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Parental Relationships and ChiThe effect of inter-parental relationships on children

The Early Intervention Foundation carried out a review of ‘What works to enhance inter-parental relationships and improve outcomes for children’ for the Department for Work and Pensions and published its findings in March this year.

The review was led by Professor Gordon Harold, an expert on the role of the family in children’s psychological development, and Dr. Ruth Sellers from the Andrew and Virginia Rudd Centre for Adoption Research and Practice at the University of Sussex.

Key findings include:

  • The quality of the inter-parental relationship, specifically how parents communicate and relate to each other, is increasingly recognised as a primary influence on effective parenting practices and children’s long-term mental health and future life chances.
  • Parents/couples who engage in frequent, intense and poorly resolved inter-parental conflicts put children’s mental health and long-term life chances at risk.
  • Children of all ages can be affected by destructive inter-parental conflict, with effects evidenced across infancy, childhood, adolescence and adulthood.
  • The context of the wider family environment is an important factor that can protect or exacerbate child outcomes in response to exposure to inter-parental conflict. In particular, levels of negativity and parenting practices can exacerbate or moderate the impact of inter-parental conflict on children.
  • Inter-parental conflict can adversely affect both the mother-child and father-child relationship, with evidence suggesting that the association between inter-parental conflict and negative parenting practices may be stronger for the father-child relationship compared to the mother-child relationship.
  • Evidence shows that child outcomes tend to be worse on average in lone-parent and non-married families, although such comparisons may not take into account socio-economic factors and other features of the family environment that may vary between families of different types.

This indicates that the couple relationship is an important site for early intervention. Just targeting the parental-child relationship in the context of ongoing inter-parental conflict does not lead to sustained positive outcomes for children.

Our new research shows that quality inter-parental relationships – regardless of whether the couple is together or not – and the ability to resolve conflict have a huge influence on the long-term life chances of children. Yet, improving inter-parental relationships is not being asked about or considered in many childrens’ and family services. This is vital to ensure we avoid missing a crucial piece of the jigsaw in improving children’s mental health and future life chances.” Carey Oppenheim, Chief Executive of the Early Intervention Foundation.

Churches have been working to improve marriage relationships for many, many years. My National Church and Social Action Survey results shows that Marriage Counselling/Courses are a top activity in every survey. This report by the Early Intervention Foundation shows how important these initiatives are.

The question is - are our efforts only focussed on married couples? How can we improve the couple relationships of any parents? In a previous blog, I identified six resources that could help you and see also Within My/Our Reach - an opportunity to improve relationships

Parental Relationships and ChiDownload report

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Professor Gordon Harold and Dr. Ruth Sellers, 25/05/2016

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