Presentation on theme: "DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL POLICY AND SOCIAL WORK Qualitative interviews with parents and children Joan Hunt Oxford Centre for Family Law and Policy."— Presentation transcript:
DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL POLICY AND SOCIAL WORK Qualitative interviews with parents and children Joan Hunt Oxford Centre for Family Law and Policy
The parent sample 41 parents (40 families) 27 resident; 14 non-resident All reported contact problems at some point Contact taking place in all but one case Most had never been to court over the children (Parent data excludes the 4 who had) All separated 3+ years Not stratified by type of problem but did cover the range of problems reported Not selected on basis of contact patterns but did broadly reflect those found in the national survey.
Decision-making and satisfaction Few parents had made decisions about contact jointly Most NRP’s felt RP had the decision-making power Half the RP’s also felt in control; others mainly felt contact depended on the NRP, typically referring to problems of unreliability and unpredictability Over half were dissatisfied with the current contact arrangements Half the NRPs wanted more contact and saw the RP as preventing this Over half the RP’s were dissatisfied, with most wanting more contact Few families where it seemed both parents were happy with the arrangements.
Threats to contact Given the problems parents had experienced over contact it was surprising that it was still continuing Almost all reported conflict/bad feeling at some point Most RP’s had had concerns over the NRP’s care of the child; >third concerned for their own safety Many parents critical of the other parent’s attitude to contact In about half contact had not been continuous since separation Gaps at the beginning Contact disrupted then resumed In other cases one or both parents had threatened to suspend contact.
Dealing with problems Rare for parent to discuss things calmly with the other parent Acrimonious exchanges, ultimata and threats common Parents tried to work round problems Eg handover arrangements to avoid opportunities for overt conflict Managing risk through safety strategies Minimising the impact on the child Parents rarely reported using services to assist
Parental commitment to contact Belief in the value of contact for children Minimised trauma of separation Children need both mothering and fathering The importance of the blood tie. Resident parents felt contact was important even if: The NRP was not a good role model/not maintaining child/had been violent Alternative mother/father figures were available Contact was sporadic or not of good quality The parental relationship was strained Important to keep options open for children/the resident parent does not have the right to prevent contact
When he gets older, if he’s had a relationship with His dad, if he decides he doesn’t like his dad he can say ‘I don’t want to see you any more’, but if he’s never had a relationship it would be so hard to build it up. To try and integrate into their life, it’s not that easy. It’s just easier for him always to have a relationship. I don’t think it’s up to me to say that they shouldn’t see him. I don’t think I’ve got that right to stop them seeing him. If they turn around and say ‘I don’t want to see him’ then that’s fair enough, I wouldn’t force them to go. But I do think it’s important for them to have a relationship with him. He’s her biological dad. I suppose that’s it basically. He’s her dad and she’s got the right and he’s got the right. And I wouldn’t ever stand in the way.
Approach to contact Both resident and non-resident parents saw themselves as making great efforts to establish and maintain contact and make it a good experience for the child Typically they didn’t feel the other parent was making the same sort of effort
I think she mouths the words and talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk (Non-resident father) Interviewer: Do you think it’s important to (father) to see her? Resident mother: Talk-wise, yes. He’d tell everybody how much he needs his daughter and how she means the world to him. But when it comes to her being upset (because he hasn’t turned up). All these men who fight for the right to see their kids and then you’ve got those that are handed it on a place and they don’t bother.
Advice to other separating parents Don’t: Badmouth the other parent to the child Expose the child to parental conflict Use the child as a weapon Grill the child about the other parent Do Communicate with the other parent Keep things civil; ‘bite your tongue’ Help the child feel comfortable talking to you about their other parent Above all: Focus on the child Keep your own feelings about your ex separate from the post- separation parenting issues
You have to just think, what is best for this child. It’s hard to put them first, it really is, but to try and do that I think is the key. How will they feel about it, how will it affect them, now, in 5 years time, when they’re adults. What will this behaviour do to them. Forget your bitter jealousies and hatreds, your own relationship, think about your kids.
It’s not easy There were times I wanted to stick the boot in. At the beginning we had a lot of arguments and it’s so tempting to turn around and just be nasty. I try not to talk ill of their father in front of them…But sometimes I can’t help myself. You don’t always [put the child first] ‘cos you’re only human when everything’s said and done and you’re grieving yourself for the split up of the relationship. I wish I could go back and I probably wouldn’t have been as angry towards his dad for [the child] to pick up on.
What services might help? Lack of awareness of existing services Need for a spectrum of provision to meet varying needs Suggestions for specific services included Services specifically for non-resident fathers; existing services to include both parents Readily accessible information and advice Peer support Services for children A neutral person to represent the child’s feelings to their parents
The child sample 20 children from 15 families 11 boys, 9 girls All aged 8 or more 7 aged between 8 to 10 4 11 to 13 9 14 or over 6 children (4 families) had been involved in court proceedings
Children’s perspectives Almost all thought contact was ‘important’ or ‘very important’ Most were happy with their contact arrangements Most did not find their current contact seriously problematic Areas of past or present difficulty included Boredom Lack of attention from NRP Parental conflict/tension Keeping secrets Feelings of responsibility for parents’ feelings Impact of new partners/children
If my dad ever wanted time alone with me my step mum would say it was really selfish of me and that he’d have to take my step-sisters as well. So I never got private time with my Dad but they always got private time with their Mum. (My ideal would be) Dad’s new partner would be nice. And if she was a little bit mean my dad would immediately see that. He would talk to her and sort it out. I wouldn’t have to feel worried about going to my dad’s. I wouldn’t have to feel upset at all about anything that happens there..
Discrepancies between resident parents’ and children’s accounts Resident parents were not necessarily aware of the strength of their children’s negativity about the NRP In many families resident parents perceived difficulties which were not mentioned by their children Resident parents sometimes underestimated the importance of contact to the child
Children’s messages to separating parents Contact is important It needs to be reliable Children want to be consulted about contact and for parents to take their other activities into account Children want to ‘do stuff’ on contact visits Contact should be ‘quality’ time, not marginalised by other demands on a parent’s time. Children want time on their own with the non-resident parent; they don’t want to have to always share it with new partners or other children Parents should try to communicate with each other and cooperate Parents should try not to argue, especially in front of the children
They should be civilised with each other. At the end of the day, children need both parents. Not argue and when you do argue, don’t let your children be around you ‘cos most of the time they get scared and I don’t think children really like it.