Families, policy and the law: selected essays on contemporary issues for Australia

21 May 2014

These collected essays explore the complexities that confront those who frame social policy and those involved in the social services and legal systems that intersect with child and family issues.


There are few areas of policy that carry greater complexity than those that focus on families. The dynamics of family formation are, and have always been, intricately connected with the evolving conditions of societies and the constraints and values they embrace at any given era. Some things, however, are perennial. The functions families fulfil have remained essentially unchanged despite the shifts in the circumstances and challenges that families confront. Not surprisingly, the ways in which policy-makers seek to address the needs of families also evolve and, in turn, influence the changing social context.

Broadly speaking, policy initiatives seek to support family stability, facilitate positive functioning, enhance their safety and security, and generally promote the wellbeing of family members to the benefit of their communities and the wider society. Family policy involves a complex mix of social, economic, educational, employment, housing and health policies, along with a range of other child- and family-focused priorities. These policy “levers” are used to enhance opportunities, build capacity and capitalise on individual and family strengths.

Just as social policy is framed by the complexities of family and societal change, childand family-focused legal systems also confront the challenges of change. Changing social and policy contexts have far-reaching implications for the law. While legislation tends to follow such change, it can also drive change.

The collected essays in this volume seek to explore some of the complexities that confront both those who frame social policy and those involved in the social services and legal systems that intersect with child and family issues. The genesis of the volume was in a set of papers presented to the 12th Australian Institute of Family Studies Conference held in Melbourne from 25 to 27 July 2012. In reflecting on the wealth of material presented at the conference, we were impressed by the many papers that focused on topics at the intersection of policy and the law. We have added some invited essays to these conference presentations to provide succinct snapshots of some of the issues with which Australia, like many other nations, grapples in this first part of the 21st century. It is by no means an exhaustive coverage of the terrain, but a sampling of some of the contemporary issues at the forefront of thinking about the complexities of the lives of Australian children and families.

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