by Matt Kelly
“It’s about a sense of belonging, a sense of knowing where you come from,” says Grant Manwaring, a grandfather who comes from a large extended family. He grew up with six brothers and three sisters. He is talking about the importance of family.
“Family gatherings, birthdays and wedding anniversaries are great times to celebrate the family. You look forward to these occasions and you look back on them with fond memories.”
Families across the country celebrated National Families Week from 15 May to 21 May. This year’s theme was Families make all the difference: helping kids to grow and learn. The event, established in 2003, aims to spread awareness about the important role families can play in supporting and nurturing children.
According to Jennifer Horsfield, Manager of Families Australia, National Families Week is a way of recognising the value of families as the basic building blocks in a community.
“The theme highlights the role families can play in helping children to develop, learn and grow, and reflect on the influence families have on a child’s wellbeing,” Ms Horsfield says. “Families are the foundation for shaping children’s physical, social, emotional and cognitive development.
“A child’s earliest learning experience happens at home, with family. Families give children a sense of belonging and of self-identity and provide a network of support for children as they grow,” she says.
All Australians, including community organisations, schools, councils, companies and individuals are invited to participate in National Families Week each year through numerous community events arranged through Families Australia, by spending time with their family and thinking about, and acting on, the many ways in which a family can make a difference to child’s wellbeing, Jennifer Horsfield says.
With family scattered from Victoria to country New South Wales and to Queensland, Mr Manwaring says helping children in the family develop is one of the greatest roles a parent can play.
“They’re the future and they need role models. Setting a positive example has a bearing on their lives. I do a bit of work for the Salvos on the weekends. The kids notice this. They see their parents and grandparents doing good things and they try and emulate them,” he says.
“As a grandfather, it’s a very satisfying thing to know you’re having a positive impact on your grandchildren. There’s a sense of well-being you carry inside you.”
Dr John Falzon, Chief Executive of The St Vincent de Paul Society National Council, pays tribute to the unsung heroes in the community who help families in crisis.
“The importance of family relationships and the positive influence they can have on a child’s wellbeing cannot be underestimated. Families are where children first learn what it is to be human and how to care for each other,” he says.
“Families are where we can all learn the values of solidarity and compassion, of building each other up and supporting each other, of valuing diversity and uniqueness, and of working together collectively.”
National Families Week is funded by the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA).
“There are so many things parents can do to help their children grow: set limits and give responsibilities, get to know your child’s friends, eat dinner together every day and talk about the day’s events, get involved in your child’s education,” says Sandra Stefanac, of FaHCSIA.
National Families Week coincided with the United Nations International Day of Families on 15 May, the theme of which was Ensuring Work Family Balance.
“This year’s International Day of Families highlights the need for work family balance,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “The aim is to help workers everywhere provide for their families financially and emotionally, while also contributing to the socio-economic development of their societies.”
Kevin Andrews, Shadow Minister for Families, Housing and Human Services, endorsed Australia’s annual family celebration by saying, “National Families Week is a great opportunity to reflect on the importance of all families in Australian society.”
At a Playgroup Tasmania event in Hobart, Julie Collins, Minister for Community Services, said National Families Week highlighted the importance of early learning in the home.
“The encouraging news is most parents understand the benefits of a strong family support network in the education of their children and are making the most of their kids’ early years,” she said. “More parents are reading to their small children. They’re involved in reading activities for 80 per cent of kids under two, with that figure jumping to 96 per cent for children between three and eight.”
Joy Burch, ACT Minister for Community Services, joined more than 40 children and their families for a special Paint and Play session at Kambah Adventure Playground in Canberra to celebrate National Families Week.
“Families are at the core of our society and have central roles in virtually every part of our lives,” Ms Burch said. “National Families Week is about celebrating the joy that families can bring. It’s also a time to let those families going through tough times know that we are there for them, whether as friends or as people able to provide services. Family is important to all of us.”