One-Parent Families and Covid-19

We have been all learning how to live in the new regime brought about by COVID-19.  There is new information emerging every day and we are working to review this and bring you as much relevant information as possible. Please keep an eye on our Facebook and Twitter accounts for regular updates.

Based on calls to our askonefamily helpline and feedback from parents through our services these are the issues we believe are the most important to you right now:

  1. One Family Services: We have moved all our services to phone and online support for existing service users so your regular service provider should have been in touch already or will be shortly. Our national askonefamily helpline  (01-662 9212, 1890 662 212 and email support@onefamily.ie) is still operating and we are working to extend the hours available so we can support as many people as possible. We are still taking new referrals for services either through the helpline or perhaps from another professional you are working with. We will keep updating our website and social media accounts with any service changes. Click here for services available.
  2. Social welfare and income supports: We have been working with other organisations to ask the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection to think about lone parents and to protect their incomes as much as possible. The Department listened in relation to lodging social welfare payments into banks, the continuation of the Working Family Payment, flexibility re Supplementary Welfare Allowance and Illness Benefit moving online. We are still talking with them about how parents who have stopped receiving child maintenance can have their full payment reinstated quickly and whether those on Job Seeker’s Transition payment can receive the COVID Pandemic Unemployment Payment. If there are other issues specific to people living in one-parent families that we have not yet asked about please remind us and we will do our best.
  3. How to manage access well: The area of access/contact visits during Covid-19 is of major concern to many parents and children out there and with each new set of guidelines new problems are emerging. We have updated our guidance on this and the Law Society and the Courts Service have also both issued statements on how to manage this. If you need to think this through with someone then get in touch with our askonefamily helpline (01-662 9212) or the Family Mediation Service.
  4. Getting in the shopping: We know that it has been disappointing to see children spoken about so negatively and even being barred from some retail outlets. Whilst this is upsetting for all families it is making life extremely difficult for many people parenting alone as they must bring their children everywhere with them in order to keep them safe. We are now capturing information about those shops that are facilitating children and sharing them on Twitter and we have asked for the slots that were allocated for older people to now be made available for families. From 30 March, all local authorities will have dedicated phonelines and email addresses that vulnerable people and those who are ‘cocooning’ can contact if they need help. Please click here to see numbers available so far and please contact your local authorities to see what local supports are available. We’ll keep this page updated as services become available.
  5. Preparing to get sick: One of the biggest worries many parents are facing right now is considering who will mind their children should they get sick. This is something lots of people are worried about and working on. We are working on a guide to help you to prepare for this situation and we will share it as soon as it’s ready. Along with other organisations we are calling on Tusla to be resourced to plan for this so the best interest of your child can be front and centre in whatever may happen. Again if you want to think this through with our staff on our askonefamily helpline then just get in touch and we will do our best to support you through whatever difficult decisions or conversations you may need to have.
  6. Putting children first: we have been working with colleagues on the Advisory Council on Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures  to advise the Minister for Children & Youth Affairs as well as other government departments on what needs to happen during this crisis to protect and support children and young people. We are finding a huge willingness from policy makers to make the right decisions at this time of crisis and we will continue to work with them in the coming weeks as other issues come up for families. If your family are experiencing specific difficulties during this COVID crisis please let us know and we will do our best to put forward the issue and solutions to government.
  7. Education and Tech: We know that for many people it is practically impossible to keep up with school work or use the internet well without a computer and access to broadband. These things are expensive but essential when we are all asked to stay at home and communicate with each other and the world through online platforms. Along with colleagues in the Children’s Rights Alliance we are calling on the government, tech and communications companies to make sure children and young people can access the equipment and broadband they need to stay connected with the world. If you have ideas or you can help please let us know by e-mailing: comms@onefamily.ie
  8. Parenting and Isolation: we all know parenting alone and sharing parenting can be challenging under normal circumstances, but right now many of you out there are experiencing very high levels of anxiety, practical difficulties and possibly a lower than usual level of patience! All our team are at the end of the phone to support you and we have extended our hours so we can provide more call backs at times that suit you. Please see button below for a list of services.

Finally we want to reassure you, while you may be social distancing you are not alone, we are here with you and this crisis will end.

 

Local Covid-19 Supports

Single Parents Day

Tomorrow March 21 is #SingleParentsDay

This year, One Family is joining with Gingerbread, One Parent Families Scotland and Parenting NI to celebrate one-parent families across social media.

