Certain types of families may be more vulnerable to social disadvantage and have greater support needs than others. In some cases this is due to the characteristics of individuals within the family (e.g. there may be a family member with a disability), and in others it relates to the sociodemographic characteristics of the family unit per se (e.g. the family may be located in a remote area). Thus, while there are concerns about population groups whose wellbeing is fundamentally linked to family and community factors (e.g. children, people with a disability, and older people), particular types of families are also of interest (e.g. rural families). Understanding which types of families are at risk of disadvantage, the particular needs of different types of families, and the way in which these families can be effectively targeted by government interventions, benefits and services are core issues for this area of concern.
On a range of indicators, lone parents can be seen to be at greater risk of disadvantage and more likely to be living in poverty and/or reliant on government benefits for income. Lone parents may find it difficult to balance work and care responsibilities effectively.
Families living in rural areas may be more vulnerable to problems linked with employment and industry restructuring. They may also have reduced access to basic government services such as hospitals, schools, higher education and formal family support services. These difficulties have the potential to compound family problems, or delay their resolution, and rural families may be more vulnerable to mental health problems, such as depression and suicide.
Indigenous families have a high risk of disadvantage. They often face the same disadvantage that rural families face. Cultural and language barriers sometimes limit their full receipt of government or community services, and they may experience discrimination within the community. The very specific traditional family roles and networks of Australia's Indigenous peoples were disrupted during colonisation. The extent to which these need protection and revitalisation, and the means by which this might be effectively achieved, continue to be important social issues.
FAMILIES WITH A MEMBER WITH A DISABILITY
Families in which there are people with a disability have special support needs, particularly where the people with a disability perform key income earning or caring roles. Many issues in the area of family and community are associated with identifying the prevalence of disability in the population and how this is changing over time and with the ageing of the population. The severity of disability also needs to be measured in order to determine the extent to which people's activities are restricted and what levels of support are required.
The wellbeing of children depends to a large extent on the healthy functioning of the family environment. Children in lone parent families may be affected by the lack of a male or female role model, or by parental conflict over residential arrangements. Children in couple families may also be at risk if the family is dysfunctional or abusive. While child care issues can be looked at from the point of view of parent needs, children are also key players in child care transactions and have the right to high quality care.
As with children, the wellbeing of older people can be fundamentally dependent on their family, and on community care services. Elderly people may need a range of types of care. Those who are physically independent but isolated by the loss of a partner or relocation, may need housing within a community where they can develop new relationships and be close to support facilities. Those with physical disabilities may need even greater access to medical facilities and assistance with shopping or other household activities. Those who are very ill or frail may need 24 hour care every day in nursing homes. As well as physical and practical care, older people need to be able to retain their individuality, dignity and full rights as human beings. The quality of care in nursing homes, where residents may be unable to assert these rights, is an important social issue.
PEOPLE WITH A DISABILITY
As with older people, there is a need to provide people with disabilities with a range of services and support, and with the means by which they can enjoy as full a participation in life as possible and full human rights. There are issues surrounding the type, intensity and quality of care required by people with a disability. Young people with severe or profound restrictions face a lifetime of reliance on family and community support services, and on the goodwill of those involved in caring for them. Some people with disabilities may be parents or perform caring roles themselves, which means they may face additional challenges and pressures.
In recent years there has been an increasing awareness of both the importance of carers in the community, and of their support needs. While the role of carer may provide a sense of satisfaction, it may also involve substantial personal costs, both in terms of mental and physical stress and in lost opportunities for work, earning of income and leisure. Respite care and various forms of home and community care programs can be vital to maintaining the emotional and physical wellbeing of carers, and thus of the family. An issue associated with providers of care is whether the contribution of unpaid work and caring work is recognised and supported by government policy and community programs. The adequacy of government support for carers is also regularly debated.