Children and Families in Transition (CAFIT) was a joint University of South Australia and Centacare (SA) project, funded by the Telstra Foundation. We researched the experiences and special service needs of separated families and their children in order to develop early intervention strategies to promote child-centred practices and positive, cooperative parenting. This research has informed the development of a broad-based model of service provision, which is being piloted and tested.
This model provides a ‘one-stop shop’ in a child-centred location for children and families who are experiencing separation and divorce. The services provided will assist separating families to recognise and centralise the best interests of their children in their post-separation arrangements.
Two stages of research
Our research has been undertaken in two stages. Stage 1 (2005–06) included an initial survey of service providers, and then interviews with key stakeholders, including separating parents and caregivers and their children, as well as staff from selected service providers.
In Stage 2 (2006–07) we developed a new child-centred service model for children and families in transition, including child-inclusive mediation, parallel education groups for parents and children and the launching of an associated child-centred website – CHaT First (Children and Teens First) – with separate sections for children adolescents and families going through separation/divorce.
Our Stage 1 report is available in hard copy or online: Children and families in transition: towards a child-centred integrated model of practice (PDF 1.6 MB).
Research members of the Children and Families in Transition project also submitted a response paper to the Commonwealth government’s discussion paper, A new approach to the family law system: implementation of reforms (Word 217 kb), released by the Attorney-General on 10 November 2004. We did so with the input of Dr Elspeth McInnes and the National Coalition of Single Mothers and their Children (NCSMC).
The Children and Families in Transition project involved professional workers from Centacare Catholic Family Services working with academic research staff from the Centre for Peace, Conflict and Mediation (now C4PS), Hawke Research Institute, University of South Australia, with contributions from postgraduate students from the Conflict Management programs and fourth year Bachelor of Social Work Honours and field education students. An interdisciplinary research team was formed for the purpose of the CAFIT project at UniSA in 2005 and included people with different professional backgrounds and with different expertise. As the project was run in cooperation with Centacare Catholic Family Services, the research was also guided by the practical experience of Centacare staff.
University of South Australia project team members
Associate Professor Dale Bagshaw from the School of Social Work and Social Policy and Director of the Centre for Peace, Conflict and Mediation initiated, coordinated and contributed to the project during all stages.
Louise Butler from the School of Social Work and Social Policy, the Field Education Coordinator for the Master of Conflict Management at UniSA, supervised the students on placement who contributed to the project in Stage 2.
The CAFIT research assistants were all part-time and were supported by students at the University of South Australia. Some gave their time voluntarily.
Karolyne Quinn, research assistant with extensive research experience, qualifications in counselling and work with women’s health and domestic violence. Karolyne worked on ethics approvals, survey and instrument design, phone-in interviews, analysis of data, and the compilation and writing of both the interim and final report for Stage 1.
Birte Schmidt, research assistant and Master of Psychology intern from Bremen University, Germany. Birte completed the comparative Germany and Australia survey study and analysis, conducted phone-in interviews, and constructed the cover, stories and appendices for the interim report. Birte was mainly responsible for developing the content and design of the CHaT First website.
Nina Kleven, research assistant, has a Master of International Studies and assisted with the second stage of the project, working with Birte to finalise the website, working with Centacare to establish and evaluate the parent/child education groups and writing the final report.
Jeannette Fiegehen, research assistant, lawyer, and Master of Conflict Management student. Jeannette conducted phone-in interviews, deciphered and typed the hand-written transcripts, assisted with the literature review, reviewed all project instruments and contributed to the general research project work.
Catherine Opitz, Bachelor of Social Work Honours student, conducted and analysed interviews with service providers to Indigenous families for her Honours thesis and as a member of the CAFIT project team.
Dr Amanda Shea Hart was closely involved with the inception and beginning stages of the project. Amanda gave feedback and input on the original instrument design for the phone-in and made important contributions to the education and training workshops for Centacare Family Services staff in 2004.
