Relate December 2015. Dr. David Marjoribanks
The system that currently faces families going through separation is complicated, confusing and expensive. Separating couples often struggle to find reliable or accurate information and many find themselves in protracted litigation proceedings that cost thousands of pounds and create a sustained environment of conflict for their children. Our new report makes the case for a holistic, accessible and easily to use system of support that minimises conflict and makes accessing information simple and affordable.
Families lack an obvious, visible and authoritative place to go to for information and support relating to family relationship problems, and the vast majority of the information out there is generic, not tailored.
The evidence is clear: good quality relationships are critically important for the wellbeing of children and adults. Consequently, policy makers have focused increasing attention on the levels of relationship breakdown and, in particular, on the negative consequences of unresolved conflict and enduring chronic disputes. While most parents manage their separation with little support from professionals, those who are unable to do so often face a range of complex issues, including domestic violence and abuse, mental health problems, and addictions, and may well end up in lengthy and cyclical court battles. The emotional, social and economic costs of highly conflicted family relationships are immense.
Furthermore, in an era of continuing financial restraint, pressures on statutory support systems such as the Child Maintenance Service and the courts are increasingly becoming unsustainable, and policy makers are looking at ways of re-directing demand away from costly statutory routes. Key to this, it is recognised, is ensuring an effective and coordinated system of support for family relationships before, during, and after separation, which ensures families know what is available and where to go for the support that is right for them.
This report explores the current provision of support before, during and after separation and the extent to which it is currently coordinated. What it identifies is a support system comprised of high-quality services with highly-skilled practitioners, but which are too often distinct from each other. Families lack an obvious, visible and authoritative place to go to for information and support relating to family relationship problems, and the vast majority of the information out there is generic, not tailored. Support is difficult to navigate and there are few clear entry points or triage mechanisms to provide holistic assessments of need and support appropriate referrals. Demand for support is expressed late on, often when difficulties have reached crisis point – which can skew provision on the supply side towards crisis intervention. Support is often fragmented, siloed, and single-issue, with gaps between different forms of support, and limited inter-agency and inter-professional awareness or communication. Finally, children’s and young people’s voices are often absent, and support for parents is often not joined up with support for children and young people affected by parental separation.
Based on the extensive evidence considered, we draw out recommendations for policy makers which point to the way forwards towards a more coordinated and effective system of support. Many of the issues we identify and the solutions we propose have been debated before; but the costs now necessitate action.
Underlying these policy recommendations is a vision of a support system which:
Places families who access support – not agencies which provide it – at the centre and designs support around their needs;
Empowers families wherever possible to assume responsibility to manage their own resolutions and outcomes;
Resolves problems as early as possible;
Promotes collaboration; and Integrates and coordinates multi-disciplinary provision.