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Understanding the lives of separated and separating families. Stage 1: What do we need to know?. ASK Research. 1 . Why are we doing this study, and what are we doing? Caroline Bryson. Its origins.

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understanding the lives of separated and separating families

Understanding the lives of separated and separating families

Stage 1: What do we need to know?

ASK Research

its origins
Its origins...
  • Ongoing discussions of benefits and shortcomings of current evidence about family separation
  • Recognition of valuable data from large-scale longitudinal surveys and bespoke studies
  • But perceived need for more
    • More depth/granularity
    • More holistic picture
    • Larger sample sizes
    • More/better data on non-resident parents
    • More timely data collection
  • Data for now, and future-proof data infrastructure
  • Awareness that, going forward, ability to identify separated families in admin data diminishing
  • But, no systematic assessment of how far these concerns are borne out in (current and future) practice
the team covering methods and substance
The team – covering methods and substance
  • Caroline Bryson and Susan Purdon, BPSR
  • Amy Skipp
  • Liz Trinder, Anne Barlow and Tamsin Ford, University of Exeter
  • Joanna Miles and Hamish Low, University of Cambridge
  • Kath Kiernan, University of York
  • Joan Hunt, Cardiff Law School
need for wide consultation
Need for wide consultation
  • Across the research team, wide methodological and substantive knowledge
  • But, still a small subset of those interested in data on separated families
  • Throughout project, need for discussions with government (policy and research), interest groups, academics and researchers
why is this study timely
Why is this study timely?
  • What we conclude needs to be future-proof: robust data infrastructure suitable into the longer-term (as far as we can predict)
  • However, current policy crossroads in a number of areas related to family separation
    • Implications for data needs
    • And for data availability
current policy context
Current policy context
  • Shift away from state involvement in family separation to family-based arrangements
  • Shifting ethos around parenting after separation
  • Welfare changes

“Separating parents too often end up in a potentially adversarial process that is costly to themselves and the taxpayer”

Strengthening families, promoting parental responsibility: the future of child maintenance

reduced state involvement
Reduced State involvement
  • “The state should only get involved when parents cannot come to an agreement themselves or when they try to evade their responsibilities” – Child maintenance consultation
  • Parents who are able to should be encouraged and supported to make their own arrangements
  • New Child Maintenance Service to encourage parents to come to private arrangements
    • Gateway to check attempts at private
    • Charges (for both users) for statutory service
  • Attempts to divert cases from court to mediation
    • Compulsory Mediation Information & Assessment Meetings (MIAM) from April 2014
  • Removal of legal aid from family law cases

“Fathers must make the decision to support their children financially and emotionally even if they have separated from their mothers”

David Cameron’s Fathers day message, 2011

joint parenting
Joint Parenting
  • Shared parental leave, relationship support, potentially joint birth registration,
  • Children & Families Act 2014

“Courts should presume, unless the contrary is shown, that involvement of each parent in the life of the child will further the child's welfare. ‘Involvement' means either direct or indirect, but not any particular division of a child's time”

  • ‘Contact’ and ‘Residence orders’ are no longer - in their place are ‘Child Arrangement Orders’
  • Move away from ‘Parent with care’ and ‘Non-resident parent’

“I want us to recognise marriage in the tax system so as a country we show we value commitment”

“600,000 lone parents will be better off under a system which will incentivise work and make work pay”

welfare changes
Welfare changes

Numerous, but a selection includes:

  • Lone Parent Obligations reduced the age when parents are expected to be in work (IS limited to parents of 5 year olds)
  • Work Programme transfer after 12 months out of work
  • Universal credit changes to Personal allowance for Under 25s, changes to Disability Premiums
  • Crisis loans and Job Grant payments abolished
  • Housing Benefit and Council Tax benefit reductions, plus Spare Room Subsidy
  • Overall benefit cap (£500/week)
  • Child Benefit loss for high income single earners
  • Married couples allowance supports transfer of personal allowance between married partners to reduce overall tax
but not only about current priorities
But not only about current priorities...
  • Imminent need for data to understand changing policy landscape
    • Imminent need to review data infrastructure in light of fewer separated families showing up in administrative data
  • But family separation not a new issue
  • Nor is it new for government to revisit and revise policies related to family separation
  • So , need for our thoughts about evidence needs to be future-proof
it is common for children to not live with both parents
It is common for children to not live with both parents
  • Among UK households with dependent children, around 3/10 include children who aren’t living with both parents
  • Among 12m children in UK, 3m children live in single parent households; a further 1m live with step-parents
  • 16%* of children are born into single parent households – so not uncommon never to live with both parents