We’d love your help in spreading the word and sharing the message that single parents are valued and invaluable.
Single parent families make up 25% of all families in Ireland but sadly we hear from parents that stigma and judgemental attitudes around one parent families is still an issue.

This is why we’re excited to use Single Parents Day 2020 as a chance to turn that message around and tell people about the amazing achievements that single parents accomplish for themselves and their families every day.

If you’d like to get involved, you can:
• Share this information with your networks.
• Use the #CelebrateSingleParents and #SingleParentsDay hashtags.
• Follow @OPFS, @Gingerbread, @parentingNI and @1familyireland, and keep an eye on the hashtags on the day so you can join the conversation and help raise the profile of single parents and #SingleParentsDay.

One Parent Families Scotland have developed some great resources to take part: https://bit.ly/3a8ssbM

Covid-19 service restrictions

Following the restrictions announced by Government yesterday,  we have put restrictions on some of our services to make sure everyone stays as safe as possible as our absolute priority is the safety and protection of parents, their families and the wider community.

All our group-based programmes, Early Years Services and Child Therapy services are closed for the moment. If you are due in to see us in the next two weeks, we will be in touch with you individually to discuss arrangements.

If you would like to continue attending for a 1:1 service then that option is open to you although we will check with you to see if you have any risk factors. We will also offer support services by phone where possible.

Please feel free to get in touch with us with any queries on our askonefamily helpline on 1890662212 or 016629212 or support@onefamily.ie.

Stay safe and take good care.

One Family submission to Citizen’s Assembly on Gender Equality

  1. About One Family

One Family, founded in 1972 as Cherish, is Ireland’s organisation for people parenting alone, sharing parenting and separating.  One Family believes in an Ireland where every family is cherished equally, and enjoys the social, financial and legal equality to create their own positive future.

We do two main things – we offer specialist family support services to families and we campaign to improve the lives of one-parent families and those sharing parenting. The services we offer include the national askonefamily lo-call helpline, employability programmes, parenting services, support for those experiencing a crisis pregnancy, and counselling services – all to help people who parent alone or are sharing parenting to be confident parents with happier children. We also provide professional development training to people working with one-parent families.

You can view a video we made in 2013 which has real-life stories of one-parent families here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KGwGYWTGS10&t=1s.

 

  1. Policy Context:

The frameworks within which we operate include a human rights-based approach as well as a child’s best-interest approach. The work we undertake with separated parents and their children is fraught with gender issues both objectively real and subjectively felt. We work extensively with both mothers and fathers across our specialist family support services to assist them to maintain a strong focus on their children, despite the parental conflict. In general, we do not find a gendered approach to complex family dynamics including separation to be helpful, informative or child-centred.

There are however gender dimensions to one-parent families that are objectively visible and these must be acknowledged. In this submission we will not be able to address all the nuances of gender that are relevant in our work so we are limiting this paper to the most prevalent issues. We regret where we have omitted important issues and hope that other organisations and individuals will be able to address them.

 

  1. Gender Stereotypes and Norms:

Discrimination towards lone parents is, in itself, gender discrimination as the vast majority of them are female[1] (or are perceived to be) and they are constantly subject to judgmental policies, laws and practices. Today these judgements are mainly associated with welfare dependencyand perceived entitlements, but we believe there is a constant undertone of judgement around female sexuality as well that has deep roots in how we treated unmarried mothers and their children for decades in Ireland.[2]

One-parent families experience far higher rates of consistent poverty, homelessness and unemployment than other families. Children living in one-parent families form the majority of children in Ireland living in poverty[3]. This is ongoing, widely evidenced and at this stage indefensible.

Gender and care are complex and must be looked at in conjunction with family type and a child-centred approach to avoid a reductive view. The cultural norms and expectations around parenting become very explicit in separated families and, in particular, when people enter adversarial court proceedings. This can be when parenting behaviours that may be invisible in an intact family then become visible and problematic.

Lone fathers may be completely invisible in relation to care giving and whilst more men are staying very actively involved with their children following separation, we believe that negative attitudes towards Dads who are sharing parenting arealso gender discrimination.

Fathering is not, to date, well supported in Ireland either practically, culturally or in workplaces. This lack of support is coupled in some instances with reluctance by some separated fathers to parent or by some separated mothers to enable them to do so. We believe that as more policies are put in place to support fathers, then practical supports should also be made available to increase confidence and skills if required.

