Statistical analysis of 2015 Hague Convention applications on International Child Abduction – Summary provisional global report

A statistical analysis of applications made in 2015 under the Hague Convention of 25 October 1980 on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction — Summary of global report (Part 1)

Hague Convention Preliminary Procedural Document No 11 A of October 2017 (provisional edition, pending the completion of the French version)

  • Authors: Professor Nigel Lowe and Victoria Stephens
  • Related document: Preliminary Document No 11 B of October 2017: Regional report

PART I: GLOBAL REPORT

A. INTRODUCTION

1. Background and rationale of the project

  1. This is the fourth research study to look into the operation of the Hague Convention of 25 October 1980 on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (hereinafter, “the 1980 Hague Convention”). The study has been conducted by Professor Nigel Lowe and Victoria Stephens, in consultation with the Permanent Bureau and the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC). [1] Special thanks are given to ICMEC which generously funded the project and provided support throughout.
  2. This Survey concerns all applications received by Central Authorities in 2015 and will use the findings of previous studies of 1999, 2003 and 2008 to provide an analysis of statistical trends over a 16-year period.
  3. In all we received responses from 72 Contracting States and estimate that this captures 94% of all applications.[2] We have experienced generous co-operation from Central Authorities who have given their time to provide us with their information and to answer subsequent queries. In producing this report, we are indebted to the Central Authorities for their hard work and co-operation and to ICMEC for their additional assistance in inputting data into INCASTAT.[3]

2. Methodology

  1. The questionnaire concerns all applications received by Central Authorities between 1 January 2015 and 31 December 2015. Outcomes of applications were recorded up to 18 months after the last possible application could have been made, namely 30 June 2017. Applications unresolved after that date have simply been classified as “pending”. Accordingly, 2015 was chosen to give as contemporaneous a view as possible in relation to the holding of the Seventh Meeting of the Special Commission in October 2017.
  2. Although the questionnaire was essentially the same as before, for the first time information has been collected via the INCASTAT online database.
  3. As in previous Surveys, the analysis is based on information provided by Central Authorities in particular in relation to: the number of applications they received; the “taking persons” in return applications and the “respondents” in access applications; the children involved; the outcomes of the applications; and the length of time it took to reach a final outcome.
  4. The data contained in this report was submitted by Central Authorities from their own records. We have primarily relied upon the data from incoming applications (Forms A2 and B2 on INCASTAT) but have also used the data from outgoing applications to calculate overall numbers.


B. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

  1. Replies have been received from 72 of the 93 Contracting States that were Party to the 1980 Hague Convention in 2015 (there are now 98 following the accession of Bolivia, Jamaica, Pakistan, Philippines and Tunisia). Detailed information has been provided on a total of 2,560 incoming applications, comprising 2,191 return and 369 access applications. We estimate that this captures 94% of all applications made to Central Authorities in 2015.[4]
  2. Making a direct comparison with the 2008 Survey, there has been a 3% increase in return applications but a 3% decrease in access applications. [5]

1. Return applications

  1. 73% of taking persons were mothers, a higher proportion than the 69%recorded in 2008, 68% in 2003 and 69% in 1999. In 2015, 24% of the taking persons were fathers and the remaining 2% comprised grandparents, institutions or other relatives.
  2. Where the information was available, the large majority (83%) of taking persons were the “primary carer” or “joint-primary carer” of the child. [6] Where the taking person was the mother, this figure was 92% but only 60% where the taking person was the father. 58% of taking persons travelled to a State of which they were a national.[7] Proportionately more taking fathers (64%) had the same nationality as the Requested State compared with 56% of mothers.
  3. At least 2,904 children were involved in the 2,191 return applications, making an average of 1.3 children per application. A large majority of applications (70%) involved a single child and there were close to equal numbers of boys and girls with 53% of children being male and 47% female. The average age of a child involved in a return application was 6.8 years.
  4. The overall return rate was 46%, the same as in 2008 but lower than the 51% in 2003 and 50% in 1999. This return rate comprised 17% voluntary returns and 28% judicial returns. A further 3% of applications concluded with access being agreed or ordered which was the same as in in 2008 and 2003.[8] 12% of applications ended in a judicial refusal (less than the 15% in 2008 and 13% in 2003, though higher than the 11% in 1999), 14% were withdrawn (18% in 2008, 15% in 2003 and 14% in 1999) and the number of applications still pending at the cutoff date of 30 June 2017 was 5% (compared with 8% in 2008, 9% in 2003 and 9% in 1999). There was a decrease in the rate of rejection by the Central Authorities under Article 27 with 3% of applications ending in this way in 2015 (compared with 5% in 2008, 6% in 2003 and 11% in 1999).
  5. In 2015, 42% of applications were decided in court (44% in 2008, 44% in 2003 and 43% in 1999). 67% of court decisions resulted in a judicial return order being made compared with 61% in 2008, 66% in 2003 and 74% in 1999.
  6. In 2015, 238 applications ended in a judicial refusal. Some cases were refused for more than one reason and if all reasons are combined, the most frequently relied upon ground for refusal was Article 13(1)(b) (42 applications, 26%) and the child not being habitually resident in the Requested State (43 applications, 27%). Article 12 was a reason for refusal in 26 applications (16%) and the child’s objections in 25 applications (16%).
  7. In 2015, applications were generally resolved more quickly, compared with the 2008 Survey. The average time taken to reach a decision of judicial return was 158 days (compared with 166 days in 2008, 125 days in 2003 and 107 in 1999) and a judicial refusal took an average of 244 days (compared with 286 days in 2008, 233 days in 2003 and 147 days in 1999). For applications resulting in a voluntary return the average time taken was 108 days, compared with 121 days in 2008, 98 days in 2003 and 84 days in 1999.
  8. 32% of all applications decided in court involved an appeal, an increase on the 24% in 2008. In 70% the same outcome was reached on appeal as at first instance, compared with 80% in 2008.

2. Access applications

  1. In the 369 access applications made under Article 21 in 2015, 74% of respondents were mothers (79% in 2008, 79% in 2003 and 86% in 1999).
  2. 58% of respondents had the same nationality as the Requested State compared with 50% in 2008, 53% in 2003 and 40% in 1999.
  3. 75% of applications concerned a single child with an average of 1.3 children per application. The overall average age of a child involved was 8 years and 51% of children were female and 49% male.
  4. The overall rate at which access was agreed or ordered was 27%, compared with 21% in 2008, 33% in 2003 and 43% in 1999. 20% of applications were withdrawn (31% in 2008, 22% in 2003 and 26% in 1999), 17% pending and 31% ending in reasons described as “other”. 4% were rejected and 2% judicially refused.
  5. Access applications took longer to resolve than return applications. The average time taken to reach a final outcome was 254 days overall, 97 days if there was a voluntary agreement for access, 291 days if access was judicially ordered and 266 days if access was refused. These timings are considerably faster than those in 2008 when the overall average was 339 days, 309 days where there was a voluntary agreement, 357 days where access was judicially ordered and 276 days if access was judicially refused.

Notes
[1] Professor Nigel Lowe is Emeritus Professor of Law at Cardiff University and Victoria Stephens is a freelance research consultant based in Lyon.
[2] This was calculated using information on incoming applications and, for States which did not respond to the Survey, using information from the outgoing cases database (INCASTAT database Forms A1 and B1). This can be compared with responses from 60 Contracting States for the 2008 Survey, 58 Contracting States in 2003 and 39 Contracting States in the 1999 Survey.
[3] Special thanks go to Thea Philip, Matt Hensch, Katie Lindahl, Hannah Lyden, Krati Jain, Elizabeth Phillips, Abbe Horswill and Sandra Marchenko at ICMEC. We are also grateful to Professor Costanza Honorati, Professor Olga Kharzova, Judge Mônica Sifuentes, Professor Hazel Thompson-Ahye and Dr Katarina Trimmings for their help in contacting Central Authorities.
[4] This was calculated using information from outgoing cases (INCASTAT database Forms A1 and B1) and an estimate of applications between States that did not respond to the Survey. This can be compared with responses from 60 Contracting States for the 2008 Survey, 58 Contracting States in 2003 and 39 Contracting States in the 1999 Survey.
[5] To gain a direct comparison, data from 2015 has been compared with that for only the States that responded to both Surveys. The applications made and received by States that implemented the 1980 Hague Convention after 2008 have also been excluded for these purposes.
[6] 20% were the sole primary carer of the child and 63% were a joint primary carer. These figures have been rounded up.
[7] Either their sole nationality was the same as the Requested State or they held dual or triple nationality, one of which was that of the Requested State. [8] Though it should be noted that a further 84 applications ended in some other voluntary agreement. See further Section D.4.b. The final outcomes agreed by consent.

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WARSHAK – STEMMING THE TIDE

STEMMING THE TIDE OF MISINFORMATION: INTERNATIONAL CONSENSUS ON SHARED PARENTING AND OVERNIGHTING

 Richard A. Warshak, Ph.D.* June 2016

The author –  RICHARD A. WARSHAK, PH.D. is a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, and a clinical, consulting, and research psychologist in private practice. He consults and testifies internationally in child custody proceedings. Through his studies on divorce and custody appearing in 14 books and more than 75 articles, Dr. Warshak has had a broad impact on family law. He studies the psychology of alienated children; children’s involvement in custody disputes; and outcomes of divorce, child custody decisions, stepfamilies, relocations, and parenting plans for young children. Also he develops educational materials and interventions to help understand, prevent, and overcome damaged parent–child relationships. His website, warshak.com, provides resources for family law attorneys and their clients. Dr. Warshak’s latest book, Divorce Poison: How to Protect Your Family from Bad-mouthing and Brainwashing, is widely regarded as a classic, and is available in e-book, audiobook, and seven foreign editions. The video he co-produced, Welcome Back, Pluto: Understanding, Preventing, and Overcoming Parental Alienation, is used in every state in the U.S. and 26 foreign countries.

 ABSTRACT

Warshak, with the review and endorsement of 110 researchers and practitioners, analyzed more than four decades of research and issued a peer-reviewed consensus report on parenting plans for young children. As intended, the report stemmed a tide of misinformation that was threatening to resurrect myths about child development and enshrine them in professional practice and family law. The list of endorsers and their professional accomplishments reflect the widespread acceptance of the consensus report’s findings that favour shared parenting and overnighting for young children under normal circumstances. Two years after its publication, the conclusions and recommendations of the Warshak consensus report remain supported by science.

INTRODUCTION

 Main Issues

Judges and lawmakers hear competing versions from the mental health field about what type of parenting plans are best for very young children. Discussions of parenting time for young children who are raised by parents who live apart from each other generally address three main issues.

  1. Should young children’s time be concentrated predominantly under the care and supervision of one parent, or should their time be more evenly divided between parents ?
  2. Should young children under the age of four spend nights in each parent’s home, or should they sleep in the same home every night ?
  3. Are the benefits to the child of involvement with both parents, or overnight care, diminished or erased if the parents disagree about the parenting plan, or if one or both parents feel great discomfort or hostility toward the other ?

Differences of opinion regarding shared parenting time for children under the age of four years focus on the issue of whether giving children more time with their fathers, aimed at strengthening father-child relationships, risks harming mother-child relationships. The concern is that spending too much time away from the mother, or having overnights away from her, rather than increasing the odds that a child will have a high quality relationship with both parents, will result in the child having poor relationships with both parents.

Background

Our society holds a curious double standard when it comes to encouraging hands-on shared parenting. For instance, we want dads involved with their infants and toddlers—diapering, feeding, bathing, putting to bed, soothing in the middle of the night, cuddling in the morning. But when parents separate, some people think that young children need to spend every night in one home, usually with mom, even when this means losing the care their dad has been giving them.

Despite all strides in cracking gender barriers, many of us still think that it is primarily the mother’s role to care for infants and toddlers, and that we jeopardize young children’s wellbeing if we trust fathers to do the job.

Where does science stand on these issues? A body of research from the 1970s to the 1990s challenged stereotypes and prejudices that had governed child custody decisions throughout most of the 19th and 20th centuries. The results of social science studies throughout the United States converged to support the position that most children needed and wanted more contact with their fathers after divorce than they were having.[1]

In 1994 a multidisciplinary group of experts, sponsored by the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHHD), met to evaluate the empirical evidence regarding the ways in which children are affected by divorce and the impact of various custody arrangements. In 1997, eighteen experts from the NICHHD group issued a consensus statement concluding:

  • ‘Time distribution arrangements that ensure the involvement of both parents in important aspects of their children’s everyday lives and routines—including bedtime and waking rituals, transitions to and from school, extracurricular and recreational activities—are likely to keep non-residential parents playing psychologically important and central roles in the lives of their children. How this is accomplished must be flexibly tailored to the developmental needs, temperament, and changing individual circumstances of the children concerned.’ [2]

Over time, custody policy and decisions increasingly reflected the importance of frequent and continuing contact between children and both parents, including giving children more contact with their fathers. Nevertheless, professional opinions continued to favor the practice of denying infants and toddlers overnight contact with their fathers, even those children who had been accustomed to seeing their dads every day and experiencing his care at bedtime, in the middle of the night, and in the morning. [3]  I labelled presumptions against “overnighting” until children reach the age of four or five, blanket restrictions.

Between 2000 and 2002 a well-cited exchange of articles in Family Court Review addressed the wisdom of guidelines that restricted young children from sleeping in their fathers’ home. One group of authors supported flexible, individualized parenting plans rather than absolute rules favoring or prohibiting overnights. [4] Those authors recommended that decision makers consider the option of overnights with fathers for its potential benefits to the children’s developing stable and lifelong relationships with both parents. Those opposing this view conceded the need for some relaxation of blanket restrictions, but continued to emphasize the potential harm rather than potential benefits of overnights. [5] They proposed that overnights should be viewed with caution rather than prohibited or contraindicated on an a priori basis, thus accepting that in some cases overnights with their fathers might be in young children’s best interests.

In the aftermath of the 1997 consensus statement, subsequent articles on parenting plans for young children, and a growing body of research relevant to parenting plans, the importance of providing sufficient opportunities for children to develop and maintain high quality relationships with both parents became generally recognized as the accepted and settled science with respect to child custody issues. [6]  The decade between 2001 and 2011 saw increasing acceptance of overnights for infants and toddlers among mental health professionals, courts, and parents. This remained the zeitgeist until 2011.

Controversy over the previous decade’s accepted science with respect to overnights for young children reignited in 2011 when the Association for Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) gave a unique platform to Jennifer McIntosh via an invitation to guest edit a special issue of the Family Court Review (FCR) in which McIntosh listed herself as author of nine articles (eight of which were edited transcripts of interviews that McIntosh conducted with commentators).

AFCC then invited McIntosh to deliver a plenary address at its annual conference in 2012. [7]  McIntosh advocated that one parent should be designated the primary caregiver, discouraged joint physical custody for children under the age of four, and called for the resurrection of blanket restrictions unless overnights were necessary and helped the primary caregiver. [8]

Subsequent articles criticized AFCC, FCR, and McIntosh for presenting a narrow perspective. [9]  Joan Kelly noted “the absence of any articles or consideration of infant-father attachments, and the limited and methodologically flawed research used to establish broad conclusions that substantial time with fathers and overnights after separation were detrimental.” [10]

CURRENT CONSENSUS OF SOCIAL SCIENTISTS ON PARENTING PLANS FOR YOUNG CHILDREN

Practitioners and scholars in the field of child custody expressed concerns that this seeming reversal of a decade-long endorsement of shared parenting for preschool children was generating widespread confusion and uncertainty about where the scientific community stood on these issues. To give voice to those concerns, and in an effort to right a ship that was listing from a tide of misinformation, I spent two years reviewing the relevant scientific literature. Then I vetted my analyses by incorporating feedback from an international group of experts in the fields of attachment, early child development, parent-child relations, and divorce. The results appeared in Social Science and Parenting Plans for Young Children: A Consensus Report published in the American Psychological Association’s journal, Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, that is edited by Cambridge University Professor Michael Lamb, a prominent child development scholar.  [11] The report was published with the endorsement of 110 of the world’s leading researchers and practitioners, several who contributed seminal studies cited in the report.

The first goal was to provide a balanced and accurate overview of settled, accepted research from the past 45 years relevant to parenting plans for children under the age of four whose parents lived apart. The second goal was to provide empirically informed guidelines for policy makers and for people involved in making custody decisions.

No support was found for the idea that children under four need or benefit from restrictions with parents who are loving and attentive. Warnings against infants and toddlers spending overnight time with each parent are inconsistent with what we know about the development of meaningful, positive parent-child relationships in the first few years of children’s lives.

Babies and toddlers need parents who respond consistently, affectionately, and sensitively to their needs. But infants and toddlers do not need, and most do not have, either parent’s fulltime, round-the-clock presence. Many married mothers work night shifts that keep them away from their infants and toddlers at night without damaging their children’s secure attachment or their development. As a result, most mothers separated from the other parent should have no reason to worry about leaving their children in the care of the other parent.

To maximize infants’ chances for a secure lifelong bond with both parents, public policy should encourage both parents to actively participate in daytime and overnight care of their young children. Scholars who study the benefits of children’s relationships with both parents find no empirical support for the belief that mothers are more important than fathers in their infants’ and toddlers’ lives.

In short, after their separation, both parents, in most circumstances, should seek to maximize the time they spend with their young children, including the sharing of overnight parenting time. This lays a strong foundation for parent-child relationships and allows children to enjoy the unique and overlapping contributions of each parent to the children’s development and well-being.

ANALYTIC GAPS BETWEEN SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE AND BLANKET RESTRICTIONS

An extensive knowledge base, drawn from more than four decades of research directly relevant to this topic, informed the conclusions of the international consensus report. The consensus report refutes the claim that a scientific foundation exists for a general policy of limiting or discouraging young children’s overnights with one parent when their parents live apart. Those who advocate such a policy often cite two studies to support their concerns about the risks of shared parenting and overnights for children under the age of four.

The first study was a 2010 report written by McIntosh, Smyth, and Kelaher, issued by the Attorney General’s department in Australia, and copyrighted by a clinic founded by the study’s first author.  [12]  The second study, by Tornello et al., was published in 2013. [13]

The consensus report identified significant problems and limitations in both studies that should affect the admissibility and weight of testimony that relies on these studies.  [14] The U.S. Supreme Court in General Electric Co. v. Joiner noted:

  • “[C]onclusions and methodology are not entirely distinct from one another. . . . A court may conclude that there is simply too great an analytical gap between the data and the opinion proffered.” [15]

The analytical gap metaphor offers a useful critique of some experts who have expressed opinions based on these two studies. Understanding several kinds of gaps in the testimony of these experts should inform trial examinations of the reports and testimony of these experts. [16]

Gaps Between Research Participants and Custody Litigants

One obvious and wide gap between the findings from these two studies and expert witness testimony is the difference between the populations studied and typical custody litigants. The Australian study’s sample is not representative of parents who are going through a divorce because most of the parents in the study were never married to each other (90% for the sample of infants and 60% for toddlers), and 30% had never even lived together. Nothing is known about the behavior and relationships between the parents and children prior to the couples’ separations. Even if the study reached verifiable conclusions, the differences between Australian children of unmarried fathers who may or may not have had any pre-separation relationship with their children and American children whose married parents are divorcing and who are accustomed to their fathers’ care is too wide a gap to bridge. The consensus report affirmed that optimal parenting plans are different for children who have a pre-existing relationship with both parents and those who do not.

The second study similarly focused predominantly (85%) on children whose parents had never been married or lived together (30%). Tornello et al.’s sample was even less typical than the Australian sample of most parents who take a custody dispute to trial or who mediate a settlement with lawyers. The study’s data came from the Fragile Families sample of inner-city children born in impoverished circumstances: 62% of the age 1 sample lived below the poverty line, 60% of the parents were imprisoned before the children’s fifth birthdays, 85% were Black or Hispanic, 65% had parents who had non-marital births from more than one partner in their teenage or young adult years, and nearly two-thirds had not completed high school. [17]  In sum, even if the results from these two studies are trustworthy their relevance to U.S. custody disputes is slim.

Gaps Between Methodology and Conclusions

In-depth analyses of the McIntosh et al. study, published in the consensus report and in other papers, reveal multiple problems in the study’s measures, procedures, data analyses, and data reporting—problems that expose wide gaps between the study’s methodology and conclusions and between the data reported and opinions based on the data. Two examples of analytic gaps that undermine the trustworthiness of the study’s conclusions are found in one sentence from the synopsis: “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 those primarily in the care of one parent.”  [18] The first author subsequently described these negative outcomes as “a cluster of stress regulation problems.” [19]

Only in the Appendix of the 169-page report can readers discover that the irritability score for babies with no overnights actually is slightly worse than the score for babies who spent one or more nights per week with their other parent. [20]

Also, the mean irritability score for the frequent overnighters and the infants in intact families was identical, and the mean irritability score for all groups was within the normal range. Since, for these researchers, the irritability scores generated such concern about “stress regulation” for overnighting infants, they should have expressed equal concern about infants being raised in intact, two-parent Australian homes.

Another problem with generalizing from the McIntosh et al. sample—other than the gap between the composition of the sample and most parents who are separating—is the study’s tiny sample sizes. The result reported for irritability of infants with occasional overnights was based on a sample of 14 infants. Only 11 infants saw their fathers on a schedule that would fit standard definitions of shared parenting. The sample size for the group of 2- to 3-year-olds with frequent overnights ranged from 5–25 depending on the variable analyzed (e.g., 5 subjects for a rating of conflict with the child made by teachers and day-care attendants).

An analysis based on five respondents is unlikely to provide meaningful data. [21] The second analytic gap revealed in the sentence quoted from the synopsis is the discrepancy between a substandard measure and the conclusion based on the results from that measure.

The synopsis concluded that the overnighting infants were more “watchful and wary of separation from the primary caregiver.”   [22]  The implication is that overnighting had somehow damaged the security of the babies’ relationships with their mothers. This conclusion, repeatedly cited to discourage overnights for children younger than two years of age, came from three questions that the researchers extracted from a standardized scale designed to measure young children’s cognitive development. The resulting non-standard measure is unreliable in the sense that it is untrustworthy as an index of what it purports to measure. [23]

Scientists take pains to ensure that the measures they use are properly calibrated so that the results can be trusted. Scales need to yield consistent results, known as the instrument’s reliability, and the instrument must measure what it is intended to measure, known as its validity. McIntosh and her team used scales with insufficient, if any, indications of reliability or validity. For instance, without adequate calibration a scale that lacks reliability can one day show a readout of ten pounds for a ten-pound package, and the next day show a readout of fifty pounds for the same ten-pound package. If the scale lacks validity, the scale can be off by five pounds even though it might reliably show the same incorrect weight every time you weigh the package.

A central concern with both the McIntosh et al. and the Tornello et al. studies is their use of sub-standard measures and reliance on results of those measures to draw unwarranted inferences. The Warshak consensus report observed that none of the four significant outcomes reported by McIntosh et al. were derived from measures that met basic scientific standards, [24]  a point also noted by Nielsen in greater detail. [25]

McIntosh et al. concluded that a child under the age of two who spends more than three nights a month with dad is more likely to have “emotional regulation” problems reflected in the child’s “insistent visual monitoring” of the mother. [26]  To measure this, the study asked each mother (only about four percent of the respondents were fathers) three questions: does your child sometimes or often try to get your attention, look to see if you are watching her or him at play, and try to get you to notice other objects?  [27] There was no rating of “insistence.” The authors made the dubious assumption that because infants when anxious look at their mothers and try to get her attention, being anxious is the only reason infants look at their mothers, and that the more infants look at their mothers, the more anxious the infants must be.

This error in logic is known as affirming the consequent. No one, including McIntosh et al., has ever shown that these three questions yield reliable information—would the answers be the same a week later? Nor have McIntosh et al. shown that the questions yield valid information having anything to do with a baby’s emotional health, anxiety, ability to manage stress, or ability to regulate emotions. In fact, the three questions were extracted from a longer instrument that has been validated as a measure of how ready the child is to learn to talk. More frequently looking at the mother and trying to her attention indicates advanced cognitive development, not impaired emotional regulation as McIntosh et al. stated. [28]

Similarly, Tornello et al. assessed the child’s attachment to the mother with a measure that had no established reliability or validity. The Warshak consensus report and other scholars have questioned the validity of the attachment measure and the meaning of findings based on the measure because the instrument was completed by mothers rather than by trained professional raters. [29]  Other researchers using this same attachment measure have acknowledged that it lacks objectivity, [30]  which is an important factor in determining the admissibility and weight of opinions based on this measure.

Tornello et al. acknowledged that their measure of attachment was questionable, but nevertheless reported that children who at age 1 had frequent overnights (1 to 5 overnights per week) were more likely than those with some overnights to be insecurely attached to their mothers at age 3.

The press release issued by the lead investigators’ university, while failing to mention the unreliability of the attachment measures, incorrectly claimed that infants who spent at least one night per week away from their mothers had more insecure attachments than babies who saw their fathers only during the day. In fact they did not. [31]

Gaps Between Data and Interpretation

Even overlooking that Tornello et al. used a nonstandard attachment measure administered in a nonstandard manner, the results were ambiguous. Insecurity in the infants was more common among the frequent overnighters, followed by the never overnighters, followed by the occasional overnighters. A similar, non-linear pattern characterized the McIntosh et al. results. [32] Thus, as the Warshak consensus report and others have noted, frequency of overnights did not predict insecurity in either study. [33]

Interpreting the attachment findings is complicated by another fact that Tornello et al. did not report: More than half of the infants classified as frequent overnighters lived predominantly with their fathers. But the data were reported and interpreted as if the mother was always the “resident” parent and the babies were overnighting with a “non-resident” father. Thus the “resident” and “non-resident” parents were mislabelled. Without knowing more about why these babies were living with their fathers it would be a mistake to assume that frequent overnights in their fathers’ home caused the children’s insecure attachment to their mothers. The gap between the data and the conclusion is too wide to bridge.

The mothers in this sample were drawn from a population of women who had higher rates of substance abuse, depression, and incarceration. [34]  These factors and others, such as domestic violence, affect the quality of parent-child relationships. Even if the attachment measure had met scientific standards, these results should not be relied upon in making decisions about parenting plans for most divorcing parents, especially for parents with the resources to take a custody dispute to trial or to hire lawyers to negotiate and mediate out-of-court settlements.

Additional Gaps Between Data and Opinions

Policy makers, decision makers, and expert witnesses who rely on the data from these two studies to discourage overnight parenting plans for young children often fail to mention the results from these two studies that do not support this conclusion, in addition to the significant limitations discussed above that undermine their usefulness as a basis for custody decisions. For instance, one of the authors of the Tornello et al. study recently co-authored a chapter which provided this interpretation of their study’s results: “Spending frequent overnights [with fathers] between the ages of 1 and 3 years did not predict attachment insecurity at age 3 but did predict positive behavior at 5 years of age.” [35]  Yet Tornello et al. cautioned that the link between overnights and positive behavior— derived from a standard, well established instrument with strong evidence for its reliability and validity and administered in the standard manner—could be due to chance.

Tornello et al. did not mention this positive finding for overnights in the article’s Abstract. Instead the authors placed more confidence in the finding linking overnights to attachment insecurity, despite having acknowledged the uncertain trustworthiness of the attachment measure.

Furthermore, experts who rely on these two studies should be aware that data were available only from one parent, not both. Yet reports of mothers and fathers about their children’s wellbeing often vary significantly as previous research has demonstrated. Given the wide gap between the circumstances and characteristics of the parents in these two studies and those of most separating parents (especially custody litigants), the gaps between the flawed measures and the conclusions drawn from those measures, and the gaps between the actual data and opinions proffered about the data, the Warshak consensus report agrees with other scholars [36] that these two studies provide no reliable basis to support custody policy, recommendations, or decisions that restrict overnight shared parenting for young children. [37]

CONFLICT AND PARENTING PLANS

A common response to research that finds positive outcomes for children and parents in shared physical custody and overnighting arrangements is to challenge the relevance of that research for parents who litigate custody or display high levels of conflict when interacting with each other. [38]

Some psychologists dismiss the positive outcomes found in these shared parenting studies as relevant only to those couples who voluntarily agree to share physical custody from the outset.

Their hypothesis is that couples who settle out of court for shared physical custody begin with lower levels of conflict and that the same factors that play a role in their agreeing to share custody may also contribute to the positive outcomes for the children in these families.

This hypothesis lacks empirical support. The Stanford Child Custody study [39] found that children in joint physical custody (living at least one-third of the time with their fathers) compared with children in sole physical custody were most satisfied with the custody plan and showed the best long-term adjustments, even after controlling for factors that might predispose parents to select joint physical custody (such as education, income, and initial levels of parental hostility). [40] In fact in 80% of the joint physical custody families one or both parents initially did not want and did not agree to the arrangement. [41]  Other studies found that parents with joint physical custody had no less conflict than those with sole physical custody. [42]

A meta-analysis of 33 studies also reported better emotional, behavioral, and academic functioning for children in joint physical custody compared to children in sole custody, regardless of the level of conflict between parents. [43] Studies that measured the amount of the father’s parenting time found that more time with the father is not associated with poorer child outcomes in high-conflict families (with the exception of families where there is violence or abuse).  [44]

In a large-scale Australian study (not the one critiqued earlier), one to two years after separation, conflict was neither more nor less damaging for children in shared care-time arrangements than for children in other custody arrangements (with the exception of reports by mothers who had concerns about children’s safety in the care of the father). [45] Rather than magnify harmful effects of parental conflict, several studies suggested that shared parenting may protect children from some of its negative consequences. [46]

One way in which shared parenting time can reduce children’s exposure to tension-filled communications between parents is that spending longer periods of time with each parent reduces the number of transfers between parents. For instance, spending two hours with one parent and then returning to the other parent’s home the same day means the child makes two transitions in one day. Simply extending the two-hour evening contact into an overnight reduces the transitions between homes to only one per day.

Should Parental Conflict Trump Shared Parenting Time ?

