VicHealth Parental Fear Project (2012-2015)

 'Parental fear as a barrier to children's independent mobility and resultant physical activity.'

La Trobe University and the Parenting Research Centre received funding from the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth), for a three-year project to investigate children's and parents' experiences, beliefs and attitudes about children's independent mobility, including parental fear, and to develop recommendations to promote children's independent mobility and incidental physical activity.


Parents are the gatekeepers to children's independence and autonomy across all stages of childhood. Parental fear has been identified as a potentially critical barrier to children's ability to travel and play independently. This fear might be a barrier to physical activity, and a factor contributing to Australia's high rates of childhood obesity.

While there is a perception that there is a relationship between parental fear and children's independent mobility and physical health, the evidence is not well established. The drivers of parental fear have not been identified sufficiently to inform evidence-based interventions. Further, children's experiences and opinions of relevant stakeholders have not been widely investigated in the Victorian context. To address these gaps, this project will employ both quantitative and qualitative research methods with children, parents and the broader community as follows:

  • Phase 1 - explore the perceptions of Victorian children (aged 8-15 years) and parents of similar aged children regarding the process of children becoming independently mobile, and the supports and barriers to being independently mobile, including the role of parental fear. Findings from this phase will inform the content development for Phases 2 and 3.
  • Phase 2 - determine the factors associated with children's independent mobility for a representative sample of parents of Victorian children (aged 9-15); and determine the unique association between parental fear and children's independent mobility, accounting for family, socio-economic, parent, child and neighbourhood factors.
  • Phase 3 - develop a range of recommendations in partnership with parents, community leaders and other stakeholders, for promoting the independent mobility of Victorian primary and secondary school-aged children.


  • Phase 1: Children participated in focus groups to explore their experiences and perceptions of independent mobility, and the barriers, supports and process of becoming independently mobile. Seven schools from regional and metropolitan areas of Victoria were recruited into the research. Twelve focus groups were conducted with 132 children aged between 8-15 years. Three focus groups were conducted with 12 parents of children aged 8-15 years. These focus groups extended our current understanding of children's experiences of being independently mobile, the range of factors underpinning parents' views and behaviours about children's independent mobility, and the process of increasing children's independently mobility. These data were used to inform the development and content of the quantitative questionnaire in Phase 2 of the project.
  • Phase 2: A brief validation study was undertaken to develop two new scales assessing parental fear and parents' concerns about strangers, suitable for utilisation in a questionnaire for parents. Subsequently, quantitative data was collected using Computer Assisted Telephone Interviews (CATI) with a large representative sample of 2,002 Victorian parents of children aged 9-15 years.
  • Phase 3: In the third and current phase, a series of expert workshops were conducted with stakeholders from a broad range of child, family and community sectors. Data collected during the workshops is being used to develop a set of key recommendations, with the ultimate aim of informing future evidence-based interventions to promote the independent mobility of Victorian school-aged children.

The project is now completed and the final report was released in October 2015.

See the Parental Fear Final Report [PDF 1561 KB]

Research Team

La Trobe University (Transition to Contemporary Parenthood Program, Judith Lumley Centre)

  • Professor Jan Nicholson
  • Dr Amanda Cooklin
  • Dr Sharinne Crawford
  • Dr Naomi Hackworth
  • Ms Shannon Bennetts

Parenting Research Centre

  • Associate Professor Jan Matthews
  • Dr Julie Green
  • Dr Fabrizio D'Esposito

Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, University of Western Australia

  • Professor Stephen Zubrick

Australian National University

  • Associate Professor Lyndall Strazdins

University of Texas

  • Professor Guy Parcel


Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth)


Dr Sharinne Crawford


Telephone: +61 3 9479 8794