According to the 2011 Census, couple families – that is, parents living with children – are the most common type of family household in Australia.
That’s followed by couple families without children.
And more than a quarter of all households are one-parent families.
But there has also been an increase in the number of grandparents taking care of their grandchildren.
Peggy Giakoumelos looks into it.
The traditional Australian family has always been the nuclear family – mum, dad and the kids – now known by demographers as the couple family.
But that model hasn’t always served the needs of Australians.
“We came here with no relatives around here. No network of support. We’re working full-time, both working full-time. It’s very hard. Like on the weekend sometimes we’re too busy we can’t find anyone to look after (children). If we have grandparents it’s very good for us, especially for the Chinese language. In China, people live in three generations together it’s very common. But now it’s gradually changed, but it’s still very common. Parents expect to live with kids when they get older. So parents are willing to help children to help grandkids so this is very common in China.”
Originally from China, business owner Nancy Ding is married with two children.
She says her parents came and stayed with her to help her look after her first child when he was born, but returned when he started school.
Nancy Ding says in China, multigenerational households are extremely common.
Demographer Bernard Salt is a partner with KPMG’s Property & Demographic Advisory group.
He’s taken a closer look at data from the 2011 Census looking at family household composition and says Australians are increasingly more likely to live with extended family members.
“I was looking at a number of different household arrangements and I identified the largest number and the fastest growing compared to the situation five years earlier, and the number of kids living with their grandparents had certainly increased. It was something like double digit growth over that five year period, whereas the Australian population increased by nearly 7 or 8 per cent over that period. So doing better than average as a life form, as a way in which Australians simply want to live.”
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare figures show that in 2011 more than 16,000 children were in kinship care.
This involves children being raised by their grandparents or other relatives as part of a growing trend to place at-risk children into kinship care rather than foster care.
But Bernard Salt says beyond kinship care, his analysis of the 2011 census shows an increase in the number of young Australian – many young adults – choosing to live with their grandparents rather than being forced to.
“There may well be a family bust-up, if you like, a family separation or divorce of their parents. A child in their late teens for example might find it easier to live with grandma or grandpa for a while. There is also the argument that grandchildren beyond school age might move to a different city in order to pursue job opportunities, education or training and for that reason they might be living temporarily for example with a grandparent. I think the Australian incarnation of what we see overseas where the grandparents live with the parents and the grandchildren, the Australian version is grandma/grandpa might live in a nearby unit and the grandchildren shift and shuffle between parental home, one grandparent’s home, perhaps another grandparent’s home, and there’s this constant movement based on family which is a little different to how it happens overseas, where it’s all in the one geography. We split it out over a number of properties. I think that’s how it works in Australia.”
Beyond permanent care, grandparents also provide child care for many Australian children.
ABS figures show that in 2011, 937,000 children received child care from a grandparent on a regular basis.
Vivi Germanos-Koutsounadis is the Executive Director of the Ethnic Childcare Family and Community Services Cooperative.
The non-government organisation assists migrant and refugee communities with child, aged, and disability care needs.
Vivi Germanos-Koutsounadis says grandparents can play an important role when caring for their grandchildren, but this should be complemented with the structured learning of early childhood education.
“Grandparents are playing a major role in bringing up children because they do transmit the culture and the language and religion and also some of the positive traditions and also they assist the parents with childcare. However I do think that it is important for the child to also have exposure to pre-school services, and childcare services which are really wonderful in Australia. And also subsidies that the government provides so that children can attend and also to enable women to go to the workforce. Sometimes parents don’t now about the services so they don’t access them.”
Cate Kloos was born in Germany and migrated to Australia with her husband.
Finding herself feeling lonely and isolated she took matters into her own hands and set up a service called Find a Grandparent.
After a police check, the service matches up families with people who are prepared to play a grandparenting role in the family’s life.
“I’m originally from Germany. I don’t have any grandparents for my children here in Australia. And when I was pregnant with my first child, I felt quit lonely, a bit isolated and therefore I was looking for a surrogate grandparent. We found Irene a year ago and we’ve been meeting her at least once a week ever since and it worked out really well for us. I started a not-for-profit company that’s called Find a Grandparent and we connect families like ours who don’t have any grandparents with surrogate grandparents and she signed up with us and we’ve been seeing her every since.”
Every year the United Nations observes an International Day for Families.
The theme for this year is intergenerational solidarity.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says the extended family plays an important role in maintaining social cohesiveness and he’s called on decision-makers to provide more support for strengthening extended family relationships.
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