Friday, October 24, 2008

Staying together is better for children: Government report

A report published earlier this week found that children in 2-parent families are at much lower risk of developing behavioural or emotional problems. The research is based on interviews with over 5,000 children over a 3 year period.

The report says: “The odds of developing an emotional disorder were increased for children where there had been a change in the number of parents between surveys, from two parents to one parent compared with children and young people in families that had two parents at both times.”

There have been several other bits of research which point this out, but the fact that this is a Government report may give it a bit more weight. At the moment, the Conservatives are the only political party which has policies to recognise and support marriage, whilst Labours Harriet Harman is on record as saying that "there is no 'ideal' parenting scenario" and "marriage has little relevance to public policy".

Other sites following this seem to just be quoting the Telegraph report, and the original government report doesn't seem to be online (unless I was using the wrong search terms), so the link above is all we have to go on for now. A link between losing 1 parent and emotional problems is what you'd expect, but it would be interesting to see if the children who had 1 parent at both points in the survey (2004 and 2007) showed any difference from those who had 2.


  1. That question doesn't seem to be asked so often. Just over twenty years ago when I became a single mother I was reassured by some research that showed the damage is done by a parent being lost/disrupted from home, not by a second parent never having been there in the first place.
    Incidentally, I always need a double take at the pic of St Aidan on your site, as my eyes/brain immediately reads it that he is holding his ipod.

  2. I wonder what he listens to?

    The research also noted that a change from 1 to 2 parents was disruptive, though in the short term again you'd expect that.
    I hope they continue to interview this sample at regular intervals, it would be fascinating, and hopefully would help us to have an informed debate about how to support families and parents.

  3. Well, yes, if two people stay together because their relationship is good enough, then that is positive for the children.

    The real question is whether a very bad 2 parent family is better than a 1 parent family, preferably with lots of contact with the second parent.

    Don't you get tired of loaded questions that already imply the desired research outcome?

  4. Reports like this always seem to compare single parent families with happy-enough two parent families, rather than happy and stable single parent families with the nightmare scenarios that some 2-parent families become.

    I can't prove it with statistics, of course, but experience suggests that a happy and secure one-parent family is better for a child than a 2-parent "family" where, for instance, one parent is constantly drunk, or off having affairs, or violent towards the other partner, or, or... Surely becoming a one-parent family with some stability is better for the child than bringing up a kid in an insecure, violence and anger-ridden setting?

  5. Anonymous: without seeing the whole report, it really is hard to dig into things like that. I imagine you're right, other research ( suggests that a hostile marriage is a risky environment for children.

    My main question is how we support families so that both 1- and 2-parent family have the best chance they can to thrive. And is it possible to recognise that 2 parents in a stable relationship is the best environment for a child without stigmatising 1-parent families?

  6. why the need to say "2 is best"? What does it achieve in the end? surely it's better to admit that whatever might theoretically be "best", all families, whether 1- or 2-parents, are going to be falling short of the theory anyway. Better and more honest to say that some 1-parent families are going to be better than some 2-parent families, because what makes it best for the kid in the end is not the number of parents, but the quality of parenting provided. (For instance, one excellent parent might well be "better" than two who are not that devoted.) I'm personally sick to death of being on the receiving end of patronising crap about 1-parent families.

  7. I think what I'm blundering towards, Maggi, is trying to work through what is best for children and families, and how government policy and church pastoral care can support this.

    At present there is no state support of any sort for couples, and David Cameron cited a case where a couple got more cash for living apart than being under 1 roof. All the money is directed towards chidren (child benefit, tax credits). The Tories are looking at marriage preparation courses for folk who approach the registrar, and privileging marriage through the tax system. As a Christian, and a husband, I believe marriage is God's ideal, but recognise that, as you say Maggi, all families are going to fall short of what's ideal. But if we can work out what is 'best' then we can look for policies and practices that support it.

    I'm also aware that this is a very difficult discussion to have because it's about deeply personal things. I certainly don't want spout patronising crap, but I do want to find a way of having the conversation, because it's so important.

  8. hi again, David. I wonder if that's a muddling of the issues? Supporting marriage is one thing - finding ways to help couples to build strong relationships. supporting CHildren is another issue - not unrelated, but not identical. Giving cash incentives to people who fit one set of morals or values is quite another, especially if it implies that people who don't live that way do so by choice.

    What is the cash for? Obviously if there are simply bvagaries of the system then let them be sorted out. But that's different from offering cash as a reward for lifestyle choices. Single parent families where the other parent has first abandoned them and then doesn't pay any maintenance are in dire need of cash. Is it their fault? Not usually. I know handfuls of mothers who are not your caricature of a baby-for-benefit single mothers, but god honest women who work full time, are devoted to their kids, and havbe no support whatsoever from their Ex who is off living the high life and lying about his income, The CSA is next to useless. THat would be a god place to add some cash. I can't help thinking of how Jesus said that if you were healthy you don't need a doctor, or the countless times he pleaded for the widow and the orphan (read - single mother with no support)

  9. Hi anonymous: you rightly raise the issue of justice - the biblical idea of siding with the poor and the marginalised, and those who need support. I know single mums who exactly fit your description of devoted parents who end up as single parents through no fault of their own. There is more than one moral issue here, and I'm probably guilty of missing that sometimes.

    On money: one of the main causes of pressure within a relationship is financial problems, nearly 40% of couples say it's a major factor in the breakdown of their relationship ( Would using the tax system to take some financial pressure off couples help? It's not about cash incentives for morality, it's about trying to support and preserve something we see as a good thing.

  10. I agree, but why support couple and not families in general? Families that aren't lukcy enough to be a couple are still families - and they are even more so families under pressure.