*Although 7% of non-cohabiting parents have an intimate relationship


104,364 children under 16 were in families where the parents divorced in 2010

21% were under five and 64% were under 11.

separation can lead to financial hardship
Separation can lead to financial hardship
  • Clearly, family separation means that what was combined income is now split
  • Impact greatest if unable to share foundational living costs with others (repartnering or living with other families)
  • Brewer and Nandi (2014) found
    • 15-20% of mothers and children fell into poverty after separation
    • Especially where incomes were higher, alimony, maintenance, welfare did not compensate for loss of one parent’s income
child maintenance obligations often not met
Child maintenance obligations often not met
  • (Nearly all) non-resident parents legally obliged to pay child maintenance to parent with care
  • 43% of parents with care have maintenance arrangement in place (Understanding Society, Wave 3)
    • 21% statutory
    • 4% court
    • 19% family-based
  • Proportions receiving maintenance lower than this (c35%), especially those receiving all that is due
  • Only 10% of parents go to court to resolve their difficulties
  • These are likely to represent the most highly conflicted families and we know they often need multiple court visits and have the most complex and entrenched needs
  • Therefore not a valid representation of separated parents in general
economic circumstances post separation
Economic circumstances post-separation
  • 60% of single parents are working; A further 23% want to
  • Children in single parent families are twice as likely as children in couple families to live in relative poverty. 43% of children in single parent families are below the poverty line
  • 43% of single parents are social housing tenants; 71% of all single parent renters receive housing benefit

What we can’t say is what the financial situation of the other parent is

  • Non‐resident  fathers  more  likely  to  be:
    • unemployedor economically inactive
    • livinginrented accommodation
    • belong to the lowestsocio‐economicgroup

(Modern Fatherhood project)

post separation parenting 1
Post-separation parenting (1)
  • Family separation usually leads to children living for the majority of time with their mother
  • Only 8% live for the majority of time with their father
  • Only 10% spend equal time with both parents
  • Around 40% of children in separated parents see their non-resident parent at least once a week
  • But around 30% of children lose contact with their non-resident parent
post separation parenting 2
Post-separation parenting (2)
  • Post-separation parenting often difficult
  • Known factors predict children’s life chances after their parents’ separation:
    • Quality of relationship with mother and father
    • Amount of conflict between parents
    • The financial support available to them
    • The child’s individual temperament
  • Parents report their relationship with their ex-partner as ‘quite friendly’ (37%) or ‘neither friendly nor unfriendly’ (36%) [CMOptions users]
  • Discussion of financial matters %
    • Discusses and finds it easy 10
    • Discusses and finds it difficult 18
    • Discusses and finds it neither easy/difficult 9
    • Never discusses but would find it easy 15
    • Never discusses but would find it difficult 47
what do you want to know
What do you want to know?
  • What data do you regularly use?
  • What figures do you often quote?
  • What are the gaps in what we can say?
key needs
Key needs
  • Learning about pathways
  • Learning about processes
  • Learning about outcomes
  • Key transition times
  • Key aim is to understand what happens to these families
    • What lessens impact?
    • What increases impact?

