Evaluating the work of Australia's Family Relationship Centres: Evidence from the first 5 years

Authors

  • Lawrie Moloney,

  • Lixia Qu,

  • Ruth Weston,

  • Kelly Hand

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    • All authors hold research positions with the Australian Institute of Family Studies, Melbourne, Australia. Lawrie Moloney also holds an adjunct position with La Trobe University, Victoria, Australia. The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and may not reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Family Studies or the Australian Government. Correspondence to lawrie.moloney@aifs.gov.au

Correspondence: lawrie.moloney@aifs.gov.au

Abstract

Family Relationship Centres (FRCs) have been described as a centerpiece of Australia's 2006 family law reforms. This paper places these centres in the larger context of the reforms and their commitment to providing community-based family services in the family law area. The paper also examines the empirical evidence regarding FRCs' use and effectiveness. It notes that while the objectives and intentions of FRCs place considerable emphasis on strengthening family relationships and assisting families to stay together, the centres themselves have only a modest level of direct involvement with intact families. FRCs tend to have strong links with other community-based family services, many of whom are more engaged with intact families; but it is difficult to gauge their effectiveness in this area. Most FRCs' direct services are aimed at separating families and most of that work involves family dispute resolution (family mediation) and associated services such as screening and assessment and the provision of relevant information. A substantial majority of clients who attend FDR at an FRC reach agreement about their parenting arrangements either at FDR or subsequent to attending FDR. These agreements also tend to hold up in the medium term. A majority of parents believe that at FDR, the child(ren)'s needs were taken into account; the parenting agreement worked for the child(ren); and the parenting agreement worked for them. A substantial proportion of FRC clients come from families that have experienced family violence or other dysfunctional behaviours, and such behaviours reduce the chances of resolving parenting disputes. The paper concludes by suggesting that having been created mainly as a default alternative to legal interventions and court processes, it is likely that a major future strength of FRCs will lie in their emerging capacity to work constructively not only with other relationship services and networks, but with family lawyers and the courts.

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