Children and Families

‘It takes a village a raise a child’

The challenges facing parents and families in raising healthy and happy kids are huge, but we are pretty much on our own. While it’s true that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, the problem for most of us is that our villages are disappearing. Extended families are weaker than in the past, fewer parents remain together and share parenting, and we often don’t know who our neighbours are. Combining work and family life is hard, and everyone is time-poor. Travel between home and work can be a nightmare in congested cities, leaving little time and energy for nurturing a family.

Work and family life have been on a collision course for a long time. For many families, though, a point of crisis is looming.

Parents and families have no organised voice in Australian politics and no means of collectively addressing these challenges. Decisions by governments which affect how we support and care for our families – children, the elderly, those with additional needs – have usually been made in isolation from us.

In the last 30 years, these decisions have pushed relentlessly in two directions – increased workforce participation by parents (‘every parent should be in full-time work’) and increased formalised care (‘outsourced care is best for you’). These directions are not necessarily what most of us want. Most of us would prefer a more relaxed domestic life and more options for how we live.

Every person needs a supportive social structure around them, especially in the key stages of life, but many of the life-cycle stage social supports that previous generations took for granted are breaking down:

Birth – many new parents lack extended families, parent peers, or supportive friendships in these critical early years. Formal child care, playgroups, and kindergartens cannot fill this gap entirely.
Youth – many teenagers are growing up without established pathways and positive models of social formation, and without significant adults to mentor them.
Coming of age – our diverse society now lacks unifying coming of age rituals and celebrations of the kind that has characterized most human societies.
Mid life – there is a complete breakdown in relationship guidance and life mentoring for men and women in mid-life, with high divorce, suicide, and mid-life crisis effects.
Extended life – the rapid expansion of life expectancy and retirement years has left a whole generation without adequate financial and social preparedness for extended living.

Here is our agenda for supporting children and families and rebuilding the social village.

1. Parents need society-wide support for the raising of children and the cultivation of extended family connections. We support the adoption of a common day and evening for family nurturing and personal revival based on the centuries-old Jewish practice of ‘shabbat’, re-worked for large-scale social participation (secular or religious). The common day would be mobile phone- and digital-free, extending from sunset to sunset. Historical experience drawn from several cultures indicates that the most viable 24 hour period has tended to be sunset Friday to sunset Saturday.

This practice cannot be legislated or mandated, but it would be encouraged as a common social practice. As more families adopt the practice, more social recognition of it would follow. It would have a bottom-up impact throughout civil society in reconstructing the social village.

2. Paid parental leave is currently $740.60 per week before tax for a maximum of 18 weeks, paid by the Commonwealth. This is based on the weekly rate of the national minimum wage.

An additional period of paid parental leave would be welcomed by many parents. It can be affordable if organised on contributory insurance principles. Parents would receive additional paid parental leave if they opt join a contributory Family Investment Scheme (FIS) run through the Australian Tax Office. If they join and contribute an annual levy of 2% of income for a period of at least five years, they would become eligible for an additional period of paid parental leave up to 2 years (106 weeks) along with a Mid Life Gap Year Payment, Carers Extra Payment, and Carers Super (all described below). If they opt to not join FIS, they remain eligible for just 18 weeks paid parental leave.

3. To be eligible for paid parent leave, a parent(s) must establish a Circle of Support in the same locality. Payments are conditional upon participation. The Circle of Support would act as a unit of support for the person in raising their child and learning parenting skills.  It would include a mandatory program on early childhood education and training in best practice.

A Circle of Support will typically involve 8-10 people comprising immediate and extended family, friends, neighbours, mentors, a health practitioner or personal adviser, local sport and recreation leaders, faith and community groups. The Circle undertakes to meet monthly as a base commitment in supporting the person at the centre of their Circle.