A financial support in the form of a tax credit that was in place to support separated fathers and mothers was removed with no consideration of the additional costs of sharing parenting and providing two appropriate homes for children.[4] The credit is now only available to one parent after separation, often the mother as it is linked to Child Benefit, leading to further conflict between mothers and fathers. Despite years of campaigning on this by many individual and organisations this has not been restored and there is a lack of institutional knowledge and support for shared parenting in Ireland, particularly when compared to our European neighbours by a number of government departments.

 

  1. Gender & Family Law Courts:

What happens post-separation in court-ordered parenting decisions is complex and varied, relying mainly on anecdotal evidence. However, it can be observed that there are several cultural behaviours that may privilege stereotypical gender roles and ignore the best interests of children.

It is widely reported that for those sharing parenting, the starting points for negotiations may not begin with both parents being equally responsible for children. What may emerge ultimately from court cases is that the mother primarily has day to day care with a lesser contact time for the father. This is not always the best solution for every family and more resources need to be available in and out of courts to assist families and judges to make individual decisions that suit all family members.

It is also widely reported that courts can have a strong pro-contact presumption even in families where there has been domestic abuse and One Family has been aware of inappropriate court-ordered contact for children with a violent or neglectful parent. Again, additional resources can assist courts in making decisions that are safe for children and the high prevalence of domestic abuse must always be taken into consideration.

Our experience and research tells us that both mothers and fathers in separated families strongly experience discrimination in the courts and in wider society.[5] There are distinct and important issues for both parents which need to be addressed. In our view the best way to do this is to increase supports for family court users; increase supports for fathers to parent; and increase supports for one-parent families in general whilst maintaining a focus on children’s best interests. There are considerable dangers in making laws based on extreme cases and due to the highly privatised nature of family law in Ireland it is challenging for all relevant information to be made available in courts.

There is a widespread phenomenon of unpaid child maintenance in Ireland and this is described as financial abuse by COSC. This is generally experienced by mothers and their children where fathers will not or cannot pay voluntary or court-ordered maintenance. This leads to feelings of gender discrimination by mothers in separated families and increased levels of child poverty. Ireland urgently requires a statutory Child Maintenance Agency as part of a comprehensive Court Welfare Service.[6]

 

  1. Employment:

Parenting alone makes visible the invisibility of parenting work that all families and parents undertake. The lone parent must be the carer and the worker/student/ trainee all at the same time with very little support. Government policies have been particularly unhelpful in acknowledging the reality of lone parent’s lives despite extensive research indicating both the challenges they face and the solutions required.[7]

85% of lone parents in receipt of social welfare payments are female[8] so the treatment of these parents and their children is again a highly gendered issue. Lone parents on social welfare are required to be available for full-time work, training or education when their youngest child is fourteen years old and they are transitioned onto the Job Seeker’s Transition Allowance when their youngest child is seven. By re-categorising them within the social welfare system as jobseekers their role as parents is rendered irrelevant and invisible although they are still required by society to be available as excellent parents until their children reach adulthood. Activation measures for lone parents need to recognise their continued parenting responsibilities until their children are 18 years old.

We see that the vast majority of lone parents are in low-paid, part-time work and they experience significant challenges in transitioning to higher paid employment in order to fully sustain the costs of raising children. This employment is also frequently precarious, meaning it intersects negatively with the current system of social welfare and employment supports. There are many reasons for the prevalence of female lone parents in precarious and low-paid employment which include government policies, barriers to accessing education[9], poor accessibility to early years and in-school childcare as well as a lack of support from employers for parents, carers and part-time or flexible employment options.

UK research[10] points to the fact that people who experience separation are more likely to experience work absences and to leave their jobs. This results in a loss of experience and talent from the work force.

Some government departments do not provide the sensible pro-active policies that could be put in place to support one-parent families often due to a perceived fear of fraud by two-parent families. Instead of challenging this, government policy over many years has been to continue to make one-parent families fit the two-parent family mould and this is simply not working.

Prior to the One-Parent Family Payment reforms/cuts in Budget 2012, lone parents were disproportionately poor and working in part-time low paid work and 98% of OFP recipients were female. Since the reforms in 2012 these issues have been further exacerbated. Approximately half of all Working Family Payment recipients are lone parents, which indicate how reliant these families are on state income supports to stay in work[11]. Lone parents in Ireland are also now five times more likely to experience in-work poverty than other households with children[12]. This means that there are a disproportionate number of women detached from the labour market in this group. Government must ensure that women can avail of equal opportunities to enter employment in comparison to their male counterparts.

