Wednesday 24 December 2008

The DSCF on Families in Britain

The Department for Schools, Children and Families has published a discussion document called Families in Britain: An Evidence Paper.

Here is the executive summary:

Families matter, are unique and changing

• Families are the bedrock of our society, providing a wide range of functions. They nurture children, help to build strength, resilience and moral values in young people, and provide the love and encouragement that helps them lead fulfilling lives. Families are vital in ensuring all children have good life chances and the opportunities to get on in life.

• Families are complex and dynamic. Families provide support throughout life, especially during critical moments and in difficult times, such as when a child is born or a couple is separating.

• As an institution family has evolved, shaped and adapted constantly to social changes, and although families have much in common, there is no such thing as a typical family in 21st Century Britain. Today, people are marrying later, and it is the norm to live with a partner before marrying. Married couples are more likely to divorce, and more children are born outside of marriage than was previously the case. In addition, the population is ageing, with older people increasingly likely to live alone.

What matters for families

• Family composition, circumstances and processes matter for outcomes of families – but not in equal measure.

• Families with strong and healthy relationships have the ability to develop positive outcomes for the whole family.

• Increased pluralism of family structures need not lead to poorer outcomes, since evidence suggests that the quality of relationships and families’ circumstances have a greater effect on outcomes than the legal structure of a family. Strong and healthy relationships are therefore paramount regardless of the structure.

• Poor material circumstances, emotional distress, and ill health reinforce other disadvantages for children and adults. Absent fathers and mothers may contribute to these adverse effects, and make it harder for families to achieve positive outcomes.

Why Government support matters

• The wellbeing of a family depends upon the commitment and behaviours of the individuals within it.

• Government does not bring up children, parents do. Government does not build good relationships, individuals do.

• Families have to fulfil their responsibilities. But there are three main reasons why the Government should have a strong, supportive family policy:
- First, while all families will make decisions that are entirely private to its members, there are areas in which the decisions or circumstances of a family will impact upon society more generally;
- Second, families may not always have the information they need to do the best for themselves and their members;
- Thirdly, the Government has a role to play in addressing inequalities as families have different levels of need and capability.

• But where possible Government should work in partnership with families, and the private and voluntary sectors

Family policy principles

• Any set of policies designed to build the skills and capabilities of families or to reduce the pressures on them must be judged against principles to ensure they give every family the best possible chance of thriving:
- Family policy should be empowering, giving people the information to make choices for themselves, helping them balance rights and responsibilities and fuelling aspiration to achieve their full potential;
- Intervention should be proportionate, recognising that families are their own experts on what is right for them but that they also have responsibilities for members and wider society;
- A modern family policy should not exclude families based on form or structure;
- Universal support should be complemented with targeted support for those in genuine need to help secure equal opportunities.

• These principles are complementary but in practice there are often trade-offs between them.

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