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The effects of different parent residency arrangements resulting from permanent parental separation or divorce on the growth of competence and self-esteem in primary school-aged children

Pike, Lisabeth T. (1999) The effects of different parent residency arrangements resulting from permanent parental separation or divorce on the growth of competence and self-esteem in primary school-aged children. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Abstract

This study examined the effects of different parent residency arrangements resulting from permanent parental separation or divorce on the growth of competence and self-esteem in primary school-aged children. There were a total of 272 participants in the study comprised of 136 single parent children (72 girls and 64 boys) and 136 two parent children matched for age, gender, school year and educational cohort. Participants were drawn from a total of 45 schools, 35 state and 10 private schools. The study employed a matched sample or correlated groups design wherein a sample of non-clinical, single parent children of both genders resident with parents (for a minimum of one year) of both genders, were matched and compared with children from two parent families. The study adopted an ecological approach involving multiple informants (parents and teachers) to generate data about the children’s competence and self-esteem in addition to seeking this information from the children themselves. Data measuring the children’s competence and self-esteem were gathered on a range of dependent measures including the Self-Perception Profile for Children (SPPC) (Harter, 1985), the Social Support Scale for Children (Harter, 1985), the Wide Range Achievement Test (Revised) (Jastak, 1984) and the Everyday Household Responsibilities Life Skills Inventory (EHRLSI) (Amato, 1986). Data gathered from teachers about the children were obtained through the Teacher Rating Scale of the SPPC. Parents also completed the Teacher Rating Scale of the SPPC (renamed the Parent Rating Scale), the EHRLSI and the Child Behaviour Checklist /4- 18 (Achenbach, 1991). Comparisons were made between the single and two parent in children using a series of t tests, ANOVAS and correlations. Findings confirmed the contention that when considering competence and self-esteem, single parent children cannot be treated as an homogeneous group. Results showed that overall the single parent children’s scores on the dependent measures were of average to above average levels and that there were very few statistically significant differences between single parent and two parent children on these measures. This study suggested that single parent children are not at risk in terms of their development of competence or their self-esteem as measured by these instruments. It also found that it is not necessarily advantageous for single parent children to raised by a parent of the same gender. Teacher ratings of single parent children’s competence on the SPPC were lower than their ratings of children from two parent families on three of the five specific domains. It is suggested that a “children of divorce” stereotype, whereby knowledge of the child’s family circumstances negatively influences the opinions of the teachers, may be operating. Implications for professionals working with single parent children either as researchers, teachers or mental health professionals, are presented and discussed. The study also has implications for public policy and legal decision making in terms of the application of the “tender years doctrine”. It is concluded that single fathers are equally as capable as single mothers of providing an adequate home environment for raising their children post-separation and divorce and that the tradition of placing children with the mother, based on the concept “in the best interests of the child” needs to be re-assessed in contemporary Australian society.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: Division of Science
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: repository@murdoch.edu.au. Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Leach, David
URI: http://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/id/eprint/50440
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