This response by the APPG for Strengthening Couple Relationships and Reducing Parental Conflict is supported by Tavistock Relationships, Baroness Tyler, Association of Child Psychotherapists, Kamaljeet Kaur & Claire Field (Parenting Apart Programme), Wells Family Mediation, The Centre for Social Justice, Professor Mavis Maclean, Relate, Foxstones Training and Learning, The Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice in the UK, One Plus One & Dads Unlimited.
We welcome this opportunity to contribute a response to the consultation on the Children’s Well-being Indicator Review.
However, we would like to voice our concern about the absence of the quality of parental relationships in the home being included in the list of indicators being proposed.
The consultation document states that the ONS has “used what children told us directly, along with other published research and stakeholder conversations, to review the current 31 indicators that constitute the children's well-being indicator set”.
We find it difficult to understand therefore why the ONS has not incorporated the substantial, and universally accepted, evidence around the impact of inter-parental conflict on children’s mental health.
The most recent, and most exhaustive, review of this evidence, conducted by Professor Gordon Harold and colleagues, having been commissioned by the DWP, found that exposure to frequent, intense and poorly resolved conflict between parents has a long-lasting and negative effect on children's mental health and development (https://www.eif.org.uk/report/what-works-to-enhance-interparental-relationships-and-improve-outcomes-for-children).
Furthermore, how “couples communicate and engage with each other in managing relationship conflicts both affects their ability to engage in effective parenting practices and can influence children’s mental health outcomes in infancy, childhood, and adolescence, with extended impacts on academic/educational attainment, physical health and well-being, employability, and future relationship stability in later life” (https://www.eif.org.uk/report/what-works-to-enhance-interparental-relationships-and-improve-outcomes-for-children).
It seems to us surprising that the ONS can state it has used published research and yet failed to include parental conflict as an indicator.
We understand of course that the ONS may feel that this issue was not raised during the focus groups that it ran. Again though, this surprises us, given that the DWP estimate that 1.25 million children are exposed to inter-parental conflict in the UK (see presentation to APPG: https://tavistockrelationships.ac.uk/policy-research/appg).
We note however the small number of children who participated in the focus groups (just 48). We feel that the fact that parental conflict does not seem to have been mentioned during the focus groups is probably a reflection of children’s reluctance to air their concerns about such private and upsetting issues in a group situation.
We see that the ONS is deriving data for the indicators from a range of sources including the Understanding Society Survey. The version of that survey for adults includes a question on parental conflict (Screlparar on page 654 of the survey questionnaire: https://www.understandingsociety.ac.uk/sites/default/files/downloads/documentation/mainstage/questionnaire/wave-11/W11-questionnaire-consultation.pdf ). We believe that data from this question should be used to inform a separate indicator on parental conflict.
Our interest in this additional indicator is fuelled by the effect its inclusion would have on reshaping any local need analyses and local policy and practice changes to address this largely overlooked area of detriment to wellbeing in children’s lives. Knowledge of this area in children’s social care practice, school-based services and, importantly, the commissioning of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, is crucial if we are to respond to this newly identified need.
The urgency of our request is driven by the knowledge that this indicator set will not be reshaped again for a while, which means that a clear Government priority - namely to Reduce Parental Conflict - will be left unaccounted for, and would therefore be a significant missed opportunity.