A policy of automatically restricting children’s time with one of the parents when a couple is labelled as “high conflict” brings additional drawbacks and deprives children of the protective buffer of a nurturing relationship with one of their parents. [47]

This policy sends parents the message that generating or sustaining conflict can be an effective strategy to override shared custody. [48]  This discourages civil communication and cooperation, and may reduce children’s time with the parent who is less angry, who does a better job of shielding the children from conflict, and who recognizes and supports the children’s need for positive relationships with both parents. [49]

Any policy that encourages the instigation and maintenance of conflict between parents by suggesting that such behavior might be rewarded with more parenting time puts the needs of the children second to the desires of whichever parent opposes sharing parenting time. Such a policy contradicts the best-interest standard whose primary purpose is to ensure that the child’s welfare trumps parental entitlements. [50] A policy focused on children’s best interests will decrease the risks of harm to them by discouraging rather than encouraging inter-parental conflict. [51]

When considering the impact of parental conflict on the most beneficial parenting plans for children, it is important to recognize the heterogeneity of the dynamics of inter-parental conflict. [52] The label high conflict couple implies that both parents actively engage in conflict.

Although this is true in some cases, in other cases the label is a misnomer because one parent may be a victim of the other parent’s rage or attempts to marginalize the parent’s role in raising the child. [53]  In some cases the amount, intensity, and type of conflict resembles the level and type of disagreements over child-rearing decisions that occur normally between married or cohabiting parents who have different opinions about what is best for the child.

Recommendations to Reduce Children’s Exposure to Parental

Conflict

Because of the consistency of findings that children are more likely to suffer worse outcomes when their parents use them as pawns or when they consistently witness, their parents’ frequent, intense, and ongoing conflict, [54] the Warshak consensus report recommended the following: [55]

When feasible, parents should be encouraged to create parenting plans through a collaborative, non-adversarial process, that increases the likelihood that both parents will be satisfied with the plan and can give it relatively un-ambivalent support.

Interventions such as mediation and parenting coordination can help parents better manage conflict and reduce its negative impact on children.

When considering the implications of conflict for custody dispositions, courts, operating under the best-interest standard, can hear evidence that goes beyond identifying the presence of conflict and sheds light on the dynamics of the conflict, the contributions of each party to it, and the quality of parenting.

Where tension and conflict accompany transfers of children from one home to the other, rather than reduce children’s time with one parent as a response to concerns about parental conflict, consideration should be given to conducting transfers at neutral sites where both parents are not present at the same time. [56]  For instance, the children can be dropped off at day-care by one parent and picked up by the other. This protects children from exposure to parental conflict.

To the extent that conflict is generated by a father who opposes the mother’s efforts to marginalize his participation in raising the young child, efforts should be made to educate the mother about the benefits to children of parenting plans that give more opportunities for the development and strengthening of father-child relationships and that keep fathers more involved.

Both parents should be encouraged to understand the emotional difficulty that can attend being apart from a young child for extended time periods, difficulty that is multiplied when a parent’s employment keeps him or her away from the child for most of the weekdays. Parents should be encouraged to provide regular feedback to each other about the young child’s routines, behavior, and health, and to the extent possible assuage each other’s concerns about the child’s development when in the care of the other parent.

INTERNATIONAL EXPERT CONSENSUS RECOMMENDATIONS 

The endorsers of the parenting plans consensus report [57], all accomplished researchers or practitioners, agree that the current state of the scientific literature supports the following conclusions and recommendations. This statement should provide strong direction for policy guidelines and decision-making.

  1.  Just as we encourage parents in intact families to share care of their children, we believe that the social science evidence on the development of healthy parent-child relationships, and the long-term benefits of healthy parent-child relationships, supports the view that shared parenting should be the norm for parenting plans for children of all ages, including very young children. We recognize that some parents and situations are unsuitable for shared parenting, such as those mentioned in point ‘#7’ below.
  2.  Young children’s interests benefit when two adequate parents follow a parenting plan that provides their children with balanced and meaningful contact with each parent while avoiding a template that calls for a specific division of time imposed on all families.
  3. In general the results of the studies reviewed in this document are favorable to parenting plans that more evenly balance young children’s time between two homes. Child developmental theory and data show that babies normally form attachments to both parents and that a parent’s absence for long periods of time jeopardizes the security of these attachments. Evidence regarding the amount of parenting time in intact families and regarding the impact of day-care demonstrates that spending half time with infants and toddlers is more than sufficient to support children’s needs. Thus, to maximize children’s chances of having good and secure relationships with each parent, we encourage both parents to maximize the time they spend with their children. Parents have no reason to worry if they share parenting time up to 50/50 when this is compatible with the logistics of each parent’s schedule.
  4.  Research on children’s overnights with fathers favors allowing children under four to be cared for at night by each parent rather than spending every night in the same home. We find the theoretical and practical considerations favoring overnights for most young children to be more compelling than concerns that overnights might jeopardize children’s development. Practical considerations are relevant to consider when tailoring a parenting plan for young children to the circumstances of the parents. Overnights create potential benefits related to the logistics of sharing parenting time. Parents of young children are more likely than parents of older children to be at an early stage in their career or employment at which they have less flexibility and control over their work schedules. Parenting schedules that offer the father and child 2-hr blocks of time together, two or three times per week, can unduly stress their contacts. Overnights help to reduce the tension associated with rushing to return the child, and thus potentially improve the quality and satisfaction of the contact both for the parent and child. Overnights allow the child to settle in to the father’s home, which would be more familiar to the child who regularly spends the night in the home compared with one who has only one-hour segments in the home (allowing for transportation and preparation for the return trip). Spending the night allows the father to participate in a wider range of bonding activities, such as engaging in bedtime rituals and comforting the child in the event of night-time awakenings. An additional advantage of overnights is that in the morning the father can return the child to the day-care; this avoids exposing the child to tensions associated with the parents’ direct contact with each other. Nonetheless, because of the relatively few studies currently available, the limitations of these studies, and the predominance of results that indicate no direct benefit or drawback for overnights per se outside the context of other factors, we stop short of concluding that the current state of evidence supports a blanket policy or legal presumption regarding overnights. Because of the well-documented vulnerability of father-child relationships among never-married and divorced parents, and the studies that identify overnights as a protective factor associated with increased father commitment to child rearing and reduced incidence of father dropout, and because no study demonstrates any net risk of overnights, decision makers should recognize that depriving young children of overnights with their fathers could compromise the quality of their developing relationship.
  5. Parenting plans that provide children with contact no more than six days per month with a parent, and require the children to wait more than a week between contacts, tax the parent-child relationships. This type of limited access schedule risks compromising the foundation of the parent-child bond. It deprives children of the type of relationship and contact that most children want with both parents. The research supports the growing trend of statutory law and case law that encourages maximizing children’s time with both parents. This may be even more important for young children in order to lay a strong foundation for their relationships with their fathers and to foster security in those relationships.
  6. There is no evidence to support postponing the introduction of regular and frequent involvement, including overnights, of both parents with their babies and toddlers. Maintaining children’s attachment relationships with each parent is an important consideration when developing parenting plans. The likelihood of maintaining these relationships is maximized by reducing the lengths of separations between children and each parent and by providing adequate parenting time for each parent. Such arrangements allow each parent to learn about the child’s individual needs and to hone parenting skills most appropriate for each developmental period. The optimal frequency and duration of children’s time with each parent will differ among children, depending on several factors such as their age and their parents’ circumstances, motivations, and abilities to care for the children. Other important considerations include children’s unique relationship histories with each parent and their experience of each parent’s care and involvement. In each case where it is desirable to foster the parent-child relationship, the parenting plan needs to be sensitive to the child’s needs, titrating the frequency, duration, and structure of contact.
  7.  Our recommendations apply in normal circumstances, for most children with most parents. The fact that some parents are negligent, abusive, or grossly deficient in their parenting—parents whose children would need protection from them even in intact families—should not be used to deprive the majority of children who were being raised by two loving parents from continuing to have that care after their parents separate.

AFTERMATH OF THE CONSENSUS REPORT

The list of endorsers and their stature and accomplishments reflect the field’s general acceptance of the consensus report’s findings as rooted in settled science from more than four decades of research directly relevant to this topic, including seminal studies by many of the endorsers. This research “provides a growing and sophisticated fund of knowledge about the needs of young children, the circumstances that best promote their optimal development, and the individual differences among children regarding their adaptability to different circumstances, stress, and change.” [58]  The endorsements reflect agreement that the report’s conclusions and recommendations are well grounded, generally accepted in the field, and expressed in measured language that is useful to decision makers.

Recent Studies

After the Warshak consensus report was published, two new studies lent additional weight to the report’s conclusions. Re-analyzing the data set used by Tornello et al., Sokol examined the correlation between the absolute number of overnights with father and the incidence of insecure attachments to mother. In her preliminary findings, Sokol found no correlation and concluded that overnights with father do not harm the mother-child relationship. [59]

Fabricius reported long-term benefits to college students who, in the first three years of life, spent overnights with their fathers after their parents separated.  [60] These teenage and young adult children felt more important to their fathers than did those who had been deprived of overnights early in their lives. They had better relationships with their fathers at no cost to the quality of their relationships with their mothers. On the other hand, having fewer overnights with fathers during infancy was associated with more long-term harm to the father-child relationship. Also, there were no indications of any long-term stress-related health problems related to overnight parenting time for infants with their fathers. [61]

The study concluded: “[I]nfant behaviors that have caused the concern about overnight parenting time are either temporary, or they do not signal the long-term effects that were feared.” [62]  And, “Of much greater concern is the substantial detriment to the long-term father-child relationship associated with lack of overnight parenting time with fathers. . . .” [63]Overall the study concluded, “We see long-term risks to the father-child relationship in the absence of overnight parenting time during the first 3 years, but only benefits to both parents with the presence of overnight parenting time.” [64] And, “Maximizing parenting time protects children from harm to the father-child relationship, from harm to the mother-child relationship, and from harm due to parent conflict.” [65]

Reactions to the Consensus Report

In addition to the 110 researchers and practitioners behind the consensus report, prominent social scientists, such as Joan Kelly, cited the report favourably in their presentations and literature reviews. [66] The paper has been translated into at least eighteen languages and has informed legislative deliberations throughout the U.S. and parliamentary deliberations in several countries including the United Kingdom, Canada, Israel, Finland, Romania, Croatia, and Sweden. Two years after its publication the consensus report continues to be one of the most downloaded papers from the journal’s website.

Michael Lamb summarized his understanding of the relevant literature in statements fully consistent with the conclusions reached by Warshak and the endorsers of the consensus report:

  • “When both parents have established significant attachments and both have been actively involved in the child’s care, research suggests that overnight visits will consolidate attachments and child adjustment, not work against them.” [67]
  • “Children whose parents were both highly involved before separation benefit from continued involvement with both parents. That involvement should include overnight contact with non-resident parents when there is a pre-separation history of involvement.” [68]

It was anticipated that some colleagues would disagree with the consensus report opinions and recommendations. But in the two years since its publication, no article, including those by McIntosh et al., has explicitly identified any errors in the report or disputed any of its conclusions and recommendations. Confronted with the critiques of their studies, one might expect researchers either to show where the consensus report and other scholars’ critiques are mistaken or to modify their previous interpretations of their data and communicate their amended conclusions to colleagues and the general public.

McIntosh et al. have not yet acknowledged or addressed concerns about three of the four measures in their study. But after the consensus report was published, they conceded in one article that their 3-item visual monitoring scale has “relatively low” reliability and is a “weak link” in their study. [69]  Otherwise, Smyth and McIntosh have ignored the critiques that their measures were untrustworthy.

To date, McIntosh et al. have not acknowledged that: 1) the results that raised their concern about overnights and young children’s ability to regulate stress rest on a flimsy foundation and do not stand up to scrutiny, 2) the substandard measures used in their study do not support trustworthy conclusions, and 3) the infants with frequent overnights looked no worse than those with no overnights.

Instead, McIntosh et al. have continued to report that the infants in their study with weekly overnights had “higher levels of emotionally dysregulated behaviors” [70] and showed “a greater cluster of stress regulation problems compared with infants with fewer overnight stays,” and that “regardless of the context of their parents’  separation, more frequent overnight stays might be more challenging for emotional regulation processes in young children under 4 years of age than for children aged 4 years and over.”  [71] These continued assertions of McIntosh et al. are the equivalent of reporting an object’s weight on a broken scale whose readout cannot be trusted, while concealing the fact that the scale is faulty.

In response to the consensus report and other critiques, McIntosh et al. have tried to bolster confidence in the ”veracity and reliability” of their study’s findings, by repeatedly claiming that other studies, such as the one by Tornello et al., replicated their study. [72] This is incorrect. Tornello et al. used different measures with a different population in their study.

Further, as previously noted, Sokol’s preliminary analysis of the data in Tornello et al. found no correlation between overnights and insecure attachments in infants. [73] However, McIntosh et al., in a significant concession, noted that their findings “do not substantiate cautions against any overnight care in healthy family circumstances.” [74] This acknowledgment is another sign that the consensus report is achieving its primary goal of stemming the tide of misinformation.

Pruett (who co-authored a 2014 article with McIntosh on overnights) et al. issued a statement very similar to that of McIntosh and her co-authors. Pruett et al. (2016) wrote that “results from these studies do not substantiate cautions against any overnight care or overnight care for all children during the first 3 years.” They added,

  • “Overall it is clear that these studies do not tell us enough to make policy recommendations against overnights; they leave us only with cautions about what to study in order to know more about how these types of transitions affect children in different situations differently.” [75]

Despite these general statements, Pruett and McIntosh, writing with Kelly in 2014, nonetheless concluded that sufficient basis exists for certain cautions about overnights, noting that “the small group of relevant studies to date substantiates caution about high frequency overnight time schedules in the 0-3 year period, particularly when the child’s security with a parent is unformed, or parents cannot agree on how to share care of the child.” [76] But at the outset of their article, under the heading “Key Points for the Family Court Community,” the authors narrow the criteria for cautions against high frequency overnights:

  • ‘Cautions against overnight care during the first three years are not supported. The limited available research substantiates some caution about higher frequency overnight schedules with young children, particularly when the child’s relationship with a second parent has not been established and/or parents are in frequent conflict to which the child is exposed.’ [77]

The last six words of the above statement make a significant difference. In practice, a blanket policy that cautions against overnights for a young child whose parents do not agree on custody discourages courts from ordering shared parenting and overnights in litigated cases. By contrast, a policy that discourages overnights only if the child is exposed to frequent conflict, means that courts need to consider the impact of conflict on the child, a practice recommended by the Warshak consensus report. [78] Because of the significant difference in the two statements by Pruett, McIntosh, and Kelly about conflict and overnights, it is not clear which position the authors intended to guide “the family court community.”

Perhaps the difference between the two recommendations in the same article reflects differences among the three co-authors. In her previous and subsequent work, Kelly argued against reducing the child’s time with the father or reducing the father’s caregiving for the child at bedtime, when the child awakes during the night, and in the morning. Instead Kelly promoted other solutions that reduce the child’s exposure to conflict. [79]

By contrast, McIntosh offers on her website a chart and profile (CODIT) to guide parents and professionals making overnight decisions. [80] Although not intended for use as a diagnostic instrument or as the sole basis for decisions this document asserts, “Even when all parenting conditions are met, high numbers of overnights (more than weekly) are not generally indicated for young infants 0-18 months subject to family law disputes.” [81] This guideline sets up a rebuttable presumption against more than one overnight per week for children younger than 18 months even with parents who consistently and sensitively meet the children’s needs.

Although lacking a scientific foundation, this presumption in practice would give most mothers the power to deprive children of more than one overnight a week with their fathers for the first one-and-a-half years. To frustrate the father’s desire to have a larger role in bedtime rituals and morning routines the mother need only register an objection, thus creating a custody dispute. The mother’s preference prevails even if her motives are vindictive, even if her objection is capricious, and even if the father demonstrates superior parenting.

The CODIT includes subjective rating scales with no known reliability or validity. For instance, child adjustment is rated using criteria such as “excessive clinging on separation,” “frequent crying,” “aggressive behavior,” and “low persistence in play & learning” with no anchors to distinguish between troubling behavior within normal limits and atypical behavior. Including such factors in a tool to guide overnight decisions reflects an assumption that troubling behaviors in an infant or toddler that persist more than two weeks are associated with – and can be eliminated by – restricting one parent’s overnight contact with the child. The CODIT includes multiple factors that allow gatekeeping parents to use this tool to restrict their children’s overnights with the other parent.

Two years after their co-authored article Pruett came out in favor of a position more in line with her previous co-author Kelly. Writing without McIntosh, but with five other co-authors, Pruett significantly amended her statement about parental conflict:

  • The small group of relevant studies to date substantiates caution about high-frequency overnight time schedules in the 0– to 3–year period when the child’s relationship with a parent is not established (e.g., parents never lived together and non-residential parent spent little to no time with the baby), or when parents cannot agree on how to share care of the child and their conflict interferes with the child’s care. [82] (second emphasis added).

These six authors are among the scholars who agree with the consensus report’s conclusion that the mere presence of conflict between parents over how to share care of their child (i.e., a dispute over custody) is not a sufficient reason to be cautious about overnights. Instead, decision makers should attend to the nexus between the expressions of conflict and their impact on the child.

Misunderstandings of the Consensus Report

Pruett et al. (2016) hold the same position as the Warshak consensus report about the importance of the co-parenting relationship when considering decisions about shared parenting. Yet Pruett et al. left the appearance of disagreement when they mistakenly reported:

  • Warshak (2014) argues that children benefit from a more evenly balanced amount of time between parents, and that this should be protected regardless of the co-parenting dynamic, since reducing one parent’s time in the face of conflict favors the parent with more access as that parent can perpetuate conflict as an excuse not to share parenting. This may be true, but it ignores the needs of the infant or toddler from a child-centric perspective, if the shared parenting results in the child’s consistent exposure to conflict. [83]

The consensus report offered no such generalization or rationale for shared parenting. And as explained earlier, because a blanket policy prioritizes parents’ desires over children’s needs, such a policy of reducing a child’s time with a parent when the parents are in conflict is hardly “child-centric.” [84] A blanket policy provides an incentive to a parent to escalate and involve children in conflict if the parent believes that initiating and sustaining conflict is a path to winning sole physical custody. [85] In many cases there are better ways to protect a child from consistent exposure to conflict than to disproportionately deprive the child of important time with a parent. [86]

Contrary to Pruett et al.’s (2016) assertion, the consensus report explicitly identified co-parenting dynamics as one among several factors to consider in reaching a custody decision, a position that Warshak has consistently held in his publications during the past twenty-five years. [87] Naturally, shared parenting and overnighting are not for all families.

On this point the consensus report is clear:

  • Some circumstances depart significantly from the norm and do not lend themselves to the same general recommendations that apply to the majority of parenting plan decisions. These circumstances include a history of intimate partner violence, a history or credible risk of neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, or psychological abuse toward a child, manifestations of restrictive gatekeeping such as persistent and unwarranted interference with parenting time (Austin, Fieldstone, & Pruett, 2013; Pruett, Arthur, & Ebling, 2007; Pruett et al., 2012; Warshak et al., 2003), a history of child abduction, a child’s special needs (e.g., cystic fibrosis or autism), and a significant geographical separation between the parents. [88]

Note that in stressing the importance of co-parenting dynamics, the consensus report cited three of Pruett’s articles. The report unambiguously and repeatedly acknowledged the importance of the co-parenting relationship and specifically recommended that courts not only identify the presence of conflict, but also consider evidence that “sheds light on the dynamics of the conflict, the contributions of each party to it, and the quality of parenting.” [89]

And, “our recommendations apply to children who have a relationship with both parents. If a child has a relationship with one parent and no prior relationship with the other parent, or a peripheral, at best, relationship, different plans will serve the goal of building the relationship versus strengthening and maintaining an existing relationship.” [90]

Pruett et al. (2016) also misunderstood why the consensus report opposed a blanket policy of allowing one parent to veto joint physical custody merely by claiming a conflicted relationship with the other parent. The consensus report’s opposition to such a policy has nothing to do with a concern that it rewards the parent who has more contact with the children.

The consensus report proposed that conflict between parents does not automatically eliminate the possibility that children can benefit from shared parenting. Warshak and the endorsers of the consensus report favor a policy that protects children by reducing a parent’s motivation to initiate, sustain, and escalate conflict. Again, this has nothing to do with favoring one parent over the other. Indeed, there is no reason to assume that such a policy would favor the parent who perpetuates conflict. By statute a majority of states instruct courts to consider co-parenting behavior (using various labels for the concept) as one factor in determining the custody arrangement that serves the children’s best interests.

The parent who perpetuates conflict may find that such behavior, rather than reducing the other parent’s time with the children, has the opposite outcome. [91] Braver and his colleagues found that the public favors a policy that would reduce parenting time for the parent who is identified as the primary instigator of conflict. [92]

Instead of a blanket policy that denies children the potential benefits of shared parenting, the consensus report offers recommendations to protect children from consistent exposure to conflict. [93] These recommendations are applicable in situations where parents share overnights and in situations where children live predominantly with one parent and see the other parent less frequently (e.g., a schedule of every other weekend and mid-week contacts with or without  overnights).

Pruett et al. (2016) leave the impression that they dissent from the consensus report on the important role of the co-parenting relationship and the importance of the child’s prior relationship with a parent when in fact their position reiterates the consensus view. Indeed, Pruett et al.’s seven “points of consensus” echo the conclusions of the consensus report published two years earlier. [94]

MEANING AND VALUE OF THE CONSENSUS REPORT ENDORSEMENTS

McIntosh et al. tried to diminish and distract from the meaning and value of the 110 endorsements of the consensus report. McIntosh et al. asserted that the accomplished scholars and practitioners who endorsed the consensus report put their reputations and integrity on the line by signing a document based solely on “sentiment” and not science, and that the endorsers did not necessarily agree with the evidence for the conclusions and recommendations that they endorsed. [95] This is incorrect. [96] The endorsers received and read the whole paper. As would be expected, none would have endorsed the paper if they agreed with the conclusions but disagreed with the evidence that supported the conclusions.

In fact, the conclusions referred explicitly and extensively to the evidence reviewed and analyzed in the preceding sections. Rather than enumerate the significant contributions of the endorsers to our base of scientific knowledge, the reader is encouraged to note the names of the scholars and their credentials listed at the end of the consensus report. The qualifications of the endorsers to vet the literature reviews and analyses and to judge the conclusions and recommendations that flow from those analyses are beyond dispute.

Some have questioned the value of publishing a paper with scientists’ endorsements. But such papers are not unprecedented. An example is the 1997 article co-signed by eighteen experts that clarified implications of social science evidence for custody arrangements. [97] Similarly, the Warshak consensus report clarifies the social science relevant to parenting plans for young children.

Having the paper reviewed by the endorsers of the Warshak report brought two advantages. The first was the benefit of feedback and vetting from this group on the consensus report’s analysis of the bodies of literature on attachment, day-care, parenting plans, and divorce. The endorsers included prominent international authorities in attachment, principal investigators for the celebrated NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, and leading researchers who have studied the impact of divorce since the mid-1970s.

The second advantage was that the statures of the signatories—with their outstanding careers as social scientists—brings attention to decision makers for the report’s conclusions and recommendations.

In sum, the consensus report does not maintain that its conclusions are scientific merely because 110 well-qualified researchers and practitioners endorse the conclusions—science is not settled at the ballot box. Rather, the consensus report reflects that the endorsers, based on their understanding of the literature and on their professional experiences, accept the report’s research-based conclusions.

CONCLUSION

Warshak, with the review and endorsement of 110 researchers and practitioners, analyzed more than four decades of research and issued a peer reviewed consensus report on parenting plans for young children. [98] As intended, the report stemmed a tide of misinformation that was threatening to resurrect long-discarded myths about child development and enshrine them in professional practice and family law. The list of endorsers and their professional accomplishments reflect the widespread acceptance of the consensus report’s findings that favor shared parenting and overnighting for young children under normal circumstances. Two years after its publication, the conclusions and recommendations of the Warshak consensus report remain supported by science.

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Correspondence concerning this article, and requests for the report endorsed by an international consensus of experts, should be addressed to Dr. Warshak at doc@warshak.com  © 2016 by Richard A. Warshak, Ph.D.

Footnotes:

[1] 1 See, e.g., SANFORD L. BRAVER & DIANE O’CONNELL, DIVORCED DADS: SHATTERING THE MYTHS (1998) (Arizona); CHARLENE E. DEPNER & JAMES H. BRAY, NONRESIDENTIAL PARENTING: NEW VISTAS IN FAMILY LIVING (193) (Arizona); E. Mavis Hetherington, Martha Cox, & Roger Cox, Effects of Divorce on Parents and Children, in NONTRADITIONAL FAMILIES: PARENTING AND CHILD DEVELOPMENT 233 (Michael E. Lamb ed., 1982) (Virginia); E. MAVIS HETHERINGTON & JOHN KELLY, FOR BETTER OR WORSE: DIVORCED RECONSIDERED (2002) (Virginia); John W. Santock & Richard A. Warshak, Father Custody and Social Development in Boys and Girls, 34 J. SOC. ISSUES 112 (1979) (Texas); JUDITH S. WALLERSTEIN & JOAN BERLIN KELLY, SURVIVING THE BREAKUP: HOW CHILDREN AND PARENTS COPE WITH DIVORCE (1980) (California); RICHARD A. WARSHAK, THE CUSTODY REVOLUTION (1992) (Texas); Richard A. Warshak, Father-Custody and Child Development: A Review and Analysis of Psychological Research, 4 BEHAV. SCI. & L. 185 (1986) (Texas); Richard A. Warshak & John W. Santrock, The Impact of Divorce in Father-Custody and Mother-Custody Homes: The Child’s Perspective, in CHILD. & DIVORCE 29, 38, 42–43 (Lawrence A. Kurdek ed. 1983) (Texas).

[2]  Michael E. Lamb, Kathleen J. Sternberg, & Ross A. Thompson, The Effects of Divorce and Custody Arrangements on Children’s Behavior, Development, and Adjustment, 35 FAM. & CONCILIATION CTS. REV. 393, 400 (1997).

[3]  Richard A. Warshak, Blanket Restrictions: Overnight Contact Between Parents and Young Children, 38 FAM. & CONCILIATION CTS. REV. 422 (2000) (giving examples of guidelines in the professional literature advocating restrictions against overnights).

[4]  Joan B. Kelly & Michael E. Lamb, Using Child Development Research to Make Appropriate Custody and Access Decisions for Young Children, 38 FAM. & CONCILIATION CTS. REV. 297 (2000); Michael E. Lamb & Joan B. Kelly, Using the Empirical Literature to Guide the Development of Parenting Plans for Young Children: A Rejoinder to Solomon & Biringen, 39 FAM. CT REV. 365 (2001); Warshak, supra note 3; Richard A. Warshak, Who Will Be There When I Cry In the Night? Revisiting Overnights – A Rejoinder to Biringen et al., 40 FAM. CT. REV. 208 (2002).

[5] Zeynep Biringen et al., Commentary on “Blanket Restrictions: Overnight Contact Between Parents and Young Children” 40 FAM. CT. REV. 204 (2002); Judith Solomon & Zeynep Biringen, Another Look at the Developmental Research: Commentary on Kelly and Lamb’s “Child Development Research to Make  Appropriate Custody and Access Decisions for Young Children”, 39 FAM. CT. REV. 355 (2001).

[6]  See, e.g., Gordon E. Finley & Seth J. Schwartz, The Divided World of the Child: Divorce and Long-term Psychosocial Adjustment, 48 FAM. CT. REV. 516 (2010); Seth J. Schwartz & Gordon E. Finley, Troubled Ruminations About Parents: Conceptualization and Validation With Emerging Adults, 88 J. COUNSELING & DEV. 80 (2010). See also, Marsha Kline Pruett, Rachel Ebling, & Glendessa Insabella, Critical Aspects of Parenting Plans for Young Children: Interjecting Data Into the Debate About Overnights, 42 FAM. CT. REV. 39, 55 (2004) (stating: “This initial glimpse suggests that, for the behavioral and emotional outcomes under study, the worry about implementing overnights and parenting plans with multiple caretakers for infants and toddlers is misplaced. . . .”).

[7]   See, e.g., Peter Salem & Arnold T. Shienvold, Closing the Gap Without Getting to Yes: Staying with the Shared Parenting Debate, 52 FAM. CT. REV. 145, 146 (“AFCC and FCR were criticized for allowing one side of a controversial issue to be represented in FCR without counterpoint in the same issue and for highlighting that same perspective in a plenary session without an alternative view during the same session. Hindsight is 20/20 and in retrospect, we would have made adjustments in order to create the best possible discussions.”) See also Joan B. Kelly, Paternal Involvement and Child and Adolescent Adjustment After Separation and Divorce: Current Research and Implications for Policy and Practice, 2 INT’L. FAM. L., POL’Y & PRAC. 5, 10 (2014) (“These heated controversies in the United States and elsewhere in the last decade were exacerbated by a Family Court Review special issue on attachment (McIntosh, 2011), which focused on infant-mother attachment  research and policy conclusions regarding overnights.”).

[8]  Jennifer E. McIntosh, Guest Editor’s Introduction to Special Issue on Attachment Theory, Separation, and Divorce: Forging Coherent Understandings for Family Law, 49 FAM. CT. REV. 418, 424 (stating that McIntosh and the commentators she interviewed concurred strongly that “Overnight stays away from the primary caregiver in early infancy are generally best avoided, unless of benefit to the primary caregiver.”). Also see Jennifer McIntosh, Special Considerations for Infants and Toddlers in Separation/Divorce: Developmental Issues in the Family Law Context, in ENCYCLOPEDIA ON EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT [online] 1, 4 (Robert E. Emery, topic ed., Richard E. Tremblay, Michel Boivin, Ray DeV. Peters eds., 2011), available athttp://www.childencyclopediacom/divorce-and-separation/according-experts/special-considerationsinfants-and-toddlers. (In a section titled “Implications for Parents, Services and Policy,” McIntosh states: “In early infancy [defined by McIntosh as under 2 years old], overnight stays are contra-indicated, undertaken when necessary or helpful to the primary caregiver. . . .”

