New report states that the Government is ignoring millions of children caught up in divorce and separation and that the Government could make savings if system is reformed.
Children’s rights are being ignored by the government when couples separate or divorce, according to a new report out today from The Family Solutions Group.
The Family Solutions Group is a multi-disciplinary group set up by the Honourable Mr Justice Cobb to consider what is needed to improve the experience of families who separate before any application is made to the family court. Its first report ‘What about me? Reframing support for families following separation’ was published in 2020.
In 2023, the Family Solutions Group carried out two consultations which focused on the needs of children when parents separate: the first with a cross section of experienced multi-disciplinary professionals and the second with 112 members of the UK Youth Parliament, aged 11-18. They provided responses from a pilot study of 31 young people followed by a wider UK study incorporating the views of a further 81.
The consultation report, A Child’s Right to Matter, launched in Parliament last night (Monday 13 November 2023) includes the views of members of the UK Youth Parliament aged 11-18 as well as experts in the field, and exposes the lack of support for children caught up in a family separation.
In 2021, there were 2.3 million separated families in the UK, with 3.6 million children affected, while every year, approximately 280,000 children have parents who separate
Judith Timms OBE, lead author of the report, said:
“The shocking stand-out finding from all the consultees was that this very large cohort of children are invisible in terms of public policy and service provision. There are large parts of the system that have no recognition of the vulnerability of children when parents separate and they have no one to speak up for them. This is what we call upon the government to address.”
Given divorce is now easier since the introduction of no-fault divorce last year and given it is a common occurrence, we must not leave children’s interests behind. The courts system is by its nature adversarial and sets an unhelpful context of there being sides, leaving children vulnerable in the middle.”
One of the recommendations emerging from the report includes making the Minister for Children, Families and Wellbeing responsible for those children who are often ignored during parental separation, instead of responsibility being split across several different government departments which can create further issues or lack of momentum in making change.
Unlike other events in a child’s life where support is accessible, A Child’s Right to Matter highlights that children going through family separation have nowhere to find out information, no helplines, nobody to talk to, and are often powerless when it comes to decisions being made about them.
The UK Youth Parliament members found that young people face a wide range of concerns when parents separate but 74% would not know who to ask for information or support.
This, says the Family Solutions Group, is because nobody in Government takes responsibility for family separation, other than the running of the family court. They point to many other reports which have gone before with the same recommendations to manage family separations better, but these have fallen on deaf ears as this significant aspect of society falls into a political void.
Helen Adam, Chair of the Family Solutions Group, said:
“We have persistently called on Government to appoint someone with oversight of the needs of separating families, not just provide the family court.”
The most senior judge in the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane has given his backing to the report. He said:
“I very much welcome the publication of ‘A Child’s Right to Matter’. It is, sadly, necessary for this report to state its standout finding that ‘the needs of children when parents separate have been overlooked’. It is a palpable truth. We should all now heed the report’s clearly stated call for action.”
The report recommendations include:
- Allocating overall responsibility for the wellbeing of children in separated families to the Department for Education; under current structures, the Minister for Children, Families and Wellbeing
- Working across Government departments, the report recommends the Minister has responsibility to:
- Establish an authoritative website to provide a dedicated ‘place to go’ for all children and young people at all stages of their parental separation journey.
- Establish mechanisms for children over 10 to be offered consultation, so their views can be considered when decisions are made which affect them.
- Make available training packs about family separation for all first responders, including schools, GPs, social prescribers, youth workers, mental health practitioners.
- Where Family Hubs are funded, extend the remit to support children and young people directly following parental separation
Judith Timms OBE added:
“These measures will, over time, lead to savings across multiple government departments. More importantly, they will build resilience and improve childhood experiences for the many thousands of children whose families separate each year.”
Read the full report.