The Age

Sleepovers may help children, study finds

January 29 2003
By Julie Szego
Social Affairs Reporter
The Age

About a third of children with separated parents are missing out on opportunities to bond with their fathers because they don't stay overnight during access visits, researchers found.

The findings, published in the latest edition of Institute of Family Studies journal, appear to back concerns that the financial burden on non-custodial fathers is a hurdle to meaningful contact with their children.

The issue is whether living costs coupled with child support payments mean many fathers can't afford the extra bedrooms needed for children to stay over.

The issue is on the Federal Government's agenda, despite a failed attempt two years ago by Youth Affairs Minister Larry Anthony to reduce child support paid by non-custodial parents whose children slept over 30 per cent of the time or less.

Institute researchers Bruce Smyth and Anna Ferro analysed Australian Bureau of Statistics data on post-separation contact to shed light on the nature and quality of access visits, and not simply their frequency.

They found that children more likely to have day-only contact with fathers tended to live in single-mother households. Children whose mothers had since found new partners were more likely to sleep at their fathers'.

Mr Smyth said the results were consistent across different family types. "If you look at single mothers where you have four in 10 kids with day-only contact that's very striking."

The researchers identified economic pressures on fathers and dynamics in blended families among the main reasons for the contact pattern.

The latter included the possibility that mothers and their new partners wanted more "adult time", or might have two sets of children to care for. Some parents might also believe that very young children needed the "stability" of one house.

Sleepovers were better at helping children develop emotional bonds with a parent they saw less frequently as time was usually less constrained and structured, the researchers said.

Copyright 2002 The Age Company Ltd.