proceedings (PDF 3.1MB)

Bowes, J., Wise, S., Harrison, L., Sanson, A., Ungerer, J., Watson, J., and Simpson, T. (2003), 'Continuity of care in the early years? Multiple and changeable child care arrangements.' Family Matters no.64 Autumn: 30-35. Paper (PDF 419 KB)

Bowes, J., Sanson, A., Wise, S., Ungerer, J., Harrison, L., Watson, J., and Simpson, T. (2002), 'Multiple childcare arrangements in the early years: Implications for children, families and child care professionals. Talking Early Childhood v.4: 2-5.

Child Care in Cultural Context

Da Silva, L. and Wise, S. (2003), 'Continuity of childrearing models across childcare settings'. Paper presented at Steps forward for families: research, practice and policy, 8th Australian Institute of Family Studies Conference, Melbourne, 12-14 February 2003. Paper (PDF 24 KB)

Wise, S. and Sanson, A. (2003), 'Cultural transitions in early childhood: the developmental consequences of discontinuity between home and childcare.' Paper presented at Steps forward for families: research, practice and policy, 8th Australian Institute of Family Studies Conference, Melbourne, 12-14 February 2003. Paper (PDF 84 KB)

Wise, S. (2002), 'Parents' expectations, values and choice of child care: connections to culture'. Family Matters no.61 Autumn: 48-55. Paper (PDF 399 KB)

Child Care - Policy

Wise, S., Ungerer, J., and Sanson, A. (2002), 'Policy Forum: Childcare Policy: Childcare policy to promote child wellbeing.' Australian Economic Review v.35 no.2 Jun: 180-187.

Children and Family Life

Wise, S. (2003), 'An evaluation of a trial of Looking After Children in the state of Victoria, Australia'. Children and Society v.17 no.1 Jan: 3-17.

Hand, K. and Lewis, V. (2002), . 'Fathers' views on family life and paid work.' Family Matters no.61 Autumn: 26-29. Paper (PDF 234 KB)

Wise, S. (2002), Family structure, child outcomes and environmental mediators: an overview of the Development in Diverse Families Study. AIFS Research Paper no.30

Survey of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Parents

McNair, R., Dempsey, D., Wise, S. and Perlesz, A. 'Lesbian parenting: issues, strengths and challenges'. Family Matters no.63 Spring-Summer: 40-49. Paper (PDF 568 KB)