A higher proportion of male lone parents are engaged in work outside the home in comparison to female lone parents and women are more likely to be invisible within the social welfare system. Properly designed and implemented activation strategies have a role to play to enhance gender equality and to ensure that female lone parents can attain similar levels of attachment to the labour market as men and increase their employability skills and economic independence. This is in line with Europe 2020 targets to increase female labour market participation.

However activation policies also need to take into account the caring responsibilities of lone parents. Access to affordable, flexible and accessible childcare is a key issue to enable those parenting alone to engage with education and work. An ESRI report found that due to the prohibitive cost of childcare, 16% of lone parents are better off not working[13].

  1. Article 41.3: One Family has been seeking an expansion of Article 41.3 of the Constitution in relation to the definition of the family for over 45 years.

There are many important reasons for reviewing and expanding the understanding of family in the Constitution which include:

  1. The Constitutional definition of family only affords rights and protection to the marital family and no other set of people are considered a Constitutional family. This is wildly at odds with not just the reality of family life, but also with social policy and even legislation in Ireland which can, within limits, recognise other types of families.
  2. An expanded understanding of family will build on other recent changes such as the Children’s Referendum; the Child and Family Relationships Act; marriage equality and the role of women in the home.
  3. Census statistics and Growing Up in Ireland data show us the rich diversity of family life in Ireland today. One in three children in Ireland are born to parents not yet married to each other; one in three families do not conform to the traditional model of a married couple in their first marriage; and one in five children live in one-parent families.

Article 41.3 discriminates against all types of non-marital families andonly married families (same sex or opposite sex or divorced) are provided protection. We are seeking an expansion of the current definition of family to include all types of non-marital families, as any unmarried parent/s and their children are not a Constitutional family. This has permitted discrimination against children of unmarried parents for decades in this country including the ‘Baby Ann’ adoption case[14], pregnant women and unmarried mothers losing their jobs[15] and the treatment of unmarried mothers and their children in various institutions.

Having consulted with experts and bringing our own experience of working with diverse families to bear, we believe that a good workable solution is to edit Article 41 to add in Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights[16]. This new wording offers high level symbolic change that does not put restrictive wording or automatic rights for anyone into the Constitution but allows legislation to be crafted for specific situations as required.

It removes the barriers to family equality that are there at the moment, it is child-centred and is potentially helpful to any households/families based on caring arrangements including siblings, other non-nuclear family members, foster families and non-marital families. Though the wording of our Constitution could be considered to have only symbolic significance, it is incredibly important and could go some way to provide symbolic reparation to the thousands of unmarried mothers and their children mistreated in Ireland for many decades, particularly those in Mother & Baby Homes[17] and Magdalen laundries.

In 2013 we established All Families Matter[18]– a campaigning coalition calling on the Constitutional Convention to progressively review the Irish Constitution in relation to the family. Members at the time included BelongTo, Family Resource Centre National Forum, GLEN, ICCL, Marriage Equality, New Communities Partnership, One Family, TENI and Treoir.

We wrote an article at the time calling for the then Constitutional Convention to consider Article 41.3 and this can be read here: https://bit.ly/2SRVBSC.

We made a video that succinctly describes the problem of Article 41.3 as it stands for families that are not considered Constitutional. The video can be viewed here: https://bit.ly/3bZklj9

 

  1. Gender Equality vs the Best Interest of the Child:

Even though the work of the Assembly is focused on gender equality, it is important to remember that our Constitution, the Children & Family Relationships Act 2015, Children First and case law all require us to take a child’s best interest approach when looking at issues where parents and children’s needs intersect. We are aware of issues related to families and parents that are highly sensitive where a gender equality perspective can over-ride a child’s best interest approach. There are several examples of this:

