Health Service Focus

19.08.19

Reducing parental conflict: a digital discovery

Source: NHE Jul/Aug 19

Parental conflict can be potentially damaging to children and impacts on their health, wellbeing and academic performance. Ibraheem Choudhry, project support officer at the Department of Work and Pensions, argues the importance of using digital services to support parents.

Evidence suggests parental conflict can be triggered by life events such as the transition to parenthood, work pressures, finances – shortages and control, health and well-being issues and alcohol or substance misuse. 

We know that conflict between parents can impact children’s life chances with those living in workless families three times as likely to experience parental conflict compared with families where both parents are working. But there is help and support available for families. The Department of Work and Pensions’ (DWP) Reducing Parental Conflict (RPC) programme will ensure evidence-based interventions are more widely available to improve outcomes for children and will encourage councils and their partners across England to integrate services and approaches which address parental conflict into their local services for families. 

In 2015-16, one in 11 children whose parents were living together were exposed to potentially damaging levels of parental conflict. In the same period around half of children in separated families did not see their non-resident parent frequently, which is indicative of a poor-quality relationship between their parents and a higher likelihood of experiencing problems sustaining effective child maintenance arrangements. 

Evidence shows that children tend to have better health, emotional wellbeing and higher academic attainment if they grow up with parents (whether together or separated) who have a good relationship and are able to manage conflict well. Alcohol misuse is a significant trigger of parental conflict; children of alcohol dependent parents are twice as likely to suffer difficulties at school, three times more likely to consider suicide, five times more likely to develop eating disorders and four times more likely to become alcoholics themselves. 

Poor outcomes for children are damaging and costly, not only for individuals (children and parents) but also for the state as extra support is needed through healthcare, education, social and employment services to mitigate these problems. Therefore, supporting the inter-parental relationship early in a child’s life has the potential to reduce cumulative costs across childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. 

Digital services have the potential to transform all of our lives, and we do more online than ever before. But to deliver digital services effectively, it’s imperative that we understand how best to engage the groups we are hoping to reach. The findings from this user research are an important step in this journey. They will help us to learn about what works to engage parents from low income families online, to identify conflict in their relationships with each other and take action to reduce it, in turn improving the outcomes and life chances of their children. Government recognises that the way we live our lives is changing – families want to use the flexibility made possible by the internet and mobile phones to access support on a wide range of issues. 

The DWP wants every child to have the best start in life and is committed to reducing conflict between mothers and fathers, whether they are together or separated. The Reducing Parental Conflict programme’s research was undertaken to help us understand the needs of parents in this area and how they access digital support. The digital strand of the RPC programme has been investigating how they can provide early online help for parents to support them and address issues in their relationship. 

Exciting findings from the programme’s recent Digital Discovery identify how to better engage online with parents in low income households. Placing material where they go online, ensuring information is created in a way they understand, and ensuring it can be accessed on their mobile phones, is critical in engaging parents and building trust to encourage them to address parental conflict sooner.

For more information

W: tinyurl.com/NHEparentalconflict

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