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

One Family calls on parents to challenge GE candidates on child poverty, homelessness and family law reform.

One Family, Ireland’s national organisation for people parenting alone, sharing parenting and separating has called on parents to challenge General Election candidates with a series of questions on their plans to address homelessness, child poverty and reform of Ireland’s archaic family law system. The call comes following the launch of the organisation’s Election Manifesto and as the charity sets about mobilising the almost quarter of a million one-parent families in the state.

One Family CEO Karen Kiernan said, “Families living in makeshift accommodation and children going without a warm meal shouldn’t happen in Ireland. It’s not who we are. But every night thousands of children and families go without these basic needs, caught in a broken system that pulls them under. It doesn’t have to be this way. Poverty and homelessness are not inevitable. They are symptoms of a broken system.”

One-parent families now make up over a quarter of all families in Ireland. Yet many are struggling to stay afloat against a rising tide of poverty. These families represent a growing and restless force in every constituency in Ireland. They are disproportionately affected by child poverty, homelessness and a family law system that is decades behind our European neighbours. We are asking one-parent families to challenge, in a friendly yet firm manner, election candidates on their plans to address Child Poverty, Homelessness, Reform of Family Law and Constitutional change. Our four top priorities for General Election 2020 are:

  • End Child Poverty: Meet and expand on the current target to lift 70,000 children out of poverty by 2020. Develop another target and commit to a strong implementation system with high level political support. Ensure adequate income levels for all families and households through independent benchmarking of income supports.
  • End Homelessness: Ireland has a national crisis of homelessness which disproportionately affects one-parent families. Commit to prioritising the building of social housing for families and ensuring that children do not spend longer than six months in emergency accommodation.
  • Reform Family Law & Court Welfare Service: Build on family law reforms and commit to developing a comprehensive public Court Welfare Service including a statutory Child Maintenance Service. Ireland is decades behind our European neighbours and must ensure the safety of children and parents in family law proceedings.
  • Protect All Families in Ireland: Commit to a referendum to update Article 41.3 of the Constitution to extend rights and protection to all families.

Read our Election Manifesto here:

Ms Kiernan added, “We know the issues that are raised on the doors are fed back to party headquarters and are included in future Programmes for Government so we are asking parents to let their voice be heard. We have put together a list of questions that might help parents to start the conversation with the local candidates so they can make up their own minds on who to vote for.”

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Editor’s Note:

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. 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

Telling your child – We are Separating

For a parent the thought of telling your children that you and their other parent are separating is incredibly hard to imagine not alone do.  It is however crucially important that parents talk with their children as soon as possible once a decision to separate has been made. Very young children from two years of age need parents to sit with them and help them to understand that the family form is about to change.  They need support and to be told how much they are loved. and will try to ensure moving forward that they will remain central to every decision their parents make.

Telling children 2-4 years old

If you have decided to separate and you are still in the same home but living separately or one parent is about to move out it is time to tell your child. Children are very observant and as much as you might think they do not notice that things have changed, they do. Children will be the first to notice and feel that something is different and they need your support to understand what this change is so they are not left feeling worried, anxious, scared and upset trying to figure out a feeling or a sense they have that is beyond their capacity to understand in so many ways.

Here are some helpful tips:

  1. Sit with them as you play dolls or imaginative play and create two houses, two tents to play in. Introduce the concept of Mummy in one house and Daddy in the other house and then play a game of the child coming to spend time in each house. Help them to build the tent, what it looks like, what they would have in each tent to make it nice and safe, and a place they would like to be. What would Mummy need in her tent and Daddy in his tent? When the tents are built, talk with your child about what it would be like if there really were two tents, like two houses and that one parent was going to live in a new house, just like the tent and it would be safe and secure and the child would be part of that new house/tent. Hear what your child has to say. Gently explore what they come up with.
  2. Children will have many practical concerns at this age about living in two homes around toys, belongings etc. Remember children at this age are still very egocentric and life is all about them and their needs. Talk with them gently about how you might be able to meet those concerns for them.
  3. Allow the conversation to continue by using story books and art work. Draw images of family and home as you know it now and then again introduce two homes and what would they look like.
  4. Tell your child clearly that Mummy and Daddy are going to live in two separate houses and build on this depending on how much capacity your child has to understand. Start with the truth and go from there.

