Nuffield‘s latest rave

Posted on December 13, 2012 by

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Nuffield‘s new ‘rave from the grave’

The Nuffield Foundation, God bless them, has had another go at understanding post divorce parenting. In May 2011 it published a paper with the briefest of titles, “Caring for children after parental separation: would legislation for shared parenting time help children ?” (Family Policy Briefing 7). [1]

It lays out what all good modern day academics should think – the only problem is that it has to delve not just into papers dating from the early 1990s to lend credence to its stance but way back to the 1980s to consolidate it credentials. For example:

  • Emery, 1982; Steinman, 1983; Chambers, 1984; Singer & Reynolds, 1987-88; Johnston et al 1989.

For this piece of ‘modern research’, they actually got funding ?

Needless to say, the 1980s and 1990s was an era where it was utterly accepted that a father was not a required ingredient for a family. Indeed, a child raised without a father was considered to have some sort of mystical advantage and to be as good, if not better, than one raised with a father.

It sounds bizarre to our ears today but that was really the norm and fashionable position of the day. What a distance we have travelled since that era of ignorance.

But there are still some stragglers. One look at the authoresses reveals much. Three of the four authors have ‘form.’ We should not be surprised that fossilised attitudes towards equality and fathers still remain among some of these stragglers. The Briefing paper 7 was written by Belinda Fehlberg and Bruce Smyth with Mavis Maclean and Ceridwen Roberts. While Bruce Smyth may be a lightweight and unknown to many, others like, Mavis Maclean have an awesome pedigree of family destruction dating back to the FLA 1996. The younger Australian Belinda Fehlberg and Ceridwen Roberts (UK), are the possible inheritors of her mantle and all are linked to the reprehensibly immature Australian, Jenn McIntosh. [2]

Time, science and events have overtaken these scoundrels struggling to scramble over the bridge that divides their ideology from public opinion. For instance, Belgium has had shared parenting and co-parenting since 2006. Meanwhile in Holland a poll, taken in Sept 2012, of Dutch public opinion revealed that 71% agreed with co-parenting after divorce. And despite feminist protests – invariably against the suggestion of introducing shared or co-parenting – Dutch women more than men favoured the newer regime – 76% as opposed to 67% of men.

This quartet have not had their Road to Damascus moment. Unlike Saul’s epiphany, they are unlikely to ever admit to having the scales fall from their eyes.

It was the Nuffield Foundation, we have to remind ourselves, which in June 1998 funded a much decried report “Divorce and separation: the outcomes for children”, by two antipodean academics (Dr. Jan Pryor and Professor Bryan Rodgers) which concluded among other things that:

  • “Although short-term distress at the time of separation is common, this usually fades with time and long-term adverse outcomes typically apply only to a minority of children experiencing the separation of their parents.”  [3]

In several key giveaways Family Policy Briefing 7 mimics the dysfunctional thinking epitomised by Lord Falconer who in 2004, as you may recall, compared the idea of shared parenting to dividing up furniture or a CD collection. [4]

  • “There cannot and will not be an automatic presumption of 50/50 contact. Children cannot be divided like the furniture or the CD collection. It is more complex than that”

An “automatic presumption of 50/50 contact”? No one was asking for that in 2004 and no one is asking for it today. Indeed, no one was asking for it in May 2001 at the time of the PSA-8 talks, nor in 1998 despite whatever the Nuffield Foundation prefers to believe. Contemporary newspaper coverage of the topic from the Guardian and Independent can be accessed in the References below. If other countries can devise shared parenting systems and make them work, like Sweden, Denmark, Belgium,  Australia etc, what is so uniquely impossible about Britain’s situation ?

The Nuffield quartet describes the difficulties in Britain of ‘defining shared parenting’ in this way:

  • “Definitions of shared parenting time vary widely. In the UK shared parenting generally refers in debates to an equal division of time of children with either parent. It has no legal status and is totally different from the legal term, parental responsibility.”

This they conclude makes it impossible to ever envisage shared parenting in Britain. They are however, altogether more tolerant and receptive to American-style shared parenting:

  • “n the US (where much of the relevant research has been conducted) the terms ‘joint physical custody’, ‘dual residence’, ‘alternating residence’, and ‘shared physical placement’, are all used to describe shared time arrangements. But these rarely mean 50/50 timeshare arrangements – instead, the research generally defines shared parenting time as an arrangement when children are with each parent between 30% and 50% of the time.”

