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Separated Families: How Mainstream Services Support Disadvantaged Children and their Non-Resident Parents


The Big Lottery Fund has funded a study of the ways in which mainstream services support children from separated families. This research will be conducted by the Policy Research Bureau and managed by Fathers Direct in association with Children in Wales. The research team has considerable previous experience of conducting studies of parenting, including services for families, and of evaluation studies.

It is estimated that in the UK there may be as many as two million parents - mostly men - who live apart from their children. Research suggests that children in separated families are at increased risk of social exclusion, especially financial deprivation, but evidence is now emerging concerning the importance of non-resident parents' involvement for outcomes for the children. Several research reviews suggest that a good relationship and regular contact with a non-resident father is associated with better social, cognitive and behavioural outcomes for children. Psychological benefits are also experienced by those fathers who maintain contact.

Recent government initiatives (e.g. Every Child Matters) have highlighted a parental role for fathers beyond that of traditional provider, with suggested provisions needed to aid their involvement. Nevertheless, non-resident parents, especially fathers, have been identified as a 'hard to reach' group of potential service users. Barriers to their utilisation of services have been highlighted in previous research: what is not known is how services can include non-resident parents and therefore help to address both their needs and the needs of their children.

What does the research focus on?

The overall aim of the research is to develop an understanding of how the needs of children in separated families can best be met, and in particular to shed light on how mainstream services can facilitate the role of non-resident parents in meeting those needs.

We have a relatively limited picture of the needs of non-resident parents and the services that exist in the UK to support them. Thus the research will:

  • Describe the needs of children in different types of separated families, and the needs of non-resident and resident parents, as seen by the parents themselves and by service providers
  • Provide a picture of the current services available to non-resident parents to facilitate their involvement with children and explore how far these services meet their needs, from the perception of children, the non-resident parents, resident parents and service providers
  • Make recommendations for ways in which policy and practice can support non-resident parents to improve outcomes for children in need

What does the research involve?

The study will be conducted in four main strands and will use qualitative methods. The first phase will comprise familiarisation with literature on current service provision for non-resident parents and their children, and on the needs of these groups. The second and third phases involve qualitative depth interviews with key statutory services and a number of families in eight areas of England and Wales. The fourth and final phase will comprise a series of feedback and validation workshops to provide an opportunity for stakeholders to reflect on draft findings and draw up recommendations for policy and practice.
Timescale and final products of the research

The research is to be completed within a 30 month period, from October 2005 until March 2008. A final report will be submitted to Fathers Direct and Children in Wales. Summaries of key findings will be provided in booklet form for both professionals and non-professionals. In addition we will organise an event to brief practice audiences and discuss ways of disseminating the research outputs.

For further details, contact Judy Corlyon

Last updated March 2007