  • Automatic Guardianship for Unmarried Fathers: there are advocates for automatic guardianship for all fathers who argue that it is necessary for gender equality and that children deserve a legal relationship with their parents irrespective of whether they are married or not. This argument has great appeal and merit until you consider all the instances in which a child may be conceived or born into, including acts of conception that are crimes. This issue is not simple or straightforward and this is why we do not have automatic guardianship in Ireland. Without knowing the individual circumstances of each child, it is impossible to protect their interest with a blanket automatic guardianship of all fathers even though this may be appropriate in the vast majority of cases.
  • Parental Leave Benefit Act: this act was introduced in November 2019 by the Department of Employment Affairs & Social Protection and the Department of Justice and Equality to provide greater gender equality in the provision of parental leave for parents of newborn babies. The interpretation of gender equality adopted by the Departments meant that it became impossible for a single parent to avail of all the leave. So while two-parent families can maximise the amount of time their babies have access to them with fourteen weeks of paid parental leave, our understanding is that lone parents can only access seven weeks. It is important for all babies to have access to their parents at this critical time and not just those in two-parent families. Because the majority of lone parents and new parents are women, there is an additional negative gendered impact if the leave remains non-transferrable. One Family understands the reason why it is non-transferrable is to ensure that fathers avail of the leave and that it is not routinely transferred to the mother by fraudulent means in two-parent families[19]. Thus a well-meaning gender equality approach coupled with a conservative approach to fraud prevention has resulted in a poorer outcome of opportunity for some babies and their parents.
  • National Childcare Scheme: whilst the National Childcare Scheme purports to provide quality education and care for young children, in practice it is primarily operating to provide childcare to women to participate in education and employment. Whilst the latter is a laudable aim and one that is critically required by people parenting alone, the emphasis should be on a quality educational experience for young children.
  • Contact Post-Separation: there is a widespread perception that family law courts may at times privilege the rights of parents to have contact with the children they do not live with, over the safety of the children involved. Due to a lack of resources to ensure all relevant information is brought into private family law cases, courts may not always be aware of all the issues taking place in a family and we are aware of instances of court-ordered contact with an abusive or negligent parent. In these cases Tusla are unable to act on a child protection notification to change a court-ordered action. There is a gender dimension to this as most contact parents are fathers.

We recommend that in all the work of the Assembly gender equality can be balanced with the needs of vulnerable affected people such as children.

 

  1. Gender Identity

One Family recognises the diversity of gender identities and expressions experienced by family members in Ireland and we work regularly with service users who identify as transgender or non-binary. We believe this is an important aspect of gender that needs to be considered in all aspects of society, legislation, policies and services in order to ensure the full human rights of transgender people and to ensure their good physical and mental health. We also recognise increasingly that parents need appropriate services to support their children on their individual journey of gender identity and these services, particularly healthcare services, are currently lacking in Ireland.

 

 

Ends

[1] Census (2016)

[2] Submission to Mother & Baby Homes Commission (2020) One Family. https://onefamily.ie/mother-baby-home-commission-submission/

[3]CSO SILC (2018)

[4] One Family Pre Budget Submissions 2014-2019 https://onefamily.ie/media-policy/policy-submissions/

[5] National Shared Parenting Survey (2017) One Family. https://onefamily.ie/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/One-Family_Shared-Parenting_Results-and-Recommendations_FINAL-REPORT_Online.pdf

[6]Child Maintenance Position Paper (2019) One Family.https://onefamily.ie/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Child-Maintenance-Position-Paper-7-19.pdf and https://onefamily.ie/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Vision-for-a-Court-Welfare-Service.pdf

[7]Pre Budget Submission 2020 (2019) One Family, Page 4: https://onefamily.ie/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Budget-2020_One-Family-Pre-Budget-Submission-2020.pdf

[8]DEASP (2019)

[9]An Independent Review to Identify the Supports and Barriers for Lone Parents in Accessing Higher Education and to Examine Measures to Increase Participation. Delma Byrne and Clíona Murray. Maynooth University (2017)

[10] Resolution (2014) Divorce is hurting British workplaces. https://www.familylaw.co.uk/news_and_comment/british-businesses-are-suffering-as-a-result-of-divorce-and-separation

[11]DEASP (2019)

[12]Society of St Vincent de Paul, Working, Parenting and Struggling? An analysis of the employment and living conditions of one  parent families in Ireland (2019)

[13]Lone Parent Income and Work Incentives (ESRI 2018)

[14] ‘Baby Ann’ adoption case Supreme Court Judgment. Murray J. 2006 http://www.courts.ie/Judgments.nsf/09859e7a3f34669680256ef3004a27de/b43e456d7a8eea87802572250052b81b?OpenDocument

[15] 1980s Ireland was no place for women. Dan Buckley in the Irish Examiner, 2019. https://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/views/analysis/1980s-ireland-wasno-place-for-women-931480.html

[16] Article 8 of the ECHR – Right to respect for private and family life “1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence. 2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

[17] Submission to Mother & Baby Homes Commission (2020) One Family. https://onefamily.ie/mother-baby-home-commission-submission/

[18]https://www.facebook.com/AllFamiliesMatterIreland/

[19] Email communication by DEASP representative.

