Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Parentline Plus


  1.  Parentline Plus is a national charity that works for, and with, parents. We are the biggest independent provider of parenting support in the country. We encourage parents to see that asking for help is a sign of strength, and work with them to offer practical solutions and to suggest ways to manage their particular situations and difficulties. We deliver this support through an innovative range of free, flexible, responsive services—shaped by parents for parents. Our flagship service is our free, confidential line for parents—Parentline. Our integrated face-to-face services are delivered in our area offices located in: London, Essex, East Midlands, North East, North West, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Bristol and North Somerset, Hampshire and Hertfordshire.

  2.  We work with many parents affected by divorce and separation, and are all too aware of the range of emotional difficulties faced by these families. We answered over 111,000 calls from parents to our free and confidential line for parents—Parentline—in 2005-06, of which:

    —  46% came from lone parents.

    —  Almost 16.000 calls concerned the impact of divorce and separation on children.

    —  Over 13,000 calls concerned the impact of divorce and separation on adults in the family, including almost 6,000 that specifically referred to financial difficulties.

  Questions about divorce and separation remain the most frequently asked on our message boards and via our website question and answer service. Our leaflets and publications to support parents during divorce and separation as well as adjusting to new family arrangements are consistently among the most requested and over 5,000 were distributed in 2005-06.

  3.  Our expertise is in enabling parents to put the needs of their children first, but not in providing detailed advice on money post-separation. We signpost and refer to a range of more specialist organisations who provide this advice, including One Parent Families and the Children's Legal Centre.

  4.  This paper is informed by the issues raised by parents who contact Parentline Plus concerned about issues related to child maintenance and divorce or separation. We also consult parents on a regular basis via focus groups, mailings and website surveys. Our most recent survey related to divorce and separation explored the experiences of non-resident fathers and was carried out in spring 2006. We have included quotations (in italics) from the fathers who responded to this survey to illustrate points made in this submission.

  5.  We welcome the emphasis, within the White Paper, on helping parents to make their own agreements for contact and financial arrangements. However, we support the concerns made by the Child Poverty Action Group regarding the capacity of existing services to meet potential need as well as the importance of monitoring private arrangements to ensure that children's interests are not compromised by tensions between their parents. [70]The research cited on page 37 of the White Paper identifies that parents prefer to "discuss their circumstances with someone neutral"[71] such as our telephone, web based and face-to-face services. In the past, CSA staff have worked with parents who are extremely distressed and/or emotional and/or angry.

  6.  Not only does this require special call-handling skills, but it also requires enabling CSA staff to signpost parents to other sources of help and support. Several years ago, One Parent Families together with Parentline Plus undertook training of all CSA front line staff and we still supply a signposting directory to the CSA. This needs to be reviewed, revived and built into induction training for all staff at the new Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (C-MEC).

  7.  However, there are also huge training implications for staff within the voluntary sector so that they are fully informed of the changes as they are implemented. The voluntary sector will need access to the same type of specialist information that C-MEC will hold. This provides an opportunity to develop interactive web based services that parents can access free of charge at a time and place to suit them. The voluntary and statutory sectors will clearly have to develop a true partnership approach to providing advice and support to parents as they go through divorce and separation.

    "Fathers are usually desperate for support following separation from their families. They do not network like mothers and often find themselves totally bereft and suicidal in some cases. I have spent £50,000 on contact proceedings during the past 18 months and this can't be right. They are still going on and there seems to be no end in sight. My conclusion is that the effect of divorce on children is much, much worse than anyone cares to admit. Possibly in the case of a high conflict marriage children may benefit from divorce but nothing less." (Response to web survey April 2006)

  8.  The funding arrangements for the statutory and voluntary sectors remain unclear. Within the White Paper there is a welcome recognition of the valuable role of the voluntary sector, and Parentline Plus in particular, but without clarifying how capacity will be built to support parents effectively. We anticipate a massive increase in parental anxiety as the changes are introduced. On receipt of adequate funding, our existing services, apart from Parentline which is fully funded by the Department for Education and Skills, could be developed and scaled up to ensure that free independent advice and emotional support is available to parents while they make the necessary arrangements to ensure their children's well-being and security. This funding must also cover intensive training of our staff and volunteers to meet and reflect changes to the law and rights. We would also want to develop our established and accredited training for professionals on signposting based on previous work with the CSA.

    "... But to be honest, my concern is not about educating the father (or any parent without care), but rather educating the parent with care, educating the schools and GPs and other professionals, so they can understand how best to create and maintain a non-confrontational relationship with both parents, for the betterment of the child(ren) in question." (Response to web survey April 2006)


  The following recommendations were submitted to Lord Hunt in the autumn and have been drawn up as a result of all of Parentline Plus' work with parents whose children are affected by divorce and separation. We recommend that in order to maximise the chances of parents reaching agreement, more could be done by the DfES to provide information and signposting. Specifically, we make three suggestions:

    1.  The DfES has produced a guide for separating parents, which is available online. We suggest that there should intensive awareness raising via a media campaign and work with professionals to promote the existence of this guide directly to parents, and to explore ways that the C-MEC might be able to make it available to its clients.

    2.  We understand that the DfES, working through CAFCASS, will be developing and rolling out local services and networks for separating parents. It will be really important to ensure that these connect with the C-MEC.

    3.  Thirdly, the DfES is exploring enhanced helpline provision via "Parents Direct". In the meantime, Parentline Plus continues to increase the use of Parentline by fathers and continues to provide help and support to parents and extended family members about post separation and post divorce parenting. As such a proven telephone based service already exists, it would be unwise to add yet another helpline to cater for parents facing divorce and separation. Parentline Plus is funded to support parents contacting the DfES as part of the formal complaints system open to parents concerned about bullying, and we would suggest this issue-based speciality—and the promise of the same—be used to make Parentline the first port of call for parents. The initial toplines of a recent external evaluation of Parentline demonstrated that 83% of parents felt calls were helpful; 94% were very positive about Parentline listening skills and more than 80% got through to Parentline on their first attempt.

    "My ex wife does a very good job of raising the children (on her own). Although she does not directly consult me on any major issues, the children speak to me regularly about what is happening in their world—knowing that they can turn to me (which they frequently do) when they feel they can't talk to mum. Sometimes it's almost as if I'm a big brother or favourite uncle rather than dad, but I have learnt not to judge them and to talk through their options rather than dictate what they should do." (Response to web survey April 2006)

January 2007

70 child_support.pdf Back

71   Department of Work and Pensions 2006, A New System of Child Maintenance London: DWP. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2007
Prepared 15 March 2007