[9]  See, e.g., Kelly, supra note 7, at 10. See also Michael E. Lamb, A Wasted Opportunity to Engage with the Literature on the Implications of Attachment Research for Family Court Professionals, 50 FAM. CT. REV. 481 (2012) (commenting on the restricted range of views in the issue of Family Court Review that McIntosh guest edited: “The resulting special issue contained a total of 11 articles—an introduction by McIntosh, two invited articles, and the edited transcripts of eight interviews by McIntosh with one or (in three cases) several commentators. Nine of the articles were ‘authored’ by the editor, and (remarkably) all 11 listed her as a corresponding author, underscoring the narrowness of the perspective offered to readers of the special issue.”) See also Pamela S. Ludolph, The Special Issue on Attachment: Overreaching Theory and Data, 50 FAM CT. REV. 486, 493 (2012) (noting: “[T]he Special Issue, and particularly its summary [the one article in the journal issue solely authored by McIntosh] overreaches the available research data, doing so by remarkable omissions  and over-generalizations. The voluminous literature on the role of fathers in early childhood was barely touched upon. Monotropy was reified, despite its being an idea unsupported by empirical evidence. The serious attention many researchers have given to the attachment capabilities of both parents was virtually unmentioned. Serious losses of childhood were confounded with trivial ones.”).

[10]  Kelly, supra note 7, at 10.

[11]  Richard A. Warshak, with the endorsement of the researchers and practitioners listed in the Appendix, Social Science and Parenting Plans for Young Children: A Consensus Report, 20 PSYCHOL., PUB. POL’Y. & L. 46 (2014). This article, available to legal and mental health professionals on request from the author, lists in the Appendix the names and positions of the endorsers, and provides reference citations for all the studies included in the consensus report literature review and analysis. Others can purchase the article at http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/law/20/1/46/.

[12]  Jennifer McIntosh, Bruce Smyth & Margaret Kelaher, Parenting Arrangements Postseparation: Patterns and Developmental Outcomes, Part II. Relationships Between Overnight Care Patterns and Psycho-emotional Development in Infants and Young Children: Report to the Australian Government Attorney-General’s Department, in POST-SEPARATION PARENTING ARRANGEMENTS AND DEVELOP-MENTAL OUTCOMES FOR INFANTS AND CHILDREN: COLLECTED REPORTS 85 (Jennifer McIntosh, Bruce Smyth, Margaret Kelaher, Yvonne Wells & Caroline Long eds., 2010), available at https://www.ag.gov.au/FamiliesAndMarriage/Families/FamilyLawSystem/Documents/Postseparationparentingarrangementsanddevelopmentaloutcomesforinfantsandchildrencollectedreports.PDF. The report is copyrighted by Family Transitions, a private clinic founded and directed by McIntosh.

[13]  Samantha L. Tornello, Robert Emery, Jenna Rowen, Danile Potter, Bailey Ocker, and Yishan Xu, Overnight Custody Arrangements, Attachment, and Adjustment Among Very Young Children, 75 J. MARRIAGE & FAM. 871 (2013).

[14]  See Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, 509 U.S. 579 (1993).

[15]  General Elect. Co. v. Joiner, 522 U.S. 136, 146 (1997). See also JOHN A. ZERVOPOULOS, CONFRONTING MENTAL HEALTH EVIDENCE 8 (2nd ed. 2015) (Referencing General Elect. Co. v. Joiner, supra: “Courts may view opinions with analytical gaps that are too wide as unreliable and thus inadmissible.”).

[16] 16 For a discussion of strategies to cross-examine mental health experts who rely on unwarranted inferences from unreliable data, see JOHN A. ZERVOPOULOS, HOW TO EXAMINE MENTAL HEALTH EXPERTS (2013).

[17]  Sara McLanahan, Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study Fact Sheet (2013), available at http://www.fragilefamilies.princeton.edu/documents/FragileFamiliesandChildWellbeingStudyFactSheet.pdf .

[18]  McIntosh et al., supra note 12, at 9.

[19]  McIntosh, Special Considerations, supra note 9, at 3.

[20] 20 McIntosh et al., supra note 12, at 166.

[21] 21 Although the sample size in Tornello et al., supra note 13, is larger than previous studies, recently Emery and McIntosh, as co-authors, include in a list of limitations of the Tornello et al. study that it relied on “small subsample sizes for the attachment indicator.” Bruce M. Smyth, Jennifer E. McIntosh, Robert E. Emery, & Shelby L. Higgs Howarth, Shared-Time Parenting: Evaluating the Evidence of Risks and Benefits to Children, in PARENTING PLAN EVALUATIONS (2ND ED.), in PARENTING PLAN EVALUATIONS: APPLIED RESEARCH FOR THE FAMILY COURT (2ND ED.) 118, 133 (Leslie Drozd, Michael Saini & Nancy Olesen eds., 2016).

[22] 22 McIntosh et al., supra note 12, at 9.

[23] 23 Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, supra note 14.

[24] 24 Warshak et al., supra note 11, at 55. In addition to the problems with the visual monitoring scale, the reliability of the irritability scale falls in the “questionable” range; the persistence measure lacked any reported validity, reliability, or norms; and the scale of behavior problems with the mother, abridged from a standard measure, had no measure of reliability or validity for the new instrument.

[25] 25 Linda Nielsen, Woozles: Their Role in Custody Law Reform, Parenting Plans, and Family Court, 20 PSYCHOL., PUB. POL’Y. & L. 164 (2014).

[26] 26 Jennifer E. McIntosh, Bruce M. Smyth & Margaret A. Kelaher, Responding to Concerns About a Study of Infant Overnight Care Postseparation, with Comments on Consensus: Reply to Warshak (2014), 21 PSYCHOL., PUB. POL’Y. & L. 111, 116 (2015).

[27] 27 Warshak et al., supra note 11, at 55, FN 1.

[28] 28 AMY M. WETHERBY & BARRY M. PRIZANT, COMMUNICATION AND SYMBOLIC BEHAVIOR SCALES DEVELOPMENTAL PROFILE- PRELIMINARY NORMED EDITION (2001).

[29] 29 See Warshak et al., supra note 11, at 54. See also, e.g., Paul Millar & Edward Kruk, Maternal Attachment, Paternal Overnight Contact, and Very Young Children’s Adjustment: Comment on Tornello et al. (2013), 76 J. MARRIAGE & FAM. 232 (2014); Nielsen, Woozles, supra note 25, at 170; Marsha Kline Pruett, Carolyn P. Cowan, Philip A. Cowan, Lisa Pradham, Sarah Robins, & Kyle D. Pruett, Supporting Father Involvement in the Context of Separation and Divorce, in PARENTING PLAN EVALUATIONS (2ND ED.), supra note 21, at 85, 102; Marinus H. van IJzendoorn et al., Assessing Attachment Security With the Attachment Q Sort: Meta-analytic Evidence for the Validity of the Observer AQS, 75 CHILD. DEV. 1188 (2004); Everett Waters, Assessing Secure Base Behavior and Attachment Security Using the Q-sort Method. Stony Brook University, State University of New York (2013), available at http://www.psychology.sunysb.edu/attachment/measures/content/aqs_method.html2013 .

[30] Sangita Pudasainee-Kapri & Rachel Razza, Attachment security among toddlers: The impacts of co-parenting and father engagement. Fragile Families Working Paper WP13- 01-FF, pp. 29, 48, and 51 (2013), available at http://crcw.princeton.edu/publications/ publications.asp (stating: [B]ecause the AQS is not an objective assessment of parent-child attachment, it is possible that the mothers’ tendencies toward socially desirable responses may have resulted in higher levels of reported attachment security.”). This may account for the fact that all the groups of children rated by their mothers in the Tornello et al. study had lower percents of insecure attachment than what would be expected for these children who were living in poverty with poorly educated mothers.

[31]  Fariss Samarrai (2013, July). Overnights Away From Home Affect Children’s Attachments, Study Shows. UVA Today News Release (July 18, 2013), available at https://news.virginia.edu/content/overnights-away-home-affect-children-s-attachmentsstudy-shows . Also, there were no significant links between overnights between the ages of 1 and 3 and attachment.

[32]  See William V. Fabricius, Karina R. Sokol, Priscilla Diaz & Sanford L. Braver, Father–Child Relationship: The Missing Link Between Parenting Time and Children’s Mental and Physical Health, in PARENTING PLAN EVALUATIONS (2ND ED.), supra note 21, at 74, 81 (“Ambiguous U-shaped patterns emerged in both studies, in which the ‘no overnights’ group did not differ from the ‘frequent overnights’ group (suggesting that frequent overnights were not harmful), but the “some overnights” group showed fewer negative child outcomes than the ‘frequent’ group (suggesting they were). It is unclear how to interpret these U-shaped patterns. More clarity might have been achieved by not grouping all families into a few categories, but instead testing for linear relations between overnights and outcomes.”). Sokol, infra text accompanying note 59, conducted a test for linear relations in the Tornello et al. data and found no correlation in these data between the absolute number of overnights with father and insecurity with mother.

[33]  See, e.g., Fabricius et al., supra note 32, at 81; Michael E. Lamb, Critical Analysis of Research on Parenting Plans and Children’s Well-Being, in PARENTING PLAN EVALUATIONS (2ND ED.), supra note 21, at 182.

[34]  McLanahan, supra note 17.

[35]  Smyth et al., supra note 21, at 153.

[36]  See, e.g., Judy Cashmore & Patrick Parkinson, Parenting Arrangements for Young Children: Messages from Research, 25 AUSTL. J. FAM. L. 236 (2011); Lamb, supra note 9; Pamela S. Ludolph & Milfred D. Dale, Attachment in Child Custody: An Additive Factor, Not a Determinative One, 46 FAM. L. Q. 1 (2012); Linda Nielsen, Shared Residential Custody: A Recent Research Review (Part Two), 27 AM. J. FAM. L. 123 (2013); Linda Nielsen, Parenting Plans for Infants, Toddlers, and Pre-schoolers: Research and Issues, 55 J. DIV. & REMARRIAGE 315 (2014); Nielsen, Woozles, supra note 25; Patrick Parkinson & Judy Cashmore, Parenting Arrangements for Young Children: A Reply to Smyth, McIntosh and Kelaher, 25 AUSTL. J. FAM. L. 284  (2011); Richard A. Warshak, Securing Children’s Best Interests While Resisting the Lure of Simple Solutions, 56 J. DIV. & REMARRIAGE 57 (2015).

[37]  For extensive evidence about the impact of the McIntosh et al. study on custody policy, recommendations, and decisions, see Linda Nielsen, Pop Goes the Woozle: Being Misled by Research on Child Custody and Parenting Plans, 56 J. DIV. & REMARRIAGE 595 (2015), and Nielsen, supra note 25.

[38]  The consensus report cited a 2011 keynote address by Martindale as an example of support for this position, however in a personal communication Martindale clarified that in using the phrase “joint custody” he was referring to shared decision-making authority and not shared physical custody arrangements. Nevertheless, others have discounted the relevance of shared physical custody research for parents in conflict. See, e.g., Smyth et al., supra note 21, at 118

[39] 39 ELEANOR MACCOBY & ROBERT MNOOKIN, DIVIDING THE CHILD (1992).

[40] 40 Eleanor E. Maccoby et al., Postdivorce Roles of Mother and Fathers in the Lives of Their Children, 7 J. FAM. PSYCHOL. 24, 34–35 (1993).

[41] 41 William V. Fabricius, Karina R. Sokol, Priscilla Diaz & Sanford L. Braver, Parenting Time, Parent Conflict, Parent–Child Relationships, and Children’s Physical Health, in PARENTING PLAN EVALUATIONS: APPLIED RESEARCH FOR THE FAMILY COURT 188, 200 (Kathryn Kuehnle & Leslie Drozd eds, 2012) (drawing on data from the Stanford Child Custody Study (data set now available at http://www.socio.com/srch/summary/afda/fam25–27.htm )).

[42] 42 E.g., Marygold S. Melli & Patricia R. Brown, Exploring a New Family Form—The Shared Time Family, 22 INT’L J. L., POL’Y AND THE FAM. 231 (2008). For comprehensive reviews and analyses of the research literature on shared time arrangements and parental conflict, see Linda Nielsen, Shared Residential Custody: Recent Research Review (Part One), 27 AM. J. FAM. L. 61 (2013) and Linda Nielsen, The Conflict About Conflict: Re-examining the Research on Parental Conflict and Child Custody (in preparation).

[43] 43 Robert Bauserman, Child Adjustment in Joint-Custody Versus Sole-Custody Arrangements: A Meta-Analytic Review, 16 J. FAM. PSYCHOL. 91, 99 (2002).

[44]  Fabicius et al., supra note 41.

[45] Rae Kaspiew et al. Evaluation of the 2006 Family Law Reforms Melbourne: Australian Inst. Fam. Stud. (2009) available at https://aifs.gov.au/sites/default/files/publicationdocuments/evaluationreport.pdf .

[46] 46 SANFORD L. BRAVER & DIANE O’CONNELL, DIVORCED DADS: SHATTERING THE MYTHS (1998); William V. Fabricius, Sanford L. Braver, Priscila Diaz & Clorinda E. Velez, Custody and Parenting Time: Links to Family Relationships and Well-Being After Divorce, in THE ROLE OF THE FATHER IN CHILD DEVELOPMENT 201 (Michael E. Lamb, ed., 5th ed. 2010); Fabricius et al., supra note 41; Marjorie Lindner Gunnoe & Sanford L. Braver, The Effects of Joint Legal Custody on Mothers, Fathers, and Children Controlling for Factors that Predispose a Sole Material Versus Joint Legal Award, 25 LAW & HUM. BEHAV. 25 (2001); Irwin Sandler, Jonathan Miles, Jeffrey Cookston, & Sanford Braver, Effects of Father and Mother Parenting on Children’s Mental Health in High- and Low-Conflict Divorces, 46 FAM. CT. REV. 282 (2008). See also Irwin N. Sandler, Lorey A. Wheeler & Sanford L. Braver, Relations of Parenting Quality, Interparental Conflict, and Overnights With Mental Health Problems of Children in Divorcing Families With High Legal Conflict, 27 J. FAM. PSYCHOL. 915, 921 (2013) (noting that in their study of high conflict divorces, positive parenting by fathers was associated with children’s better mental health when the children spent an average of approximately 12-21 overnights per month with their fathers, but not when the average number of overnights was 2.61 per month). It is important to note, however, that as with most research on the impact of divorcing parents’ conflict on child adjustment Sandler et al. studied older children and not children younger than four years.

[47]  See Kelly, supra note 7, at 14 (citing ROBERT E. EMERY, THE TRUTH ABOUT CHILDREN AND DIVORCE: DEALING WITH EMOTIONS SO YOU AND YOUR CHILDREN CAN THRIVE (2004) “Some authors (e.g., Emery, 2004) have recommended that when the co-parental relationship is highly conflicted that children’s time with one of the parents should be restricted as a way of reducing the impact of conflict on the children. Since mothers are most often the ‘primary’ parent and the fathers the non-resident parents, such a recommendation is likely to disproportionately reduce father-child time. It also ignores the reality that mothers are just as often impaired in their functioning and are as hostile as fathers, but nevertheless are designated the primary residential parent. Relying on more current research, others have argued that this broad policy recommendation will deny children adequate time with supportive, competent fathers. The Emery proposal does not differentiate the type of conflict, consider whether the child is exposed to the conflict, identify the parent primarily fueling the conflict, and consider the parenting skills and mental health of each parent. Moreover, such a recommendation ignores the fact that the majority of parents with high conflict after separation substantially diminish their conflict in the first and second year after final court orders (citations omitted).”

[48]  See Joan B. Kelly, Risk and Protective Factors Associated with Child and Adolescent Adjustment Following Separation and Divorce: Social Science Applications, in PARENTING PLAN EVALUATIONS, supra note 41, at 49; Richard A. Warshak, Parenting by the Clock: The Best Interests of the Child Standard, Judicial Discretion, and the American Law Institute’s “Approximation Rule,” 41 U. BALT. L. REV. 83 (2011).

[49] See, e.g., Benjamin D. Garber, Security by Association? Mapping Attachment Theory Onto Family Law Practice, 50 FAM. CT. REV. 467 (2012). See also Kelly, supra note 7.

[50] Warshak, supra note 48, at 97

[51] See, e.g., Sanford L. Braver, The Costs and Pitfalls of Individualizing Decisions and Incentivizing Conflict: A Comment on AFCC’s Think Tank Report on Shared Parenting, 52 FAM. CT REV. 175, 178 (2014) (stating: “What policy will instead deincentivize conflict? One, for example, is eliminating the blanket opportunity for one parent to unilaterally veto shared custody.”).

[52] See Joan B. Kelly, Parents with Enduring Child Disputes: Multiple Pathways to Enduring Disputes, 9 J. FAM. STUD. 37 (2003); Kelly, supra note 7.

[53]  See, e.g., Michael E. Friedman, The So-Called High-Conflict Couple: A Closer Look, 32 AM. J. FAM. THERAPY 107 (2004); Kelly (2003) supra note 52; Kelly, supra note 48; Joan B. Kelly & Robert E. Emery, Children’s Adjustment Following Divorce: Risk and Resilience Perspectives, 52 FAM. CT. REV. 352, 353 (2003) (noting: “[I]t is not uncommon to find one enraged or defiant parent and a second parent who no longer harbors anger, has emotionally disengaged, and attempts to avoid or mute conflict that involves the child.”); Warshak, supra note 36, at 70.

[54]  See generally HETHERINGTON & KELLY, supra note 1); Kelly, supra note 48, at 59. See also Richard A. Warshak, Ten Parental Alienation Fallacies That Compromise Decisions in Court and in Therapy, 46 PROF. PSYCHOL.: RES. & PRAC. 235, 241-243 (2015); Richard A. Warshak, Parental Alienation: Overview, Management, Intervention, and Practice Tips, 28 J. AM. ACAD. MATRIM. LAW. 181 (2015).

[55] Warshak et al., supra note 11, at 57.

[56]  Mary Main, Erik Hesse & Siegfried Hesse, Attachment Theory and Research: Overview with Suggested Applications to Child Custody, 49 FAM. CT. REV. 426, 447 (2011).

[57]  Warshak et al., supra note 11, at 58-60.

[58] Warshak et al., supra note 11, at 46.

[59]  Karina Sokol, Short-term Correlates of Overnight Parenting Time for Infants: The Current Literature and Re-analyses. Address at the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts Annual Conference (May 31, 2014). Sokol’s study was presented at a professional conference and the results have not yet appeared in a peer-reviewed journal article. In using the absolute number of overnights, rather than categories of overnight frequency, Sokol avoided potential problems in Tornello et al.’s methodology which grouped together infants who spent one overnight per week with their fathers with those who lived primarily with their fathers (up to five nights per week). Tornello’s group analyses apparently obscured differences in mother-custody versus father-custody families that affect the results. Note that the composition of the sample and the problems with the attachment measure reported by Tornello et al. (discussed supra text accompanying notes 17, 29, and 34) equally limit the conclusions that can be drawn from Sokol’s study and its relevance to most separating parents.

[60]  William Fabricius, New Findings on Relocation and Infant Overnights. Address at the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts–Texas Chapter Annual Conference (Jan. 23, 2015). Although Fabricius presented this study at two professional conferences, because data is still being collected, the results should be considered preliminary until they appear in a peer-reviewed journal article.

[61] Responding to concerns raised by results reported by McIntosh et al., supra note 12 and by Tornello et al., supra note 13 Fabricius states, supra note 60, at 50, “The infant wheezing, and early communication bids to the mother [3-question visual monitoring scale], and self-reports by the mother of her infants’ attachment behaviors toward her are apparently not deserving of too much concern.”

[62] Fabricius, supra note 60, at 50.

[63] Id., at 50

[64] Id., at 52.

[65] Id., at 58.

[66]  Joan B. Kelly, supra note 7, at 11 (referring to the consensus report’s “in-depth analysis of 16 shared parenting studies.”) Dr. Kelly, a prominent authority on divorce, also co-authored an earlier article on overnights with McIntosh. It is noteworthy that Kelly’s analysis of the literature, supra, at 9, agreed with Warshak et al., supra note 11, on the important issue of whether young children develop an attachment hierarchy in which mothers are predominant: “Consistent with other recent studies, there was no support for the primacy of the mother as an attachment figure in predicting future outcomes. Nor was there support for the belief that infants and toddlers have a gender bias in attachment formation or develop an attachment hierarchy in which mothers are consistently preferred.”

[67]  Lamb, supra note 33, at 180.

[68]  Id., at 192.

[69]  McIntosh et al., supra note 26, at 116.

[70]  Smyth et al., supra note 21,at 153.

[71] McIntosh et al., supra note 26, at 113.

[72]  McIntosh et al., supra note 26, at 113 (“One standard approach to assessing the veracity and reliability of findings is in their replication. Recently, Tornello and colleagues conducted an investigation similar to ours, using a large U.S. sample of children. They replicated many of the Australian findings. Specifically, they found: . . . (b) ‘frequent infant overnights were significantly related to attachment insecurity assessed at age 3’. . . ” (citations omitted)). Yet McIntosh et al., id., at 112, state clearly that their study did not measure attachment (“Our study, however, was not a study of attachment.” And, “We did not, and could not examine attachment, simply because attachment data were not part of the longitudinal dataset we employed, namely the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children.”) See also Smyth et al., supra note 21, at 153 (referring to findings from McIntosh et al., supra note 12, and Tornello et al., supra note 13, as “replicated findings for infants” thus repeating the error of identifying outcomes from the two studies as “replicated findings” when in fact they are not.).

[73]  Sokol, supra note 59.

[74]  McIntosh et al., supra note 26, at 118.

[75]  Pruett et al., supra note 29, at 97.

[76]  Marsha Kline Pruett, Jennifer E. McIntosh, and Joan B. Kelly, Parental Separation and Overnight Care of Young Children, Part I: Consensus Through Theoretical and Empirical Integration, 52 FAM. CT. REV. 240, 250 (2014).

[77]  Id. at 240, emphasis added.

[78]  Warshak et al., supra note 11, at 57.

[79] See, e.g., Kelly, supra note 7, at 15 (stating: “Rather than restricting appropriate father-child relationships, other interventions and remedies designed to reduce high conflict should be universally available and provided soon after separation.”). For a similar view see Nicole E. Mahrer, Irwin N. Sandler, Sharlene A. Wolchik, Emily B. Winslow, John A. Moran, & David Weinstock, How Do Parenting Time and Interparental Conflict Affect the Relations of Quality of Parenting and Child Well-Being Following Divorce?, in PARENTING PLAN EVALUATIONS (2ND ED.), supra note 21, at 63, 70 (2016) who, based on their  understanding of the literature and on Sandler, Wheeler, & Braver’s study, supra note 46, state that “although high quality parenting does not negate the pathological effects of inter-parental conflict on children’s well-being, high quality parenting by either parent can be a protective factor when parents have moderate or greater levels of contact.” Mahrer et al. conclude, supra at 63, “Recommendations should not decrement parenting time of parents with good quality relationships or the potential for good quality relationships with their children because of a high level of interpersonal conflict between the parents.”

[80]  This tool is called “Charting Overnight Decisions for Infants and Toddlers (CODIT)” and is available at http://childrenbeyonddispute.com/resources-for-parents/.

[81]  Id., at 4.

[82]  Pruett et al., supra note 29, at 97

[83]  Pruett et al., supra note 29, at 96.

[84]  Supra text accompanying notes 46-51.

[85]  Braver, supra note 51, at 178.

[86]  See, e.g., Kelly, supra note 7, at 15 (stating: “Rather than restricting appropriate father-child relationships, other interventions and remedies designed to reduce high conflict should be universally available and provided soon after separation.”). Also see supra text accompanying note 55.

[87] 87 See, e.g., Warshak, supra note 48 (supporting a multi-factored best-interest standard). See also, Warshak, Parental Alienation, supra note 54, at 218-222 (describing the rationale for courts to find it in children’s best interests to reduce their time with a parent who denigrates the other parent to the child, encourages the child to reject the other parent, interferes with the court-ordering parenting plan, and in other ways acts as a restrictive gatekeeper). This position is consistent with Pruett’s position on gatekeeping: William G. Austin, Linda Fieldstone, & Marsha Kline Pruett, Bench Book for Assessing Parental Gatekeeping in Parenting Disputes: Understanding the Dynamics of Gate Closing and Opening for the Best Interests of Children, 10 J. CHILD CUSTODY 1, 12 (2013) (“Limiting time with the parent exerting unjustified RG [restrictive gatekeeping] may be a consideration, especially when all else fails.).

[88]  Warshak et al., supra note 11, at 58

[89] Id., at 57, emphasis added.

[90]  90 Id., at 60. The importance of a pre-existing parent-child relationship when crafting a parenting plan than includes overnights is generally recognized in the literature. See, e.g. Ludolph & Dale, supra note 36, at 33: “In regard to overnights in particular, there are no compelling empirical or theoretical reasons to believe that overnight parenting time in itself will create difficulties for a young child who has experienced a meaningful relationship with the noncustodial parent before the parental separation.”

[91]  See, e.g., Austin et al., supra note 87, at 12.

[92] 92 Sanford L. Braver, Ira M. Ellman, Ashley M. Votruba, & William V. Fabricius, Lay Judgments About Child Custody After Divorce, 17 PSYCHOL., PUB. POL’Y. & L. 212 (2011). See also Braver, supra note 51, at 178 (noting that such a policy would decrease incentive to promote conflict and instead “would make it worth-while for the angry parent to bury the hatchet.”).

[93] See supra text accompanying note 55.

[94]  Pruett et al., supra note 29, at 97.

[95]  McIntosh et al., supra note 26, at 111 and 117.

[96] 96 See supra text accompanying notes 55 and 57, for the full text of the consensus report’s conclusions and recommendations. Note that these consensus opinions include multiple references to the evidence discussed in the report and to the accuracy and validity of the literature review that preceded the section titled “Conclusions and Recommendations.” Following are some excerpts of such references in the statement endorsed by the 110 researchers and practitioners (all emphases added to highlight references to the research and to the evidence): “Research allays such concerns. . . . The research reviewed earlier on parenting time in intact families shows . . . . Combined with the day-care studies, this research should put to rest the idea that children are inevitably harmed by extended separations from their mothers. . . . The results of the 16 studies relevant to parenting plans generally support rather than oppose shared parenting and overnights for young children. But predominantly the studies show little direct impact of overnights in the short run. The three studies that often are cited as evidence for the harmful effects of greater father involvement with young children actually found mixed or ambiguous results perhaps because the measures used were inadequate by scientific standards. . . . The research on children being raised by parents who live apart from each other, in the larger context of scientific knowledge about the factors that foster optimal child development and the formation and maintenance of healthy parent–child relationships, offers guidelines that should inform decision makers and those who assist them, such as parents, mediators, child custody experts, lawyers, and judges.” (p. 58). And, “To the extent that policy and custody decisions seek to express scientific knowledge about child development, the analyses in this article should receive significant weight by legislators and decision makers. . . . . [W]e believe that the social science evidence on the development of healthy parent–child relationships, and the long-term benefits of healthy parent–child relationships, supports the view that shared parenting should be the norm for parenting plans for children of all ages, including very young children. . . . In general the results of the studies reviewed in this document are favorable to parenting plans that more evenly balance young children’s time between two homes. Child developmental theory and data show that babies normally form attachments to both parents and that a parent’s absence for long periods of time jeopardizes the security of these attachments. Evidence regarding the amount of parenting time in intact families and regarding the impact of day-care demonstrates that spending half time with infants and toddlers is more than sufficient to support children’s needs. Thus, to maximize children’s chances of having a good and secure relationship with each parent, we encourage both parents to maximize the time they spend with their children. . . . Research on children’s overnights with fathers favors allowing children under four to be cared for at night by each parent rather than spending every night in the same home.” (p. 59) And, “The research supports the growing trend of statutory law and case law that encourages maximizing children’s time with both parents. This may be even more important for young children in order to lay a strong foundation for their relationships with their fathers and to foster security in those relationships . . . .There is no evidence to support postponing the introduction of regular and frequent involvement, including overnights, of both parents with their babies and toddlers. . . . Rather it is our conviction that our analyses meet the test of scientific validity and reliability, and thus are trustworthy in the legal sphere. (p. 60).

[97]  Lamb et al., supra note 2.

[98]  Warshak et al., supra note 11.

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Taking the Purple path

Taking the Purple path

Based on an article by Marilyn Barr, Founder / Executive Director National Center on Shaken Baby (NCSBS), Vancouver, British Columbia (Canada)

As if the world was not already drowning in acronyms and intoxicated to the point of stupefaction with them, we now have a new one – the P.U.R.P.L.E. period.

However, this acronym might prove vital for fathers in the battle with the likes of McIntosh and Emery whose dogma is opposed to shared parenting and fatherly involvement in child rearing in any shape or form. Patience will reveal more as we go through the A, B, C, of it.

PurpleLeft: Marilyn Barr

The acronym PURPLE is used to describe specific characteristics of an infant’s crying during an infant’s first 3 to 6 month of life. It is a condition that used to be described as “colic” which referred to a baby’s condition of being in discomfort without specifics, limited parameters or a definition.

When a baby is said to have “colic” it conveys, at first instance, the impression of an illness or a condition that is abnormal in some way. But this is no true. It is a natural ‘developmental’ stage in mammals. And while it may psychologically reassure worried parents when the doctor prescribes a ‘medicine’ it unfortunately plants the seed in their mind that this is indeed an illness, when it is not.

PurplePICThe most important thing to remember is that it is a transient condition and it is a “period” that is soon over. It cannot be emphasised enough that the word ‘period’ is important because it tells parents (and lawyers) that it is only temporary and will come to an end.

Why this is vital to you.

For some time past the advances made in shared parenting have encountered opposition from a rearguard that want to see the doctrine of ‘maternal attachment’ theory triumph over equality and parental rights. In other words they are a throw-back to the 1950s.

Foremost in this opposition are characters like Jennifer McIntosh and Robert Emery who have formed a vociferous and pernicious coterie of desperados.