Fun, family friendly fundraiser at Third Space

Fun, family friendly, fundraiser at Third Space, Smithfield on Friday March 27 from 7.00pm-9.30pm. Third Space, as part of their Square Meal, initiative provide all the food for free, the staff work for free, you enjoy a beautiful meal in the company of lovely people and you donate what you think the meal was worth/what you can afford and it all goes to One Family so we can continue to support families most in need. You can BYOB if you want and children are very welcome. You can book directly with Third Space on 01-529-7208 or email office@thirdspace.ie. Thanks for your support!

One Family submission to the Mother and Baby Home Commission

Who We Are

One Family is Ireland’s organisation for people parenting alone, sharing parenting and separating. We provide a range of specialist family support services to one-parent families and advocate for improvements in policies, legislation and services.

One Family was established in 1972 as Cherish. At that time Cherish was Ireland’s first organisation for single mothers, organised by single mothers, and run on a human-rights, rather than charity/ ‘benevolence’ based model.[1] The organisation’s early work was concerned primarily with providing direct support, information and advocacy to thousands of women in crisis who were unmarried, pregnant and who felt they had no choice but to hide their pregnancy and possibly have their babies removed for adoption. Over time the organisation was able to provide visibility, social supports and legal protections to these families in partnership with others resulting in more unmarried mothers being able to decide to keep their pregnancy and parent their own child.

Whilst we are not providing direct testimony to the Commission in this submission, as organisations that have worked for many decades with unmarried mothers and their children we are aware of the direct experience of hundreds of thousands of women. We are bringing our collective knowledge and experience to bear in our observations and recommendations to the Commission. We believe this submission can inform the work and findings of the Commission as it is based on the longstanding credibility we hold as an organisation working directly with vulnerable parents and their children.

Terms of Reference

We note the Terms of Reference which were provided to the Mother and Baby Homes Commission.  We note the mandate on consent where you are directed to consider the extent of mothers’ “participation in relevant decisions … (and) … whether these procedures were adequate for the purpose of ensuring such consent was full, free and informed.”   

In relation to this, we strongly caution against interpreting consent as being fully and freely informed on the basis of signed documentation given the direct experience of many of the women we supported. As has been well discussed elsewhere many women were not aware of what they were signing, were not aware they had a choice and did not consciously consent to the adoption of their child. 

We note that Section 1 (I) “to establish the circumstances and arrangements for the entry of single women into these institutions…” permits a review of how women came to enter and stay in institutions often against their will and where they lost control of their children through adoption. This system of containing women in Mother & Baby Homes, in order to conceal the pregnancy and the resulting child, contributed to a society which protected itself against the perceived social deviations of unmarried mothers and any associated economic costs. We look forward to the findings of the Commission in relation to this issue and in particular to the social history module.

As an organisation that continues to work with women today who parent alone in difficult circumstances, frequently from unplanned or crisis pregnancies, we believe that there are direct links between the period of time that the Commission is examining and the challenges faced by many lone parents today. We note that many of the negative attitudes, policies and laws that mitigate against the success of one-parent families today are based in beliefs, customs and practices that were current in the mid part of the last century.

 

Single Mothers in 2020 

Widely available research and Census data clearly show on an ongoing basis that living in a one-parent family in Ireland is extremely disadvantageous. Most poor children in Ireland live in one-parent families; those who parent alone are four times more likely to live in consistent poverty; single mothers are the most socially isolated people in Ireland and experience higher levels of depression and anxiety; lone parents have less access to savings than anyone else; most homeless families in Ireland are headed by a single mother. Having said that, when economic and poverty issues are accounted for; children in one-parent families do just as well as other children. Therefore issues related to structural poverty, economic exclusion and inequality are paramount, and can be addressed though policies which recognise one-parent families and political will.

