Fractured Families, a report issued earlier this week by the Centre for Social Justice, observes:
One in two children born today will not grow up with both their parents and every year an additional 20,000 people, mainly women, join the throngs of those raising children more or less singlehandedly. One million children have no meaningful contact at all with their fathers, and that’s a conservative estimate.
The personal and social costs are huge:
Such breakdown would matter not a lot if the human and economic costs were insignificant. But they are in fact devastating. Children with separated, single or step-parents are 50 per cent more likely to fail at school, have low self-esteem, struggle to make friends and with their behaviour. They often battle with anxiety or depression throughout the rest of their lives.
Adults’ mental and physical health can take a huge knock when relationships crumble, making it much harder for them to achieve at work and be the parents they want to be. The costs are eye-watering – rising to £49 billion per annum by the end of this Parliament, it’s more than the Government’s whole defence budget.
There is an epidemic of family breakdown, and whilst the government showers sticking plasters at the symptoms (mental health problems, educational failure, substance abuse etc.) nothing is done about the illness. Government after government has shied away from significant investment in family stability, investing in relationships & marriage and encouraging people to stay together.
92% of lone parent families are headed by the mother. Even at birth, 20% of children live with only 1 parent, by the time they are teenagers this is nearly 50%. For up to 3 million children tomorrow will be Absent Fathers Day, and here are some of the the consequences:
Children who experience family breakdown are more likely to
- experience behavioural problems;
- perform less well in school;
- need more medical treatment;
- leave school and home earlier;
- become sexually active, pregnant or a parent at an early age;
- and report more depressive symptoms and higher levels of smoking, drinking and other drug use during adolescence and adulthood.
The report points out the structural issues, as well as the personal ones. At the more dramatic end of the scale Fathers4Justice highlight the way that family support often leaves dads out of the picture. Our experience of ante-natal classes was a lot of stuff about the mechanics of birth and feeding the baby, and nothing at all about how to parent together and support each other as mother and father, even though it was a prime opportunity to support new parents in that way. In other cases the father simply walks away. The overall effect is that over 1 million children in the UK never see their father, and up to a million more have little or no meaningful contact.
The UK is near the bottom of international leagues on this. It's peculiar that in some areas of childrens policy, league tables are assiduously compiled and published (education) but in others they are completely ignored.
The full report goes into a lot of detail, statistics, and analysis;
- for example that cohabiting couples are 2 to 2.5 times more likely than married couples to break up, which in turn has consequences for the nearly 2m (and rising) number of children in 2-parent cohabiting households.
- Or that for every £6,000 in reactive spending to family breakdown, the government spends only £1 on prevention.
- Or that 76% of young people in custody have an absent father.
It's not a simple issue, there are multiple causes, from culture to cost (the sheer cost of getting married makes it unavailable to low-income families). Whatever you think about same-sex marriage, in the light of the above, is that really the top priority in family policy? Shouldn't we be debating all this instead?
So pray for us dads, absent and present, on Fathers day, for mums, for children. And pray that this will be the generation where the tide of family breakdown turns back, and we get the political and civil and cultural leadership to make that happen.