Indigenous sole parent families: Invisible and disadvantaged

Author/editor: Daly, A, Smith, D
Year published: 1997
Issue no.: 134


This paper identifies the key characteristics of Indigenous sole-parent families relative to other such Australian families and analyses the factors associated with their ongoing high levels of economic disadvantage using ethnographic research, the 1991 Census, the 1994 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Survey (NATSIS), and the 1997 Department of Social Security (DSS) data.The research concludes that Indigenous sole-parent families:

  • represent over one-third of Indigenous families with children; a proportion twice as high as for the wider population;
  • have younger parents, with lower educational status who are less likely to be in employment and have more children to support than other Australian sole parents;
  • include more foster children than other Australian sole-parent families (25 per cent include foster children compared with 9 per cent of their counterparts);
  • have median family incomes below that of other Australian sole-parent families and the households in which they live have lower household incomes;
  • have a lower rate of access to maintenance payments from the other parent than do other sole parents;
  • appear to shoulder higher adult and childhood 'dependency burdens', having more adults living with them who were not in employment than other sole parents;
  • are very differently distributed in their geographic location than other Australian sole-parent families: they are less urbanised (only one-third are in 'major urban' areas compared to two-thirds of other sole-parent families) and a significant proportion live in rural areas compared to other sole-parent families (23 per cent compared to 10 per cent); but
  • are, nevertheless, slightly more urbanised than other Indigenous families (78 per cent reside in 'other' and 'major' urban areas compared to 70 per cent of Indigenous two-parent families).

The research suggests that as a result of these and other factors, Indigenous sole-parent families:

  • may have markedly lower standards of living than their counterparts;
  • continue to bear higher levels of poverty relative to other Australian sole-parent families; and
  • the children in these families will be at great risk from the low economic status of their parent.

The research recommends:

  • The access by Indigenous sole parents to education, training and employment is especially critical. More finely-tuned program delivery and policy formulation based on their socioeconomic characteristics could play an important role in raising their employment and educational opportunities and their income levels.
  • DSS target this client group for a comprehensive adequacy assessment of their social security income and program needs along the lines of the composite framework approach advocated in its 1995 policy paper (Department of Social Security, 'Developing a framework for benchmarks of adequacy for social security payments', DSS Policy Discussion Paper No 6, Department of Social Security, Canberra).
  • Such an assessment would be significantly enhanced by the parallel conduct of an in-depth survey of the relative living standards of Indigenous sole-parent families and the households in which they live.
  • The family and socioeconomic characteristics described should be considered in formulations of a new Budget Standards approach to the measurement of poverty.
  • DSS adopt a standard national policy to consistently identify these Indigenous clients.
  • More formal linkages be established between the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) scheme and the Jobs, Education and Training (JET) program, and greater co-ordination be established between these programs in order to increase vocational training opportunities for sole parents.
  • The geographic distribution of sole-parent families in 'other urban' and rural areas, and their extremely high concentration in the Broome, Adelaide and Alice Springs ATSIC regions warrants priority program attention.

ISBN: 0 7315 2569 8

ISSN:1036 1774

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