Monday, 3 February 2014

Australian Institute of Family Studies report on same-sex parented families in Australia

A report commissioned by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, Same-sex parented families in Australia, has found that children raised in same-sex parented families do as well emotionally, socially and educationally as their peers from heterosexual couple families.

The report looked into research that has been undertaken in Australia, the US and Europe relating to: children's family relationships; their psychological adjustment; their experiences with peers, particularly with regard to teasing or bullying; and how well they fare educationally.

According to the report:

-        About 11% of Australian gay men and 33% of lesbians have children. Children may have been conceived in the context of previous heterosexual relationships, or raised from birth by a co-parenting gay or lesbian couple or single parent.

-        Overall, research to date considerably challenges the point of view that same-sex parented families are harmful to children.

o       Children in same-sex parented families generally report harmonious relationships with their parents, whether or not they were born to heterosexual couple parents who subsequently divorced, or in the context of a planned same-sex family*;

o       On measures of general health and family cohesion children aged 5 to 17 years with same-sex parents had significantly better scores when compared to Australian children from all other backgrounds and family contexts. For all other health measures there were no statistically significant differences**;

o       The National Longitudinal Lesbian Families Study in the US followed the psychological adjustment of young people approaching adulthood who were raised in lesbian-parented families and found psychological adjustment throughout early childhood was found to be similar to normative samples of American children raised in all kinds of heterosexual families.***;

o       Despite fears about being teased, harassed or bullied, and some negative experiences of bullying, teasing or harassment, it appears children raised in lesbian-parented families do not seem unduly vulnerable to experiencing bullying, although the US evidence is mixed. Comparable measures are higher in European countries than the US, indicating that the prevailing socio-cultural climate of support for same-sex relationships may have some bearing on child wellbeing****;

o       With regard to academic performance, the evidence is that same-sex parented children perform as well as or better than their peers raised in heterosexual couple families*****.

The report concluded that other factors – such as a lack of institutional support for same-sex relationships and the prevailing socio-cultural climate of support for same-sex relationships – have a greater impact on the emotional, social and educational life of children of same-sex relationships than their parents relationship itself does.

Interestingly, from a family law perspective, the report noted that what was important for all family types were family processes such as parenting stress, conflict, and relationship dissatisfaction. And that this can have an impact on children of all relationship types.

* Brewaeys et al. 1997; Bozett, 1987; Golombok, Spencer, & Rutter, 1983; Harris & Turner, 1986; Kirkpatrick, Smith, & Roy, 1981; Wainright et al. 2004

** Crouch, Waters, McNair, Power, & Davis, 2012, Crouch, 2013 - Australian Study of Child Health in Same-Sex Families (ACHESS) based at the University of Melbourne

*** Gartrell et al., 1999, 2000, 2005, 2006

**** Crouch et al. (2012)

***** Wainwright et al. (2004); Gartrell and Bos (2010)

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