Dr Alan Campbell was a consultant to the project in its beginning stages, and made important contributions to education and training workshops for Centacare Family Services staff in 2004 and 2005.
Angela Parker, Bachelor of Social Work Field Education student, conducted phone-in interviews and in-depth interviews with two children, participated in planning sessions for education groups for parents and assisted with the accurate compilation and citing of the references for the report.
Edwin Thomas, Bachelor of Social Sciences and Human Services student, collated and wrote the glossary of terms and assisted with other aspects of the project.
Shona Tostevin, Julia Burger and Josephine Armstrong assisted with the development, implementation and evaluation of the education groups for parents and children as part of their field education course for the Master of Conflict Management.
Roopa Howard provided administrative support for the project.
Centacare Family Services project team members
Elizabeth O’Connor, Executive Manager, Centacare Catholic Family Services, was a Centacare liaison person for the project in Stage 2 and authorised the activities involving Centacare staff.
Pauline Connelly, Assistant Director, Centacare Catholic Family Services, was a Centacare liaison person for the project in Stage 1 and authorised activities involving Centacare mediators.
Valerie Matsumoto, a UniSA Master of Conflict Management student and a family mediator at Centacare, conducted phone-in interviews, assisted with website design and content and provided general input and support where the CAFIT project intersected with Centacare Family Services.
Clare Swetenham, a UniSA Master of Conflict Management student and Manager of Mediation within the Family Relationship Services unit at Centacare, conducted phone-in interviews and provided general input and support in Stage 1 where the CAFIT project intersected with Centacare Family Services. In Stage 2 she participated in the practice and evaluation of the child-inclusive mediation services provided at Centacare.
Marian Brown, Manager of Counselling and Education within the Family Relationship Services Unit at Centacare was responsible for developing, advertising and implementing the parallel parent and child education groups.
Kay Buckley, Mandy Forrest and Brian Rees were responsible for developing the content, facilitating the adult and children’s groups and assisting with the evaluation of the education groups for parents and children.
Stage 1 (2005–06): The research
Part of stage 1 of the CAFIT project was the distribution of an electronic survey to various organisations that provide services to children and families who are experiencing separation and divorce (hereafter referred to as ‘children and families in transition’). The survey used a semi-structured questionnaire with yes/no questions, scaled questions, and room provided for qualitative comments, opinions and experiences.
The next phase of our research involved a state-wide (SA only) phone-in in May 2005 for children and young people, parents, step-parents and relatives of children who have experienced separation and divorce. We were particularly interested in hearing from young people, in order to more fully develop services that meet the needs of children who have experienced or are experiencing the separation and divorce of their parents.
Focus groups and individual interviews were also conducted with service providers to Aboriginal families and children to ascertain the experiences and special service needs of this population.
At the end of these two phases the researchers collated and analysed the collected qualitative and quantitative data and used this information to develop recommendations for a child-centred approach to services for children and families experiencing separation and divorce. There is a link to the report in 'About the project', above.
Stage 2 (2006–07): Development and evaluation of the service model
Stage 2 of the project involved the implementation and evaluation of a child-centred service for children and families experiencing separation and divorce, including parallel child-focused education groups and a website for parents and children. A final report of Stage 2 of the project will be written in May 2007 and will be available on this website at a later date.
Based on the research from Stage 1 of the project, and with support from the Telstra Foundation, we have developed parallel parent and child education groups and a child-centred website for families who are going through separation and/or divorce, with a focus on the children and teens involved. Children, young people, parents and other family members will find appropriate information about the process of separation and divorce on this site. Among other things, the site provides several activities for children to help them understand what is happening and to help them to deal with their feelings around their experience of separation. There is also a ‘groovy’ section for teens which includes the music of Quest, an Adelaide-based group of young people who have supported the project.
The website was developed and designed by Peter Craig and Grant Pietsch at Blue Onion.
The music on the site was provided by Ashton Rudd, Den Aspy, Lou Aspy and Ben Robins, the members of Quest.
If you would like to know more about our project please contact Associate Professor Dale Bagshaw: email@example.com.