If you work with families, when did you last talk to a parent about their relationship with their partner?
We are very aware of the importance of being vigilant for signs of domestic abuse, but what about if the issue is more about frequent, intense and poorly resolved parental conflict? We often find it uncomfortable to ask personal questions about relationships, but there is a growing body of evidence on the importance of the parental relationship to children’s outcomes. Whether the parents are together or separated, parental conflict can affect children’s emotional, behavioural, social and academic development.
Defining the Problem:
•1,249,820 children and young people in families where at least one parent reports parental relationship distress
•12% of children live in households where at least one parent reports relationship distress… this rises to 28% of children when at least one member of the household is unemployed.
Parental conflict: the impact on children
Conflict is a normal and necessary part of family life. However, when conflict between parents is handled in destructive rather than constructive ways, it can have negative consequences both for parents and their children. It is important to acknowledge that children are vulnerable to the impact of conflict whether their parents are together, apart, or in the process of separation.
Parental conflict places children at risk of:
•negative peer relationships within their community and within school; with both peers and school staff, leading to lower academic outcomes
•earlier involvement with drug and alcohol misuse
•poor future adult relationships
•future lower employability leading to financial difficulties and increased risk of poverty in the future
•increased risk of poor mental health as children, and into adulthood
•negative impact on neurobiological processes, which in turn affect children’s emotional development, leading to conduct disorder, poor attachment and risk-taking behaviours
•children are also at risk of a range of health difficulties including sleep disorders, digestive problems, abdominal pains, fatigue, headaches and reduced physical growth
It is important to note conflict between parents, rather than the event of parental separation or divorce, is a key factor in explaining why some children fare better than others when parental relationships breakdown.
Offering support to families from any agency is likely to be ineffective where the conflict between parents is not acknowledged and addressed.
Luton Council, Bedford Borough Council, Central Bedfordshire, and Families First Bedfordshire are working together to create a pan-Bedfordshire strategic team to drive the Reducing Parental Conflict Programme (RPC). They are building on current practice and programmes such as Five to Thrive, Parents as First Teachers, Mellow Parenting and Triple P, as well as learning from the Local Family Offer, and using insight and data to understand the impact of parental conflict on adolescent mental health.
What are we doing already?
Alongside the development of a training plan, local authority senior management teams and frontline family practitioners are currently working with the RPC leads to:
•understand the evidence base around parental conflict and child outcomes and what works
•undertake local needs analysis and explore links to existing strategies and plans
Senior Management Teams are on board and working with the RPC leads to link the RPC programme to existing strategies and plans. There is a real commitment at all levels to drive this programme and strengthen our response to reducing parental conflict, and improving outcomes for children and young people.
Over 120 Luton professionals have accessed face to face training and eLearning training is soon to be rolled out for staff to sign up to.
Support for parents
The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic presents us all with huge challenges in protecting ourselves and our families and it’s important to stay at home at the moment. But, over long periods of time, this can put a strain on relationships and might lead to arguments.
There are links here for parents to consider how they may argue better and protect children from the harm that unresolved conflict may cause.
– information on local and national support document
Managing a breakup
Looking at the impact parental conflict has on children
https://cafcass.clickrelationships.org/ – Co-parenting Hub
Resources for professionals
Local Safeguarding Board
Families First Bedfordshire
Early Intervention Foundation