Embargoed until 00:01 hrs Wednesday 3rd May 2006
When couples break up, future contact with their children should be
measured in terms of quality, not quantity, according to a new booklet
'Private arrangements for contact with children', published by the Economic
and Social Research Council (ESRC).
We need to focus more on relationships and less on the quantity of contact
when considering the quality of young people's family lives, say its co-authors,
Dr Fran Wasoff, of the University of Edinburgh, and Dr Bren Neale, of the
University of Leeds.
The booklet was produced to accompany a special seminar organised in
Edinburgh on May 3 for the Scottish Executive, examining
the effects of privately-agreed child-contact deals made by parting parents.
In Scotland since 1995, under the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, parents
have had responsibility for ensuring contact, even after separation or
divorce when this is in the best interest of the child.
On the whole, says Dr Wasoff, evidence from other countries suggests
that both resident and non-resident parents find private arrangements satisfactory,
in contrast to high levels of conflict in cases involving the courts. However,
she argues that to understand these arrangements properly, it is important
to have a picture of the different patterns of contact. This is information
available for some other countries, though not currently for Scotland.
Looking for lessons from abroad, she says that while the statutory framework
in Australia is broadly similar to Scotland's, new ways of supporting post-separation
contact are being developed. A network of 65 community-based government-funded
Family Relationship Centres will begin in July 2006, as a single entry
point to the family law and support system to foster more use of private
arrangements for parent-child contact.
Australian parents are encouraged to develop parenting plans and try
to resolve contact and residence issues privately, perhaps with the help
of family services, who are to receive enhanced funding. However, where
cases go to court, there is also an aim to make proceedings themselves
less adversarial and likely to exacerbate conflict.
Meanwhile over here, according to Dr Neale, private arrangements can
work well when based on consensus and good quality relationships, when
the needs of the children are a priority, and the arrangement is viewed
flexibly so that it can begin to break down naturally as young people assume
control of their own time and space.
But, she says, they do not work effectively when based
on unresolved tensions and poor quality relationships - where the needs
of parents are put first, and when they are inflexible and rigidly enforced
so as to prevent young people from gradually assuming control of their
time and space.
Drawing on first-hand testimonies from the children of separated parents,
Dr Neale says that in some cases arrangements for sharing
time between the homes of Mum and Dad can be the product of insecure and
over needy parenting, and a rather uneasy compromise between parents over
rights to the children.
And she argues that if we are to focus on the best interests of the
child, we have to attend to their citizenship as well as their welfare.
Dr Neale said: "Once children are recognised, we can start to listen
to them and respect their ways of defining their needs, rights and interests,
and find ways to include them in discussion and decision-making. This will
mean adults no longer making all the decisions for children, but supporting
them as they begin to take responsibility for shaping their own lives."
For further information or a copy of the report, contact:
* Amanda Williams at the ESRC on 01793 413126; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
For further details only, contact:
* Dr Fran Wasoff on 0131 650 3922; e-mail: Fran.Wasoff@ed.ac.uk * Dr
Bren Neale, on 0113 343 4813; e-mail: email@example.com
Notes for editors
1. 'Private arrangements for contact with children' is
published by the ESRC to accompany a seminar on May 3, 2006 in Edinburgh
- the first in a series to be organised by the Economic and Social Research
Council and the Scottish Executive on key policy issues. Speakers are Dr
Fran Wasoff, Reader in Social Policy, School of Social and Political Studies,
and Co-Director, Centre for Research on Families and Relationships, at
the University of Edinburgh; and Dr Bren Neale, Reader in Child and Family
Research at the School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds.
2. The event is part of the Public Policy Seminar series, which directly
addresses key issues faced by ESRC's key stakeholders in government, politics,
the media, and the private and voluntary sectors. The next to be organised
with the Scottish Executive will examine how to reduce re-offending in
Scotland. 3. The Scottish Executive is the devolved government for Scotland.
Established in 1999, it is responsible for most of the issues of day-to-day
concern to the people of Scotland, including health, education, justice,
rural affairs, and transport. It manages an annual budget of more than
£27 billion in the financial year 2005-2006, which is due to rise
to over £30 billion in 2007-2008. http://www.scotland.gov.uk 4. The
ESRC is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training
relating to social and economic issues. It provides independent, high quality,
relevant research to business, the public sector and Government. The ESRC
total expenditure in 2005/6 is £135million. At any time, the ESRC
supports more than 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic
institutions and research policy institutes. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk
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