In my sheltered world, most families were like mine…with dads who worked all day and mums who stayed at home to care for children, husbands, assorted pets and households.

Dad gave Mum the ‘housekeeping money’ each week and we went everywhere by bus because she didn’t learn to drive until I was 10.

Our lives were filled with neighbours and family, and the biggest event of the year was our annual holiday at a beachside caravan park. Mum and Dad came to every soccer and netball game, and if my brother or I were too sick to go to school, it was no problem. Mum would just keep us at home with her.

How things in Australia have changed!

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 79% of mums with school aged children aged 6-14 participated in the labour force in 2010-11. 66% of mothers with pre-schoolers also worked either part or full-time that year.

With figures like these, it’s no wonder that governments, researchers and community leaders are trying to find ways to support children in our ever-changing world.

Eminent Australian epidemiologist, Fiona Stanley* is noted for her research into the health of mothers and children. Since 2003, she has been arguing that Australian kids are being impacted by our society’s move away from closely connected families and local communities.

According to Professor Stanley, many Australian kids no longer grow up in the kind of close-knit ‘village’ that characterised the childhoods of their parents and grandparents.

Her research suggests that today’s Aussie kids often feel the effects the long working hours put in by mums and dads. She says that many children are disadvantaged by inconsistent parenting and a lack of social support. She notes that family breakdowns, smaller families and insecure neighbourhoods have all played a part in changing our concept of what our community looks like.

But according to Professor Stanley and other experts in child development, the news is not all bad.

Australian parents are creating new pathways for their kids which simply mean that our concept of the ‘village’ is changing.

With parental work and lifestyle patterns evolving, our 21st century village is relying more and more on community resources to ensure the well-being of our children.

These days, families are looking to their 'village' for high quality day care, early childhood education and schooling that not only meets individual needs, but also provides a chance to connect with others.

Leisure and recreation activities have also assumed greater significance as families look for ways to get their children involved and linked with peers and role models outside of their family unit.

Given the length, breadth and diversity of our nation, helping families to find a ‘village’ to which they can belong is a challenge for community leaders.

Let’s hope they get it right…for our kids’ sake.

*Reference: Fiona Stanley AC FAA FASSA, It Takes a Village to Raise a Child, Communities in Control Conference presentation, convened by Our Community and Catholic Social Services, 7 & 8 April 2003

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