ACU (Australian Catholic University)


Issue 6, Spring 2012

Research bites

The secret places of childhood

Most people can recall a special place from their childhood that held significance as a place of play, comfort and adventure. Whether it’s a cubby house, a little nook in the family home or a particularly friendly shrub in the backyard, many childhood hours are spent and significant memories are built in these places.

Research by ACU PhD student Deb Moore has found that these places are more significant than just fond memories – they are critically important to a child’s identity, emotional well-being and sense of place attachment.

The scholarship student, who is working with the Senior Proven Research Team in the Faculty of Education, explained that the places had to be perceived as secret.

“I found that what resonates with children is that these physical or symbolic places not only need to be perceived as adult-free to be secret, but also need to be uniquely constructed by the children themselves,” Deb said.

“This is significant information for early childhood education which may inform educators, understanding of children’s governance of their own spaces and, therefore, future planning for playground pedagogy.”

Cyber bullies and victims more likely to engage in self-destructive behaviour

New research has found children who are both victims and perpetrators of cyber bullying are more likely to binge drink, face suspension from school, suffer depression and engage in self-harm 12 months later.

The longitudinal study – led by Professor Sheryl Hemphill from ACU’s School of Psychology in collaboration with Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and Deakin University – followed almost 800 Victorian students from primary through high school to investigate rates of bullying perpetration and victimisation, predictors and consequences.

Measuring bullying behaviour in Years 9 and 10, the unique study examined a range of behavioural and mental health outcomes in Year 11.

Findings showed that students who were victims (but not perpetrators) of cyber bullying in Year 10 were more likely to be depressed and engage in self-harm in Year 11. In contrast, students who were bullies (but not victims) in Year 10 were more likely to steal and engage in violent behaviour in Year 11.

Nine per cent of Year 9 students and seven per cent of Year 10 students both engaged in cyber bullying and were victims of cyber bullying. The study also showed that five per cent of Year 9 and 10 students engaged in cyber bullying. Of these, more students reported being victims than perpetrators, and girls were more likely to be cyber bullied than boys.

Professor Hemphill said cyber bullying is a relatively new phenomenon, so we haven’t been sure of its long-term effects.

“This ongoing study shows cyber bullying does have serious consequences for students who are bullies, victims or both,” she said. “The findings of our study show a unique association between cyber bullying and self-destructive patterns of behaviour.”

Examining the use of aid after Black Saturday

Black Saturday, Australia’s biggest bushfire tragedy, occurred in Victoria in late January, 2009.

The Archbishop’s Charitable Fund Bushfire Appeal, which was set up by the Catholic Church in Melbourne, raised more than four million dollars for bushfire victims.

Professor Ruth Webber, Director of ACU’s Quality of Life and Social Justice Research Centre, has been exploring how the aid was applied and looking to use the Appeal as a case study to develop principles and models of good practice in responding to crises that can be used in the future.

“The purpose of the research was to document and analyse the effectiveness of the strategies used to respond to the bushfire crisis in communities,” she said. “Examining the
Appeal allowed us to identify the gaps in those strategies and to develop principles and guidelines that can be used in future crises.

“The aim of the bushfire recovery project was to develop a sustainable community development response. This was an ambitious aim, however the welfare organisations which received the funding – CatholicCare, Centacare Gippsland and Centacare Sandhurst – can claim that they have strengthened and empowered the communities in which they were working and continue to work.”

Specific projects run by these organisations facilitated bonding, bridging and linking social capital within and between social networks, and included individuals, outsiders, agencies or institutions.

“What a disaster like this demonstrates is that no single organisation can act autonomously,” Professor Webber said. “A high degree of cooperation and, ideally, advance planning is necessary.”

Study finds younger mothers aspire to steady jobs

A report released by ACU’s Institute of Child Protection Studies (ICPS) has found that younger mothers aspire to finish their education, find a good job, and provide a safe environment for their child.

The qualitative research study Experiences and Aspirations of Young Mothers explored the experiences of 49 younger mothers who were below the age of 25 when they had their first child, and were receiving Centrelink income support payments.

Families Minister Jenny Macklin cited the study as she introduced a trial to help 600 teenage parents access education opportunities and support services.

Professor Morag McArthur, Director of ICPS, said the report shows a greater need for support services like those in the Federal Government trial, however it was also critical to provide such support in ways that reduce the stigma many younger mothers feel.

“These services have the potential to assist younger mothers to engage with the formal and informal support systems which can help them to realise their aspirations,” she said.

“It’s important for all parents to know what services are available to them, and how to access them as well as building and strengthening informal support networks. All parents need support and acknowledgement of the important role they play in parenting.

“No matter their age or socio-economic status, all parents want the same thing for their children – a safe environment and the best opportunities.”

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