So understanding the “Period of PURPLE”, i.e. when a baby is crying, will help counter the arguments of Messer’s McIntosh and Pruett’s ideology (see their CODIT sales pitch to influence care professionals “Charting Overnight Decisions for Infants and Toddlers” re: https://mensaid.wordpress.com/2016/05/24/23/ and Emery’s work URL ). A list of further reading around the subject and linkages between the bad guys, i.e. McIntosh, Pruett, Emery, Smyth etc., are contrasted with the good guys, e.g. Warshak, Nielsen, Lamb, Ludolph etc.

Just to clarify; McIntosh and Pruett created CODIT and have co-authored papers. They want to put distance between fathers and their children. McIntosh is linked to Emery because of their two studies Smyth, McIntosh, Emery, Howarth (2016). The aforesaid authors also want to put distance between fathers and their children. Samantha Tornello is linked to Emery through “Overnight Custody Arrangements, Attachment, and Adjustment among Very Young Children” (2013). Emery, McIntosh et al., 2013, 2012 (and 2011) plus Tornello et al., 2013, all share the same view point. So although Emery and the others are not directly linked to CODIT the thrust of their writing coincides with that of McIntosh and Pruett and so by implication the other authors share the same opinions as McIntosh. This joint enterprise in aided and abetted by close connections with the journal Family Court Review, the AFCC’s journal, and for which some act as editors or have had a beneficial capacity bestowed on them.

Someone who has probably undertaken more studies on infant crying and analysed the causes is Dr. Ronald Barr, a developmental pediatrician. It was he that came up with the phrase the Period of PURPLE Crying.

Crying is one of the ways to help a parent understand their baby’s life and needs. This is, it must be emphasised, now recognised as a normal developmental phase. That is why it is referred to as the ‘Period of PURPLE Crying’. This is not, we should hasten to add, because the baby turns purple while crying. Not a bit of it. It is that the acronym is intended to be meaningful and memorable for what parents and their babies are going through. It can reach a peak; it is unexpected; it resists soothing, etc. and so forth.

The linkage with Jennifer McIntosh and Marsha Pruett is that they argue that their CODIT checklist for overnighting that babies being “irritable” and not easily soothed especially at parental swop over times. This, they assert, is a sign of stress that should, indeed must, be considered in limiting the father’s overnighting time with babies and toddlers under 4 years of age. The effect is to negate the progress made universally of allowing fathers to spend more time with their children and reverting custody decisions to the hopeless position they were 10 years ago. This unsound message is being spread to child care professionals and court official (including judges) and whoever else will give them an audience.

Breast feeding animals

The Period of PURPLE Crying begins at about 2 weeks of age and can continue until about 3 – 4 months of age. There are other common characteristics of this phase, or period, which are described in the above graphic of PURPLE. All babies go through this period. It is during this time that some babies can cry a lot and some far less, but they all go through it.

Scientists decided to look at different animal species to see if they go through this developmental stage. So far, all breast feeding animals tested do have a similar developmental stage of crying more in the first months of life as human babies do.

When babies are going through this period they display a resistance to soothing. Nothing appears to help. Even though certain soothing methods may help when the baby is simply fussy or crying, however, bouts of inconsolable crying are different. Then nothing seems to soothe them.

During this phase of a baby’s life they can cry for hours and still be healthy and normal.

Parents often think there must be something wrong or they would not be crying like this. However, even after a check-up from the doctor which shows the baby is healthy they still go home and cry for hours, night after night. As one dad might say:

  • “It was so discouraging, our baby giggles and seems fine during the day and almost like clockwork, he starts crying around 6 pm. He is growing and healthy, so why does he cry like this ?”

Often parents say their baby looks like he or she is in pain. They think they must be, or why would they cry so much? Babies who are going through this period can act as if they are in pain even when they are not.

McIntosh and Pruett react in this uniformed way and have decided that it validates McIntosh’s study, and that of Robert Emery and that of Bruce Smyth. The only trouble is that they are all cut from the same block and all share the same ideological opinions regarding attachment theory. They observe a baby apparently in distress and conclude they need to devise a checklist to measure it hence their CODIT checklist. They then look for the cause and alight on and the nearest one to hand (and in their view the most obvious), namely the child’s very recent visit with the father and the break in maternal attachment. It all makes perfect sense to them.

 

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Further reading:

  1. ‘Why infants should not have ‘overnights’ with their Dad – Exactly what is the argument in favour of this?’ https://sharedparenting.wordpress.com/2016/05/17/60/
  2. ‘Robert Emery and Marsha Kline Pruett’ https://mensaid.wordpress.com/2016/04/30/22/
  3. ‘Emery calls a Crisis Committee’ (Researchers’ Roundtable), “Bending” Evidence for a Cause: Scholar-Advocacy Bias in Family Law https://sharedparenting.wordpress.com/2016/05/03/58b/
  4. ‘Dr. Richard Warshak – overnight care; what works?’ https://sharedparenting.wordpress.com/2014/02/20/40/
  5. ‘Social Science and Parenting Plans for Young Children: A Consensus Report’ https://sharedparenting.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/45/.
  6. ‘Shared Physical Custody: Summary of 40 Studies on Outcomes for Children’ https://sharedparenting.wordpress.com/2014/11/04/51/
  7. ‘Pamela Rudolph rejects McIntosh et al’ https://sharedparenting.wordpress.com/2016/05/06/59/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Oregon’s homophobic custody lobby

Is Oregon on the cusp on lurching into Homo~phobia ?

The history and importance of civil rights in the Americas seems to have gone unnoticed in Oregon. Its state officials are on the cusp of being seduced by a crack-pot set of notions peddled by snake oil medicine salesmen.

McIntosh and Pruett are the snake oil medicine men and their cure-all tonic, now being sold at Oregon’s family courts website, is something called ‘CODIT’. Their brand of snake oil would see a framework of fences surrounding every separated father wanting to be a part of his child’s early years.

Custody is always a hot button issue, so raising the spectre of an irrational fear of men (homo-phobia) and promoting it as a legitimate and justified fear only muddies the waters.

 CODIT puts back the evolution of fathers’ rights and of equality between the sexes to the 1950s and beyond. CODIT is the acronym forCharting Overnight Decisions for Infants and Toddlers” – a pseudo-science if ever there was one, and promoted by aspiring rather than experienced social scientists. Its advocates (McIntosh & Marsha Pruett, no surprise there), who insist it is based on research, backed by evidence, and grounded in good science (yes, of course, it is). The fact that no one else (certainly no one of any of repute), is willing to join them says nothing, does it ?

The incongruity is not lost on voters. At the exact time Bernie Sanders is reminding the young electorate of their forefathers struggle for emancipation, universal health care and equality, Oregon’s state court officials are blithely bent on dragging the state, kicking and screaming if needs be, into an era where mothers will once again have the monopoly of child care.

Here we are’, says Bernie to his audience, ‘celebrating and embracing equality for same-sex couples’ – and no one flinches. But mention fathers wanting equality and the shuttered minds of old style thinking take centre stage.

What are state officials supposed to do if the main recommendation and the only message they hear from McIntosh & Pruett’s presentation is to exercise “Caution” against overnighting (Item No. 6… p 20).

Those state officials who formed Oregon’s State Family Law Advisory Committee (SFLAC) and met on June 5, 2015 were:

  • Paula Brownhill: William J. Howe III; Stephen Adams; Hon. David Brewer; Colleen Carter-Cox; Ryan Carty; Dr. Adam Furchner; Laurie Hart; Linda Hukari; Lauren MacNeill; Kate Cooper; Maureen McKnight; Rebecca Orf; Keith Raines; Richardson; and Robin Selig.

For some reason, better known perhaps to God than the public, Messer’s McIntosh & Pruett want separated fathers to jump through hoops that they have unbiasedly (?) devised before they can share (or even think about sharing) in the raising of their own children. The focus is children aged under 3, and especially 0 – 12 months old, which Pruett, McIntosh, & Kelly see, in their joint papers of 2013 and 2014, as particularly vulnerable to every fathers’ evil machinations (see ‘Parental separation and overnight care of young children’, Part I & II, McIntosh, Pruett & Kelly, 2014). It remains unclear whether Kelly, who is named as a joint author in the Oregon presentation is even aware of her name being used in this joint enterprise since she has recently retired and her past record in such matters is at variance with the discriminatory stance adopted by McIntosh. Someone may soon have to draw her attention to this development and allow her to disavow any connection.

Re-cycling more psycho-babble

However, Messer’s McIntosh, Pruett, have machinations of their own. Since 2011 when they upset their profession by their rather slapdash research, they have majored on the 0 years to 3 year old child. Their 2014 paper echoed the same theme. However, in a version published in April 2014 issue of the Family Court Review they quietly convert the 3 year old, i.e. 36 months, boundary into 48 months on the pretext that this is “In line with the available research specific to separated parents and overnight care” which, of course, is an untruth.

It is untrue because there is no credible empirical data showing that overnight / sleepovers have a negative impact on 48 month old children – or 36 month old children for that matter.

The justification for their approach to fathers is one of pretending to safeguard children’s safety and best interests. The only problem with their new ‘systemised’ approach is that it is undecipherable to the uninitiated – which, of course, makes it a potential cash cow if the programme can be sold to enough municipalities. And indeed McIntosh is already selling it through her counselling centre’s website as one of her on-line courses.

The duo frame the dilemma faced as an “either or” issue between the research backing attachment theory and that research backing shared parenting. There is no evidence in anyone else’s writings of pitting these two factors against each other and by claiming there are points where the “two strands of development are  . . .  overlapping and inextricably related” is as protective as a fig leaf. It deflects from the real issue which is, “Should infants have overnight stays with their Dad or not (since the implied assumption is that this would interfere with attachment to Mom) ?

Their plans need to face public scrutiny – and the scrutiny of their peers who need to critique this CODIT which has never been peer approved – rather than be confined to a sales pitch behind closed doors. Below is how they see their method working through layers called ‘Levels’ and where each Level has ‘Gateways’ and where each Gateway has obstructing ‘factors’ to be taken into account:-

pruett1The hoops are euphemistically termed “Gateway Factors”. Aspirant practitioners of their newly invented methods will have to pay the Cartel to be trained in how to read and implement the snake oil psycho-babble. This is vital because anywhere beyond Gateway Factor 1 and 2 and the would-be practitioner would have to know how to recognise not only whether “The child has significant developmental or medical needs” but what is defined as such by their authors.

Even were we to focus merely on Factor 1 and 2 the regime is so incestuous in its supporting evidence that one is left at a loss to explain or rationalise the “absent”, “emerging” or “present” columns (see above).

How many times have we experienced a wonderfully thought out system that work well with skilled staff and brings real benefits only for it to fall apart when rolled out and staff skill levels fall ? This is not wonderfully thought out, nor is it an enviable or reliable system. Manifestly, this will have to be operated by those in social services who are expected to be competent in medical diagnosis and psychological matters. That’s as tall order.

It self-evident that McIntosh & Pruett are instead relying on a quasi-tick box approach, with coloured coding (to help the impaired, one wonders ?).

The grid from the latter paper has been adapted here for easier use, and a chart has been added, to assist considerations.

Their prime motives are betrayed from the sub-text which makes it plain that this whole regime is designed for that 5% of parents who are violent or are irreconcilable when it asks:

oregon3

The unvarnished truth is that this is the hackneyed ploy to gum up the works used every time by alleged ‘reformers’ seeking to reform matters backwards. Their modus operandi is, let’s not think of the 95% or the 97% who are ‘good enough parents’, lets ignore that the immaculate can exist, and let’s instead drag everyone down to the lowest denominator and judge everyone on that basis.

Touch down and lock out

McIntosh & Pruett trumpet their CODIT regime as “  . .  . a simple way to consider key questions that helpfully inform decisions about overnight care for very young children (0-3 years) after parental separation.” However, this seems to infer some de-skilling and making it too simple implies untrained staff are about to be let loose.

It’s true that in the business world one always endeavours to make things, systems, and machinery “idiot-proof” but there are always plenty of candidates to thwart the sharpest and most experienced minds.

In contrast to these author-beginners – newbies – those in the commercial world have a mass of experience behind them (that’s why they’re paid the big bucks). Not only that but they stand to be sued if they get it wrong. One suspects McIntosh & Pruett cannot lay claim to 20 years of inventing and developing such “idiot-proof” machinery and have no concept of how ruinous strict liability can be.

Almost casually Pruett & McIntosh, claim that CODIT “. . . is based on a review of current developmental science” vis-a-vis a consensus about overnight decisions. The only problem is that it’s a consensus of two.  Joan Kelly who retired before McIntosh and Pruett created and released CODIT has written many articles on her own that would not support CODIT’s  premise or procedures. CODIT is not based on the real consensus of the Warshak paper which reflects the views of 110 world respected experts or on reviews of the research by other renown social scientists such as Michael Lamb.

The underlying criteria of the trio is pressing to achieve is a lock-out of other opinions which they excuse as “the need to achieve a coherent view.” If issues are as unresolved as they have made out elsewhere in their published work then there is no need to be a coherent view until those issues are unresolved (and having such little data doesn’t help). The one redeeming trait is that they do at least recognise that in the meantime decision made in family law carry significant and potentially enduring consequences for young children and their parents (where have they been for 30 years ?).

Elastic evidence

They would like us to believe that there is ‘controversy’ surrounding overnight stays for young children and that this in part stems from adherence to some ‘theoretical position’.  But the only ones seeking a controversy are the authors since they are finding their position difficult to sustain.

Infants prefer, the authors assert with little credible backing, proximity to one parent or the other at different ages, particularly in their first 18 months. They never mention ‘mothers’ but we all know that is what they mean. To back this up that cite only two studies and we are asked to accept this as established fact in all of the empirical studies on attachment.

Attachment theory is nothing if it is not about bonding with parents and as a result much emphasis is placed on “frequent” separations and “repeated” separations. These may appear to be one and the same but they can mean very different beasts in academia. Going to work in the morning a fathers might be said to be “frequently” separated whereas a mother or child expecting a fathers to return routinely but who does not, might be ‘repeatedly’ let down in separation terms. However, “frequent” and “repeated” are never defined. This goes to the heart of the debate – who is in charge of determining that one overnight stay with Dad a week is “frequent”? If the concern is the impact on the baby’s sense of security with the main care-givers due to frequent changes doesn’t this assume the baby is a conscious sentient being, capable of independent thought, which surely contradicts the attachment theory of utter dependency ?

From the attachment perspective, “frequent” separation refers to repeated absences occurring regularly, and concern focuses on the impact of frequent change on the baby’s security with main care-givers.

Return of the Red necks

Conveniently forgotten in their arrival at this rickety conclusion about sleeping over at a father’s home is the CDC data showing 99% of all child homicides in the 0 -12 month category as actually mother inflicted. Given this indisputable fact, why are mothers not forced by CODIT to face the hoops rather than fathers ?

The answer is simple; Messer’s McIntosh & Pruett are unreformed 1970 feminists. They want female privilege, not equality. They represent a faction of feminism that embraces 19th century Victorian values. They are as unreconstructed as any misogynistic redneck – the only trouble with this is that they have had enough experience in the field to get a literal or figurative ‘red neck’.

Immaturity wafts through their document. They want their questions to be asked and assessed for each infant-parent relationship. No one has told them yet that this is not even possible with divorces where the number of persons involved is 50% less (and often both parties agree to a separation). So what realistic hope have McIntosh & Pruett to get this project over the line ?

It is a false premise to believe that there is somehow “ . . . an implicit assumption that one parent’s gain is the other parent’s loss, and that the baby either wins or loses, as well.” Adopting attachment theory tactics will ensure one parent will always be the loser. But we should not exclusively focus on this but on the arguments made in everything one reads which are not about a simply parent’s gain or loss but about the infants’ losses/gains.

McIntosh & Pruett believe – and probably quite sincerely – that infants in the “most frequent” overnight group (one or more nights per week) were more irritable than the “less than weekly.” However, they fail to mention that those same children were no more irritable than infants from intact families – so why are the reporting their own findings in this erroneous way ?  The data did not show overnighting infants were very irritable or difficult babies. Doubtful claims are also made that:

  • “ . . .  children aged 2-3 years in the “most overnights” group (35% or more overnights between their parents), showed significantly lower persistence in play and learning than those in either of the lower contact groups, and more problematic behaviours.”

This ‘result’ was reached using a subjective “assessment” of the children’s readiness to learn language. This was another instance of the authors misleading the reader. They gave the impression that they were having “learning problems” when they were not. It was in fact a 5 item test that did not assess how easily distracted they were when playing by themselves, etc. and their scores were perfectly in the normal range. No mention is made that the frequently overnighting 3 year olds were actually better off when they were five – they had fewer behavioural problems.

Closer analysis finds them shooting themselves in the foot. Citing Tornello, Emery, Rowen, Potter, Ocker & Xu (2013), they claim data in the study analysed attachment and childhood adjustment data provided by mothers from a separated families sample of 1,023 one-year-olds and 1,547 three-year-olds who had contact with both parents. Large numbers look impressive but sadly for McIntosh & Pruett data came from only 51 mothers whose infants were “frequently” overnighting – and most of those infants were living with their father for more than half of the time.

Further analysis finds the claims by McIntosh et al (2010 & 2013) concerning a randomised general population database and Children aged 2-3 years in the “most overnights” group to be suspect. Ironically the problematic behaviours identified and referred to were only towards their mothers – and were the same behaviours reported by 50% of the 4,000 mothers in the

Their claim is therefore dangerously misleading and they failed to mention any of the far more serious limitations of this study – lack of validity for most of the measures, 60 – 90% of parents a). never-married or, b). cohabitees, and there was no clear link between overnighting on 5 of the 6 measures – only 11 infants who overnighted more than 5 nights a month etc.  There was no measurement of attachment, questionable measures of “emotional regulation” and having only 14 – 20 infants in the occasional overnights group is no where large enough to draw any worthwhile conclusions.

Depending as they did on much of the ‘Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study’ their claim that the data was representative of the population of 20 major inner US cities, is true nu once again dangerously misleading. McIntosh & Pruett concede that their sample consists of predominantly black, unmarried, low income mothers they are not “typical.” Instead, they represent the poor, minority population in those studies – not the population of the entire city.

They also reveal that 41% of children moved to an overnight plan in the intervening year before the follow-up – this means there can be no way to reliably assess the impact of overnighting on the “unsettled behaviour.

As if looking for support, the authors claim that “some variables studied showed no group effects” but it has been pointed out by others, it is not some but ‘most’ variables studied showed no group effects. They then misuse the paper by Solomon and George (1999) claiming it is ‘consistent’ with theirs.

The instructions on how to complete the CODIT ‘profile’ (a ‘checklist’ to you and me but maybe they see themselves as FBI agents ?), is to ‘work through the 8 factors’ and for the questions in each factor assign a value. Operatives of the regime are advised to circle the answer that is currently true for this child and family, as defined as follows:

  • Present (continually present/established)
  • Emerging (sometimes present)
  • Absent (rarely or never present).

Only in the latter stages, and as a codicil, do the authors admit their regime is nowhere near close to being a diagnostic instrument and so fallible as to be discarded when put under pressure.

“The CODIT is not a diagnostic instrument. The profile should not be used as the sole basis for decisions, nor override the discretion of parents who jointly elect to follow other schedules.”

Should someone be found to somehow and miraculously have all the diverse specialism this regime demands then at the finale practitioners are advised:

oregon2They say a sucker punch is always unexpected and the one that always lays you out. In boxing, a sucker punch is one thrown outside of the formalised rules of engagement. Even though Messer McIntosh, Marsha Pruett & Joan Kelly work to a disgraceful agenda, they nonetheless operate within the thin framework of family courts.

Death and brain tumours can be occasioned by sucker punches, so the public in Oregon must be alerted in no small way to the proximity of potentially malignant opponents in their community.

Make no mistake the stakes are high. Should their regime not reach its goal then built-in to their programme of Gateway Factors and Key Factors is the backstop of as yet undefined Further Factors to be added later.

The last word has to go to the authors who write that some children had not seen their fathers regularly in the intervening year, and for a few they had no prior contact. In other words the researchers themselves concluded that there was no significant link between overnighting per se and attachment.

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Shared Physical Custody – Nielsen Analyses 40 Studies

Shared Physical Custody: Summary of 40 Studies on ‘Outcomes’ for Children

By Linda Nielsen, Department of Education, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA  2014

 Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 55:614–636, 2014, Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC, ISSN: 1050-2556 print/1540-4811 online, DOI: 10.1080/10502556.2014.965578

( The now famous forty studies that have jeopardised so many reputations )

One of the most complex and compelling issues confronting policymakers, parents, and professionals involved in making custody decisions is this: What type of parenting plan is most beneficial for the children after their parents separate ?

More specifically, are the outcomes any better or worse for children who live with each parent at least 35% of the time compared to children who live primarily with their mother and spend less than 35% of the time living with their father ?

This article addresses this question by summarizing the 40 studies that have compared children in these two types of families during the past 25 years. Overall the children in shared parenting families had better outcomes on measures of emotional, behavioral, and psychological well-being, as well as better physical health and better relationships with their fathers and their mothers, benefits that remained even when there were high levels of conflict between their parents.

 KEYWORDS:  joint physical custody, parenting plans, shared parenting, shared residential custody. overnighting, sleepovers.  Sweden, Norway, Netherlands, Canada, Denmark, Australia, Britain, USA.

Shared physical custody, more commonly referred to as shared parenting or shared care, is the parenting arrangement in which children live nearly equally with each parent after their separation. As fathers have become more heavily involved in their children’s lives and as more mothers have resumed working full-time in the children’s preschool years, shared parenting has become more common worldwide. The majority of children still live with their mother and spend no more than every other weekend and perhaps a midweek evening visit with their father. But a change is clearly underway.

In Wisconsin, one-third of the parents who divorced in 2007 had a 50–50 shared parenting plan and one-fourth had a 25% time share (Bartfeld, 2011). Likewise, in 2008 in Washington State almost half of the children were living at least 35% with each parent in 4,354 parenting plans (George, 2008).

In Arizona, half of the parents who filed for divorce in 2002 shared the residential parenting time 20% to 32% and another 15% shared 33% to 50% of the time (Venohr & Kaunelis, 2008). It is especially noteworthy that in Wisconsin there are nearly as many infants and toddlers (42%) as there are 6- to 10-year-olds (46%) in shared parenting families for those couples who have separated in recent years (Bartfeld, 2011).

In other countries a similar trend has emerged. Rates of shared parenting have tripled in Belgium since 1990 from 9% to more than 30% (Sodermans, Vanassche, & Matthijs, 2013), have risen in Denmark and in the Netherlands to 20% (Spruijt & Duindam, 2010), and have increased to nearly 50% for parents who have recently separated in Sweden (Swedish Government, 2011).

The question, therefore, is not whether shared parenting families are on the rise. Clearly they are. The question is this: Are the children in these families any better or worse off than children living primarily with their mother and living less than 35% of the time with their father? Put more bluntly, is the inconvenience of living in two homes worth it? Fortunately, there are now 40 studies that have addressed this question. Throughout this article, the term shared parenting is used to refer to families where the children live with each parent at least 35% of the time and generally 50% of the time.

The term sole residence is used to refer to children who continue to see their fathers, but who live primarily or exclusively with their mothers. In the sole residence families, the exact amount of time that the children spent with their fathers was not designated. As noted in Table 1 (below), in 24 of the 40 studies, all of the shared parenting children lived 50% of the time with each parent. In the other 12 studies, the children lived with their fathers anywhere from 35% to 50% of the time. (NB. Table 1 is displayed here at the largest size possible. Apologies for any difficulties in legibility caused thereby).

LIMITATIONS  OF  THE  RESEARCH

Trying to determine what impact shared parenting has on children has been difficult for at least two reasons. First, children whose parents have higher incomes or have the least conflict might have the better outcomes after their parents separate, regardless of the parenting plan. So unless the study controls for income and level of conflict, this leaves open the possibility that it was not the shared parenting per se that made the difference. Unfortunately, only 16 of the 40 studies have included these controls, as noted in Table 1.

Still, even in those studies where income and conflict were not considered, it would be a mistake to presume that those two factors mattered more than the shared parenting because a number of studies have found no differences in income or conflict between sharing and non-sharing couples (Buchanan & Maccoby, 1996; Cashmore & Parkinson, 2010; Kline, Tschann, Johnston, & Wallerstein, 1989; Sodermans, Matthijs, & Spicewood, 2013).

Table 1. Outcomes for Children in Shared Parenting vs Sole Residence Families

40Studies

A second limitation is that the parents’ characteristics and marital status are not the same in all the studies – and those differences can affect the outcomes for children independent of the parenting plan. For example, the majority of parents in some studies were not married or living together when their children were born—a situation that often goes hand in hand with higher rates of poverty, incarceration, physical abuse, and substance abuse.

Along the same lines, some studies draw their conclusions from extremely small, non-random samples, whereas others have impressively large, random samples. As each study is presented, the unique characteristics of the sample and the samples sizes are noted.

A third limitation is that although most of the researchers used standardized instruments and valid procedures, others used measures that had no established validity or reliability. Sample sizes also varied greatly. Describing the methodological details and naming the many standardized tests used in each of the 40 studies is beyond the scope of this article. However, the limitations of each study and whether the data came from standardized measures will be briefly noted as a way of acknowledging that the findings from some studies merit more weight than others.

METHOD

The 40 studies were identified by searching the databases in PsycINFO and Social Science Research Index. The keywords used in the search were shared parenting, shared care, joint or shared physical custody, shared or dual residence, and parenting plans. Although 85% of the studies were published in peer-reviewed academic journals, the remainder were reported in government-sponsored reports. The findings of the studies were grouped into five broad categories of child well-being as presented in Table 1:

  1. academic or cognitive outcomes, which includes school grades and scores on tests of cognitive development such as language skills;
  2. emotional or psychological outcomes, which includes feeling depressed, anxious, or dissatisfied with their lives; (c) behavioral problems, which include aggression or delinquency, difficult or unmanageable behavior at home or school, hyperactivity, and drug or alcohol use;
  3. physical health and smoking, which also includes stress-related illnesses such as stomach aches and sleep disturbances; and
  4. quality of father–child relationships, which includes how well they communicate and how close they feel to one another.

Positive  Outcomes  for  Children  in  Shared  Parenting  Families

We begin by summarizing the positive outcomes in the shared parenting families. Twelve of the 40 studies included children under the age of 6, but only 3 of those 12 focused exclusively on children under the age of 5, which is why they are summarized separately.

U.S. STUDIES

Beginning with the oldest studies, the Stanford Custody Project collected data from 1,100 divorced families with 1,406 children randomly chosen from the county’s divorce records. At the end of 4 years, the 51 adolescents in

the shared parenting families made better grades, were less depressed, and were more well-adjusted behaviorally than the 355 adolescents who lived primarily with their mother. The data came from interviews with the adolescents, parents’ questionnaires, and a battery of standardized tests measuring depression, anxiety, substance use, antisocial behavior, truancy, cheating, and delinquency.

The shared parenting children were better off on these measures than the other children of divorce. The quality of the parent – child relationship and how often they felt caught between their parents was also assessed through interviews. The shared adolescents were less likely to be stressed by feeling the need to take care of their mother.

Moreover, having closer relationships with both parents seemed to offset the negative impact of the parents’ conflicts in those families where the conflict remained high. Importantly, this study controlled for parents’ educations, incomes, and levels of conflict; used standardized measures to assess the children’s well-being;

used a randomized sample; followed the children over a 4-year period; and gathered data from both parents and the children (Buchanan & Maccoby, 1996; Maccoby & Mnookin, 1992).

Five smaller studies conducted in the late 1980s and early 1990s also found equal or better outcomes for the shared children. The first study included 35 shared parenting and 58 sole residence children ages 3 to 11 with White, college-educated parents (Kline et al., 1989). Standardized tests were used to measure the parents’ anxiety and depression and the children’s social, emotional, and behavioral problems, in addition to clinicians’ observations of parent–child interactions.

Although there were no differences in the children’s social or behavioral adjustment scores, the shared children were better adjusted emotionally. Having a depressed mother, having parents in high conflict (which was similar in both types of families), or the child’s having a difficult temperament was more closely linked to the children’s well-being than was the parenting plan. In another study of similar size, 3 years after the divorce, the 62 shared parenting children were less depressed, less stressed, and less agitated than the 459 children in sole residence based on standardized tests completed by the mother about the child’s mental state and behavior.

Especially important is that all of the children had similar scores 3 years earlier when their parents divorced, suggesting that the shared parenting was indeed having a positive impact (Pearson & Thoennes, 1991). The other study by these same researchers should be viewed more speculatively because there were only 9 children in shared parenting families compared to 83 children living with their mothers.

Using a standardized child behavior checklist, the two groups of mothers reported no differences in their children’s depression, aggression, delinquency, or somatic complaints (Pearson & Thoennes, 1991). In another very small study with only 11 shared parenting families and 16 sole mother and 16 sole father families 4 years after divorce, the parents reported no differences in how well-adjusted the children were on standardized measures of their wellbeing and based on researchers’ interviews with the parents and the children (Luepnitz, 1991). In yet another study with small samples, high-conflict parents who had volunteered for free counseling to resolve their co-parenting issues reported, at the end of 1 year, the 13 shared children were better off in regard to stress, anxiety, behavioral problems, and adjustment than the 26 sole residence children.

Notably, the children whose parents needed the most intensive counseling at the outset to make the shared parenting work ended up faring as well as the children whose parents initially got along best. The data were derived from clinicians’ assessments of the children on standardized measures, interviews with both parents, and feedback from teachers and day care workers at the time of separation, then again at 6 months and 1 year. It is worth noting that the shared parenting children ranged in age from 1 to 10 and that in both types of families children under the age of 4 were better adjusted than the older children (Brotsky, Steinman, & Zemmelman, 1991).

In a larger study in Toronto that was based on the researchers’ non-standardized 114-item questionnaire, only one-third of the 201 parents in shared parenting families said their parenting plan worked out well from the outset. Despite this, at the end of 1 year, 91% of these parents said their children were happy and well-adjusted, compared to only 80% of the 194 couples without shared parenting plans (Irving & Benjamin, 1991).

Overall then, even though the sample sizes were small in these studies, the findings were consistent with the larger studies in regard to the benefits of shared parenting.