Helping your child have the space to explore the practical change that separation would bring is key at this age. The conversation will need to go on after it is initiated and the children encouraged to play the game over and over so they can process how this might all work for them. Playing this game with your young child will help you as a parent to understand what their needs are, what they are worried about and what you as their parent need to do in order to support them through this major family life change.

Telling your children aged 5- 9 years old

Children of this age are a little wiser to the world. They are in school and they understand more clearly that children all have parents or carers. They will at this stage have a long enough history of living with both of their parents to really value what that offers to them. Children of this age notice everything and are sensitive to change. In their own lives they are managing so much in school as they engage with the community there, with extracurricular activities and the larger community. Introducing a family change can be very hard for them as they feel it emotionally more so than their younger counter parts as they are starting to understand emotions and how they feel and they can in many ways express it more clearly to us as parents.

 

Some helpful tips:

  1. At this age group it is best for both parents to sit the children down together and tell them, for example, ‘Mummy and Daddy no longer want to live in the same house. You may have noticed we fight more than we should and we don’t think this is the best way for our family to be. We have decided that we are going to have two homes and live separately where you will live with us.’ It is really important to be clear with the children, do not leave them confused in the message you give to them.
  2. Be very clear and direct with this age group, do not tell them false truths and do not blame one parent for the separation. Children love parents equally regardless of what either of you might do, they are loyal to both parents, so do not ask them to take sides, as in the long run you will create emotional turmoil for them. The issues of why the separation happened are for you as parents to figure out; it is your intimate relationship. What is necessary is that you accept that you are both parents of your young children and you are both going to move forward allowing each other to take a very active role in parenting and continuing to parent your child.
  3. Allow your child to ask you questions. They may be shocked, as much as you might think they noticed something was changing, they will still be saddened to hear you say the change is going to actually happen.
  4. Talk with your child about how two homes is going to happen. Do not allow them to witness a situation where one parent packs and says goodbye, this is heartbreaking for children to see a parent walk out the door, the sense of abandonment and hurt can be felt for many years.
  5. Plan with your child, as much as you may not want to, around the next steps. Allow them be involved in making the changes as this will support them to understand it more clearly. By understanding what is happening they will develop the language to talk about it with you and with others.
  6. Support children to know the separation is not a secret. They can tell their close friends if they wish to  and talk to relatives about it. As parents it is really important to tell the school. Schools will notice a change in your child and they need to understand the background. This will also allow the school to be more sensitive to the issue in class work and activities.
  7. Create plenty of opportunity for your child to talk about what is happening. Do not try to justify the changes or fix them. Just listen and tell your children you are happy they can talk about what worries them with you. As two parents separating you need to take this on board when arranging a shared parenting agreement, keeping your child central to the decisions you make going forward.
  8. On the day you share this news with your child, try to ensure both parents can be around for them for the remainder of the day. Do something nurturing with them, reading a story, bath time, art work. Allow them time to go away and play and to find you again for more questions or a cuddle. Children will need a lot of reassurance that both parents still love them and will be there for them.

Children aged 10- 14 years

Children of this age can be very mature and portray an image that they can cope with a lot more than their age would suggest. However when it comes to matters of the heart, they are still children and will need a lot of support to understand and cope with family separation. At this age children are at a critical stage of change in their own development so adding a family change can bring great turmoil for them. This age group are very concerned with what others think and know about them. They will fear bullying, whispering and others talking about their family.

Children of this age could be acutely aware that the parental relationship was not working well, that there was conflict or unhappiness; however they may also have no other experience of family life so accept this is family life. They may be relieved that the conflict will end with the separation if the parents can manage to agree how to share parenting and move forward, unfortunately many parents do not stop the conflict at separation. Children can become very confused as to the benefit of the separation for anyone.