It is our experience that some of our legal, social and policy institutions continue to work against women (and men) who parent alone, or who parent outside a ‘traditional’ married family. We still have significant historical structures that preference a two-parent married family over a one-parent or unmarried family. These structures range from the highest legal levels of our Constitution through to systematic unequal treatment between one and two-parent families in policies employed by various Government departments.

Lone parents in receipt of social welfare supports experienced significant cuts in Budget 2012 which catapulted thousands of their children into higher levels of poverty – to this day the effects of these cuts are still felt.

The ESRI has noted the gendered impact of Budgets in the austerity period and most cuts were experienced disproportionately by women and children.[2]

Many people parenting alone report to us the ongoing negative stereotyping by society and media in relation to their families. Sometimes this can be subtle, and sometimes quite overt. A survey of 166 parents undertaken in 2014 by One Family found that the majority (78%) of those surveyed think that members of one-parent families have experienced shame or embarrassment because of their family type.

Transitional Justice | Recommendations & Reparation Efforts

We welcome the engagement of the UN Special Rapporteur on the “promotion of truth, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence”, and the adoption by the Minister for Children & Youth Affairs of a more robust Transitional Justice framing, which “aims to achieve not only individual justice, but a wider societal transition from more repressive times … that … will find out and record the truth, ensure accountability, make reparation, undertake institutional reform, and achieve reconciliation.” [3]

We note in Section 6 of the Terms of Reference that “the Commission may include in its reports any recommendation that it considers appropriate…”

We request that the Commission strongly considers the following recommendations in your forthcoming reports to Government as a means to provide some recognition, recompense and rebalance for the harm inflicted on unmarried mothers and their children in the past – consequences of which many families still experience today. Our recommendations are:

  1. Support the women who directly suffered in Mother & Baby Homes: Implement the eight recommendations of the Clann Project, in particular recommendations for access to data; inclusion of all stakeholders; redress and reparation through material benefit and symbolic representation; and legal remit through legal aid, extension of statute of limitations and criminal investigation.
  2. Support the parents and children living in poverty in one-parent families today: In order to break the historic and continuing mistreatment of unmarried parents and remove the ongoing stigma endured by ‘single mothers’. In particular, we recommend the full implementation of the recommendations of the Advisory Council of Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures in relation to child-poverty in one-parent families. We strongly recommend that Government implement all recommendations from its various research reports in order to address the poverty and educational/ employment exclusion endured by lone parents. We welcomed the 2017 pilot gender-proofing of Budgets and we recommend a mainstreamed equality proofing approach to budget development.
  3. Provide high level symbolic gestures to recognise diverse families: In the first instance, we call on Government to establish a National Family Day where the State publically celebrates diverse families in Ireland and explicitly builds on the positive contribution to society of all parents.

More substantively, we call for a referendum on Article 41.3 of the Constitution to expand the definition of the family in order to provide rights and protection for all families including unmarried families and in particular unmarried mothers and their children. This will provide a significant symbol of inclusiveness and reparation on behalf of the state and the Irish people.

We know from our work that part of the painful legacy of the Mother and Baby Home system is this continued erasure of unmarried mothers and their children. They are simply not recognised as a family in our Constitution and remain formally invisible. While the Children & Family Relationships Act 2017 made significant strides in working to provide protection and respect to a diverse range of families with children, we need a Constitution which recognises all families and acknowledges the changing demographics and family formations arising throughout Europe.

Article 8 of the ECHR indicates how a new definition of family in Ireland could be interpreted and provides a robust solution to a Constitutional amendment. One Family is happy to provide possible wording to address this referendum issue.

 

Ends

[1] “Single Issue”, Richards, M., Poolbeg Press, Ireland, 1998 and https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B009OJ8YGA/ref=rdr_kindle_ext_tmb

[2] THE GENDER IMPACT OF IRISH BUDGETARY POLICY , Doorley, K., et al. ESRI (2018)  https://www.esri.ie/pubs/bkmnext367.pdf

[3] Investigation confirming Human Remains on the Site of the former Tuam Mother and Baby home

https://www.dcya.gov.ie/docs/09.03.2017_Recovering_Truth_and_Justice_Remarks_by_Minister_/4155.htm

Sinéad Gibney, One Family Board Member

Congratulations to Sinéad Gibney on her recommendation for appointment as Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

The Board and staff of One Family wish to warmly congratulate our Chairperson, Sinéad Gibney, on her recommendation for appointment as Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC). Sinéad will bring a wealth of expertise, experience and personal warmth to her new role and we all wish her the very, very best.