More recent studies with far larger samples that gathered data from both parents have reached similar conclusions. In a large, randomized sample in Wisconsin, the children in the 590 shared parenting families were less depressed, had fewer health problems and stress-related illnesses, and were more satisfied with their living arrangement than the children in the 590 sole residence families (Melli & Brown, 2008). The data came from both parents’ answers to a series of questions asked in telephone interviews. Ranging in age from 1 to 16, the shared parenting children were 30% less likely to have been left with babysitters or in day care. Nearly 90% of their fathers attended school events, compared to only 60% of the other fathers.

Almost 60% of the mothers said the fathers were very involved in making everyday decisions about their children’s lives. In fact 13% of the mothers wished the fathers were less involved. In a smaller study with 10- to 16-year-olds, the 207 shared children were more likely than the 272 in sole residence to have parents with authoritative parenting styles, which was linked to less anxiety and less depression as measured by standardized tests (Campana, Henderson, & Stolberg, 2008). In a very small study with 6- to 10-year-olds, the 20 children in shared parenting were no less aggressive and had no fewer behavioral problems according to the standardized tests than the 39 children in sole residence after controlling for parental conflict and the quality of the mother-child relationship. Because the mothers of the shared children said they had more physical and verbal conflict with the fathers than the sole residence mothers, this suggests that whatever benefits might have accrued from the shared parenting were erased by the higher conflict (Lee, 2002).

Studies with college-age children have also found better outcomes for those from shared parenting families. In the oldest study, the 30 U.S. college students from the shared parenting families reported having better relationships with both parents than the 201 who had lived with their mothers. In fact, they rated their relationships with their fathers higher than the students from intact families (Fabricius, 2003). Similarly, 105 Canadian students from shared parenting families gave their mothers higher ratings than the 102 students from intact families and rated their fathers almost as highly (Frank, 2007). In an even larger study, the 340 shared parenting students reported having closer relationships with their fathers than the 686 who had lived with their mothers. What was especially important was that the quality of their relationships was linked incrementally to how much overnight time (‘sleepovers’), the fathers and children had spent together.

That is, as the actual amount of overnight time (aka ‘sleepovers’), they spent together during adolescence increased from 1% up to 50%, the young adults’ positive ratings of their relationships with their fathers also increased. Even the worst relationships got higher ratings when the father and child had spent more time together during the teenage years (Fabricius, Sokol, Diaz, & Braver, 2012).

Similarly in a very small study, the 5 college students from shared parenting families reported better relationships with their fathers and felt that their parents were equal in terms of their authority compared to the other 22 students with divorced parents (Janning, Laney, & Collins, 2010). And, as was true in the studies with younger children,

75 young adults from shared parenting homes reported having fewer health problems and fewer stress-related illnesses than the other 140 students with divorced parents (Fabricius & Luecken, 2007). The young adults’ ratings of their relationships with their parents in all of these studies came from questionnaires created by the researchers.

INTERNATIONAL STUDIES

Studies from other countries have yielded similar results to those in the United States and Canada. The one British study (Smart, 2001) only had 21 children in shared parenting to compare to the 96 children living with their mothers, with children ranging from age 6 to 16. The study is methodologically weak because the researchers merely summarized their unstructured interviews with the children. Some children adapted well and appreciated

the benefits of living equally with both parents. Others felt stressed living in two homes, especially if the parents remarried, step-siblings lived with them, or the children had trouble keeping track of their things and schedules.

A fuller picture emerges from six studies that were conducted in Sweden, using national data from standardized tests and national surveys of drug and alcohol use. In the first study, 443 shared parenting children had more close friends and fewer problems making friends than the 2,920 children in sole residence, and were no different in regard to being aggressive or violent, using drugs, and drinking (Jablonska & Lindberg, 2007).

In the second, the 17,350 shared adolescents rated themselves higher on 7 of the 11 scales of well-being than the 34,452 in sole residence (Bergstrom et al., 2013). The shared children were better off in regard to their emotional, social, and psychological well-being, peer relationships and social acceptance, and physical health. Interestingly, too, the 15-year-olds were even more similar than the 12-year-olds to the 112,778 children living in intact families, suggesting either that the benefits might become more pronounced after several years or that older teenagers benefit even more than preteens.

More important still, the shared parenting teenagers felt the most comfortable talking to both of their parents. In the third study, the 270 shared adolescents fared better than the 801 in sole residence families in regard to smoking, having sex before the age of 15, getting drunk, cheating, lying, stealing, losing their tempers, fighting, bullying, and disobeying adults (Carlsund, Eriksson, Lefstedt, & Sellstrom, 2012). In the fourth study, the 888 shared children reported being more satisfied with their lives, feeling less depressed, and having fewer stress-related health problems. Importantly, after controlling for their parents’ incomes and educations, the shared children were not significantly different from the intact family children in regard to having stress-related health problems and feeling comfortable talking to their parents about things that bothered them (Carlsund et al., 2012). In the fifth study, the 225  children aged between 10- to 16-year-olds who lived equal time with each parent were less stressed than the 595 who lived primarily with one parent.

Trained interviewers administered a questionnaire to the children as well as interviewing both the parents and the children. Importantly, this study took account of parental conflict, socioeconomic status, and the quality of the parent-child relationship. Interestingly, too, regardless of family type, the amount of conflict that the parents reported was not linked to the amount of stress their children reported (Turunen, 2014).

Similar results have emerged in Norway and in the Netherlands. In the Norwegian study, although the 41 shared adolescents were no less likely to drink or use drugs than the 409 adolescents in sole residence, they were less likely to smoke, to be depressed, to engage in antisocial behavior, or to have low self-esteem. The study used standardized tests and controlled for the father’s educational level (Breivik & Olweus, 2006).

In the Netherlands, for 135 children aged 10 to 16, the shared girls were less depressed, less fearful, and less aggressive than the girls in the 250 sole residence families, as measured by standardized tests. There were no differences for the boys.

Moreover, both the boys and the girls in the sharing families reported being as close to their fathers as the children from intact families, even though the sharing parents had similar levels of conflict and the same socioeconomic status as the non-sharing parents (Spruijt & Duindam, 2010). Similarly in another study, the 405 shared adolescents rated their relationships with both parents higher than the 1,045 adolescents who lived with their mother, although they were no less likely to report feeling depressed (Vanassche, Sodermans, & Matthus, 2014). Using a standardized questionnaire with children age 4 to 16, the third study also found that the 966 shared children were better off than the 2,217 children who lived with their mother in regard to their pro-social behavior, hyperactivity, peer relationships, behavioral problems, and psychological problems. Importantly, this study controlled for parents’ incomes, levels of conflict, and how involved the father was with the children before the parents separated. Half of the positive impact was linked to the parents having higher incomes and less conflict in the sharing families and half to the shared parenting arrangement itself (Westphal & Monden, 2014).

The more positive outcomes for children in shared parenting families could be related to the possibility that their fathers might be more likely than other divorced fathers to have an authoritative parenting style—the style that has been associated with better outcomes for children in various types of families. The one shared parenting study that tested this hypothesis found this to be true. Nearly 40% of the 139 shared parenting children between the ages of 10 and 18 rated their fathers’ parenting as authoritative compared to 30% of the children in intact families and 22% of the 227 children who lived primarily with their mother. Interestingly, the shared parenting fathers were more authoritative (40%) than the fathers in married families (30%).

This might help to explain why the shared children had higher scores on a standardized test of self-esteem and reported being more satisfied with their lives than the sole residence children (Bastaits, Ponnet, & Mortelmans, 2014).

Turning to Australia, the largest study was based on data from a national 320 survey involving 1,235 children in shared care (the term used in Australia for shared parenting) and 6,435 children in primary care (Kaspiew et al., 2009).

Unlike all of the studies discussed so far, half of these parents were not married when their children were born. Notably, even though the two groups of parents were just as likely to say there had been violence between them, “children in shared care time arrangements seem to fare no worse than children in other care time arrangements where there has been a history of violence or where there is ongoing high conflict between the parents” (Kaspiew et al., 2009, p. 273). Importantly, even after accounting for parents’ levels of education and violence, the shared care children had marginally better outcomes on the behavioral and emotional measures according to their fathers, and had similar outcomes according to their mothers.

On the other hand, if the mothers were concerned about the safety of the children when they were with their fathers, they reported worse outcomes for the children in shared care. In three other Australian studies (Cashmore & Parkinson, 2010), shared care was again more advantageous based on data from standardized tests.In the first study, 84 shared care and 473 primary care children were assessed at ages 4 and 5 and then again 2 years later.

The shared care children were less hyperactive and had fewer social or academic problems than children in primary care. In the second study, the 90 shared care parents reported better outcomes for their children than the 411 primary care parents in regard to overall happiness, problems moving between homes, and the children’s relationships with their parents and their grandparents. Again though, those mothers who had concerns about their children’s safety in their father’s care reported worse outcomes for the children in shared care. In the third study, even though the 110 children in primary care and the 26 in shared care were equally satisfied with their living arrangement, more than 40% of the primary care children said they wanted more time with their father.

Smaller Australian studies confirm the findings from these larger studies. Four years after the parents separated, 42 young adolescents in a high-conflict, sometimes violent, non-random sample of shared parenting families were compared to 44 children living with their mothers. The shared care children said they felt caught in the middle of their parents’ conflicts more often—which is not surprising as the other children’s fathers had often disengaged or virtually disappeared from their lives. This might help explain why the shared children did not feel more stressed than the other children and why they had better relationships with their fathers. There were no differences in their mental health scores and the children who were hyperactive at the outset tended to remain that way over 4 years regardless of the parenting plan.

The researchers also cautioned that the findings should not be generalized because these children had far more mental health issues than the normal population (McIntosh, Smyth, Kelaher, & Wells, 2010). Another 105 adolescents living in shared care, compared to 398 living with their mother and 120 living with their father, reported having the best relationships with both parents, their step-parents, and their grandparents 2 years after their parents’ separation. They were no different on social adjustment and academic achievement. But they were much more likely than those in sole residence to confide in their fathers (80% vs. 45%) and to say they had a close relationship with him (97% vs. 65%; Lodge & Alexander, 2010).

In a smaller study with 10-year-olds, the 27 shared care children were reported by their mothers as being less hyperactive than the 40 children in primary care. The children reported being equally satisfied with either parenting plan, but the shared care parents reported being more satisfied and less stressed than the other divorced parents. The researchers suggested that being less stressed might have enabled the sharing parents to provide higher quality parenting that, in turn, helped reduce their children’s hyperactivity (Neoh & Mellor, 2010).

Only one shared parenting study has included children from different countries (Bjarnason, 2012; Bjarnason et al., 2010). These researchers analyzed data from 40 countries involving nearly 200,000 children: 148,177 in intact families, 25,578 in single-mother families, 3,125 in single-father families, 11,705 in mother–stepfather families, 1,561 in father–stepmother families, and 2,206 in shared parenting families. The data came from the World Health Organization’s national surveys of 11-, 13-, and 15-year-olds. Consistent with the studies already discussed, only 29% of the shared parenting children said it was difficult to talk to their fathers about things that really bothered them, compared to 43% of the children who lived with their single mother or with their mother and stepfather.

In fact, the children from shared families were somewhat less likely (29%) than those in intact families (31%) to have trouble talking to their fathers. What is especially important about this study is that, in all types of families, how satisfied the children felt with their lives was closely related to how well they felt they communicated with their fathers. In contrast, their satisfaction was not related to how well they believed their family was doing financially. Because the shared parenting children felt they communicated best with their fathers, they were the most satisfied with their lives, regardless of the family’s financial situation.

Unfortunately, daughters were twice as likely as sons to say it was hard to talk to their fathers about things that were worrying them, regardless of family type.

In that vein, another question is whether girls benefit any more or any less than boys do from shared parenting. Girls’ relationships with their fathers are generally more damaged by their parents’ divorce or separation than boys’ relationships (Nielsen, 2011, 2012). Given this, we might ask: Do girls benefit more than boys from living with their fathers at least 35% of the time after the parents separate? According to several studies, the answer is yes.

Although adolescent girls felt more caught in the middle of their parents’ arguments than the boys did, the girls in shared parenting felt closer to their fathers and felt less need to take care of their mothers than the girls in sole residence (Buchanan & Maccoby, 1996). This suggests that even though girls tend to get more embroiled in their parents’ problems, living with their fathers helps to offset the damage this would otherwise do to the father – daughter relationship. Likewise, unlike the boys, adolescent Dutch girls in shared parenting families were less depressed, less fearful, and less aggressive than the girls who lived with their mothers, even though they saw their fathers regularly (Spruijt & Duindam, 2010).

Even for 3- to 5-year-olds in shared parenting, the girls were better adjusted than the boys (Kline et al., 1989). Similarly, 4- to 6-year-old girls were less socially withdrawn when they spent one or two nights a week with their fathers than when they never spent overnight time in his care ((no ‘sleepovers’). For the boys, however, the overnighting made no difference (Pruett, Ebling, & Insabella, 2004). On the other hand, in a Dutch study where parent conflict was extremely high, the girls were more depressed and more dissatisfied than the boys when they lived in a shared parenting family (Vanassche et al., 2014).

This suggests that boys might find it easier than girls to remain uninvolved in their parents’ conflicts.

Overall then, children in shared parenting families had better outcomes than children in sole residence in terms of their psychological, emotional, and social well-being, as well as their physical health and stress-related illnesses. Of equal if not greater importance, they had closer, more communicative, and more enduring relationships with their fathers.

Shared  Parenting  for  Infants,  Toddlers,  and  Pre-schoolers

Only six studies have focused exclusively on infants, toddlers, and pre-schoolers who overnighted in their father’s care after the parents separated (Table 2). Even though the children in two of those studies were not actually in “shared parenting” where they overnighted 35% to 50% of the time (Pruett, Ebling, & Insabella, 2004; Solomon & George, 1999), their findings are nonetheless summarized here because they are so often discussed in the debate over parenting plans for infants and toddlers.

In the oldest study (Solomon & George, 1999) 44 infants ages 0 to 2 were only overnighting one to four times a month – often with fathers who went weeks without seeing the infant and who had never lived with the baby’s mother. When compared to the 49 infants who never overnighted, there were no differences in insecure attachment scores or in their interactions with their mothers on a challenging task in the laboratory setting. Even though the overnighting infants, unlike the non-overnighters, had more “disorganized” (cannot be classified) attachments than children in married families, the researchers attributed this to factors other than the overnighting, namely the parents’ violence and their never having lived together. Moreover, the overnighters did not have significantly more disorganized attachments than the non-overnighters.

In the second study, with 2- to 6-year-olds, the 99 overnighters were only overnighting an average of eight nights a month (Pruett, Insabella, & Gustafson, 2005). The other 33 children spent no overnight time with their fathers, but did have contact with him. Unlike the previous study, the parents were a representative sample of lower middle-class couples with average levels of conflict and no history of substance abuse or physical abuse. Most were married and living together (75%) when their children were born. All data came from standardized tests.

For the 2- to 3-year-olds, there were no significant differences between the overnighters and non-overnighters in regard to sleep problems, depression, anxiety, aggression, attentiveness, or social withdrawal.

Table 2.

40StudiesB

Likewise, for the 4- to 6-year-olds, overnighting was not linked to any negative outcomes, but was associated with more positive outcomes in regard to social problems, attention problems, and thought problems (strange behaviors and ideas, hallucinations, psychotic symptoms). Unlike the 2- to 3-year-olds, there were gender differences on several outcomes for the 4- to 6-year-olds.

The girls who overnighted were less socially withdrawn than girls who did not overnight, whereas there were no differences for the boys. The girls were also less anxious than the boys when the parenting schedule was inconsistent and when several different people were taking care of them throughout the day. The researchers attributed this to the fact that girls are more socially and verbally mature than boys their age.

Importantly, this study examined the impact of having a number of different people taking care of the child throughout the day. This is important because one of the arguments against overnighting and shared parenting for infants and toddlers is that children this young will be more anxious and distressed if several different adults are taking care of them. As it turned out, the 4- to 6-year-olds with multiple caregivers had fewer social, behavioral, and attention problems, but had more anxiety and sleep problems.

Surprisingly, though, having multiple caregivers had no impact at all on the 2- to 3-year-olds. Given this, the researchers emphasized that there is no reason to be concerned about toddlers’ being taken care of by many adults in an overnighting parenting plan. On the other hand, having a consistent, unchanging schedule and having a good relationship with each parent was more closely related to children’s outcomes than whether or not they overnighted. Overall, though, overnighting had no negative impact on the 2- to 3-year-olds and had a positive impact on the 4- to 6-year-olds, especially the girls.

The third study (McIntosh et al., 2010) compared Australian children – most of whose parents had not been married—in three types of families: no overnights, occasional overnights or ‘sleepovers’ (1–3 nights monthly for infants and 1 – 9 nights for the 2- to 5- year-olds), and frequent overnights (4–15 overnights a month for infants and 10 – 15 overnights for the 2- to 5-year-olds).

For the 4- and 5-year-olds, there were no differences on any of the six measures of well-being or physical health. For the infants and toddlers, there were no differences on overall physical health, developmental problems, or reactions to strangers. The shared parenting toddlers wheezed less often and their scores on the behavioral problems test were perfectly within normal range, although higher than the less frequent overnighters’ scores. The shared parenting mothers said their babies stared at them and tried to get their attention more often, which the researchers claimed was a sign of insecurity on their three-question test, which had no reported validity or reliability. The shared parenting mothers also said their babies were more irritable than the infants who overnighted one to three times monthly.

There seems no reason to be alarmed by this finding, however, because their irritability scores were identical to those of infants from intact families and were no higher than infants who never overnighted. Similarly, although the 19 shared parenting toddlers’ scores were worse on the task persistence scale, the scale did not differentiate healthy or normal scores from unhealthy or abnormal ones. This means there is no way to determine whether the frequent overnighters had any noticeable or significant problems that would generate any concern about lack of persistence at tasks or at play.

Unlike the other studies on shared parenting, this particular study has been frequently criticized for its methodological shortcomings and its speculative interpretations of the data. Among these shortcomings were a lack of standardized measures, very small sample sizes for the occasional overnighting babies, the high numbers of parents who had never been married or lived together (60%–90%) and the practical insignificance of many of the findings. For these reasons, social scientists have concurred that this study contributes very little to our understanding of the impact of shared parenting and provides no convincing evidence that overnighting or shared parenting is bad for infants or toddlers (Cashmore & Parkinson, 2011; Lamb, 2012; Ludolph & Dale, 2012; Nielsen, 2013; Parkinson & Cashmore, 2011; Pruett, Cowan, Cowan, & Diamond, 2012; Warshak, 2012, 2014).

Given these concerns, it is troubling that this study has been frequently misrepresented or “woozled” in the media and in academic settings as evidence that ‘sleepovers’ or overnighting has a “deleterious impact” on infants and toddlers (Nielsen, 2014).

The fourth and fifth studies are distinct in that they focused exclusively on inner-city, impoverished, never married, poorly educated, minority parents with high rates of incarceration who were part of an ongoing Fragile Families study in 20 large U.S. cities (McClanahan, 2011). In the first study (Tornello et al., 2013) five standardized measures of well-being were used to compare 103  5-year-olds who had overnighted 128 to 256 nights a year when they were 3 years old to 528 5-year-olds who never overnighted and 505 who overnighted fewer than 128 nights a year. Only one difference emerged on these five measures: The 5-year-olds who had overnighted more than 128 nights displayed more positive behavior than those who had less frequently or never overnighted.

A second difference, based on the way these researchers chose to separate the 703 3-year-olds into “frequency of overnight” groups, was that 22 of the 60 3-year-olds who had overnighted anywhere from 50 to 260 times a year at age 1 and anywhere from 128 to 260 times at age 3 were rated as insecurely attached by their mothers – a larger percentage (37%) than those who never overnighted (18%), yet almost the same percentage (33%) as those who overnighted 1 to 12 times a year.

Unfortunately, attachment data were not available for 40% of the children and, as critics of the study have pointed out (Milar & Kruk, 2012), the mothers rated their children’s behavior on a modified version of the attachment test, rather than having trained observers do the rating on a validated version of the test. This raises doubts about what was actually being measured by this unusual procedure (van Ijzendoorn, Vereijken, Kranenburg, & Walraven, 2004).

More important still, the fifth study used exactly the same data as Tornello et al. (2013) and found no correlation at all between the actual number of overnights and each individual child’s attachment score (Sokol, 2014). That is, rather than assigning the children to four different groups and then comparing the entire group’s attachment scores, Sokol correlated each child’s individual score with the exact number of overnights for that child. Using this more exact way of analyzing the data, frequent overnights were not associated with attachment insecurity. Given Sokol’s findings and the questionability of the attachment procedure itself, it is troubling that the Tornello et al. study has been misrepresented as evidence that overnighting interferes with infants becoming securely attached to their mothers.

For example, the British Psychological Society reported the study under the headline “Staying Away Affects a Baby’s Attachment” (British Psychological Society, 2013) and the University of Virginia’s press release headline read “Overnights Away from Home Affect Children’s Attachments” (Samarrai, 2011).

In part because data from these three studies have been so widely misunderstood and mis-reported, a group of 111 international experts endorsed the recommendation of Warshak (2014) in his review of the literature on infant and toddler overnighting:

  • “Research on children’s overnights with fathers favors allowing children under four to be cared for at night by each parent rather than spending every night in the same home. We find the theoretical and practical considerations favoring overnights for most young children to be more compelling than concerns that overnights might jeopardize children’s development” (p. 59).
  • “There is no evidence to support postponing the introduction of regular and frequent involvement, including overnights, of both parents with their babies and toddlers” (p. 60).
  • “The social science evidence . . . supports the view that shared parenting should be the norm for parenting plans for children of all ages, including very young children” (p. 59).

In the most recent study, the 16 children who had overnighted from 6 to 14 nights a month when they were under the age of 4 had closer relationships with their fathers when they were young adults than the 28 who had never overnighted and the 28 who had overnighted less frequently.

Importantly, this study controlled for the parents’ levels of conflict and education (Fabricius, 2014).

Negative  Outcomes  for  Children  in  Shared  Parenting

Overall then, the 40 studies show that children generally fared better in families where most of them lived half of the time with each parent. This does not mean, however, that all of these children were doing as well or better than children who were living with their mother and spending varying amounts of time with their father. Under some circumstances, the outcomes were worse for the shared parenting children. What were those circumstances?

Not surprisingly, one of the factors that sometimes diminished the benefits of shared parenting was high, ongoing conflict in which the children became involved. But did intense, ongoing conflict have any worse impact on children in shared parenting families? The answer appears to be no.

On the one hand, teenagers in shared parenting families were more likely to feel caught in the middle when their parents were disagreeing. But their parents were no more likely than other divorced parents to be in conflict.

More important, the problems between their parents were not related to the quality of their relationships with either parent, and, regardless of conflict levels, the shared parenting adolescents fared better in all measures of their emotional and behavioral well-being (Buchanan & Maccoby, 1996). For college students, those whose parents had the most conflict after their divorce were not as close to their fathers, regardless of the parenting plan. Still, living with their father more than 35% of the time was linked to a closer relationship regardless of the conflict level.

These researchers also pointed out that the negative outcomes often attributed to conflict might, in fact, be the consequence of too little fathering time, because children spend less time with their fathers when the conflict level is high (Fabricius & Luecken, 2007).

Remember, too, that children whose parents had the most conflict initially in shared parenting had just as favorable outcomes 1 year later as the children whose parents initially had the least conflict in shared parenting (Brotsky et al., 1991). In sum, the benefits of shared parenting are diminished, but not erased, when conflict between the parents remains high. Put differently, shared parenting is more likely to decrease the negative impact of high, ongoing conflict than sole residence parenting plans.

Remember, too, that gender seemed to influence the impact that conflict had on the children in shared and in sole parenting families. Girls tended to feel more caught in the middle of the conflicts than the boys did, but the girls in the shared parenting families felt closer to their father and felt less need to take care of their mother (Buchanan & Maccoby, 1996). Likewise, in Belgium the adolescent girls were more depressed and less satisfied with their lives than the boys if their parents were in high conflict (Vanassche et al., 2014). For college students, conflict in married, shared, or sole parenting families hurt the girls’ relationships with their fathers more than it hurt the boys’ relationships. Again, though, the girls in shared parenting had better relationships with both parents than the girls in sole residence (Frank, 2007).

A second factor that diminished the benefits of shared parenting was having a poor relationship with their father. Adolescents who had bad relationships with their fathers were more dissatisfied and more depressed in shared parenting families (Vanassche et al., 2014).

More seriously, when the father’s relationship with the children was one where the mother had concerns about the children’s safety when they were with him, the mothers reported worse outcomes for the children in shared than in sole residence families (Cashmore & Parkinson, 2010; Kaspiew et al., 2009). On that note, a recent study examined the links between conflict, fathering time, and the quality of the father–child relationship. All of these parents had been designated as high conflict by a judge, and all were litigating over parenting time or other custody issues. The lower the conflict, the more overnight time (‘sleepovers’), the 140 adolescents spent with their father and the more highly they rated their relationship with him. However, the children only had fewer behavioral problems when they lived with their father more than seven nights a month and when they said they had a good relationship with him. When the children felt the relationship was not a good one, then living with their father more than seven nights a month was linked to more behavioral problems (Sandler, Wheeler, & Braver, 2013).

Although not a negative outcome in the sense of creating significant or long-lasting problems for the children, living in two homes was more inconvenient for adolescents than for younger children. Given their more complicated social and academic lives, this is not particularly surprising.

Nevertheless, even the adolescents reported that living in two homes was worth the trouble, namely because they maintained close relationships with both parents. These studies were based on interviews with 22 children (Campo & Fehlberg, 2012) and 105 adolescents (Lodge & Alexander, 2010) in Australia, 40 Swedish adolescents (Haugen, 2010; Singer, 2008), 21 British adolescents (Smart, Neale, & Wade, 2001), and 22 elementary age children (Luepnitz, 1991) and 80 college students in the United States (Fabricius & Hall, 2000).

CONCLUSION

While acknowledging that some studies were more methodologically sophisticated and used more valid and reliable measures than the others, the fact remains that the 40 studies reached similar conclusions.

First, shared parenting was linked to better outcomes for children of all ages across a wide range of emotional, behavioral, and physical health measures.

Second, there was not any convincing evidence that overnighting or shared parenting was linked to negative outcomes for infants or toddlers.

Third, the outcomes are not positive when there is a history of violence or when the children do not like or get along with their father.

Fourth, even though shared parenting couples tend to have somewhat higher incomes and somewhat less verbal conflict than other parents, these two factors alone do not explain the better outcomes for the children.

By acknowledging and by disseminating the findings from these 40 studies, we can help dispel many of the myths about shared parenting and promote a fuller understanding of this parenting plan option.

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Haugen, G. (2010). Children’s perspectives on shared residence. Children and Society, 24, 112–122.

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Janning, M., Laney, J., & Collins, C. (2010). Spatial and temporal arrangements: Young adults’ postdivorce experiences. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 51, 413–427.

Kaspiew, R., Gray, M., Weston, R., Moloney, L., Hand, K., & Qu, L. (2009). Evaluation of 2006 family law reforms in Australia. Canberra, Australia: Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Kline, M., Tschann, J., Johnston, J., & Wallerstein, J. (1989). Children’s adjustment in joint and sole physical custody families. Developmental Psychology, 25, 430–440.

Lamb, M. (2012). Critical analysis of research on parenting plans and children’s wellbeing. In K. Kuehnle & L. Drozd (Eds.), Parenting plan evaluations: Applied research for the family court (pp. 214–246). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Lee, M. (2002). Children’s adjustment in maternal and dual residence arrangements. Journal of Family Issues, 23, 671–687.

Lodge, J., & Alexander, M. (2010). Views of adolescents in separated families Sydney, Australia: Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Ludolph, P., & Dale, M. (2012). Attachment in child custody: An additive factor, not a determinative one. Family Law Quarterly, 46, 225–245.

Luepnitz, D. (1991). Maternal, paternal and joint custody. In J. Folberg (Ed.), Joint custody and shared parenting (pp. 105–113). New York, NY: Guilford.

Maccoby, E., & Mnookin, R. (1992). Dividing the child. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

McClanahan, S. (2011). Outcomes for children in fragile families. In P. England and Carlson (Eds.), Changing families in an unequal society (pp. 108–124). Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.

McIntosh, J., Smyth, B., Kelaher, M., & Wells, Y. L. C. (2010). Post separation parenting arrangements: Outcomes for infants and children. Sydney, Australia: Attorney General’s Office.

Melli, M., & Brown, P. (2008). Exploring a new family form: The shared time family. International Journal of Law, Policy and Family, 22, 231–269.

Milar, P. & Kruk, E. (2014). Maternal attachment, paternal overnight contact: Response to Tornello, et. al. Journal of Marriage and Family, 44, 232–236.

Neoh, J., & Mellor, D. (2010). Shared parenting: Adding children’s voices. Journal of Child Custody, 7, 155–175.

Nielsen, L. (2011). Divorced fathers and their daughters: A review of recent research. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 52, 77–93.

Nielsen, L. (2012). Fathers and daughters: Contemporary research and issues. New York, NY: Routledge.

Nielsen, L. (2013). Shared residential custody: A recent research review. American Journal of Family Law, 27, 61–72, 123–137.

Nielsen, L. (2014). Woozles: Their role in custody law reform, parenting plans and family court. Psychology, Public Policy and Law, 20, 164–180.

Parkinson, P., & Cashmore, J. (2011). Parenting arrangements for young children – A reply to Smyth, McIntosh and Kelaher. Australian Journal of Family Law, 25, 284–271.

Pearson, J., & Thoennes, N. (1991). Child custody after divorce. In J. Folberg (Ed.), Joint custody and shared parenting (6th ed., pp. 185–209). New York, NY: Guilford.

Pruett, M., Cowan, P., Cowan, M., & Diamond, J. (2012). Supporting father involvement after separation and divorce. In K. Kuehnle & L. Drozd (Eds.), Parenting plan evaluations: Applied research for the family court (pp. 257–330). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

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Pruett, M., Insabella, G., & Gustafson, K. (2005). Collaborative divorce project. Family Court Review, 43, 38–51.

Samarrai, F. (2013, July). Overnights away from home affect children’s attachments, study shows [Press release]. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia.

