Download Centre for Family Studies Malta 15 December 2010 Looking to the Future

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Centre for Family Studies
15 December 2010
Looking to the Future
Emeritus Professor Janet Walker OBE
Newcastle University, England
Families are the bedrock of society.
They nurture children, help to build
strength, resilience and moral
values in young people, and provide
the love and encouragement that
helps them lead fulfilling lives.
Changes in family life across the
western world:
Fertility rate
single parenthood
separation and divorce
same-sex partnerships
employment of women
periods of life spent outside
conventional family unit
As a result, societies are concerned
family break-up
instability – in families, communities and
poor outcomes for children
the breakdown of traditional values
how best to support parents and children
Nevertheless –
married couples = main type of adult
getting married is a key aspiration for
most people – young people want to
form a loving, committed relationship
that will last for life
Modern partnerships are:
1. Fragile
2. Strong
Today most people:
are living longer
have increased opportunities and choice
are healthier and more mobile
face a range of moral and personal
have to take difficult decisions
If families are to be supported and
strengthened then we need the
best possible knowledge about
family life and relationships
Malta Centre for Family Studies
Research tells us about:
the importance of couple relationships
the complexity of family life
the diversity of family forms
The empirical research evidence
enduring attachment to family ties
continued commitment to family relationships
tradition remains central to family values
family connectedness is highly valued
most people struggle to ‘do the right thing’
and to sustain the relationships that are
important to them
Research also tells us about the
families in which children flourish:
1. Children thrive best in families characterised
by predictable and consistent care.
2. Such care is associated with stable and
harmonious relationships between parents.
3. Having parents who are able to maintain
sound adult partnerships and negotiate
flexibly is beneficial for children (and for
We need to understand the CHALLENGES
families face in today’s society:
balancing work and home
parenting and child care
caring for elderly or sick relatives
satisfying the intimacy needs of partners
reconciling tradition and globalisation
changing economies
unequal parenting roles
no time to foster strong couple relationships
no time to talk about things that really matter
anxieties, tiredness, depression,
disappointment, ill-health
financial problems
lack of secure employment
The Centre for Family Studies can
help us understand these
challenges and pressures within
the context of Maltese society.
To support families, policymakers and
practitioners need to understand:
family relationships and family functioning
different parenting styles
how to promote the well-being of parents and
the importance of good communication skills
socio-economic influences on family life
risk and protective factors
The Centre for Family Studies can also
inform difficult and sensitive debates
and policy options:
separation and divorce
birth control
domestic violence
child abuse
reproductive technologies
weighing and presenting the evidence
providing a balanced viewpoint
promoting informed discussion
testing options, evaluating interventions and
adding to knowledge locally and internationally
Research in family life is likely to be
judged on its:
academic and intellectual merit
robustness and replicability
utility as a sound basis for policy and
practice development
Research in the Centre for Family
Studies will need to be:
multi-disciplinary – social sciences, health, education
high quality – training and fostering skilled
researchers via post graduate programmes and
visible and high profile – consultancy can be
provided to government(s); NGOs; businesses;
family, health and education practitioners
widely accessible – via academic papers, policy
briefings and information for practitioners and
families themselves
‘The outcome of any serious research
can only be to make two questions
grow where only one grew before.’
Veblen, The Place of Science in
Modern Civilisation and Other Essays,
It is important to remember that:
research findings are always open to
human behaviour is infinitely variable, extremely
complex and often unpredictable
there are unlikely to be simple solutions to social
problems and dilemmas
open debate about complex issues can assist in
the development of evidence based policy and
practice but not guarantee them
the impact of research is often not immediate
The welfare of families is a legitimate
interest for all governments: the
breakdown of family life has
important economic, social and
psychological impacts on individuals
and society.
Taking the long view
It is essential to:
define clear research questions
address the fundamentals of family life
be proactive
be realistic
take account of political imperatives
develop academic networks across the
Above all, the Centre will need to
ensure a continuing and open dialogue
with and between academic researchers,
policymakers, practitioners, politicians,
faith leaders, the business community
and families themselves