In a project spanning three years, The Tavistock Institute explored the ways in which mainstream services support low-income separated families.
This entailed looking at the role of mainstream services, and in particular how they support non-resident parents in maintaining meaningful and regular contact with their children, and what they could do to improve their service. Fieldwork consisted of interviews focused on the both parents and children of separated families and professionals working within relevant statutory services.
The main findings to emerge from interviews with practitioners were:
All services recognised the value of both parents having a meaningful role in their children’s life, but also that family separation often entails animosity between the parents which can be harmful to their children.
Service providers thought that they were restricted in their ability to provide for separated families due to limited resources, restrictive remits, and the reluctance of certain groups to engage with them.
The interviews with the individual family members led to the following observations:
There was very low awareness among all respondents about services available to them to help with the problems of family separation.
There was general scepticism among non-resident parents with regards to those services that they were aware of, and a feeling that while they might be founded on good intentions in practice they were not equipped to do the job expected of them.
Many non-resident parents felt that more could be done by both the education system and mediation/early intervention services to promote the positive involvement of non-resident parents.
All groups interviewed thought that improvements could be made. Practitioners thought that more resources and a widening of each service’s remit could address more comprehensively the needs of separated families. This would facilitate improved multi-agency working and earlier identification of and intervention in problems. Family members thought that improved information on the availability of services as well as greater clarity on what these services provide would be helpful. Equally that more flexibility in service and court provision, in recognition of the specific and changing needs of families, would potentially benefit all parties.
To this end the report is to be incorporated into the ongoing campaign ‘Kids in the Middle’, promoted by a consortium of relevant organisations, including the Fatherhood Institute, with whom we conducted the research. ‘Kids in the middle’ aims to raise awareness of the diverse needs of separating and separated families.