Positive couple relationships 'crucial' for children

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Parental conflict is damaging to children’s future life-chances and relationships and investment is needed, researchers have warned.


Children's lives can be damaged by couples' conflict

Decades of international research were reviewed by British academics who found a range of impacts from prolonged conflict - from ill-health to early sexual activity and substance misuse.

A report by the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) charity documents the risks and also claims programmes that focus on the parents’ relationship may best prevent harm.

The joint review by the charity and psychology professor Gordon Harold, of the University of Sussex, for the Department for Work and Pensions warns insufficient attention is paid to the ‘crucial piece of the jigsaw’ by maternity, children’s and family services.

The study highlighted 15 UK-based programmes but there was a dearth of evidence measuring their effectiveness, said the EIF.

Evidence of the potential for intervention was stronger from the internationally-run initiatives.

The charity is calling for investment in developing and evaluating which relationship support services work best. 

Key findings of the EIF review published today include:

  • Parents embroiled in hostile and distressed relationships are typically more hostile and aggressive toward their children and are less responsive to their children’s needs.
  • Children who witness severe, ongoing and unresolved inter-parental conflict can be aggressive, hostile and violent, impacting on their academic performance and ability to form positive relationships.
  • The negative impact of parenting practices may be stronger for the father-child relationship compared to the mother-child relationship.
  • Interventions which seek to improve parenting skills in the presence of frequent, severe and unresolved inter-parental conflict – without addressing that conflict – are unlikely to be successful in improving child outcomes.

Carey Oppenheim, EIF chief executive, said, ‘More needs to be done to encourage couples to seek support and make services available to them.

‘We urgently need to develop our knowledge of what types of services and interventions works to support inter-parental relationships in different contexts.

‘This is vital to ensure we avoid missing a crucial piece of the jigsaw in improving children’s mental health and future life chances.’

Professor Harold, said, ‘This will not only affect today’s generation of children, but tomorrow’s generation of parents.

‘This report provides an evidence-based platform aimed at promoting real world opportunities through effective policy making that really can facilitate meaningful impacts on the long-term life chances of children, parents and future families.’


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