Well this may come as a shock to the quartet but that is more or less exactly what Britain’s fathers groups have always been pressing for, i.e. “between 30% and 50% of the time.” Over the years they have worked with their American counterparts to create a common terminology. Why should Britain’s fathers supposedly insist on an absolute ‘equal division of time’ when most parents (mothers and fathers), go out to work and in so doing make that option a practical impossibly ?

It may also come as a shock to the Nuffield quartet but in 1987 “joint custody” was increasing with shared ‘care and control’ as the terms used at the time. The 1989 Children Act was intended to legitimise and better legalise this trend by introducing ‘no order’ orders and ‘joint residency’ orders (the one has appeared but not the latter).

There simply are no widely varying definitions of shared parenting except in the minds of academics and government ministers – when it suits them. Shared parenting’ has no legal status only so long as the mind refuses to admit the 1989 Act’s provision for shared residency which is another name for ‘shared parenting.’

And as for “parental responsibility”, like too many others who are not well-versed in the subject this has nothing to do with shared residency etc but is a 1989 replacement name for the term ‘guardianship.’

In contrast to governments which over the past 14 years have dialogued very occasionally and reluctantly with fathers’ groups, academia seems totally impervious to overtures and wholly disinterested in learning first hand what it is fathers want (you know, the old scientific way).

Only this year (Jan 2012), Birmingham University organised a series of seminars after receiving a grant from the ‘Arts and Humanities Funding Council’ to inquire into “Post parental separation families.” Attending were scholars and experts from the world of ethics, medicine, law, sociology and history – but absent yet again were any fathers groups. [5]

So against this self-imposed ignorance it is not surprising to read of the dilemma the Nuffield quartet feel they faced when dealing with the issue of shared parenting.

The following examples are some of the naïve questions they feel they need further information about before considering legislation (why is it always legislation that they first reach for ?):

 1. Given how little is known, should we not focus on finding out more about shared care in Britain, including children’s experiences of shared care?

  • How little we know ? Any cursory scan through a university’s database (a literature search) will throw up dozens (and modern) papers which show that to be a dubious statement.

2. Does legislating for shared time assume that one size fits all across all families ? 

  • No, of course it doesn’t – though the sole mother custody regime that we have at present pretty comes close to a. one-size-fits-all regime.

3. Should legislation focus on establishing a single default agreement or should it do more to encourage parents to focus on the needs of their children ?

  • Why should we want a rigid single default model when we live in a democracy full of sentient beings each with their own time pressures ? The “encourage parents to focus on the needs of their children” is a rouse for doing nothing and for deflecting the argument. Eighty to ninety percent of parents are loving and caring but are forced by the legal system to gladiatorially compete for the affections of the judge the process and the child in that order as if in some beauty contest.

The other questions posed, evidently in all seriousness, drive one giddy with frustration due to their ignorance, lack of awareness, erroneous assumptions and rigid minds.

They ask, for instance, if ‘workable’ shared time arrangements can be achievable by most separating parents without first enquiring if sole custody works or is better or worse. It is always the shared parenting model that is on trial. No mention is made of the successful overseas systems just mentioned or of the UK own dalliance in the 1980s (see “20 wasted years” http://robertwhiston.wordpress.com/2008/02/05/5/). The authors’ remaining list of ‘questions’ are listed at Annex A the foot of this article.

Stunningly the quartet of authors make the allegation that there is “ . . .no empirical evidence showing a clear linear relationship between the amount of shared time and improving outcomes for children” (Smyth 2009; Shaffer 2007). Let us suppose for a fleeting moment that this is true and there is no such evidence; we would have to not read widely and deeply of modern literature, and overlook longitudinal studies, to come to that conclusion. The question which then has to be asked is what is the empirical evidence and linear relationship between sole mother custody and outcomes that shows it to be so magnificent ?

If we chose to answer using data from the left wing think tank IPPR (once headed by Patricia Hewitt MP) we find from a press release of one of their reports – carried on Radio 4 (6th Nov 2006) – that they conclude that the reason why teenagers in this country are so much more prone to violence and alcohol abuse than their continental peers was the higher level of “father absence.”

The IPPR observed that being the child of a SMH (single mother household), in Britain allowed them (youths) to  spend as much time “with their mates” as other EU countries, but what they did lack was anywhere near the time spent with their parents , ie their father, and that youths in Britain almost never sit down to a meal together.