Sandler, I., Wheeler, L., & Braver, S. (2013). Quality of maternal and paternal parenting and parental overnights. Journal of Family Psychology, 40, 1–20.

Singer, A. (2008). Active parenting or Solomon’s justice? Alternating residence in Sweden for children with separated parents. Utrech Law Review, 4, 35–47.

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Homelessness in modern Europe

Homelessness in modern Europe

The modern phenomenon of homelessness – in the form of refugees fleeing the Middle East – is not unique within the border of Europe. For generations homelessness – even during peacetime – has existed inside Europe but it was often swept under the carpet;  ignored as an inconvenient truth in our former pre-2007 prosperous lifestyle.

Inside Europe, the homelessness of Europeans  – both single adults and for adults with families – has long been, and remains, devastating in its consequences. As long ago as 1933 George Orwell published “Down and out in Paris and London” describing the same phenomenon movingly and at length (an extract is featured at: http://fathersforlife.org/hist/tramps.htm). In fact, it is so far-reaching in its destructiveness that it is almost impossible to itemise all the impact areas. However, we can itemise the broader categories namely; lower productivity; poorer self-esteem; psychological;  higher social poverty; actual poverty; shorter life expectancy; absent GDP and taxation; ghettoisation; and negative economic output.

N PleaseThis is the conclusion of a new survey  ‘At what cost ? Estimation of the financial costs of single homelessness in the UK’, undertaken by Nicholas Pleace and offers to serve as a templates for all European countries and their political leaders.

Right: Nicholas Pleace

It leaves people vulnerable and isolated. They have no support systems to reply; no base they can build from, no quiet time to plan for a better future, no inner tranquility from which to operate from or think tactically and strategically about improving their conditions. Instead some, perhaps many, turn to drugs, alcohol or even suicide as a relief to dull their inner pains. The repetitive portrayal in mainstream media of the many struggles facing Syrian refugees are mirrored exactly by Europeans who are also homeless but who have today been eclipsed.

A very recent 2016 British study by the Ministry of Justice Analytical Series, “Child outcomes after parental separation: variations by contact and court involvement” (2016) underlines how damaged personal traits can become if people – at any age – feel vulnerable, neglected and isolated.

The Spanish graph below shows how just one change to domestic violence laws, in 2006, can dramatically affect suicide rates. In that year men could be unilaterally and without Spanish Suicides‘due process’ ousted from their homes and denied any contact with their children. Suddenly without a permanent address, i.e. homeless, many of them lost their jobs.

PEF (Platform for European Fathers) – because its members are drawn from all corners of the EU – has the unprecedented advantage of being able to step back and view social legislative changes in Europe as if from afar. It can pinpoint and compare the social impacts of such legislation from across the whole of Europe and identify the cardinal differences of where one nation succeeds but another fails.

PEF believes that society itself is the beneficiary when everyone deserves a place to call home and the chance to live a fulfilled and active life.

PEF helps people to re-build their lives, not through housing or providing health services, education or employment services but by providing the first steps to stability (the framework) so that these other goals may then become attainable.

There are many reasons for homelessness and the consensus is that the individual concerned has largely brought it upon themselves – yet closer inspection shows this to rarely be true. Indeed, the old Victorian social values of the “Deserving poor” versus the “Undeserving poor” are as powerful today in 2016 as they were in 1886.

homeless CrisisAmong the many reasons for homelessness in our modern society it has been shown (over many years) that loss of employment by the main breadwinner (e.g. redundancy), and the inability to maintain payments can lead to other consequences.

Unemployment can lead to the inability to pay a mortgage or a rental property and in turn this can lead to marriage breakdown. It can happen in reverse order, where the marriage breakdown can lead to demotivation and the subsequent loss of employment.

Marriage breakdown can lead to stress related heath symptoms and sometimes inter-family violence.

In Britain ‘White Horse Services’ (see below), has specialised for many years in assisting mortgage company lenders to restructure “at risk” client mortgages and have long ago identified 5 principle causes (see http://whms.co.uk/). Different European countries have a variety of measure for homelessness. Homelessness in the UK (as measured by households deemed by statute to be homeless), was once declining but the banking crisis of 2007 reversed that trend.

homeless statutroyEven a cursory glance of the White Horse analysis shows that under-employment or shorter working hours can, bizarrely, be twice as detrimental to the ability of mortgagees to maintain their monthly mortgage payment compared to outright redundancy or total unemployment (see Appendix 1).

At the ‘coal face’ of actually counting the homelessness on a Sunday evening ‘Nightwatch’ (see graph below), found an almost unremitting upwards trend from 1988 to 2013 (source: Joseph Roundtree Foundation).

Every year the organisations belonging to PEF work with hundreds and thousands of people across the EU from all walks of life. Some are homeless; some widowed; some divorced; some who have lost their children in a separation; and some simply left utterly demotivated from life’s many cruel blows. No one organisation can tackle these many social issues but given the right recognition there as NGOs, including PEF, who can begin to make a difference. But it will take politicians with imagination and foresight to begin to realise these ambitious plans and to start work through these problems.

PEF together with other NGOs are all determined campaigners working to prevent people from falling foul of ‘The System’, the bureaucratic bungling, and lethargy; regulations and homeless nightwatchjudicial decisions. It is always the dis- possessed who are least able to counter these on-rushing and all-crushing forces which crowd around them uninvited.dis-possessed who are least able to counter these on-rushing and all-crushing forces which crowd around them uninvited.

Among the homeless are the forgotten homeless, namely homeless fathers. Homeless single men already have a modicum of shelter provision and this we firmly believe should be improved and broadened– but a father with children has absolutely nowhere to go.

PEF in concert with its members seeks to change the way society and government thinks and acts towards homeless people – and homeless fathers in particular.

Historical context

For over two decades (1993) we have known about how homelessness is triggered among those in work and who have been able to afford a mortgage. In Britain ‘White Horse’ a company acting on behalf of all mortgage lenders offers counselling those in mortgage arrears and they have listed the 3 main causes: [1]

Whitehorse* As can be seen from the above Table over 80% are due to just three types of event, however, there are in total 5 principle causes.

Speaking in Jan 1993, Mark Boleat, Director General of the Council of Mortgage Lenders, said:

  • “40,000 people are living in houses that would have been repossessed if action had not been taken to help them. Half of them avoided repossession as a result of the Gov’ts decision to pay Income Support direct to the mortgage lender. Fewer than 1,000 buyers in arrears agreed to become tenants under the mortgage rescue schemes launched in 1991.”

This underscores the success of intensive counselling of borrowers which played a very important role in limiting the numbers of home repossessions during that era’s recession. It also reinforces the attitude adopted by Please, and the research from North America, namely that to intervene early is cheaper (and more effective ?) than waiting to apply a remedy for a totally ruptured situation.

Interestingly, White Horse Services reported in 1993 that through counselling agreement was reached 87.25% of all cases, to pay at least the normal monthly instalments, and that “The earlier we are instructed the better the result for both lender and borrower”. [2]

White Horse Services can speak with some authority since they have counselled tens of thousands of borrowers in arrears and to them it is clear that many mortgagees are naive in rudimentary financial management and have little appreciation of mortgage delinquency implications. [3] Politically, the same 20 year span (and particularly 2005 – 2015), has been as arid for men and fathers as it has always been (see Appendix 3).

Salvation Army

The stereotypical tramp of the 1950s and 1960s would be an ex-Guards officer who could not settle back into civilian life, or who had been dealt an awful hand of cards. They would sleep rough all year moving from one town to another and occasionally be taken in by a friendly police station for a shower, a shave, delousing, a general wash up and be given a warm bed in a vacant police cell for one night.

Homelessness is one of those rare statuses in life or event that knows no fashion trends. It is an indictment of how we deal with this segment of our society that pictures taken of the homeless inside hostels cannot be dated. Photographs taken in the 1890s and 1930s and homeless sallyAnnInt1950s are interchangeable – all look alike as the following array demonstrates.

The Salvation Army was born out of the Victorian slum poverty and fended off the alternative which every town then had, namely ‘The workhouse’, dreaded by many, and rightly so.

Today the Salvation Army has the same basic agenda – the alleviation of poverty and deprivation but has a more modern twist to its work. It caters for people of all ages and backgrounds and has changes the name of its hostels a few years ago to ‘Lifehouses’. [4]

Another charity dealing with homelessness is St Mungos. They provide a bed and support to more than 2,500 people a night who are either homeless or ‘at risk’ in some way, and their aim is to end homelessness and rebuild lives. [5] Their 2014 statistics on health reveal that:

  1. 27% of our clients report simultaneous physical and mental health problems and substance use issues
  2. 52% of our clients use alcohol and/or drugs problematically
  3. 65% of our clients report a mental health problem
  4. 70% of our clients report a physical health need

homeless soupQMany of these factors are also to be found in the blanket ‘propaganda’ data concerning domestic violence, namely much is related to: mental health problems; alcohol and/or drugs misuse; a physical health disability. For more data see Appendix 2

As a homelessness charity and housing association they have found that 73% of their clients are male and just 27% are female. Yet they have produced a large 19 page report looking into “Rebuilding Shattered Lives – Getting the right help at the right time” aimed solely at women. They argue that, “Women who are homeless are among the most marginalised people in society.[6]

But surely it is the father of children, or a father with dependent children living with him who is most marginalised, as he is not treated as an urgent priority in local council housing homeless sallyAnnExtneeds, and no hostel can accommodate him and his children ? He has the choice of a hostel for single men and having his children go into care. Yet we know from the above Report that a large number of boys and girls are from the very same ‘care system’.

Left: the austere façade of many Victorian Salvation Army hostels for men.

George Orwell’s  commentary

” . . . Tramps are cut off from women, in the first place, because there are very few women at their level of society. One might imagine that among destitute people the sexes would be as equally balanced as elsewhere. But it is not so; in fact, one can almost say that below a certain level society is entirely male.
The following figures, published by the L.C.C. from a night census taken on February 13th, 1931, will show the relative numbers of destitute men and destitute women:
“- Spending the night in the streets, 60 men, 18 women. (this must be an
underestimate. Still, the proportions probably hold good -G.O.)
“- In shelters and homes not licensed as common lodging-houses, 1,057 men,
137 women.
“- In the crypt of St Martin’s-in-the-Fields Church, 88 men, 12 women.
“- In the L.C.C. casual wards and hostels, 674 men, 15 women.
It will be seen from these figures that at the charity level men outnumber women by something like ten to one.  The cause is presumably that unemployment affects women less than men; also that any presentable woman can, in the last resort, attach herself to some man.  The result, for a tramp, is that he is condemned to perpetual celibacy.  For of course it goes without saying that if a tramp finds no women at his own level, those above – even a very little above – are as far out of his reach as the moon.  The reasons are not worth discussing, but there is no doubt that women never, or hardly ever, condescend to men who are much poorer than themselves.  A tramp, therefore, is a celibate from the moment when he takes to the road.  He is absolutely without hope of getting a wife, a mistress, or any kind of woman except – very rarely, when he can raise a few shillings – a prostitute.
It is obvious what the results of this must be: homosexuality, for instance, and occasional rape cases.  But deeper than these there is the degradation worked in a man who knows he is not even considered fit for marriage.  The sexual impulse, not to put it any higher, is a fundamental impulse, and starvation of it can be almost as demoralizing as physical hunger.  The evil of poverty is not so much that it makes a man suffer as that it rots him physically and spiritually.  And there can be no doubt that sexual starvation contributes to this rotting process.  Cut off from the whole race of women, a tramp feels himself degraded to the rank of a cripple or a lunatic.  No humiliation could do more damage to a man’s self-respect…”

 

NB. When Glenn Cheriton of the Canadian Equal Parenting Council interviewed the executive director of the Union Mission for Men, a homeless shelter based in Ottawa, Canada, he found double standards of treatment operated.

  • Their executive director said that most of the men who she saw go through the shelter were fathers. Furthermore, she said that when women have “a problem” or social problems, e.g. alcohol abuse, joblessness, mental problems, divorce, etc., etc., a whole array of government and social services of programmes are available to help them and their immediate families, i.e. dependent children. But this is absent when fathers present with or without their children. For them there are no programmes or remedial course. Any weakness, such as divorce, alcohol abuse, mental problems, etc., is put down to ‘lacking moral fibre’ and effectively the person not being worthy of investment or of much value to society. As a result men are discarded from the official mind as if not meriting the same level of sympathetic response. Effectively this official attitude cuts fathers off from family and family support – but it also cuts children off from their fathers.

Addendum: Enquires of many English local councils made by “UK Family Reform” reveal that under present legislation they are not obliged to provide any shelter for men aged between 18 and 35.  To quote one responding council:-

  • ” . . . . The Council carried out an Equality Impact Assessment which found that there continues to be an adverse impact on those who are not owed a housing duty under homelessness legislation and in particular are aged between 18 and 35.”

Men and fathers must be deemed a category not being owed a housing duty under homelessness legislation. In Wales it is a little different with one council reporting:

  • Until the introduction of the Housing (Wales) Act 2014, the Council was not required by statute to produce a Homeless Strategy which included a review of homelessness services since the 2002 Act. We are required to produce a Homelessness Strategy by 2018 in accordance with the 2014 Act and the process will require a review of homelessness in order to inform the strategy. We are, therefore, planning a review to take place during 2017.

To paraphrase one inner London council official:- “When the original Homeless Persons Act was introduced in 1977 as a private members bill it did not include this group per se. Nor did the 1985 Act that consolidated the law on homelessness or the 1996 Act. However any young person who is vulnerable is covered by the law. To be vulnerable the ground rule used to be less able to cope than someone of a similar age. Many councils tried really hard to take young people back home unless threatened with violence etc. So councils are the first to accept that there has always been an issue around young people and Homelessness Law. The consensus is that recent case law has changed the position only a little. The Southwark judgement places a responsibility on Councils around duty of care esp. on children leaving care.”

Guidance on Applying for Funding to Support a Homelessness Strategy” (Feb 2005, https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2005/02/0405286es.pdf ), aimed to reduce by two-thirds (66%), the rough sleeping levels of 1998. The estimated number of ‘rough sleepers’ on England’s streets was put at 1,850 on the night in question (excluding Wales and Scotland etc.). The paper admits the policy has failed.

Very little has changed. In the same 20 years but particularly the 10 years separating Baroness Scotland, in 2005, and George Osbourne, in 2015, nothing has changed for men and fathers (see Appendix 3 and Appendix 4, ‘The bed and breakfast option‘).

Across the Western world those prepared to protect and promote men’s and fathers’ equality of rights when they speak with those in charge of men’s shelters get similar comments. Only when politicians and funding services recognise this gender discrimination can they cajoled into providing services comparable to those provided for to women.

 Price paid

Homelessness exacts a personal cost to those who endure it. In addition to the trauma and the emotional duress that can accompany the precipitating events of one’s loss of family home, self-respect. Once people become homeless they experience the indignities of destitution, cow-towing to the demands of state benefits officers, surviving at the hands of homeless family Intcharities. Being prepared to be ‘means tested’ about one’s intimate life by total strangers is just one of the indignities expected of supplicants if they are to stand any chance of having their needs met.

Nicholas Pleace, of the Centre for Housing Policy, University of York, (“At what cost ? Estimation of the financial costs of single homelessness in the UK”, July 2015), also points to the many cases where victims of homelessness spend many hours of each day in ‘public spaces’ and where they are exposed to street sub-culture, of gangs of youths intimidating older adults, of violence, theft, physical victimisation and being tricked or set up by the same street sub-culture. It can mark the beginning of a steep downward spiral.

His report relies on the use of qualitative and service cost data drawn from recent research, in order to present estimates that provide an overview of the additional financial costs of single homelessness can cause for the public sector. However, his conclusions are sustained by empirical evidence from White Horse Services going back some twenty years (see below).

At first sight the negative social impact may be thought to be confined to a small minority and not a great burden on the taxpayer. However, marital breakdown now affects a large percentage of those who form a household and in absolute terms is around 120,000 per annum in England alone.

If just one aspect is looked at in more detail, such as the physical and mental health implications and the cost arising therefrom, then a tawdry picture of damaged families elvis15Bproducing damaged children emerges. If we take the impact on children of divorce and family break up as approximation to the impact of unemployment etc. then by analogy we can see from the graphic below that children experience a better health and quality of life if their parents are not stressed by separation (nuclear family vs single mother care).

This is the conclusion of a Swedish study carried out by Dr Malim Bergstrom in 2015 drawing on data from Centre for Health and Equity Studies (CHESS). [7] As part of the Elvis–project its remit was to study “the bergstrom6BBwell-being, mental health and social situation in pre-schoolers, children and adolescents with shared parenting.” In that role it found greater levels of psychosomatic illness among children

A very recent British study by the Ministry of Justice Analytical Series, “Child outcomes after parental separation: variations by contact and court involvement” (2016) underscores many of Bergstrom points:

  • “. . . . Consistent with findings from previous studies, children who experienced parental separation by age 7 tended to have worse outcomes at age 11 than children whose parents were married at the time of birth and remained married until the child reached 11 (as measured by subjective well-being, behavioural and socio-emotional well-being, measures of risk taking, decision-making and antisocial behaviours).” [8]

Less obvious as a drain on finances, however, does not mean less important and less expensive. As the downward spiral gains momentum an increasing array of official departments and government offices within the public system (the apparatus and organs of the state), find themselves sucked into to the maelstrom – invariably at great cost to the taxpayers. If the mental health of children is affected then often too is the mental health of their parent or parents,

It is perhaps an indictment of the lack of seriousness with which we as individual countries have viewed homelessness in general that even after spending significant periods of time on a range of treatment systems, many people remain homeless with further costs yet to accrue because they remain homeless and will remain so until there is an endgame of a housing plan.

This view is confirmed by the 1996 Report of the Executives of White Horse Services:

  • “The benefit to the individual family and society would be considerable, not just in emotional terms but also in reducing the millions of pounds lost each year within the housing market and the lending industry generally”.

Were it to be made possible to replicate such a reconciliatory regime on the same scale, but for divorce, the impact on homelessness would be huge and immediate. Children from broken families are often taken ‘into care’ and into local authority ‘residential homes’ – only to leave aged 16 and become the next generation of the homeless.

The 2015 report by Nicholas Pleace, “At what cost ? Estimation of the financial costs of single homelessness in the UK”, marks an attempt in the UK to begin putting some faces and costs on the problem, and in so doing draws on earlier research (2002), in New York City which tracked nearly 10,000 people who were homeless.

Average costs of services used came to $40,500 per person per year (in 2002 dollars), in this early New York City research (included time spent in hospitals, shelters and jails). [9] The nearly 10,000 homeless people had severe mental illnesses and although mental illness is not always present among the homeless population it is not uncommon and if absent initially can certainly be induced by events after a period.

However, once housed, these costs were reduced such that they effectively offset the entire costs of providing people with housing subsidies and intensive supportive services.

NB.  We have seen similar US studies into medical provision and costs where a small group of unfit residents not more than 200 are disproportionately absorbing scarce community health care

More than 60 studies have replicated the findings and demonstrate that in every US city where it has been examined, very high costs are associated with the most entrenched forms of homelessness. [10] Research in Canada and Australia has further confirmed that such high costs are not unique to the US. [11]   Importantly, such “cost studies” have helped to inspire additional government investment in housing solutions, even among politicians usually resistant to increased social spending on poverty, because the economic argument has proven to be persuasive. [12]

Has the Commission, or any institution in Europe begun addressing this problem ?

It is to be hoped that such information and evidence will inspire a deeper investigation and investment in solutions within England & Wales. Of course, all is not as simple as this argument may imply. Many people who experience long-term homelessness are not high cost service users, at least in any given year. [13] Longer term studies are needed, but in the shorter run anyway, many people in any given year who are homeless seem to fly below the radar and are caught only when they collide with authority and who then turn to charities to help them e.g. PEF’s pan-European abilities.

The prospect of off-setting the housing costs of these ‘unknown’ clients seems less than achievable but once a quantity of them are identified it will create an atmosphere where the numbers flying below the radar can be more readily captured and assisted.

‘Homelessness prevention’ programmes that try to avert the onset of homelessness in the first place can be complicated to construct and, in common with an ‘all-risks’ insurance policy, often far too expensive to afford. For this reason and a variety of others broad-based prevention programs for those ‘at-risk’ might therefore need to be relatively “light touch” and low-cost to achieve cost effectiveness.

If the average US cost per case of prevention was a little over $2,200 per family, this compares well with shelter costs at a little over $3,000 per family per month (and where the average stay, of nine months, therefore costs around $27,000). [14]

There is a need for a better understanding of the costs in the UK of single homelessness and of homelessness costs incurred by a parent – male or female – with dependent children. Some data is available but it is always dangerous to place too much confidence in so small a sample.

So with that caveat, here are some data, albeit anecdotal, gleaned by “Crisis” [15] concerning a young single woman; a single man in his 30s; and a man with a learning difficulty who loses his existing home but all are ‘sleeping rough.’ The financial cost scenarios envisage the price where a). homelessness is prevented or quickly resolved is compared to b). homelessness persists for 12 months.

  • In the first example (a young single woman), the cost of preventing homelessness would cost the ‘public sector’ an additional £1,558. Allowing it to persist for 12 months would cost £11,733 (all are estimates).
  • In the second example (a single man in his 30s), the figure for resolving homelessness quickly is £1,426, rising to £20,128 if homelessness persists for 12 months.
  • For the third example (man with a learning difficulty), the figures are £4,726 compared to £12,778.

The additional financial costs associated with homelessness vary from person to person and by the location, type and nature of the homelessness services support provided. These additional cost, compared to other citizens, are likely to centre around medical or psychological care (the NHS), the criminal justice system (police manpower and court costs), and social services (homeless people have the greater likelihood of more frequent and sustained contact/use of these state agencies).

It is always dangerous to extrapolate but in this situation, where there is insufficient concrete data to hand, it is perhaps justified. The additional costs of homelessness can quickly become significant. For instance in the second example (a single man in his 30s), thirty such people sleeping rough for 12 months, with an equivalent pattern of service use would cost over £600,000 a year in additional public expenditure, rising to £1.2 million if the situation persisted for two years.

Final analysis

In many ways it is almost immaterial whether we as a society can guarantee a net positive return on any investment in homelessness. What is key is that the public and the politicians come to a point where they recognise that homelessness has a hard cost and a high consequence.

‘Nominal’ values can be part of any theoretical equation to calculate the cost and consequences of homelessness but in the final analysis they are at best arbitrary since what values other than artificial notional ones could possibly be used ?

People, including the general public, NGOs, and legislators, do not appreciate that homelessness is never a ‘cost neutral’ option. It may appear that homeless people may not be using mainstream housing resources, but their lives and their use of other acute service systems have the potential to actually spiral out of control.

In addition, for people and families at risk of homelessness, averting their homelessness up-front also has the potential to forestall this inevitable decline, and the ravages it can exact on the people and the service systems to which they would otherwise descend. The findings twenty years ago of the White Horse Service organisation, cited above, underline this very point.

Instead of working harder and throwing more money at the problem that never seems to shrink we should be working “smarter.” The prevention, and ultimately, the ending of homelessness is certainly smarter and more humane than our present alternative. Its appeal is that it will year on year and in the longer run be less expensive for taxpayers and not require constant budgetary diversion on the present scale.

As this document helps to reveal, there is a cost to doing nothing, and a cost to the holes in the safety net. Further investigation through research and further investment of resources can make a potentially life-and-pound saving difference.

Homelessness has a human cost. The unique distress of lacking a settled home can cause or intensify social isolation, create barriers to education, training and paid work and undermine mental and physical health. When single homelessness becomes prolonged, or is repeatedly experienced, there are often very marked deteriorations in health and well-being impacting GPs and hospital services together with the panoply of state funded social services.

E  N  D

Appendix 1

Arrears for both mortgage payments and rental properties can lead to eviction and homelessness. The Table below (left column) shows that complete unemployment can have less of an impact on household security than if the head of household and/or their partner are faced with reduced hours of working, e.g. circa 10% versus 23%.

And in the arena of “lifestyle” and “financial mis-management”, it is the latter by a large margin that is the main culprit with “over indebtedness” accounting for only 2% or 3% (right hand column). It seem that people are cautious about becoming over committed which runs contrary to the mainstream of thought on this topic.

The ‘Resolved’ and ‘Unresolved’ sub-headings refer, of course, to the arrangements being put in place to rectify the arrears via a payment plan, once the issue of employment has been resolved or payment remains ‘unresolved’ where the person is still out of work.

arrears

Appendix 2

St Mungo’s, in recent years, have produced these findings. Based in London, some of their results from their 2013 survey include:-

  1. 73% of clients are male
  2. 27% of clients are female
  3. 64% of clients had issues with substance use (drugs and/or alcohol)
  4. 67% had a physical health condition (medical condition, vision or hearing impaired and/or required regular medication)
  5. 60% of clients had mental health issues (diagnosed, suspected, depression and/or self harming)
  6. One third of our clients don’t have the necessary literacy skills to complete a form without help
  7. 9% had been “in care”
  8. 45% of clients were ex-offenders or had been in prison

In St Mungo’s 2014 statistics* on health one finds the following:-

  • 27% of our clients report simultaneous physical and mental health problems and substance use issues
  •  52% of our clients use alcohol and/or drugs problematically
  • 65% of our clients report a mental health problem
  • 70% of our clients report a physical health need

See: http://www.mungos.org/services/preventing_homelessness

Appendix 3

In 2005 Baroness Scotland, who was in overall charge of the UK’s Gov’t Refuge spending for many years and who always blocked funds for male victims, confirmed in writing that for the year 2003-2004 Refuge provision in England totalled £19 million (£10m came from the Housing Corporation and £9m from the Homelessness Directorate). Provincial local refuges that might be considered ‘out of the way’, like the Vale of Glamorgan Women’s Aid, received £226,580 in 2001.

Letter from Baroness Scotland Feb 21 2005, Reference: M1922/5, Your Reference: AJT/ST/DomViolence:

“. . .. . With regards to Mr Whiston’s comments on the provision of accommodation for male victims of domestic violence, the Government this year announced major investment in refuge provision in England. A total of £19 million capital was allocated (£10m through the Housing Corporation and £9m from the Homelessness Directorate) for 2003-2004 alone.
. . . .. Under Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996, people who are homeless or are threatened with homelessness can apply to a local housing authority for accommodation. In considering what duty, if any, is owed to the applicant, authorities have to reach decisions on whether applicants have a priority need for accommodation. Section 1890) of the 1996 Act set out the descriptions of persons who have such a need. It can be viewed at the following address; http://www.ledi station. h mso.gov. uk/acts/acts 1996/96052-ac. htm#189
The Homelessness Priority Need of Accommodation Order (England) 2002 has extended the categories of applicants in priority need for accommodation, to include vulnerable people who have ceased to occupy accommodation because of violence or threats of violence from another person which are likely to be carried out.”

Not even 1% of this national funding was directed towards male refuges. It should also be noted that the Housing Corporation was originally set up to provide money, loans and subsidies to low income families to get onto the property ladder, not for individual women or Refuges.

But the problem goes deeper. Women’s National Commission (WNC) was set up by government in 1969 to push forward policies to benefit women. There is no male counterpart. The budget of the WNC amounted to £754,000 in 2009-10. Of this, the WNC paid itself £460,000 in salaries and the board of governors were paid £112,595 (http://thewnc.org.uk/index.php?format=feed&type=rss). The WNC is “the official” yet independent, advisory body representing women and women’s organisations reporting to Government. In 2008 Harriet Harman strengthened the organisation and increased its funding by 30%. The WNC spent just £1,000 on what it termed “Equalities.” [ NB. some very well-known radical feminists were WNC members – RW]

The Commission –  which the Government abandoned in 2010 – had faced criticism for its spending and was replaced in 2010 by the ‘Equalities’ sector of government (see http://wnc.equalities.gov.uk/). Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said the Audit Commission had also ‘lost its way’ and had become a ‘creature of the Whitehall state’ when he announced its disbandment and its replacement in 2015.

In July 2015 Chancellor George Osborne’s Summer Budget speech reiterated the same selective Whitehall blindness of not seeing men as victims when he proudly announced:

  • “We will increase funding for domestic abuse victims and women’s refuge centres.”

The Chancellor in his last budget (July) pledged even more money for Women’s Aid to fight DV and fund Refuges. He made no mention of male victims or money for them. The tabloid newspaper The Sun didn’t mention men either but simply headlined:

Therefore, in the same 20 years but particularly the 10 years separating Baroness Scotland in 2005 and George Osbourne in 2015, nothing has changed for men and fathers.

 

Appendix 4

The bed and breakfast option for the few

“At the end of December 2002, around 5,600 families with children (including households with a pregnant woman) were recorded as living in accommodation where they had to share facilities such as kitchens, bathrooms or toilets. This accommodation is provided on a “bed and breakfast” basis in premises such as hotels or hotel “annexes”. For ease of description, this kind of accommodation is referred to as “B&B accommodation” throughout this consultation paper.”

The number of homeless people housed by local authorities in Bed & Breakfast (B&B) hotels has risen from 4,630 in 1997 to 12,290 in 2001. If this trend were to continue, the number would rise to around 14,000 in 2002 and around 15,700 in 2003. As the Homelessness Act 2002 takes effect and those accepted as homeless increases, there is a danger that numbers of families placed in B&B hotels may also increase. In October 2001, the Government set up a Bed and Breakfast Unit (BBU) to focus on reducing the use of ‘non self-contained’ private B&B hotels and ‘annex’ accommodation. That is to say properties where households are placed in one or more rooms on a daily/nightly charged basis where they have to share bathing, washing, toilet or cooking facilities. Even if breakfast, laundry or cleaning facilities are provided, the existence of shared facilities is the key factor. See http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20120919132719/www.communities.gov.uk/documents/housing/pdf/137980.pdf

Tables from official studies published between  2002 – 05. Source: https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2005/02/0405286es.pdf

 

Appendix 5

‘Pickles abolishes house building targets’

6 July 2010 | By Tom Lloyd

http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/news/development/-pickles-abolishes-house-building-targets/6510608.article

Communities secretary Eric Pickles has laid an order before Parliament to scrap house building targets with immediate effect. The move will do away with regional strategies put in place by the Labour government with the aim of seeing 3 million new homes built across England by 2020.

