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Who cares? A study of diverse care arrangements in Australian society

By Jo Page - posted Saturday, 9 September 2000

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of the Commonwealth Government or the Department of Family and Community Services.

The Diverse Care Project being conducted in the Department of Family and Community Services has identified a number of instances in which formal administrative arrangements for paying family assistance do not fit well with the family structures of various groups.

Family assistance payments contribute to stronger families through supplementing family income. The intent of the payments is to assist with the costs of having and raising children.


Family Allowance was paid for long-term, ongoing care and assumed that a child would benefit when payment is made to a ‘primary carer’ who is usually a woman. That assumption is valid for a majority of Australian families and works when the family is stable and parents have care of children from birth to adulthood. Yet, as the Diverse Care project has already demonstrated, the assumption is not valid for a range of minority groups within the total family customer population.

Course of the Diverse Care Project

In the first phase of the project we drew qualitative data from several series of focus groups, workshops and consultations. We have since moved to the second phase, which involves testing the findings by setting up a Statement of Care pilot with more flexible payment approaches for Indigenous family groups in five locations around the country.

Phase two of the Diverse Care project might best be described as a program of continuous process and policy improvement.

Characteristics of sample

Three broad groups of family types were selected for study in the first phase of the project, which was completed in December 1999. The interim findings cover concerns raised by Indigenous family groups, a selection of newly arrived ethnic community and family groups, and a number of other groups whose family structures can be regarded as atypical.


All groups demonstrated varying degrees of child mobility, that is, children moved from one relative or carer to another for a range of reasons or were shared by two or more carers.

Indigenous family groups

Indigenous family representatives were consulted in remote, regional and urban areas. Their family structures were essentially large extended families that in many instances shared care of children between several relatives over varying periods of time.

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his is an edited extract of a paper presented to the 7th Annual Australian Institute of Family Studies Conference, Sydney, July 2000.

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About the Author

Jo Page is a former public servant with experience of sitting alongside senior officers at Senate Estimates hearings.

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