In 2006 ‘sitting down to a meal together’ was seen as mere detail but we have since learnt that it is a powerful character shaper.

These authors then rely on research dating from the 1990s (1995, 1999), to show that it is the quality of the relationship between their parents (quality time). They never address how a father will achieve that mystical ‘quality time’ if he is not allowed sufficient ‘quantity’ of time in which to attain it. Under their terms and conditions the best interests of children will never be realised – and they think we won’t notice.

Paper from the 2000s are included but given that later material is of better quality one wonders why they feel is necesssary to delve so deeply into the past ?

Bausermann’s seminal work (2002), comparing joint and sole custody and which is  accepted as the benchmark is dismissed. Any benefits children accrue from shared time arrangements (which are significant), conmpared with those in sole custody arrangements is down played by claiming that:

  • ” .  .  .  families who voluntarily opt for shared time tend to have characteristics that make positive outcomes for their children more likely, . . .”

This they see as self-selection and as introducing a bias into the sample. The construction of Bauserman’s analysis makes this a nonsense and as for self-selection it is more a case of the pot calling the kettle black given Jenn McIntosh style surveys which are all too common and where self-selection is blatant. Bauserman’s review apparently did not distinguish between ‘consensual’ and court-imposed’ shared time so therefore it is not valid.

If, as we are persistently being told by such researchers,  that only ‘10% of custody cases go to court’ , it matter not a jot whether it was ‘consensual’ or court-imposed’, the review is large enough to be able to disregard the 10%.

Addendum: April 2013 – At last an academic voice has joined our contention that the 10% figure is a nonsense. In written evidence to the Children and Families bill committee, Prof. Parkinson (a major author of Australia’s shared parenting law reform) poured scorn on the claim in child custody matters that “Only 10% choose to come to court over contact arrangements.”  In written evidence put before parliament he shows why it is wrong and unreliable (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmjust/739/739vw09.htm

This 10% figure has been cited extensively over the years and by Prof. Liz Trinder (and her inner circle of Jenn McIntosh), Peacey and Hunt (2008) and as far back as Joan Hunt & Ceridwen Roberts (2004).  For a brief review of its importance and impact see also “Parkinson’s cavalry crushes Norgrove’s big guns” http://equalparenting.wordpress.com/2013/05/05/16-2/.

After 10 or more years the “equal access” argument (see footnotes below) has been won. Fathers are closer than they have ever been to equality of access and equality of treatment for residence.

 END

Annex A

  1. Are the conditions that characterise ‘workable’ shared time achievable by most separating parents in the UK? If not, does legislating for shared time send a message to parents that if they don’t take this approach they are not ‘good’ parents?
  2. What are the resource and process implications for the family law system (including child support), and broader network of government services, of legislating for shared parenting time? Will legislating for shared time result in increased claims and thus increased pressures (including costs) to the family law ‘system’ at a time when reductions in the scope of legal aid are expected to make heavy demands on courts dealing with litigants in person?
  3. Are litigating parents in the UK more likely to enter shared time arrangements as a result of legislative change? If so, what sort of on-going support and resources would be available to make their shared time arrangements ‘workable’?
  4. What checks, balances, and resources would need to be put in place to ensure that legislating for shared time did not result in increased exposure or risk of victims (including children) to family violence and abuse?
  5. What sorts of information, advice and support about post-separation patterns of care would better assist separated families to reach the best arrangements they can for their children?

References:

“Government rules out equal access for fathers”, The Guardian, July 21, 2004       http://society.guardian.co.uk/children/story/0,,1266025,00.html

“Divorce plan puts children first’, by Clare Dyer, The Guardian,  July 22, 2004, ‘Fathers’ call for automatic 50-50 contact      time ruled out’.  http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1266245,00.html

“Parents to face fines for refusing access”, By Maxine Frith, Social Affairs,  The Independent, 22 July 2004     http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/legal/story.jsp?story=543374

Footnotes:


[2] Young Jenn McIntoch was savaged by her peers and betters for the poor quality of her research into shared parenting (2011 -2012).

[3] Divorce and separation: The outcomes for children”, June 1998  (a comprehensive review of over 200 current research reports by Bryan Rodgers and Jan Pryor) http://www.jrf.org.uk/publications/divorce-and-separation-outcomes-children

[4]  “Divorce plan puts children first’, by Clare Dyer, The Guardian,  July 22, 2004, ‘Fathers’ call for automatic 50-50 contact      time ruled out’.  http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1266245,00.html

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