Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework - 2010

2.12 Single-parent families

Page last updated: 26 May 2011

Why is it important?:

Being a child in a single-parent family is one of the risk factors for wellbeing, and health tends to be associated with others, such as low socioeconomic status, low educational attainment, and lack of social support and social networks.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are twice as likely to live in single-parent families as non-Indigenous children, although there are several considerations which need to be taken into account when discussing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander single-parent families. While the term ‘sole parent’ might describe parental status, it does not adequately describe residential or domestic arrangements in Indigenous Australian families. Senior Indigenous Australian women, who have often been sole parents themselves, play an influential role in household structures and economies. Sole parents are not necessarily isolated from family support and assistance and, perhaps more importantly, their extended kin networks act as an important reservoir of support and care for their children (Daly & Smith 1999; Daly & Smith 2005). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander single-parent families may arise in different ways from non-Indigenous single-parent families, have different characteristics, and result in different outcomes for children (Daly & Smith 1998; Taylor & Bell 1999; Hunter & Smith 2000).

Findings:

In 2006, approximately 46,050 Indigenous families were one-parent families with dependent children. This was 32% of all of Indigenous families and 47% of Indigenous families with dependent children. Almost half of the 178,000 dependent children living in Indigenous families (45%) lived in one-parent families. In comparison, 20% of dependent children living in non-Indigenous families lived in one-parent families.

Approximately 15% of Indigenous households of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with dependent children had 4 or more children usually resident, com­pared with 5% of other households.

In 2008, when compared with other Indigenous Australians, a higher proportion of Indigenous single parents reported: fair/poor health status (27% compared with 21%); that they had left school prior to Year 12 (83% compared with 79%); that they were not in the labour force (55% compared with 35%); renting (86% com­pared with 66%); and being unable to raise $2000 within a week (69% compared with 48%). Approximately 66% of Indigenous single parents had experienced one or more stressors in the previous 12 months compared with 56% of other Indigenous persons aged 15 years and over.

In 2006, of the 166,669 Indigenous households, 126,693 (76%) were one family households, 23,030 (14%) were lone person households, 8,186 (5%) were group households and 8,764 (5%) were multifamily households. The corresponding proportions for the total population were 70%, 24%, 3% and 1% respectively.

Research also suggests that Indigenous Australian children are more likely to experience parental incarceration than non-Indigenous children (Quilty et al. 2004). Findings from measure 2.14 should be considered in the context of the broader societal consequences of exposure to the criminal justice system and the way this impacts on the health and wellbeing of families.

Implications:

Functional and resilient families and communities are generally seen as being fundamental to the physical and mental health of adults and children. Characteristics of such families and communities may include: a caring, protective and supportive environment; positive health outcomes; and cultural awareness (SCRGSP 2007). The members of single-parent families can face a range of disadvantages. However, this measure needs to be interpreted carefully in the context of different family composition in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander society. Available data may not adequately reflect the extent to which family arrangements provide an environment that is conducive to positive health outcomes. This measure should be considered in conjunction with other measures of community capacity, such as the community functioning measure (measure 1.14).

Figure 100 – Household and family composition, Indigenous population, 2006


Figure 100 – Household and family composition, Indigenous population, 2006
(a) Households occupied by usual residents, where household could be classified
(b) Households with 2 or more families
Dependent children are defined as children under 15 years of age, or those aged 15–24 years who were full-time students
Source: ABS and AIHW analysis of 2006 Census of population and housing
Text description of figure 100 (TXT 1KB)

Figure 101 – Selected family types as a proportion of all families, by Indigenous family(a) status, 2006


Figure 101 – Selected family types as a proportion of all families, by Indigenous family
(a) Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander families are families where a parent and/or child(ren) is Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander
Source: ABS and AIHW analysis of 2006 Census of population and housing
Text description of figure 101 (TXT 1KB)

Figure 102 – Proportion of dependent children living in Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander(a) and non-Indigenous families by family type, 2006


Figure 102 – Proportion of dependent children living in Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander(a) and non-Indigenous families by family type, 2006
(a) Families where a parent and/or child(ren) are Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander
Source: ABS and AIHW analysis of 2006 Census of population and housing
Text description of figure 102 (TXT 1KB)

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