The Conservative-led government wants to put councils in charge of deciding how many homes are built in their area. It will introduce incentives to encourage local authorities to build, rather than using the target-driven approach favoured by Labour. Mr Pickles said:

  • ‘Regional strategies built nothing but resentment – we want to build houses. So instead we will introduce powerful new incentives for local people so they support the construction of new homes in the right places and receive direct rewards from the proceeds of growth to improve their local area.’

A Decentralisation and Localism Bill, expected in the autumn, will set out more details of the government’s plans. But ministers have said incentives will include matching the income councils receive from new homes through council tax for six years after they are built, with the reward increased to 125 per cent of council tax for affordable homes.

Government offices for regions to be scrapped

23 July 2010 | By Tom Lloyd

http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/news/development/government-offices-for-regions-to-be-scrapped/6510866.article

The nine regional government offices are to be abolished as part of plans to devolve power to local authorities.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles has announced the government intends ‘in principle’ to do away with the bodies, which oversee a range of policies at regional level including housing.

The government has already said it is getting rid of one of the nine – the Government Office for London. In the coalition agreement it said it was ‘considering the case’ for the abolition of the remaining eight.

The announcement that these will cease to exist follows the unveiling of plans to scrap regional spatial strategies, which included regional house building targets, and ties in with the government’s wider policy of transferring power from central to local government.

In a statement to Parliament, Mr Pickles said the original intention of the government offices was to join up departmental teams outside London, but that this aim had ‘been lost’ and is ‘no longer necessary in an internet age’.

Mr Pickles has told councils they can ignore targets in making decisions before the legislation is formally introduced. He said:

  • “I’ve promised to use legislation to stop local communities being bossed around by unaccountable regional quangos, but I’m not going to make communities wait any longer to start making decisions for themselves.”

In 2007, the previous government announced a target of building an extra three million homes in England by 2020 to deal with the growing demand for houses http://www.lga.gov.uk/lga/core/page.do?pageId=11610230

E N D

 

Ref:

The Salvation Army has (05/03/2010) re-branded its hostels as ‘Lifehouses.’ The name change is designed to reflect the modern role of the charity’s projects. See http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/salvation-army-rebrands-its-hostels-as-lifehouses/6508816.article

 

Footnotes:-

[1] Peter Lay. Joint Chief Executor, White Horse Services. Jan 1996.

[2] Peter Lay. Joint Chief Executor, White Horse Services. Jan 1996.

[3] Peter Lay. Joint Chief Executor, White Horse Services. Jan 1993.

[4] Salvation Army rebrands its hostels as ‘lifehouses’, 05/03/2010 http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/salvation-army-rebrands-its-hostels-as-lifehouses/6508816.article

[5] See http://www.mungos.org/services/preventing_homelessness

[6] See http://rebuildingshatteredlives.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Rebuilding-Shattered-Lives-Final-Report.pdf

[7] ‘Mental health and wellbeing in children in shared parenting and other living arrangements’ http://www.divorcecorp.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Mental-Health-Wellbeing-in-Different-Living-Arrangements_Malin-Bergstrom.pdf http://twohomes.org/en_conference_slides_2015?structure=en_conference_2015&page_ref_id=133#Dr.Malin_Bergstrom

[8] https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/501370/child-outcomes-after-parental-separation.pdf

[9] Culhane, D. P., Metraux, S., & Hadley, T. (2002). Public service reductions associated with placement of homeless persons with severe mental illness in supportive housing. Housing Policy Debate. doi:10.1080/10511482.2002.9521437

[10] Dennis P. Culhane, Kennen S. Gross, Wayne D. Parker, Barbara Poppe, and Ezra Sykes. “Accountability, Cost-Effectiveness, and Program Performance: Progress Since 1998” National Symposium on Homelessness Research (2008).

[11] Mental Health Commission of Canada. (2014). National final report: Cross-Site At Home/ Chez Soi Project. Retrieved from www.mentalhealthcommission.ca

[12] Dennis P. Culhane. “The Cost of Homelessness: A Perspective from the United States” European Journal of Homelessness 2.1 (2008): 97-114.

[13] Stephen R. Poulin, Marcella Maguire, Stephen Metraux, and Dennis P. Culhane. “Service Use and Costs for Persons Experiencing Chronic Homelessness in Philadelphia: A Population-Based Study” Psychiatric Services 61.11 (2010): 1093-1098.

[14] Rolston, H., Geyer, J., & Locke, G. (2013). Final Report: Evaluation of the Homebase Community Prevention Program. New York City Department of Homeless Services.

[15] ‘Crisis’ is a registered UK charity

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Outcomes of Child-Inclusive Mediation

Outcomes of Child-Inclusive Mediation

By Dr. Felicity Bell (University of Wollongong, NSW) Judy Cashmore, Patrick Parkinson, and Dr. Judi Single (Research Fellow)

Faculty of Law, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia

1 February 2013

ABSTRACT

This article presents the findings of a small qualitative study {emphasis added} of child-inclusive mediation concerning parenting arrangements after separation. Fourteen parents who had undertaken child-inclusive mediation, and a comparison group of 19 parents who had engaged in mediation without their children being involved, were asked about the outcomes of the mediation process. The parents had all undertaken mediation cashmoreOzzthrough Family Relationship Centres in communities with low to average incomes and levels of educational attainment.

Left: Judy Cashmore (no photo is available for Dr. Felicity Bell).

While participants in both groups reported positive benefits from the mediation process, child-inclusive mediation did not prove to be more ParkinOzzbeneficial in terms of improving the parental relationship or the likelihood of resolving the dispute. Only 5 parents out of 14 in the child-inclusive group felt that mediation had helped them to resolve some or all of the issues that they went with, compared with 13 out of 19 in the comparison group.

Above: Prof Parkinson

Only 4 of the 14 parents in the child-inclusive group, compared with 11 of 19 parents in the comparison group, thought that their relationship with their ex-partner had improved as a consequence of the mediation.

The best predictor of resolution overall was not the parents’ mediation group, but their levels of acrimony, conflict, and cooperation. Nonetheless, parents perceived that there were benefits from the involvement of children in the process other than achieving better outcomes in terms of dispute resolution, and the experience of having the children seen by a child consultant was generally positive. However, child-inclusive mediation could also lead to disappointment when raised expectations were not fulfilled.

Editor – NB somewhat obtusely the author concedes that Jenn McIntosh’s articles and papers against shared care at an early age, and which have caused such controversy in the profession, have not proved to be superior or all-conquering.

INTRODUCTION

Recently in Australia there has been a concerted effort to include the voices of children in mediation processes when arrangements are being decided for children after their parents have separated. The practice of   ‘child-inclusive mediation’, as it is known, has attracted considerable interest in Britain also, as one means of allowing children to have a greater level of participation in these parenting arrangements (Ministry of Justice and Department for Education, 2012).

In child-inclusive mediation, a specialist practitioner trained in this work talks to the children privately (McIntosh, 2007). He or she is known as a child consultant. This requires the consent of both parents, and at least one child should normally be of school age. The subject-matter of the discussions will vary from child to child and family to family, but the objective of child-inclusive mediation is not to ascertain the ‘wishes’ of the children. Rather it is to explore more widely their perspectives and experiences of the current living and visiting arrangements and the conflict between the parents, as well as their hopes for the future (McIntosh, 2007: 8).

The consultant discusses with the children what can be fed back to the parents from their conversation or activities. The child consultant then meets with the parents to give feedback from the children’s session, acting as a kind of ally to the children while helping the parents to reflect upon their children’s needs. Children’s ‘voices’ may be conveyed through drawings, or through statements about how they are feeling about the conflict between the parents. They might express particular needs. What may, for example, be fed back to the parents is that their children are deeply distressed by the ongoing conflict.

Child-inclusive mediation therefore does not need to involve the children in expressing a view on the choices as the adults see them, although that may be how parents perceive the purpose of the exercise.

Rather it provides children with an opportunity to give their perspectives on how they are feeling about the situation, which may in turn have benefits in terms of reaching a resolution of the parental dispute that accords with the needs and interests of the child. Child-inclusive mediation seeks to change hearts as well as minds.

McIntosh (2007: 5) identifies the key elements of child-inclusive mediation as follows:

  • . consulting with children in a supportive, developmentally appropriate manner about their experiences of the family separation and dispute;
  • . ensuring that the style of consultation avoids and removes any burden of decision-making from the child;
  • . understanding and formulating the child’s core experience within a developmental framework;
  • . validating children’s experiences and providing basic information that may assist their present and future coping;
  • . forming a strategic therapeutic loop back to the child’s parents by considering with them the essence of their child’s experience in a manner that supports them to hear and reflect upon their child’s needs; and
  • . ensuring that the ongoing mediation/litigation process and the agreements or decisions reached reflect at core the psycho-developmental needs of each child.

In an extensive pilot study, McIntosh and Long (2006) reviewed the outcomes of cases from the programme of child-inclusive mediation that McIntosh developed (McIntosh, 1998, 2000). McIntosh provided the training for the mediators in this pilot study. The evaluation compared a group of parents who had experienced child-inclusive mediation with those who had participated in ‘child-focused’ mediation. In child-focused mediation, children are not involved and their voices are not heard, but the mediator’s focus is on ‘building sensitive, shared parental attunement, at times actively advocating for the interests of the children’ (McIntosh et al., 2007: 10). The comparison was therefore between two kinds of mediation both designed to resolve disputes about children, and in a way that promotes the children’s best interests. [1]

The findings were reported after one year’s follow-up (McIntosh and Long, 2006) and then after 4 years (McIntosh et al., 2009).

The evaluation indicated that child-inclusive mediation had much greater benefits for parents and children than child-focused mediation in which the children’s voices were not heard (McIntosh and Long, 2006; McIntosh et al., 2007, 2008, 2009). Both mothers and fathers in the child-inclusive mediation group reported significantly greater satisfaction with their children’s living and contact arrangements one year after the mediation. There was also greater stability in the lives of the children in the child-inclusive mediation group, and the children in this group were reportedly significantly more content and less inclined to want a different arrangement than those in the child-focused mediation group.

A 4 year follow-up of these parents indicated continuing advantages flowing from child-inclusive mediation over the longer term (McIntosh et al., 2009). The impacts of child-inclusive mediation were reported to be most marked for the fathers involved. These reported outcomes were encouraging, and stimulated more widespread use of child inclusive mediation in Australia. [2]

To date, there has been limited empirical research on child-inclusive mediation apart from McIntosh et al.’s evaluation. Furthermore, the context in which child-inclusive mediation currently occurs is somewhat different to that in the McIntosh programme. That programme was conducted at a time when family dispute resolution was not required before filing a parenting application. These were therefore voluntary clients utilizing mediation as an option. As a result of amendments to the [NB Australian] Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) in 2006, it has become mandatory for parents to attempt family dispute resolution prior to filing an application for parenting orders, unless a parent is exempt under the legislation (for example, in cases where there is a history of violence), or a family dispute resolution practitioner deems the case to be unsuitable for mediation. [3]

To support the demand for dispute resolution services prior to filing, the government established a network of Family Relationship Centres (FRCs) across the country, initially providing free mediation. [4]   The present research offered an opportunity to examine the benefits of child-inclusive mediation, compared with child-focused mediation, in the context of the work of an experienced relationship counselling and mediation organisation, UnitingCare Unifam, based in New South Wales, and in the new environment of mandatory mediation prior to filing a court application (unless screened out or exempted). This article reports on parents’ perspectives on the outcomes of both kinds of mediation. The attitudes of parents to the participation of their children in child-inclusive mediation are explored elsewhere (Bell et al., 2012).

METHOD

Participants were recruited from parents attending three FRCs run by UnitingCare Unifam, in or near Sydney, Australia. Fairfield is a highly multicultural area in metropolitan Sydney in which the majority of residents speak a language other than English at home. Its median household income is significantly below the national median. Campbelltown, another area in metropolitan Sydney, has a median household income a little higher than the national level. [5] Wollongong is a regional city south of Sydney with a median household income also below the national level.

UnitingCare Unifam provides a range of services for families, including counselling, and programmes for children whose parents are separating, as well as mediation. Parents typically have a separate intake session at which suitability for dispute resolution is assessed. Prior to attempting mediation, they are normally required to attend an educational seminar about parenting after separation. This gives them information and advice about the developmental needs of the children and how parenting after separation can be managed in such a way as to minimize the harm to children.

The use of child-inclusive mediation depends, first, upon the suggestion of the mediator, and secondly on the consent of both parents. The decision to offer child-inclusive mediation is not made until there has been at least one joint mediation session. Unifam does not only use child-inclusive mediation as a methodology for dispute resolution. It also uses the child consultation as an assessment tool to work out what other services might be of benefit to the child and family. For this reason, a child consultation might be offered in circumstances where there is reason to be concerned about the wellbeing of the children, as well as in cases where it would appear to be a promising strategy for the resolution of the dispute and the improvement of the relationship between parents.

In the Unifam programme, the amount of time parents are involved in child-inclusive mediation is similar to that in the McIntosh et al. study. Typically, parents spend 6 hours in child-inclusive mediation (compared with 6.1–6.2 hours in the McIntosh et al. study), with 3 sessions lasting 2 hours each, including the feedback from the child consultation. That feedback is given to the parents either jointly, or individually, depending on the circumstances. The amount of time devoted to child-focused mediation (that is, where there is no child consultation) is less than was the case in the McIntosh et al. study, averaging 4 hours over 2 sessions compared with 5.1 hours in the McIntosh et al. programme.

Clients of the FRC (Family Relationship Centres), who were proceeding to mediation were told about the study and, if interested in participating, gave their consent to be contacted by the research team. They were then interviewed face-to-face several weeks or months after the mediation had concluded, in order to allow for some distance from the events of the mediation.

Recruitment to the study proved to be difficult. While many parents indicated their willingness to participate at the time that did not necessarily translate into a willingness to be interviewed when they were contacted by the interviewer. Some proved to be uncontactable after several attempts. Fourteen parents in the study participated in child-inclusive mediation.

The child consultant, having spoken with the child or children, provided feedback to the parents, either by telephone or in person.

This group comprised three former couples and eight parents whose former partner did not participate in the study (the child-inclusive group). Three children also made comments when their mothers were being interviewed. There was also a comparison group of 19 parents who had undertaken mediation without their children being seen by a child consultant (comparison group). This group participated in ‘child-focused’ mediation. That is, the mediator did not exercise a neutral and ‘content-free’ dispute resolution role, but used his or her knowledge and expertise to help the parents focus on the children’s developmental and other needs in order to find a way forward in resolving the dispute.

The comparison group comprised five former couples and nine parents whose former partner was not part of the study. Some of the comparison group were drawn from the FRC in Wollongong, where child-inclusive mediation was not an available option for most participants because of resource constraints at the time of the study (Bell et al., 2012). For the most part, the other participants in the comparison group were those who had not been offered child-inclusive mediation because according to the parent’s report, the child or children were considered to be too young, or because one parent had already declined to involve the children and so the option was not available to the other. [6] In two out of the three FRCs, both child-inclusive mediation and child-focused mediation were available, so the same team of mediators was working with both groups.

Parents participated in a face-to-face interview using a semistructured interview schedule that asked about their experience with the mediation process and included several rating scales and standardized measures of the parental relationship  [7] and children’s outcomes.  [8]

1 . DEMOGRAPHIC  CHARACTERISTICS  OF  PARENTS

The two groups of parents were similar in terms of some, but not all, demographic characteristics. The average age of the mothers was 42 years in the child-inclusive group, and 39 years in the comparison group. For fathers, it was 41 and 40 years, respectively; this is very similar to the average age of parents in McIntosh and Long’s study (2006: 21).

Most parents in both groups had been married: 11 of 14 in the child-inclusive group and 16 of 19 in the comparison group. The average length of the marriage/ relationship was about 8 years for both groups but those in the child-inclusive group had been separated for a significantly longer period than those in the comparison group: on average, 76 months in the child-inclusive group compared with 29 months in the comparison group, (t¼4.1, 22 df, p¼.002). However, this did not mean that the child-inclusive group was characterized by much higher levels of entrenched conflict. While in some of the cases in the child-inclusive group there had been conflict for some considerable time, in others, the issue that took the parents to mediation had arisen after years of reportedly cooperative arrangements as older children resisted shared care or overnight contact with their father.

There were 22 children in the child-inclusive group, and 23 children in the comparison group who were the focus of the mediation (an average of 2.1 children per family for the child-inclusive group and 1.99 for the comparison group). The children ranged in age from 3 to 16 years, with an overall average of 8.8 years (SD¼2.8 years). The children in the child-inclusive group were slightly older (9.5 years, SD¼2.1) than those in the comparison group (8.2 years, SD¼3.7), reflecting the longer time since separation in the child-inclusive group and that parents with young children might not be offered child-inclusivemediation.

At the time of the interview, both groups were almost equally split in the children’s living arrangements between shared care (defined as 35 per cent or more nights with each parent) and the children mostly living with their mother. Only 4 of the 33 parents had a tertiary education.

In contrast, McIntosh and Long (2006: 38–39) reported that about 40% of their parents had tertiary qualifications. The predominant educational qualification for participants in this study was a trade certificate and most had income levels that were below average to average weekly earnings. There were more professional and managerial workers in the comparison group than in the child-inclusive group.

There was no significant difference between the two groups in the reported level of conflict with their former partner at separation and before they started the mediation. [9] However, parents in the child-inclusive group reported significantly higher conflict and acrimony with their former partner at the time of the interview than those in the comparison group. [10] They were also less likely to see the other parent as a ‘very good’ or ‘better than average’ parent. Only one parent in the child-inclusive group indicated at the time of the interview that the other parent was a ‘better than average’ or ‘very good parent’ compared with 9 out of 17 parents in the comparison group.  [11] Three parents (one in a child-inclusive case, and two in the comparison cases) raised concerns about the safety of the children in the care of the other parent.

2 . MEDIATION  ISSUES

The primary issue that both groups of parents were seeking to resolve through mediation concerned the amount of time that the father had with the children. Fathers in both groups, and one mother in the child-inclusive group, were mostly seeking more time with their children, increasing to shared care or equal time in six cases. For most of these parents, in five cases in each form of mediation, the time issue was associated with disagreement over child support. The main difference between the two groups was that four cases in the child-inclusive group arose some time after the separation following initially cooperative arrangements when older children refused shared care or overnight contact with their father because of difficulties with the father’s new partner or changes in circumstances. Parents in the comparison

group were more likely to be seeking resolution and confirmation of their parenting plan reflecting the shorter time since separation for these parents. About one in three parents in both groups, however, saw the mediation as a process that was necessary before they could go to court.

PARENTS’ REPORTS ABOUT CHILD-INCLUSIVE MEDIATION

1 . PREPARING CHILDREN FOR THE CHILD CONSULTATION

Before taking their children to see the child consultant, most parents reported that they had given their children an explanation about the process and what was going on. Parents in the child-inclusive group generally had expectations that the child consultation would be beneficial for children for therapeutic reasons as well as enabling the parent to find out how children were feeling (Bell et al., 2012). Accordingly, most parents explained that they had emphasized to their children the importance of being honest. This reflected the weight parents placed on ascertaining ‘the truth’ about their children’s thoughts and feelings:

  • I said I don’t know what you [children aged 8 and 13] can expect, but just answer any questions she [child consultant] has, or whatever she wants you to do, as long as you do it honestly. I don’t want you to say Mummy says, or Daddy says, I just want you to say ‘I feel’, or ‘I think’, whatever. There’s no feedback to Mummy or Daddy about exactly what you’ve said, but maybe how you feel or about what she thinks should be done. So I just wanted them to be honest. (Alison)

Jeremy and his new partner Penny explained what they had said to Jeremy’s two daughters (aged 8 and 11) before going to see the child consultant:

  • Penny: . . . we don’t ever just take them, we always explain to them what’s going on, not in great detail, we don’t go right into, we’re just very quick about it, don’t make a fuss.
  • Jeremy: Explaining this person is going to listen to you, they’re going to try and understand what you think.

The girls’ mother, Eleanor, who also participated in this study, tried to convey to them that she understood how hard it was for them to be caught in the middle of the dispute and that the child consultation offered them some support:

  • I explained that, you know, ‘It must seem to you like there’s dad’s side and mum’s side, and dad’s house and mum’s house, and I understand that you guys feel really pulled. And so your dad and I have agreed that it would be really good if you have somebody there just for you guys, and you know, you can tell her things and she won’t tell me things if you don’t want her to, and she won’t tell your dad things if you don’t want her to’.

Eleanor reported that she had tried to reassure both her daughters that there would be no adverse consequences of speaking up:

  • I said ‘this is about you, I won’t ask you questions about things that were said. If you want to talk to me about anything, feel free to. But like I said, that’s your time, it’s your space, I’m not going to ask you questions’.

Only one parent (a father) reported that no real explanation had been given beforehand to his young son, who was only five:

  1. It was going to be sold to Sean as ‘Oh look, we’re just going somewhere to meet a friend’. (Kevin)

Julia explained to her daughters that participation might be a way of being able to tell their father how they were feeling: ‘if they can say what they want to say, what they think, and dad might listen to it’. A few parents reported that their children were unenthused, at least initially, about participating in the child-inclusive mediation. For example, Tony said:

  • And you talked to him [son aged 10] about going to see somebody? Of course. He was a bit apprehensive, he wanted me to take him, so I explained to him that she [child consultant] just wants to talk to you. ‘Don’t lie to her, tell her what’s on your mind, that’s all they want to know’.

2 . CHILDREN’S REACTIONS TO THE CHILD CONSULTATION

Five parents reported that their children were happy immediately after talking with the child consultant.

  • . . . they loved it (Gina)
  • . . . they felt listened to (Jeremy)
  • . . . I think he was okay with it, seeing that it wasn’t as bad as what he thought it would be. (Tony)

Four other parents were less fulsome but thought that their children seemed ‘fine’ about their involvement. Jayne mentioned that her sons (aged 10 and 12) were ‘a bit sceptical’ about being involved although, after the event, her younger son reported on this differently:

  • How did you feel when mum said you were going to speak to someone? I actually felt a little better. (Saul, aged 10)

Parents generally attributed positive outcomes for children to their being able to have a say or get things off their chest, without fear of the consequences:

  • . . . they felt much better when they came out, they released a lot of things, I believe anyway. (Julia)

Julia’s daughter Marjie, aged 9, said:

  • And because you and dad weren’t there, it felt like we didn’t have, we could just say what we mean and not feel like we have to pick sides.

However, the perception was in some cases at least that talking to the counsellor did not actually change anything in the children’s situation. Three mothers said that, for this reason, the children were likely to be disappointed:

  • And after they’d seen the counsellor, how were they? Were they happy or sad or worried? They were really happy, you know, they said ‘Oh we told them exactly what we wanted’ blah blah blah, when their Dad didn’t agree with it that kind of burst a bubble. (Alison)
  • And good things and hard things for the kids? I think the hard thing is they knew we were going, and there’s probably no resolve in it. At the end of the day, we’re still where we were. (Gina)

3 . RECEIVING  FEEDBACK  FROM  THE  CHILDREN

Most parents received feedback in a face-to-face meeting, but two reported receiving feedback by telephone. How well was the children’s feedback received and what impact did it have on the parents ? In their responses to this question, parents distinguished between feedback which affected the outcome of the mediation, and feedback that had positive effects – such as helping that parent to have a better understanding of how the children were feeling – without necessarily affecting the outcome. A few parents thought that the feedback had a negative effect, noticeably where they felt their former partner had not been responsive to the feedback.

On the whole, the majority of parents did not feel that there was anything surprising in the feedback they received. For example, Patricia said:

  • I think it just reinforced the stuff I knew. Sometimes you do forget. I’m pretty careful, I try not to say anything in front of them and all that sort of stuff. I think it just reinforced things I knew already.

Tony considered he was already in touch with how his 10 year-old son was feeling:

  • . . . I knew all these things before, because I discuss things with him. We have a very close relationship, so I knew all these things before I went there. I just wanted a third party’s opinion of his state, and how he was dealing with it.

Some other parents, however, commented on specific issues that had come out. For example, Julia expressed surprise that her youngest daughter still hoped she and her former husband would get back together.

Gavin was surprised that his daughter (aged 11) ‘rated’ her relationship with her mother’s new partner, Roger, as better than her relationships with each of her parents:

  • Part of the feedback that I got was Christina’s relationship with Roger was so positive because she could be herself and she didn’t have to please anyone. Part of that feedback that I got made me feel as though maybe I need to do a little bit more to make sure to try and relate to her . . .

Former couple Julia and Phil both mentioned that of their three children, the one who appeared to be coping the best perhaps was not coping as well as they had both assumed:

  • I was probably more worried about one specific child and how they were coping, but I was probably more wrong. The feedback meeting has really made me look at other aspects . . . (Julia)
  • . . . the middle one they said was probably a bit . . . takes too much in, quite intelligent, and you know, probably will have, may have issues as an older person because of trying to please everyone and things like that. (Phil)

One way of dealing with surprising feedback was to seek an explanation for it that differed from the feedback as given. For example, Tony said:

  • It did come as a surprise, when Darcy [aged 10] was talking about some anxiety which caught me off-guard, because he hadn’t been showing symptoms of being anxious. And like I said, I talk to him about everything, and I didn’t pick that up. It’s only after the mediation that it dawned on me that he was talking about how we were fighting at home before the separation. And that’s what he was anxious about? Yeah. He was going way back to there, not to more recent events. So once I understood that, then things fell into place a lot better.

Eleanor was also surprised by feedback from her daughters which implied that she ‘yelled a lot’, and later questioned them about this:

  • So I’ve been really careful and months later, I asked them, ‘Do you guys think that I yell a lot?’ ‘No, we’ve never thought that you yell a lot’. And it was actually clarified that they thought stepmother yells a lot, so it was ‘Oh, okay’. So that was at the time for me it was ‘Oh, I yell a lot?’ No, I’m fairly in touch with my kids.

Giving feedback to the parents was not necessarily risk-free for the children. One parent, Doug, reported that his child had experienced recriminations because of what had been fed back to his former partner after the child consultation. Doug reported that his ex-partner had talked to their 8 year-old daughter, Jemma, about what Jemma had said in her session:

  • . . . she put Jemma under a lot of pressure by saying . . . she’d heard things that had broken her heart and upset her mother terribly – hearing that she wanted to spend more time with her father absolutely devastated her, and I was very cranky when I heard that.

4 . UNDERSTANDING  CHILDREN ’S  FEELINGS

Eight parents felt that the feedback from the child consultation had helped them to better understand how their children were feeling. Four parents indicated that hearing feedback caused them to reflect on their own behaviour. For example, Gavin commented:

  • . . . you realise just how un-child-focused you can be at times. Even though you’ve got a child and you love them and you want to do everything right for them, a lot of the time you can be really un-child-focused.

Two parents reported that understanding the deleterious effects of conflict on their children was a ‘turning point’ in the mediation. Jayne felt that having a person to ‘interpret’ how her sons (aged 10 and 12) were feeling was crucial both for her and her former partner:

  • And after that we went in and spoke with [the mediator and the child consultant] and he was still you know, some of the things, I just howled most of the time, because you don’t hear this from your kids. They can interpret what they’re saying and bring it across that way, and it just broke my heart. How can you do this to your own kids? . . . And I think it hit home with him having the kids not sitting there saying it but having someone interpret this is how your kids are feeling. And from then, we haven’t even been back into a mediation since then.

Kevin also felt badly about how his disagreements with his former partner had affected their 5 year-old son, Sean:

  • I guess it was more than anything a massive amount of guilt about the way myself and Tina had acted towards each other and behaved in front of Sean and not taken his feelings and his needs, for two parents nurturing and bringing him up into consideration, and neglecting him in that way. I felt very, very bad about that.

5 . REINFORCING  BELIEFS  ABOUT  WHAT  THE CHILDREN  WANTED

Other parents felt reassured that they were correct in their understanding of what their children wanted. For example, Alison said:

  • Actually force the children to talk to someone other than myself, and also to set my mind at ease that what they’re telling me is what actually happened, it’s not really, they’re making it up. You know how some people say children play one parent against another.Why would they tell an outsider something that’s not true, when they think that I’m not going to hear about it, or their father’s not going to hear about it, they would tell them the truth.

A former couple each thought that it was positive that their children had been given a voice in the process, but disagreed on the children’s views. Eleanor believed that although her 8 year-old daughter Helena wanted to spend more time with her, Helena feared this could lead to repercussions from her father, Jeremy:

  • And Helena had said ‘I’d like to spend more time with mum’. And then she chickened out, she said ‘Can you tell [the child consultant]? Like it’s true, mum, and don’t be hurt, but I’m too scared of what dad will do if I say that’.

In contrast, Jeremy felt that the feedback from both his daughters reinforced his position regarding their arrangements:

  • . . . it’s given me the confidence to know that what they tell me is what they tell other people. Because there are times that they tell us that and they tell their mum something different. But when they’re telling a third party the same thing that they’re telling me, it reinforces the fact that they are actually telling me the truth.

6 . IMPROVED RELATIONSHIPS WITH CHILDREN

Seven parents felt that having their children involved in the mediation through the child-consultant had improved the relationship between themselves and their children. Jayne referred to being more patient:

  • Has having your children involved in the process helped your relationship with them? Yeah, I suppose, we’ve just got a lot of, I wouldn’t say a lot more time, but we’ve got more time and more patience.

Julia felt that enabling her children to have a say had engendered trust:

  • Has having the children involved in the process helped with your relationship with them? Yes, because I think if I’d excluded them and I’m only conveying the bits that I think they need to hear, there’s always that unknown, what’s being said about me, ‘Is mum really saying how we feel or is mum only saying this?’, or – because there’s got to be a doubt that mum’s representing them.

A few parents thought that the involvement of their children had also improved their former partner’s relationship with the children. Julia, for example, felt that Phil was more aware that outsiders could be ‘judging’ his parenting:

  • . . . he knows now that others are aware of how they feel, that they can always go to somebody and express how they feel. And in a sense that can come back to bite him on the butt. However, Phil himself did not think there had been any change in his relationship with his children: ‘. . .I still treat them the same as what I always have.’

