Family fragmentation in Australia


A new report from Professor Patrick Parkinson at the University of Sydney powerfully catalogs the terrible toll family disintegration is having in Australia. The report, “For Kids’ Sake: Repairing the Social Environment for Australian Children and Young People,” details the worsening climate for a growing number of the young in Australia. Analogous problems have been cataloged in the United States.

Professor Parkinson, an eminent family law scholar who will be visiting Utah later this month, notes that in Australia there “has been a dramatic increase in the last 15 years in the numbers of children who are reported as being victims of, or at risk of, child abuse or neglect, the numbers of children where that abuse or neglect has been substantiated after investigation, and the total numbers of children in state care.” He also notes: “More than a quarter of young people aged 16-24 years have a mental disorder, compared with one in five (20%) in the general population. A further 24% of young people who have never experienced a mental disorder are experiencing moderate to severe psychological distress.” He notes particularly an increase in self-harming behavior (especially among girls), binge drinking and risky sexual behavior.

The report explains that while there are surely many reasons for these trends, “if there is one major demographic change in western societies that can be linked to a large range of adverse consequences for many children and young people, it is the growth in the numbers of children who experience life in a family other than living with their two biological parents, at some point before the age of 15.” In fact, “the number of children who do not reach the age of 15 in an intact family with both of their biological parents has almost doubled within a generation.”

These children appear to be at special risk:

Children whose parents live apart are also exposed to a greater number of risks and difficulties than children in intact families. They are significantly more likely to be subject to reports of abuse and neglect than intact families. Two of the most significant reasons for this are the presence of new partners who are not biologically related to the children, and the financial and other stresses of lone parenthood. Girls in particular are at much greater risk of sexual abuse from the mother’s new partner than from their own father. Single parents, and especially those who are working to support the family, also have less time to monitor and supervise their children.

Utahns who want to learn from the experience of a great nation grappling with the disaster of family breakdown should take note: Professor Parkinson will be in Utah later this month (Sept. 29) to speak at BYU Law School.