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Single Parents, Blended Families and Schools.

In 2019, the make-up of Australian families is as diverse as the Australian population itself. While our popular culture might be saturated with families in what we might think of as ‘typical’ – mum, dad and two children – the reality is very different. This week, School Stream is going to take a look at the changing shape of families and the implications for schools.

We’re here to support schools. Click here to see how School Stream can help your school streamline parent communication or read on for our overview of how to support single and blended families.

The Statistics – a Snapshot

The Australian Institute of Family Studies report on The modern Australian family from 2016 has some statistics that show how diverse family structures can be:

  • One in five children aged 4–17 years were in shared time arrangements five years after parental separation.
  • In 2011, 71% of children under 15 years old lived with two biological or adoptive parents. While 82% of children are born into two-parent families, as they grow, progressively fewer live with both biological parents (only 53% by age 17 years).
  • Grandparents commonly care for grandchildren, with 65% of grandparents aged 40–69 years doing caring duties at least once a week. Of those, 53% of grandparent families are couple families with grandchildren and 47% are lone grandparent families.

There is also this further analysis of the results of the 2016 Census:

  • Blended families are a small proportion of modern Australian family forms, accounting for just over 3.7% of all families. 
  • There are more than 6 million families in Australia, with the most-common family form being the couple family with no children (37.76%).
  • 6.3% of families are step-families.

When it comes to single parent families, there are some interesting points about how the census data is recorded and what constitutes a single parent family. You can read a more nuanced take on it here. In the meantime, here are some key takeaway statistics from the same article:

  • At the 2016 Australian Census, there were 959,000 single-parent families with children recorded.
  • A total of 10.4% of all households had a single parent family as the only, or primary family in the household. 
  • 82% of all single parents are female. 

The Challenges at School 

Irrespective of family structure, we all want our children to thrive at school so they can take advantage of every opportunity. Single parent and blended families share the same challenges, hopes and aspirations for their children as we all do. It’s just in some cases, the logistics of everyday school life can come with an additional layer of complexity. Single parents report needing more notice to take part in school events, and families where care is shared between two parents mean that information can be missed if a paper newsletter goes home with one parent, but not the other. The key to supporting these ‘complex’ families is to create a culture of acceptance for all families – including those that don’t fit the narrative of what’s ‘typical’. The other crucial thing schools can do to support all families is, of course, communicate. Essentially it comes down to “communicate early and communicate often”. It’s an oldie but a goodie for a reason.

Communication and success at school – the research

There is plenty of evidence-based research to show that parental engagement is a significant factor in a child’s educational success, irrespective of the parent’s socioeconomic status, education or racial background. When educators engage with parents, they develop a greater understanding of children’s social and emotional development and can then scaffold experiences that assist children in becoming confident learners. Parents who are engaged in the education of their children are also able to create a more cohesive learning experience for their child at home, in synergy with what they are learning at school. Children who are supported in their schooling are also more likely to enjoy learning and see it as a natural part of their lives. Finally, optimistic learners are more likely to persist in the sometimes-hard work of learning, motivated by the belief that they can accomplish their learning goals. 

Why is communication so important for families?

If you are a parent who has ever missed an event at school because you didn’t get the message home, you know how important school communication is. Parents who know what is going on at school are able to get their children where they need to be, when they need to be there. The nitty-gritty of school life just runs more smoothly when everyone is on the same page: homework can be monitored, swimming costumes are packed for carnival day, and permission notes for excursions are returned. Imagine if grandparent carers, single parents and blended families all had access to the same information, in real time.

How can technology help?

The smartphone explosion means that school communication apps – like School Stream – are now an increasingly common method employed by schools to stay in touch with parents. And tech-savvy millennial parents and teachers are well placed to take advantage of these developments. With a school communication app, all family members and parents have the information they need to be across school events, newsletters and more, all in the one dedicated place on their smartphone. If the school needs to reach the family or carers in a hurry, it’s easy to send out an alert that will reach everyone quickly. No one gets left behind. We also understand that sometimes privacy and protection for children needs to be managed. There are built-in security measures for these situations to make sure privacy is maintained. 

Click here to see how School Stream supports schools just like yours.