7 . IMPROVING  RELATIONSHIPS  WITH  FORMER PARTNERS

Four parents thought that the mediation had helped their relationship with their ex-partner. For example, Kevin linked the feedback he received in the child-inclusive mediation process about his son, Sean, to improvements in his relationship with his former partner; and improvements in Sean’s behaviour and happiness as a result:

  • I guess it’s helped us communicate better and the on-flow of that is that Sean now is a happier child. Sean now is no longer an aggressive child, he relates well to other kids, he’s such a loving boy. And developmentally too in regards to his language and literacy, he’s getting on really well at school, and that was a concern for me when he started.

Similarly, Jayne identified hearing feedback about her sons (aged 10 and 12) as a decisive moment in the mediation for both herself and her former husband. She was happy that he was making more of an effort to spend time with the children, although she was unsure that this was due solely to the mediation:

  • Now, he [ex-husband] said he was going to see a counsellor at his work, I don’t know any more details than that, but he was seeing someone in there and his attitude has changed. . . it’s made a hell of a lot of difference. I don’t think he understands how much of a difference he’s made.

Julia had some safety concerns for her daughters (aged 9, 12, and 14) when they spent time at their father Phil’s house, concerns which she felt Phil had not been taking seriously. She felt that the mediation had a positive effect on her relationship with Phil because she had been able to have some discussion about this with a third party mediator. Phil, however, did not think that the mediation had improved his relationship with Julia.

8 . CHILD-INCLUSIVE  MEDIATION  AS  A  PATHWAY TO  DISPUTE

RESOLUTION

These positive comments about child-inclusive mediation need to be understood in a context of the overall perceived outcomes. Generally, child-inclusive mediation did not have a significant impact on the outcome. Only 5 of the 14 parents in the child-inclusive group felt that mediation had helped them to resolve some or all of the issues that they went with; four of these five thought that their relationship with their ex-partner had improved as a consequence of the process.

Parents in the child-inclusive group who were disappointed with the mediation, and aspects of their children’s involvement, expressed that it had:

  • . . . not helped them to understand how the children were feeling;
  • . . . . not changed their former’s partner’s views or increased the former partner’s understanding of how the children were feeling; and
  •  . . .  in some cases, been detrimental to their relationship with their former partner or with their children.

These parents tended to have high expectations of the mediation, particularly around the hope that the children’s involvement would change their former partner’s attitude and behaviour. They were correspondingly disappointed when it failed to achieve the outcomes they had hoped for.

Furthermore, the resolution of the dispute was not necessarily attributable to the feedback from the children. For two parents, it certainly played a decisive role. These parents felt strongly that their children’s involvement had been a ‘turning point’ in the mediation and had triggered a resolution of their dispute. Hearing the children’s feedback had a positive impact on both themselves, and their former partners. Kevin, for example, said:

  • A better experience I’ve never had, it was sensational. If I’d had that experience with the guys at Fairfield the first time around, it has been life changing [. . .] Because we’ve gone from a situation where we would not talk to each other, where we were doing changeovers via a police station for Sean [aged 5]. We were communicating very tersely with each other via a communication book, to a situation now where we can ring each other up and talk any time. I speak to Sean when he’s not with me most nights, and when he’s not with his mum, I always encourage him to pick up the phone and talk to her, and we can just make arrangements and agreements with each other off the cuff.

Others thought that although some issues were resolved at the mediation, this was not necessarily due to hearing children’s feedback. Tony thought that the participation of his 10 year-old son had not really affected the outcome:

  • And do you think that having Darcy involved in the mediation helped you sort out the dispute? No, I don’t think it did. Oh look, I think it may have helped, but I think Darcy should have been involved a lot more, because then the mediators would have seen the relationship he has with the father and the mother.

Instead, Tony and his former partner later came to his preferred arrangement: equal shared care of Darcy. Tony said: ‘Darcy and I still wanted equal share, so it just came after mediation.’

Conversely, some parents thought that things were in fact worse after the mediation than before:

  • So it hasn’t helped you sort out the dispute? Like I say, I’ve gone from seeing my daughter to not seeing her. In that sense it’s been a spectacular failure. (Michael)
  • So how did you feel about the children talking to a psychologist? I thought great, that’s what I wanted. Because I don’t want him to think it was coming from me, but he still thinks it’s coming from me, so he just can’t see it. (Alison)

In Michael’s case, contact ceased because his teenage daughter was strongly resistant to going to see him.

Why did most cases not result in an agreement? Some parents commented that their poor relationship with their former partner was not necessarily due to the mediation itself, but to other factors, including that the relationship would never change:

  • No, whether it’s their fault or not, and I’m not suggesting it’s their fault, but our relationship has been deteriorating now for at least the last 6 months, if not more. (Michael)

I thought it was just going through a process because that was what we had to do. I didn’t expect him to agree because he’s never agreed to it. (Alison)

Parents tended to be particularly disappointed when they felt that hearing the children’s feedback had not had an impact on their former partner:

  • . . . based on the feedback I was getting from Darcy about how he was treated at his mother’s place, I don’t think it’s changed. . . . So I think she left mediation pretty much the way she came to it. (Tony)

If we both got the same feedback, I wonder how much is taken on board. (Gavin) Other parents were unhappy with the feedback that they received, either because they said they did not receive it at all, or found it to be vague and unhelpful. Gina felt that feedback had helped her understand how her children (a son aged 10 and daughter aged 11) were feeling, but her ex-husband Michael was disappointed with the lack of specificity:

  • . . . it wasn’t anything specific, and it wasn’t like ‘oh we’re on the right track’, or ‘this is what we think needs to happen’. There was nothing that came out of it that I could modify my behaviour or do anything about it, or let me know I was on the right track or wrong track.

Gina thought that the counsellor was trying to ‘protect’ their daughter by resisting Michael ‘fishing’ for information divulged in the session. While Michael felt left out of the loop about how the children were feeling, Gina was disappointed that the mediation had not had any impact on Michael or his relationship with the children.

Some parents felt that their former partner had actively resisted the messages from feedback. Doug thought that hearing that his daughter wanted to spend more time with him caused his ex-partner, Tamsin, to abort the mediation:

  • The child psychologist said to Jemma, ‘Do you know why you’re here?’ And she said ‘Yes, so I can spend more time with my dad’. And I was very shocked that she said that, and she was very brave to say that, because her mother is very dominating over her. [. . .]..and I think Tamsin hearing that was to her pretty much enough to say ‘That’s it, I know where this is heading to, I don’t want this.’ [. . .] And then I was waiting for another meeting and they contacted me and told me that Tamsin has no further interest in mediation – which to be honest with you, I found the whole thing a complete waste of time.

Gavin felt that his former partner, Wendy, had not made a genuine attempt to resolve things in the mediation nor focus on their daughter Christina (aged 11). As a result, Gavin thought that his relationship with Wendy was worse as a result of the mediation:

  • If anyone had questioned her motivation, after sitting there and saying ‘yeah, it’s all about Christina, I’m happy to do this’, and then in my opinion do everything she can to upset that process, I feel as if anything it did more harm to my relationship than good.

Jeremy also thought that the child-inclusive mediation had not had any effect on his ex-wife Eleanor and this lack of change on her part had made things worse. Likewise, Eleanor thought Jeremy’s attitude had not changed and he was not willing to listen:

  • Do you think that having the children involved in the process helped your relationship with Eleanor? No, if anything it highlighted the problems and made it worse, because she was told things in the feedback and nothing’s changed. (Jeremy)
  • So in the end, what did I get out of mediation? Nothing, nothing that time. I hoped that the child-inclusive practice would bring things into focus a lot more, but that didn’t work either. (Eleanor)

However, even parents who were unhappy with aspects, or even the ultimate outcome, of their mediation, generally felt it had been good for their children to speak to a professional about how they were feeling:

  • The only thing was for me it was a hoop that I had to jump through. . . . For the children it was very beneficial, I think, because they had a voice, they got heard and listened to, and some of the things that they had been thinking and feeling had come out . . . Things that I needed to hear as a parent came out. So on that level, while the mediation didn’t work, the counselling that came with it for the kids and that intervention stuff was helpful. (Jeremy)

There might also be other benefits from the mediation, despite the absence of a positive outcome. Patricia, for example, said:

  • I think Edward is an idiot, has unrealistic expectations. I think he thought he would take me to court and they would force Brigid [aged 11] to go, whereas I knew that would not be the case. And so the mediation was good because it made him realise that that wouldn’t be the case.

PARENTS’ REPORTS IN THE COMPARISON GROUP

The parents in the comparison group also reported benefits from the mediation process.

1 . REACHING RESOLUTION

Thirteen of the 19 participants in the comparison group felt that mediation had helped them to resolve some or all of the issues that they went with. While there was a near-significant trend for parents in the comparison group to be more likely to indicate that the mediation had resolved some or all of their issues than parents in the child-inclusive group, the best predictor of resolution overall was not the parents’ mediation group, but their levels of acrimony, conflict and cooperation.  [12]

As with the child-inclusive group, parents referred to the benefits of the mediation as enabling communication as well as providing an opportunity to have a say. Parents who thought that their relationship with their former partner had improved generally also felt positive about what was resolved at mediation. However, some parents who thought their relationship had not improved still felt there had been positive outcomes from the mediation, such as a ‘reality-check’ for their former partner, or firming up care arrangements by ‘having it on paper’. For example, Jacob said:

  • It made me feel more confident that I was not being unreasonable with my demands and concerns. It put me in a situation where I could voice my opinion, and although my opinion was not welcomed by Sarah, she was actually able to see that two family relationship counsellors involved in the mediation process were very quick and honestly saying that my concerns were reasonable.

2 . IMPROVED RELATIONSHIPS WITH CHILDREN

Seven of the 19 parents in the comparison group felt that the mediation had helped their relationships with their children, although their children did not attend a child consultation. Six parents said that it had no effect because they already had a good relationship. Loretta felt that she had a better understanding of her children’s needs:

  • Do you think the mediation process had any effect on your relationship with the children [aged 4, 7 and 12]? For me it did because it made me see all the children on a different developmental level. What I need to look out for, I suppose, when it comes to their needs and care, what each child wants out of my ex-husband and I.

Graeme felt that his relationship with his 10 year-old son Caleb had improved because the resulting arrangement was what they both wanted:

  • . . . Caleb got what he wanted which was 50/50, that’s what I wanted. I was being fair, so in that relationship, in that side of it, it was fair, but if you ask my ex, she’ll probably say it was unfair because she wanted more than 50/50.

3 . IMPROVING  RELATIONSHIPS  WITH  FORMER  PARTNERS

Eight parents thought that mediation had helped their relationship with their ex-partner. Geoff, for example, reported:

  • I was very happy with the FRC. They helped her see clearly for a while which was good. I’ve been telling her all along to think about Nathan [aged 3] the whole time, he’s number one, and she’d get very irrational, and she went there, and they helped her out and she started thinking Nathan number one for a while.

Maria and her ex-husband Robert each thought that their relationship had improved and that their 6 year-old daughter was happier as a result:

  • I think after Robert went there he recognised, he changed completely. He started to be more open, and think that we can have a normal relationship. So as soon as our communication improved, Aurelia became more happy. (Maria)
  • It helped her [Maria] realise perhaps her perception about what was best for Aurelia wasn’t necessarily correct . . . She sees the relationship we have now and thinks wow. (Robert)

Jeannine thought that the controlled environment of the mediation was an opportunity to ‘practice’ good communication with her ex-husband, Ross:

  • . . . it gave me the opportunity and him the opportunity within a controlled environment, with a third party present to keep everyone on their best behaviour, for us to practice no conflict. Because that was the biggest bonus for me. We had that session where it could have been very heated, whereas if I’d said ‘Let’s sit down at the table, Ross, and work this out’, there would have been to-ing and fro-ing, and with the third party present, and with the very official controlled environment, we got to practice behaving well. So it kind of set up an expectation for what can be achieved.

COMMON THEMES AND FINDINGS

Parents in both groups had varying views on whether the mediation had helped them to resolve pertinent issues. A number of parents saw benefits in the mediation enabling communication, helping to establish arrangements, and in some cases, improving their relationship with their former partner. Others did not feel that the mediation had been beneficial, and a small number thought that things were worse after the mediation than previously. Overall, parents who said they had resolved

some or all of their issues reported lower levels of acrimony and conflict (at the time of the interview), and more support and cooperation, than those who said they had not resolved any of their issues. While this might be expected, there is some evidence that these higher levels of acrimony reflect parents’ frustration with the lack of success of the mediation, rather than the lesser likelihood of success for parents whose relationship before the mediation was more conflictual and acrimonious. [13]

The higher level of reported acrimony for those in child-inclusive mediation may therefore reflect the disappointed expectations of the numbers of parents in this group in which none of the issues were seen to have been resolved, particularly in those cases where parents said the mediation had worsened their relationship with their former partner.

Children’s behaviour as reported by their parents was also associated with the resolution of some or all of the issues in the mediation. Across both groups, children whose parents reported that they had resolved all or some of their issues had lower SDQ scores, meaning fewer behavioural problems, than those whose parents did not.  [14]  These parents were also more likely to indicate that the other parent was a ‘very good’ or ‘better than average parent’. [15]

In both groups also, most parents thought that they already had good relationships with their children that had not been affected by the mediation, or that they were already ‘in tune’ with how their children were feeling.

When asked about the good things in mediation and whether they would recommend it to others, most parents in both groups indicated that they would still recommend mediation to others in similar circumstances, despite the disappointment of some. Parents in the child-inclusive group focused on the value of better communication and their children having a voice whereas parents in the comparison group focused on the benefits of transparency, being able to ‘get things off their chest’, of getting things in writing, and gaining some reassurance that their position was ‘reasonable’. This perceived transparency did not necessarily lead to any resolution, however, and in several cases confirmed or exposed more negative sentiments. For example:

  • If we didn’t have that mediation, I wouldn’t have known the depths of his depravity actually. I had accusations brought up against me that I had no idea about. Yeah, he withheld his address from me, but I must say the mediator was pretty helpful, because he’d make [my former partner] see my point of view. (Eleanor, child inclusive group) It was a positive experience for me because I felt that my objectives that I wanted were met and he came out looking like the total dickhead that he is, a liar, and it made him look stupid because he’s a liar, and that’s the thing. For me, from my perspective I came out there thinking ‘yeah, that worked in my benefit’. And that’s the thing . . . we have got a parenting plan in orders now that he throws in my face every five minutes. (Yvonne, comparison group)

Several parents in both groups identified similar disappointments with mediation, and would not recommend it to others. Their frustrations concerned the futility of trying to communicate with their former partner or secure any change in their behaviour, and the delays in the process.

  • I probably would have had the same outcome with the children being able to go and see a child psychologist, so that to me is like putting it back six months. But then again if a miracle had happened and he actually listened, maybe we could have resolved something. But him being him, we wouldn’t, it doesn’t mean that other people wouldn’t have. (Alison, child inclusive group)
  • If they don’t want to communicate, if they don’t want to make things better, it’s not going to be a positive outcome or process. [. . .] If I knew she was so vindictive or malicious with her intent, I probably wouldn’t have gone, I would have gone straight to court if I could have afforded it. (Jacob, comparison group)

DISCUSSION

Just over half the parents, across both the child-inclusive and comparison groups, reported that their mediation had resolved some or all of the issues they came with. This small study {emphasis added} did not, however, demonstrate significant benefits from child-inclusive mediation for the majority of the parents in terms of improved parental relationships or a greater likelihood of resolution of the dispute. While there was no significant difference between the two groups in the reported level of conflict with their former partner at separation and before they started the mediation, only five of the 14 parents in the child-inclusive group felt that mediation had helped them to resolve some or all of the issues that they went with, compared with 13 out of 19 in the comparison group. Although the numbers are very small, fathers in the child-inclusive group were more likely than the mothers, and more likely than the comparison group parents, to say that mediation had not helped resolve any of their issues.

These results cannot be readily compared with the results from McIntosh et al.’s pilot study. While McIntosh and Long (2006: 73) reported that child-inclusive mediation resulted in more ‘durable and workable agreements’, they gave no details of the proportion of mediations, in either the child-focused or child-inclusive mediation groups, that actually resulted in an agreement. Rather they reported on degrees of ‘progress’ towards the resolution of the dispute, [16] and on the proportion of child-inclusive cases where new legal action was instigated over parenting matters in the year following mediation (McIntosh and Long, 2006: 66), and later whether there was a return to mediation in the four years post-mediation (McIntosh et al., 2009: 35). [17]

{Editor – So in other words, her study did not prove it was superior – yet this is the “important new counselling process”  that Jenn McIntosh is supposedly famous for creating – and for which the AFCC gave her an award for as an “Outstanding” researcher}.

Nonetheless, it does appear that child-inclusive mediation proved a less effective intervention in this study, in terms of helping parents reach agreement, than was the case in McIntosh et al.’s pilot. Only 4 of the 14 parents in the child-inclusive group, compared with 11 of 19 parents in the comparison group, thought that their relationship with their ex-partner had improved as a consequence of the mediation. While half the parents in the child-inclusive group thought that the mediation had improved their relationship with the children, a similar proportion of parents in the comparison group also thought their relationship with their children had improved. Children’s behaviour as reported by their parents also did not differ across the two groups but there were fewer perceived problems where parents said they had resolved all or some of their issues, across groups.

While these results do not indicate advantages to child-inclusive mediation as a method of dispute resolution, there were some perceived benefits from the involvement of children in the process other than achieving resolution and better outcomes. Parents expressed different, sometimes overlapping thoughts about the positive aspects of their children’s involvement, including that it had:

  • . been therapeutic for the children to talk to someone about how they were feeling;
  • . helped the parent to better understand how the children were feeling; and
  • . demonstrated that the parent was correct in their understanding of what the children wanted.

A few parents in the child-inclusive group thought that the involvement of their children had also improved their former partner’s relationship with the children, and just over half thought that it had improved their own relationship with their former partner. Yet a number of the parents in the comparison group also thought that their mediation had improved these relationships, despite their children not being involved.

One of the issues that emerged with child-inclusive mediation is that parents tended to have high expectations for the mediation, particularly around the hope that the children’s involvement would change their former partner’s attitude and behaviour. Most, however, felt that this had not occurred. They were correspondingly disappointed when it failed to achieve the outcomes they had hoped for. The views of the three former couples in the child-inclusive group illustrate this dissonance:

Eleanor and Jeremy each felt that the children’s feedback had reinforced their own view of the dispute; Michael felt he had learned nothing from the feedback, while Gina was disappointed that Michael had not changed; and Julia thought that the mediation had impacted on Phil’s relationships with her and with the children, but Phil did not think so. Parents also reported a sense of disappointment from some of the children that their situation had not changed as a consequence of child-inclusive mediation.

Child-inclusive mediation, in this study, also produced few revelations that were game-changers in the resolution of the dispute. Two parents, a father with a 5 year-old son and a mother with two sons aged 10 and 12, reported that the child consultation proved highly beneficial in helping them resolve the dispute and in improving the level of cooperation in the parental relationship. This was largely because these parents felt that hearing the feedback had been a ‘wake-up’ call both for themselves and for their former partners (McIntosh et al., 2008). These parents felt that the mediation had brought home to them the damage that the conflict between them was inflicting upon their children.

However, most parents generally considered themselves to be ‘in tune’ with what children wanted, so that a large proportion considered they had not learned anything surprising in the feedback they received. In a couple of instances, they reframed confronting feedback in a way that provided an alternative meaning for the children’s statements. Nevertheless, even the parents who were disappointed by the outcomes of child-inclusive mediation generally still felt it had been beneficial for their child or children to talk to a professional about how they were feeling. Only one parent thought that his daughter had been inappropriately pressured by his former wife about the child consultation.

Parents in both groups were also generally positive about being involved in mediation and most would recommend it to others. These results need to be understood against the background that UnitingCare Unifam does not engage in child consultations only for the purpose of supporting the work of helping parents come to agreement about the parenting arrangements. The child consultation is also used to assess the children’s needs for other support services. For this reason, the success of a child consultation should not only be measured in terms of the resolution of disputes or improvement of the parental relationship.

This may also explain why some parents did not receive detailed feedback from the child consultation. It may be in these circumstances that it was not safe for the child to say too much to the parents, but the child consultation may have led to other forms of support being offered to the child or family.

The limited success of the programme in resolving the parenting disputes may also reflect the entrenched conflict among some parents in both forms of mediation, and for whom mediation was more about ‘going through the process’, required before they could go to court.

Generally, the comparison group, who had separated more recently, had fewer cases of entrenched conflict than the group that experienced child-inclusive mediation. [18]

It is important to emphasize also the limitations of this study. The number of participants in child-inclusive mediation and in the comparison group was small, since recruitment to the study proved to be very difficult. The study was based upon a retrospective interview. It involved fewer participants than in the McIntosh et al. (2006, 2009) evaluation, and funding did not extend to allow for longer term follow-up. Conversely, however, the McIntosh et al. evaluation was conducted with a much higher-income and more educated client group, all of whom were participating in mediation on a voluntary basis. The cohort in this study is perhaps more representative of the population that requires dispute resolution services to resolve parenting issues than those in the McIntosh et al. evaluation.

The intervention practised by UnitingCare Unifam in FRCs is also different in material respects from that designed and advocated by McIntosh, in particular because the child consultation also serves a therapeutic purpose in terms of assessment of the needs of the child and family for other services. There is not just one form of the practice of child-inclusive mediation. Petridis and Hannan (2011) have illustrated the important role that child consultations can play in child protection whether or not a case is deemed suitable for mediation, and UnitingCare Unifam has a similar approach. For that reason, the findings of this study should not be interpreted as raising issues generally about the efficacy of the intervention. It does nonetheless raise questions about whether the very encouraging findings from McIntosh’s pilot study can be replicated if the mediation is mandated (subject to suitability assessment and exemptions) and involves less well-educated participants.

This small study {emphasis added} indicates that the therapeutic value of the child consultation may be more beneficial than its value in promoting dispute resolution and improving parental relationships. Indeed, as reported elsewhere (Bell et al., 2012), many parents both in the child-inclusive group and in the comparison group thought that the purpose of the child consultation was counselling or therapy. If that is so, then more might be gained by offering the child or children the opportunity to talk with a counsellor as one of the services available through the FRC, than to channel cases routinely into child-inclusive mediation when both parents consent and the service is available.

There may also be a need for better selection of the cases where a child consultation is likely to assist, particularly given the additional cost of providing this option. A key issue is the likelihood that the parents will be responsive to the feedback, particularly confronting feedback.

That may be difficult to discern in advance, but perhaps an indication that a child consultation will not assist is if both parents see its utility as helping the other parent to accept their version of reality, and that neither considers it at all likely that they will hear something they don’t already know from the child. There may still be value in a child consultation for therapeutic purposes, but it may be better to suggest this option independently of its utility in terms of the mediation process.

While this is only a small qualitative study {emphasis added}, its findings raise sufficient questions about the optimal use of child-inclusive mediation that we recommend a larger research study should be commissioned to provide rigorous and independent evaluation of the benefits of the process as it is now being used and experienced in the community, rather than in a model or pilot programme. One of the difficulties of taking a pilot programme to scale is that the context for its broader implementation may be quite different from the commitment and approach of those who developed, evaluated, and advocated for the initial programme. A carefully designed pilot study that has been conducted at the University of Indiana (Holtzworth-Munroe et al., 2010, 2012) may provide further valuable information about the benefits of child-inclusive mediation in comparison with other kinds of intervention, although as in this study, small numbers may constrain the generalizability of the findings.

We cannot generalize about the utility of child-inclusive mediation from the outcomes of this small qualitative study, but it does provide some insights into the perceptions of the parents involved.  [19]

Child-inclusive mediation is a very promising and innovative approach to family dispute resolution. However, we are still in the learning stages of knowing how and when it is likely to be most useful to parents and beneficial for children, and whether it really does promote decisions and arrangements that are in the best interests of children as opposed to mediation conducted without children’s participation (Ryrstedt, 2012).

 

Footnotes:

[1] For a discussion of some limitations of the methodology employed in the McIntosh study, see Holtzworth-Munroe et al. (2010: 118–120).

[2]  Child-inclusive mediation is now offered by several organizations that provide mediation such as Relationships Australia, UnitingCare Unifam, and Anglicare. These organizations also run many Family Relationship Centres, in which child-inclusive mediation may be available.

[3]  Family Law Act 1975 s. 60I, as introduced by the Family Law Amendment (Shared Parental Responsibility) Act 2006.

[4]  On the development of the Centres and how they operate see Parkinson, 2006; Parkinson, The availability of this mediation without charge has now been threatened by funding cuts. It is likely to be means-tested in most centres, although with a significant degree of subsidy.

[5]  The national median household income, according to the 2006 census, was $1027 per week. In Fairfield, it was $873, in Wollongong, $933, and in Campbelltown, $1,059 (http://www.censusdata. abs.gov.au).

[6]  For a more detailed discussion of how parents came to be offered one type of mediation as opposed to the other see Bell et al., 2012.

[7]  Parents were asked to complete the Ahrons Acrimony scale (23 items on a 5-point Likert-type scale where 1¼‘never’ and 5¼‘always’, comprising two sub-scales, conflict and support), the Ahrons Content of Co-parental Interaction and the Ahrons Quality of Co-Parental Communication (9 items on the same 5-point scale, Ahrons, 1981). McIntosh  and Long (2006: 25) used a similar scale, the Acrimony scale (Shaw and Emery, 1987). Parents were also asked to rate their level of conflict with their former partner on a 5-point Likert-type scale (1¼‘very little’ to 5¼‘a lot of conflict’) at three points in time: at separation, before they started mediation, and again at the time of the interview post-mediation.

[8]  Parents were also asked to complete the Strengths and Difficulties questionnaire (SDQ), a commonly used brief behavioural screening questionnaire (for 4–17 year olds) for each of the children involved in the dispute. McIntosh and Long (2006) reported that 33% of children were in the clinical range on this scale at intake to their study (pre-mediation) and 21% one year post-mediation. In the current study, 23% (12/52) of children were in the clinical range at the time of interview post-mediation.

[9]  Parents’ ratings of the level of conflict at separation and at the start of mediation were both retrospective, reported at the time of the interview, and not significantly correlated with their ratings of ‘current conflict’ at the time of the interview: r¼.15, n¼30, p¼.42 (at separation), and r¼.09, n¼30, p¼.63 (at the start of mediation). There was no significant correlation between the length of time the parents had been separated and the reported level of conflict either at separation or before mediation but the level of conflict at interview was higher for those who had been separated longer (r¼.44, n¼30, p¼.015).

[10]  The mean Ahrons conflict score for the child-inclusive group was 14.9 (SD¼4.15) and 11.7 (SD¼3.7) for the comparison group (t¼2.23, 27 df, p¼.03). The mean Ahrons acrimony score for the child-inclusive group was 57.0 (SD¼12.3) and 46.2 (SD¼14.6) for the comparison group (t¼2.43, 28 df, p¼.03). The level of acrimony within and across both groups of parents was highly correlated with parents’ ratings of the level of conflict at the time of the interview (r¼.87, n¼30, p¼.001) but not with the level of conflict at the time of the separation (r¼.24, n¼30, p¼.275) or before starting mediation (r¼.16, n¼30, p¼.931).

[11]  This difference is significant even though the numbers are small: _2¼7.66, df¼2, p¼.022.

[12]  Parents’ mean scores on each of the Ahrons acrimony, conflict and cooperation and support scale scores differed significantly (p¼.02 to p¼.001) according to whether they reported that some or all of the issues they went to mediation with were resolved or not. The mean scores and t-test values for acrimony were 43.1 and 62.5 for resolution and non-resolution, respectively (t¼4.73, 28 df, p<.0001); for conflict, 11.3 and 16.2, t¼3.73, 28 df, p¼.001; for support, 20.4 and 14.3, t¼4.15, 28 df, p<.0001; and for cooperation, 26.1 and 19.3, t¼2.39, 28 df, p¼.024. There was a near-significant trend for parents in the comparison group to be more likely to indicate that the mediation had resolved some or all of their issues than parents in the child-inclusive group (Likelihood ratio¼3.57, 1 df, p¼.06).

[13]  The level of acrimony was highly correlated with parents’ reported conflict at the time of the interview, as reported earlier, but not the level of conflict at separation or at the start of mediation. The mean reported levels of conflict were also significantly different between those parents who resolved or did not resolve some or all of the issues for the reported level of ‘current conflict’ (at the time of the interview) only, not for the rating of conflict at separation or before the mediation (provided retrospectively): mean ratings of current conflict of 1.9 (SD¼1.1) and 3.9 (SD¼1.2), respectively (t¼4.68, 28 df, p<.001).

[14] The mean SDQs were 9.6 (SD¼5.2, n¼30) for the children whose parents indicated some resolution of the issues and 14.1 for those who did not (SD¼6.8, n¼20); t¼2.66, 48 df, p¼.011). A lower score indicates fewer behavioural problems.

[15]  Only two parents who indicated no resolution of the issues indicated that the other parent was a ‘very good’ or ‘better than average parent’ compared with 8 of the 18 parents who indicated resolution of some or all of the issues (_2¼5.85, df¼2, p¼.05).

[16] The researchers reported on how parents rated ‘their progress since mediation on a seven point scale from ‘No progress’ through to ‘Good progress’’ (McIntosh and Long, 2006: 26–73)

[17]  Both comparisons favoured the child-inclusive group, although in the 4-year follow up only 55% of mothers and 63% of fathers reported that the disagreements over parenting with the children’s other parent had been resolved satisfactorily; there was no significant difference between the groups in this regard (McIntosh et al., 2009: 41).

[18]  McIntosh et al. (2008) reported that ‘progress’ in child-inclusive mediation was not associated with the time since separation, with fathers reporting ‘consistent progress, regardless of the time since the separation, [and] mothers reporting increased progress, the longer the separation had been’ (p. 116). For parents in child-focused mediation, however, the longer the separation had been, the less the progress.

[19]  A strength is that there were 3 former couples in the child-inclusive mediation group and 5 former couples in the comparison group, allowing for insights to be gained about the experience

 

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