So that we can all support them for best outcomes

deciding our population 1
Deciding our population (1)
  • What happens to families when they separate?
  • BUT, from what point do we need data about them?
      • After they have separated?
      • At the point at which they separate?
      • Prior to separation?
  • What is a family?
      • Families ‘living together apart’?
      • Families where the parents were never in a relationship?
deciding our population 2
Deciding our population (2)
  • What is our interest in intact families?
    • Because we want to understand pre-separation life of separated families?
    • Because we want to compare separated and intact families?
    • Because there is need for data on all family life?
  • Are we interested in parents’ lives prior to having children?
  • Are we interested in families once the children are grown up?
  • How much do we need to know about new family members
we need your help
We need your help
  • We have grouped areas of data need and thought through type of questions we need answering
  • We want to know what your questions and data needs are
    • Now
    • Going forwards
  • What overarching questions have we missed?
  • What detail do you need?
  • Any evidence sources you think might help to answer
consider areas
Consider areas
  • Finances
  • Relationships & Parenting
  • Legal
  • Support
  • Outcomes
assessing the current planned evidence
Assessing the current (planned) evidence
  • Administrative data, including in combination?
  • Bespoke research (including in the pipeline)?
  • Large-scale longitudinal studies, including the scope to build on these?
  • ......Will go some way to answering some of our questions
assessing what more might be required
Assessing what more might be required
  • Likely demand for more/different (survey and qualitative) data in order to have the data infrastructure required
  • Different research designs will provide data to address different research questions
    • ‘One study fits all’ approach or a menu of different data collection?
  • Any new data collection has methodological challenges and competing tensions between practicalities, costs, and depth of data
we ll be considering
We’ll be considering...
  • How to identify (enough of) our population of interest
  • How to getting robust data on non-resident parents
  • How far need longitudinal data
  • How to ensure sufficiently granulated data, captured at appropriate moments (flexibility)
  • How far we can attribute causal effects
finding enough of our population
Finding (enough of) our population
  • No single comprehensive database of separating/separated families, or indeed families – for secondary analysis or sampling
  • No central way of identifying recent familial splits
  • Among the population, separated families are low incidence within the population
    • Around 8 per cent of households include a dependent-age child who does not live with both parents
    • And specific sub-groups of interest are even more so: less than 1 per cent households include a dependent-age child whose parents separated in past year
getting good data on non resident parents
Getting good data on non-resident parents
  • Once families separate, there’s no (easy) way of identifying non-resident parents
  • Not uniformly identified in admin data  partial samples
  • Often don’t self identify in general population surveys, and lower response  biased samples
    • E.g. Peacey and Hunt screened for separated parents on ONS omnibus, identified far fewer NRPs, and biased towards those with better relationships
  • Not easy to retain in longitudinal studies  biased data
  • Currently, qualitative database on non-resident parents is better?
depth of data at the right moments
Depth of data, at the right moments
  • What data do we need?
  • From whom?
    • Parent with care, non-resident parent, children and young people
    • Intact families too?
    • New family members (step and half)
  • When – and how do we make sure we collect data at the appropriate moments?
    • Transition points
    • Policy changes
is longitudinal data essential
Is longitudinal data essential?
  • Tracking the same families over time vs repeat cross-sections
  • When to start tracking these families, and how long for
  • Capturing trajectories and transitions
  • Any reliance on retrospective data?
attributing causal effects
Attributing causal effects
  • Self-selection makes it hard to attribute outcomes to family separation or to experiences during separation, e.g.
    • Staying together vs splitting up
    • Negotiating family-based arrangements vs statutory or legal support
  • Can control for observable pre-separation differences (in longitudinal studies), but hard to iron out self-selection effects
attributing causal effects 2
Attributing causal effects (2)
  • Cross-sectional data cannot identify causal relationships (egWikeley et al data on effective maintenance arrangements and good post-separation relationships)
  • Longitudinal data can improve on our ability to understand causal pathways: eg Crawford et al: does marriage promote better child outcomes? Concluded differences in outcomes largely attributed to the profile of those choosing marriage over cohabitation rather than marriage itself
  • But very difficult to ensure account for differences in self-selection... And difficult to measure policy impacts when they are universally rolled out
feel free to contact us
Feel free to contact us
  • Caroline Bryson, c.bryson@bpsr.co.uk
  • Amy Skipp, amy@askresearch.org.uk