4. Child care payments should be re-organised to by-pass the high-overheads that currently make child care unaffordable for many. Child care funding should be re-allocated from service providers to parents. Parents would able to use the funding to make their own care arrangements, using a child care centre, family day care, or an at-home carer as they choose. A group of four or more families in the same street or neighbourhood would be encouraged to pool their funding to collectively employ home-based carers.

Families should be permitted to employ grandparents or other family members as they wish.

5. Foster care and adoptive parenting have been discouraged by governments in the last 3 decades in the aftermath of the ‘stolen children’ experience in indigenous communities. They should now be revived. Restrictions on adoption of children introduced in the last 3 decades should be removed, and pressures eased on demand for high-cost, high-tech fertility programs. Financial support for foster carers would be doubled.

To be eligible for foster care and adoptive parenting, parent(s) must join a Circle of Support in the same locality. Approval for adoption and payments for foster carers are conditional upon participation.

6. School funding should be re-allocated from schools to parents. Parents would be able to take the funding to a school of their choice and would be encouraged to use their funding as leverage in negotiating educational program that suit each child. This is essential for kids with learning difficulties, disabilities or behavioural challenges who face constant battles in finding schooling options that suit their needs.

A parent-directed, portable school funding entitlement would encourage parents to co-operate with other parents in establishing new schools with their preferred culture and educational philosophy.

7. We would encourage widespread adoption of a common coming of age ritual/event for young people (secular or religious) between the ages of 18 and 21. The purpose would be to establish a means of marking the transition to adulthood for young people, and marshalling family and community supports for each person.

Countries with higher levels of social cohesion than Australia, with both secular and religious roots, tend to have society-wide rituals to mark important life-cycle stages. The Scandinavian countries have developed several society-wide rituals of this kind which have a unifying social impact and serve to strengthen personal and family bonds.

8. Mid-life crises are now commonplace in Australia, and often have adverse, sometimes catastrophic, consequences for individuals and families. We would introduce a Gap Year for people between 40-45 to explore life and work options for the second half of life. A Mid Life Gap Year Payment of $740.60 per week before tax would be paid for 52 weeks if the person has contributed to FIS at 2% of income for at least 10 years. If the person has not joined FIS, the Gap Year takes place without the payment.

To be eligible for this payment, a person must establish a Circle of Support in the same locality. Payments are conditional upon participation. The Circle undertakes to meet monthly throughout the Gap Year as a base commitment in supporting the person at the centre of their Circle in exploring life and work options. It would include a mandatory program on relationship stresses and breakdown prevention.

The Gap Year would conclude with a mid-life ritual/ event for people who have navigated mid-life.

9. The HomeShare model of shared living for unaccompanied ageing people, and co-sharing of unaccompanied ageing people and students, or unaccompanied ageing people and people with disabilities, or other variations on this theme, has international success in reducing loneliness for participants and reducing living costs for otherwise vulnerable people.

We would encourage and expand the adoption of this model with the aim of getting 25% of Australians over the age of 67 participating by 2030.

10. Mentors are a proven means of guiding good decision-making in children and adults, and can have transformative impacts on the lives of many people. We would establish a national mentorship training initiative to promote the value of mentorship for every person, as mentor and mentee, with the aim of getting 40% of Australians mentoring other Australians by 2030.

11. Family carers who commit to caring full-time for a family member with a disability or chronic or mental illness or aged frailty play a critically important role but often incur major financial and social disadvantages in doing so. A Carers Extra Payment of $740.60 per week before tax for full-time family carers of ageing people or people with disabilities or mental illnesses, should be introduced for up to 104 weeks for carers who have contributed to FIS at 2% of income for at least 10 years. If the person has not joined FIS, the existing Carers Allowance and Carers Payment are payable.

12. Carers Super should be introduced for stay-at-home parents and full-time carers who have contributed to FIS at 2% of income for at least 10 years. Carers Super would be paid at the rate of 9% super on $740.60 per week for periods when the person is not in full-time paid employment.