Latest research from the University of Otago’s Christchurch Health and Development Study is being used to argue that the major influences on how a child develops are not related to single parenthood, but rather to how a family functions.
“While there is truth that a single parent family can do a fabulous job under more difficult circumstances, this research looks primarily at how a 21 – 25 year old from a single parent family copes,” says Bob McCoskrie, National Director of Family First NZ, “and as one would hope, the evidence suggests that they seem to bounce back from the disadvantages associated with being raised in a single parent household.”
“This is good news. However, this research has some major limitations.”
“The researchers argue that single parenthood is not the key problem, but it is the association with other factors like lower maternal age, lower parental education levels, poverty, exposure to abuse, drug use, and criminal offending. Yet, they themselves acknowledge that these factors may be the consequences of single parenthood.”
“It is also essential to clarify that this latest research is not on the effects on children, but rather their educational, behavioural and social outcomes in their early 20’s.”
“They also acknowledge extensive research showing that single parenthood is a major contributor to health, educational, and behavioural problems in the childhood years.”
“Most significantly,” says Mr McCoskrie “this research does not minimise earlier research by the same researchers which found that compared with children from functioning two-parent families, those who were less than 5 years old at the time of their parents separation were twice as likely to become delinquent and over three times as likely to suffer from depression. Those aged 10-15 when their parents separated were twice as likely to become substance abusers.i
Other international research backs this research.
* children in single parent families are twice as likely to develop serious psychiatric illnesses such as schizophrenia or severe depression to suicide, and addictions (especially alcohol related) later in life – Lancet Medical Journal – Sweden’s National Board for Health and Welfare 2003
* the United Nations report on children’s well-being released earlier this year noted statistical evidence associated growing up in single-parent families with poor education and poor health – UNICEF An Overview of Child Well-Being in Rich Countries Feb 2007
* and a`2003 study from the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found that adolescents who live in one-parent families were more than three times as likely to be referred for mental health services than their peers from intact families. A 2003 study from the same journal found that the absence of one or both parents is a significant risk factor for child abuse
“On this basis, the conclusion of the researchers that childhood policies place more emphasis on how a family functions, rather than the number of adults, as a determinant of developmental outcomes in children and young adults is only half true – in that the research only comes to that conclusion with young adults – and even then there is some uncertainty.”
“The effect of family breakdown on children and teenagers is still quite evident,” says Mr McCoskrie.