Some helpful tips:

  1. Both parents sit down with your children and tell them very clearly that you have decided to separate and will no longer continue to live in the same home. Children may walk away when you tell them this, overwhelmed with emotion and unable to talk or ask questions. It is important for parents to be available to them for the remainder of the day.
  2. Allow your children to ask questions, many will be about their own needs and just hear this. Children will worry about change and who will notice the change. They will usually be well connected into the greater community at this age so will worry about getting to activities and the costs involved. They will worry about where everyone will live and how big the changes are going to be.
  3. At this stage it is important as two parents to reassure your children you are going to work with each other to find the best solutions to all of these worries as you both love your children and want the best for them. Try not to make promises at this time until you have both talked and agreed what the plan will be.
  4. Children of this age will want to have a clear voice in what happens after separation and it is vitally important to listen to this. If a partner is not a good partner they may be the best parent and remember your child only has two parents and loves you both equally.  They do not need to know what happened or be involved in the intimacy of what happened in the relationship. The relationship they have with you as their parent is very separate to the one you have with their other parent. Children will however want to know their can be agreements reached and harmony.
  5. Plan with your children how the two homes will be created and how and when one parent will leave. Children will remember this event for life so try to ensure you are not adding to the grief they will feel by the way you carry this out. As much as you may resent the other parent, remember if you have decided to separate it is now about the business of sharing parenting and putting the children first.

For all parents regardless of child’s age:

  • Always be honest with children in an age appropriate way. Build on the truth.
  • Children are only interested in your relationship with them and how the separation will impact that.
  • Do not tell children one parent is to blame for the separation. Two people form a relationship and at the time of separation a lot of support may be required by both parents to help them explore and  understand what went wrong in their relationship. Children cannot be caught in the middle of this.
  • Stop the conflict. If conflict formed a serious part of life leading up to the separation you need to seek professional support around how to learn to communicate more effectively with each other. Children do not suffer negatively because of family separation but they do with prolonged chronic parental conflict.
  • Ensure there is no gap in your child seeing the other parent, the parent who leaves the family home. Children need constant reassurance at this stage that both parents are there for them and they need to see each parent to know they are okay.
  • Look after yourself as you will need a vast amount of energy moving forward to build a positive parenting relationship with the other parent that will support your children moving forward positively.
  • Be open to creating a shared parenting plan that works for your children. Try not to listen to what others have done or what you think the norm is. Every family is unique and  therefore the shared parenting plan should be unique to your family, ensuring your child’s needs are met within it. All plans will need to be adjusted over time as children grow and life changes and this should be expected and supported.

The article was writing by our Director of Parenting Services Geraldine Kelly. If you need support on separation,  parenting through separation and sharing parenting contact One Family parenting supports at 01-662 9212 or email: info@onefamily.ie  For confidential information and listening support call the askonefamily helpline on lo-call: 1890 662 212

One Family’s Election Manifesto 2020

One Family’s Election Manifesto 2020

Families living in makeshift accommodation and children going without a warm meal shouldn’t happen in Ireland. It’s not who we are. But every night thousands of children and families go without these basic needs, caught in a broken system that pulls them under. It doesn’t have to be this way. Poverty and homelessness are not inevitable. They are symptoms of a broken system.

One-parent families now make up over a quarter of all families in Ireland. Yet many are struggling to stay afloat against a rising tide of poverty. These families are three and a half times as likely to be at risk of poverty as two-parent households (CSO – SILC 2018).  In our Election Manifesto we give our Top Four Election Priorities click here for a copy of the manifesto 

  • End Child Poverty: Meet and expand on the current target to lift 100,000 children out of poverty by 2020. Develop another target and commit to a strong implementation system with high level political support. Ensure adequate income levels for all families and households through independent benchmarking of income supports.
  • Reform Family Law & Court Welfare Service: Build on family law reforms and commit to developing a comprehensive public Court Welfare Service including a statutory Child Maintenance Service. Ireland is decades behind our European neighbours and must ensure the safety of children and parents in family law proceedings.
  • Protect All Families in Ireland: Commit to a referendum to update Article 41.3 of the Constitution to extend rights and protection to all families.
  • End Homelessness: Ireland has a national crisis of homelessness which disproportionately affects one-parent families. Commit to prioritising the building of social housing for families and ensuring that children do not spend longer than 6 months in emergency accommodation.

We are also asking voters to hold ‘would-be’ politicians to account with a series of questions to test their commitment to these priorities.

[1] List of research at One Family Budget 2020 submission. https://onefamily.ie/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Budget-2020_One-Family-Pre-Budget-Submission-2020.pdf

New One Family publications

We have a number of new publications available this month including or new ‘Services Brochure’ and ‘Strategy 2019-2021’ booklet please click on images below for more details:

Services Brochure:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Family Strategy 2019- 2021: