I met with some of my colleagues the other day to talk through the rough draft of the Child Maintenance research so far. “What are we learning?”
Well where do I start? It’s a ‘total can of worms’, and I can see why nobody wants to open it. The topic is so complex and emotional that it is nearly impossible to fathom. Normally when you do a piece of research and produce a report you feel as if you are halfway to coming up with a series of recommendation that will result in solutions – well not with this one. There are no easy answers – it is, indeed, a skanky can of worms.
So what do we know? Well, we can put the lid back on and ignore it, or we can start the conversation.
We know that in Fife alone in 2013 there was over £17m in arrears to the parent with care. Yes you read that right, over 17 million pounds. £17,683,000, to be exact, which is ‘displaced’. In other words, it’s unpaid to children and parents who are forced to go without.
Babies and children are being raised by the parent with care, with no support from the other parent for a variety of reasons. On one hand, there’s the minefield of unplanned pregnancies and parents having nothing to do with the bairn before it’s even born, then on the other hand, there’s the relationship breakdowns. Two situations which are polar opposite to each other. The result is the same – bairns missing out, and there are visible signs of this; shabby clothing, unkempt appearance, worn out toys etc. The invisible signs include lack of heating and food, no family trips or holidays. Their life chances and opportunities are dramatically reduced.
The juxtaposition between a ‘perfect’ situation, a married well to-do couple with a planned child that actually break up a year or two down the line, versus an impoverished female with no partner who falls pregnant by accident, is an interesting premise. Two very different situations but both have the same rights to child maintenance and will probably face the same battles to receive it. ‘There’s no way to plan for the breakdown of a relationship that was never there, and there’s never a plan if a healthy relationship breaks down’.
This particular can of worms has no boundaries, either geographic or societal, and the effect on mental health is devastating for the parents involved. Stress, anxiety, depression are all common descriptions, all of which add to pressure on our NHS provisions.
So, our colleagues in Poverty Alliance continue to draft the ‘Bairns Come First’ report and our partners in CARF and OPFS continue to wonder where this can of worms will take us. We don’t think we can put the lid back on it; we don’t want to, we owe it to our bairns to stop turning a blind eye to this situation, we need to stop this culture of accepted ‘walking away’.
We need to start that conversation…
Chief Executive Officer