Sinead’s appointment comes following an open and transparent competition by the Public Appointment Service (PAS).

 

To read the IHREC press release click here:

Sherie de Burgh Memorial Fund Launched

Fund launched for vital perinatal counselling services and to support vulnerable mothers and children.

Press Release: Sunday, 16 February 2020

A fund in memory of renowned Irish crisis pregnancy counsellor, Sherie de Burgh, was launched last night at an event in Trinity College Dublin. The event co-hosted by Trinity College’s School of Social Work and Social Policy featured speakers including former Senator. Mary Henry,  Dr. Catherine Conlon, Senator Ivana Bacik; former HSE director – Tony O’Brien; One Family CEO Karen Kiernan and Sinéad Gibney. The fund has been established to provide vital perinatal counselling services for mothers and to support vulnerable one-parent families.

Speaking at the event One Family CEO, Karen Kiernan said, “Sherie was a fearless advocate for the rights of women and their families in the decades when legislation on sexual health services presented barriers for so many. If Sherie was alive now she’d be delighted at the progress that has been made with the removal of the eighth amendment but she would be shocked that mothers and children continue to struggle for basic services and so many are homeless.”

Former Senator Mary Henry said, “Ireland in the 70s, 80s and 90s was a bleak place for those on the margins of society particularly unmarried women who were pregnant. Sherie de Burgh fought for women’s reproductive rights when it wasn’t fashionable to do so. As our society changes, it’s important to remember Sherie who quietly got on with ensuring hundreds of women and couples with crisis pregnancies were able to somehow access the services and supports they so desperately needed. This fund in Sherie’s honour will help meet some of the needs of the most vulnerable families in Ireland.”

For more information on Sherie’s Memorial fund and the launch click here:

The Sherie de Burgh Memorial Fund will help to support some of the most vulnerable children and families in the state. The fund will focus on two areas of Sherie’s work that she was particularly passionate about:

  • Perinatal therapy: Perinatal therapy provides specialist therapeutic supports for mothers and their babies immediately before and after birth. The therapy works to strengthen lifelong attachments and security between mother and child. This may be particularly beneficial for mothers who have experienced an unplanned or crisis pregnancy, domestic violence or who have practical challenges such as homelessness.
  • Financial support for vulnerable families:Sherie worked with some of the most vulnerable children and families in our society; families experiencing homelessness, direct provision, addiction and abuse. The Sherie fund will be used to continue Sherie’s work and to help to support vulnerable children and families when they most need it. Instances include the purchase of school uniforms, fees for education course or for baby equipment.

 

Editor’s Note:

Sherie de Burgh:

Sherie de Burgh was renowned as Ireland’s leading and longest serving counsellor on the contentious issues of crisis pregnancy, abortion services and parenting, she fearlessly advocated for the rights of women and their families in the decades when legislation on sexual health services presented barriers for so many.

Starting her counselling career with the IFPA before progressing to One Family, Sherie had a deep empathy for the women and men she worked with. She became expert in supporting people who had very complex needs working frequently with young migrant women and parents – helping them when they had nobody else.

Sherie died after a long illness on 15 February 2017 having retired from One Family. She is still missed, loved and thought about frequently – and her courage and tenacity still guides our work today as we frequently ask ourselves ‘What would Sherie do?’ To read Sherie’s obituary written by Shelia Wayman please click here:

 

One Family was founded in 1972 as Cherish and is Ireland’s national organisation for one-parent families and people sharing parenting or separating, offering support, information and services to all members of all one-parent families, to those sharing parenting, to those experiencing an unplanned pregnancy and to professionals working with one-parent families. Children are at the centre of One Family’s work and the organisation helps all the adults in their lives, including mums, dads, grandparents, step-parents, new partners and other siblings, offering a holistic model of specialist family support services. These services include the lo-call askonefamily national helpline on 1890 66 22 12, counselling, and provision of training courses for parents and for professionals. For further information, visit www.onefamily.ie. The askonefamily helpline can be contacted on lo-call 1890 66 22 12.

 

For further information visit: www.onefamily.ie

 

Available for Interview

Karen Kiernan, CEO | t: 01 662 9212 or 086 850 9191

 

Further Information/Scheduling

Noel Sweeney, Communications and Events Manager | t: 01 622 9212 or 085 7241294