Grant awarded to assist premier research duo

Two of the world’s leading child support researchers have been awarded a grant to assist their international collaboration.

The RMIT Foundation International Research Exchange Fellowship grant will assist Senior Lecturer Dr Kay Cook from the Centre for Applied Social Research to travel to the United Kingdom (UK) to work with fellow researcher Dr Christine Skinner.

The $9973 grant will assist Cook’s latest research, which focuses on child support and the ways that the system works to disadvantage recipient children.

“In Australia, there is currently in excess of $1.35 billion in unpaid child support – and that’s just the amount we know about,” Cook said.

In 2012, Cook was appointed as Vice Chancellor’s Senior Research Fellow and was provided with a $50 000 grant to support her research and develop international networks.

She travelled to the UK and met Skinner, where they formed the International Network of Child Support Scholars with Professor Daniel Meyer from the USA.

“This network has undertaken significant research into the Australian child support scheme,” Cook said.

“One of our current projects is quantifying the difference that child support makes to single mothers and understanding whether it’s the difference between being above or below the poverty line.”

A change to the child support policy in Australia in 2008 coincided with welfare-to-work requirements that moved single parents onto government benefit scheme Newstart. This resulted in negative financial implications for low-income single parents and their children.

The change also endorsed private child support agreements over the Department of Human Services transferred payments – where the paying the parent privately transfers money to the recipient parent, without the Department’s involvement.

“My previous research with recipient women has shown that these private payments are likely to make the power struggles between parents that go on behind the scenes of child support payments invisible,” she said.

“This often puts recipient women in a marginalised position, where it may be safer, easier or better for them not to report payment inaccuracies or pursue underpayments.”

“Reporting payment inaccuracies might have negative consequences for single mothers, such as increasing the threat of violence, or making relationships between their children and the children’s father more difficult,” Cook said.

“Recently, all child support payments were made private in the UK, and my collaboration with Skinner will enable me to gain an understanding of how this new system impacts recipients.”

Cook hopes that this research will inform ways that child support can be better administrated by governments in Australia.

“If we can make the systems work better for recipients, more women will seek child support.

“Ideally, the Department would then collect more child support, which would reduce their expenditure on other government payments.

“These child support payments can lift children out of poverty.”

The RMIT Foundation International Research Exchange Fellowship was established in 1994 and provides support for international research collaborations.

Grants of up to $10 000 are awarded to recipients to assist research activity overseas or at RMIT.

More information on applying for an International Research Exchange Fellowship.

Story: Jordan Di Stefano

Originally published by RMIT News