Children’s commissioner highlights ‘protective shield’ of family life

England’s Children’s Commissioner is calling on the next Prime Minister to put the family at the center of policy-making.

Dame Rachel de Souza, today published the first part of her Independent Family Review – a government-commissioned review of contemporary family life.

Launching the report, she said “family provides a shield against life’s challenges – a protective effect against adversity.”

Part 1 of the Family Review outlines some of the things that need to change to improve the lives of the family and children.

Part 2, to be released in the coming months, will explore in more detail how services can be designed to better meet the needs of families. In the meantime, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner will consider revising the family test to make it fit for purpose, conduct further research on family support and services, and develop a high-level results framework. .

Commenting on the launch of Part 1 of The Family Review, Children’s Commissioner for England Dame Rachel de Souza said: “The past few years have been difficult for everyone, and the pandemic has reaffirmed the importance of family.

“We know that if children have supportive families, they are more likely to succeed later in life. They are more likely to have healthy relationships and happy lives.

“When the government asked me to research what the modern family looks like, I didn’t think twice. Families across the country told me what family means to them, how it shapes their lives and who they turn to for help if they need it.

The review draws on new quantitative and qualitative research across all families and children in England to show what modern family life is like, how it has changed over time and the impact of the pandemic.

Research using the UK Time Use Survey shows that spending time with family is associated with improved mood, with 75% of families who eat dinner together at least six times a week saying they are satisfied with their lives, compared to 70% percent overall.

It reveals that families of all types describe the positive aspects of family in the same way, with the main words used to describe family being the same regardless of age, gender and ethnicity. For the parents, these words were: loving, home and caring, and for the children they were: loving, happy, home for the children.

Covid has had positive and negative effects on families, according to the report.

For example, the time fathers spend on unpaid childcare nearly doubled from 47 minutes a day in 2014-15 to 90 minutes a day during lockdown and fell back to 56 minutes in 2022.

Twenty-five percent of parents said their relationship with their children had improved during the lockdown and less than 5% said it had deteriorated.

Being able to count on one’s family in the event of a serious problem is a strong indicator of the well-being of adults, regardless of income or ethnicity, according to the report.

In the Children’s Commissioner’s Family Life Survey, families who felt they spent enough time together were more satisfied with their family relationships than those who felt they spent too little or too much time together.

The commissioner is also launching “The Big Summer Survey”, asking children who in their family they spent the most time with during the summer holidays, and what services they use. The survey will be sent to children at school and tFindings will feed into Part 2 of the family review.

Key statistics:

  • There are 8.2 million families with children in the UK. Of these, 63% are married couples with children, 14% are cohabiting couples and 23% are headed by a single parent.
  • About 90% of single parents were women. Single-parent families are more likely to experience financial difficulties. In 2020, 49% of children living in single-parent families were in relative poverty after housing costs.

De Souza added: “This groundbreaking research has also provided us with an in-depth understanding of what families look like. Their experience of family influences and impacts every part of their lives and for children, it shapes their future. This is why the government must prioritize how it can put families at the heart of all policy decisions. Now is the time to make a difference in the lives of every family.

Referring to the impact of the rising cost of living on family life, Donna Molloy, Policy Director at the Early Intervention Foundation, said: “We know that increased financial stress within of families can negatively affect relationships and parenting, which in turn can have serious immediate and long-term consequences for the well-being of children.

“We welcome the Children’s Commissioner’s call for the government to recognize the vital importance of well-functioning families in creating a healthy, happy and productive society.” This means finding ways to reduce the pressure on families and increase the support available through accessible and effective community services.

“We also need to make sure we make the most of the current policy opportunities, including the Family Support Scheme, Family Hubs and the recent call for a revolution in family support by the Independent Social Care Review. children and ensure that these policies are met. and pursued in ways that have the greatest impact on the lives of children and families.

  • Part 1 of the Children’s Commissioner’s Family Review is available here

Dora W. Clawson