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Census fails separated parents and family

More and more parents share the care of their children after separation and divorce, an arrangement which is ignored and belittled by the 2011 Census. This is not only insulting and neglectful, but it may skew the provision of services available to separated parents and their children. It could also inaccurately represent the number of children living in the UK.

Separated families are instructed to include their child only on the questionnaire of the parent with whom they spend the majority of their time, and to be included as a ‘visitor’ at the other parent’s address if they are staying overnight there on 27th March 2011. Parents who divide parenting arrangements equally following separation are instructed to include the child only at the address where they are staying overnight on 27th March 2011.

It is insulting to ask parents of children who stay in their home for a significant part of the year not to acknowledge their children’s existence, or label them merely as ‘visitors’. The insensitive handling of these parents in the Census merely propagates a harmful and outdated ‘winner takes all’ view of parenting arrangements.

Becky Jarvis, Director of Policy, said, “The 2011 Census neglects the significant minority (11%, according to recent research (1)) of separated couples who adopt shared parenting arrangements, dividing care for their children more or less equally. Shared parenting has rapidly grown in popularity over the past 15 years, as academic research and public attitudes alike have increasingly recognised the importance for children of both parents taking an active and meaningful role in their care wherever appropriate. The disregard of separated couples with children by the Census, regardless of the nature of parenting arrangements, bears little resemblance to the complexity of trends clear to those with even a passing interest in families”.

John, a father from Banstead, said, “When the Census hit my doorstep, I was desperately searching for the box that related to my family’s living arrangement. I was bemused and bewildered that shared parenting was not recognised.  My kids live with me half of the time. I rang the helpline, who said that I should say that they live me with if they are staying on the 27th March. I was appalled!”

The mission statement of the Census is to provide “a detailed snapshot of the population and its characteristics”, in order to identify their needs. By failing to take account of parenting arrangements, it is difficult to see what critical utility the Census will be able to provide in the provision of services for these parents and children.

Due to confusion, and indeed principle, a proportion of parents who share the care of the children are both likely to state that their children live with them. Considering the number of children who experience divorce and separation, this could have disastrous consequences for the accuracy of the Census data on families.

(1) Problematic Contact After Separation and Divorce? A National Survey of Parents, Peacey, V. and Hunt, J., London, One Parent Families/Gingerbread, p19., 2008. See also I'm Not Saying It Was Easy. Peacey, V. and Hunt, J., London, One Parent Families/Gingerbread, 2009

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