Children and Families Bill

Memorandum submitted by TCCR and One Plus One (CF 22)

TCCR and One Plus One have concerns about the proposed legislation on parental involvement. We believe that the current proposals do not adequately take into account the psychological impact on infants and young children of arrangements where substantial amounts of time are spent away from the primary attachment figure (usually, but not always, the mother). We feel that where the court deems there to be no risk of harm to a child from the involvement of the non-resident parent, the presumption introduced under this legislation will make it more likely than is currently the case that the court will grant an order whereby care is shared more equally in terms of time.

It is imperative that any change in the law should put the needs of infants above those of parents, and we feel that the current proposals regarding parental involvement have the potential to run counter to this basic premise.

We understand that care being shared more equally in terms of time is not the intention behind the proposed legislation and that the Government has taken steps to ensure that the changes are not interpreted in this way. In practice, however, we feel there to be a significant risk that the law will be interpreted thus. Research shows - and our clinical experience confirms this – that arrangements whereby a very young child spends significant amounts of time away from their primary caregiver are likely to be extremely distressing and disruptive for those infants and young children, and most definitely not in their best interests given the impact which they might have on that child's attachment system and emotional development.

Research from Australia published in 2010 gives a stark warning about the dangers which we feel such proposals could lead to:

'Consistent with the findings of Solomon and George (1999), young infants under two years of age living with a non-resident parent for only one or more nights a week were more irritable, and were more watchful and wary of separation from their primary caregiver than young children primarily in the care of one parent. Children aged 2-3 years in shared care (at the policy definition of 5 nights or more per fortnight) showed significantly lower levels of persistence with routine tasks, learning and play than children in the other two groups. Of concern but as predicted by attachment theory, they also showed severely distressed behaviours in their relationship with the primary parent (often very upset, crying or hanging on to the parent, and hitting, biting, or kicking), feeding related problems (gagging on food or refusing to eat) and not reacting when hurt. Such behaviours are consistent with high levels of attachment distress, and the second report details this body of work as an important context for understanding the pathways of disruption indicated by these findings. Thus, regardless of socio-economic background, parenting or inter-parental cooperation, shared overnight care of children under four years of age had an independent and deleterious impact on several emotional and behavioral regulation outcomes'. (McIntosh, J et al. Post-separation parenting arrangements and developmental outcomes for infants and children. Collected reports. 2010)

One Plus One and TCCR believe that - if this proposal is to go through - there must be explicit guidance to judges, and also to parents, about the degree to which care could be shared in relation to the child's age. In response to a letter TCCR sent to Edward Timpson, the Minister categorically

ruled this out however: 'There are no plans to introduce guidelines to courts or parents on how care can be shared according to a child's age'.

The Australian research cited above shows negative impacts on infant and young child develop where parenting is shared in a ratio of 35:65 and above (i.e. 5 nights or more per fortnight). We believe that it is wholly inadequate to dismiss our call for guidance for judges and parents using the argument that the Bill will not result in 50:50 shared care arrangements - since at ratios of care which are weighted heavily in favour of the primary caregiver there nevertheless remains potential for significant harm to the emotional development of infants and young children.

March 2013

Prepared 13th March 2013