A third of one-parent families surveyed have been pushed onto social welfare because of a lack of childcare

Childcare survey

As the economy re-opens and people are called back to work, we are asking parents to complete a quick two-minute survey about their childcare concerns and whether they think it will impact their income/job security.

To fill out this anonymous survey click here:

We are looking to quantify parents’ concerns as part of the #ChildcarePreventsHomelessness campaign with Focus Ireland, Children’s Right Alliance, Barnardos Ireland, Treoir, FLAC, Dress for Success and the National Women’s Council of Ireland.

Lone Parents at Increased Risk of Poverty

A report from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs states that lone parents are at increased risk of poverty. The report draws from existing data and literature to provide an understanding of what we know about the situation of children living in poverty. It also identifies the main risk factors for experiencing child poverty that can be used to inform future policy developments. A summary of the key findings in relation to one-parent families is outlined below.

Key Findings

  • In 2018, 26.7 per cent of children are at risk of living at or below the 70% poverty line, 15.8 per cent of children are at risk of living at or below the 60% poverty line and 7.4 per cent of children are at risk of living in deep poverty – at or below the 50% poverty line.
  • Children living in households headed by a lone parent have substantially higher levels of poverty than children living in other family structures.
  • Level of education and employment status play a significant role, and studies have shown that lone parents are less likely to hold higher education degrees and also experience higher levels of unemployment. This has a compounding effect that puts lone parents and their children at greater risk of experiencing poverty and deprivation.
  • Access to childcare services also plays a role, as households with children that do not make use of childcare services show higher than average rates of child poverty compared to households with children that use childcare.
  • Lone parent households are four times as likely to experience income poverty than coupled households.
  • Lone parent households are five times as likely to experience material deprivation and consistent poverty.
  • Lone parent households are more likely to experience financial exclusion. They are less likely to hold a bank account or have savings and have limited access to low-cost sources of credit.
  • The ‘Growing up in Ireland’ study found that levels of economic vulnerability were highest among lone parent families (and higher again for those with two or more children), primary caregivers under the age of 25 when the study child was born, and among primary caregivers with low levels of education.

As we can see, living in a household headed by a lone parent clearly influences the likelihood of a child experiencing poverty, particularly where the parent also has a lower level of education or a lack of reliable employment. This should not be the case, and these dynamics require more attention in the Irish context in terms of both policy and research.

Policy and Service Implications

While poverty among children has shown modest improvement since 2011, the current level of child poverty in society is unacceptable.

Some policy implications outlined in the report include:

  • Specific policy actions are urgently required to address child poverty and the variation in poverty risk across age-groups of children in Ireland. The findings presented here suggest that policy measures that were taken to reduce child poverty among very young children (0-5) were successful. This same commitment needs to be extended to all age groups of children and across all domains of children’s lives.
  • While socio-economic status and the employment situation of families has attracted considerable attention in policy and research circles, greater attention must be paid in the Irish context to how child poverty impacts one-parent families and how it operates along migration, minority ethnic, or racial lines.
  • The employment situation of the household and the education level of the parent or caregiver continue to be strong indicators of child poverty. There is need for policy development in the areas of labour market activation, and in-work benefits to determine their effectiveness in reducing child poverty. Research cautions that a work-first approach that seeks to alleviate poverty by moving people off welfare and into work as quickly as possible ignores the critical role that high-quality education and training play in achieving self-sufficiency, especially for the most vulnerable populations. Thus, room for educational development and training opportunities is essential in any welfare to work strategy.
  • There is a clear need to enhance access to affordable all-day childcare, particularly for low-income families.
  • It is well established that several policy mechanisms are required to produce a reduction in child poverty, involving policy that spans a range of Government Departments. A multidimensional approach to the reduction of child poverty will require continuing emphasis on a cross-departmental approach among departments that support public policies for families and children

The full report, Income, Poverty and Deprivation among Children – A Statistical Baseline Analysis, can be found here: https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/a1580-income-poverty-and-deprivation-among-children-a-statistical-baseline-analysis-july-2020/

Policy update

We hope you and your family are keeping safe and well. Over the week we have been busy on a number of different policy areas that are important to the families we represent.

Access: We have updated our guidance [link] on how to manage access issues several times following regulations on the issue from government, statements from the Minister for Justice and the President of the District Court as well as guidelines from the Law Society. The advice is clear for parents who are able to negotiate and come to new agreements if required; but for those who cannot reach agreement even with professional inputs then courts in general have not been hearing access cases. We will continue to raise this as an issue with the Courts Service as they start to provide some cases remotely using ICT.

Shopping with children: Following a lot of behind the scenes advocacy work and individual parents and organisations raising awareness of the issue in the media, we are delighted to hear the issue of children being banned in shops being addressed in the daily briefing from the Taoiseach’s office [link]. If anybody out there is still having problems please do let One Family know and we will intervene on your behalf with Retail Ireland or with the relevant shop.

Social welfare/income supports: We know that with so many job losses, people parenting alone who frequently work part-time in low paid employment have been hit hard. We have worked hard to have all your queries clarified with the Dept of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and we now know that people in receipt of the OFP, JST and JSA who were working and were laid off as a result of COVID are entitled to apply for the COVID Pandemic Unemployment Payment [link].

Also just a reminder that you can find the form to designate someone else to collect your payment from the post office here [link] and the form to request your payment is paid into a bank account instead of collected from the post office is here [link].

Practical Supports: We have agreement at a national level that people in one-parent families who need help with shopping or any other practical issues will be helped through the local authority helplines and the Community Call volunteer systems [link] they may be able to get shopping for you if you cannot get out or perhaps give you hard copies of forms that you need. Any problems let us know.

Child Maintenance: We have been working with the Dept of Employment Affairs and Social Protection on the process that people should use if child maintenance ends. They have said that parents should let them know in writing about the loss you have and they will reissue your payment to the correct amount for 12 weeks and then the issue will be reviewed [link to DEASP statement]. If it is court-ordered maintenance you may also wish to apply for a hearing on the matter although this may be delayed. However we are also raising the importance of hearing maintenance enforcement cases as well with the Court Service. [link to media coverage on the issue]

Domestic Violence: We know that the difficulties around access and contact visits in families where there is domestic abuse can continue or be increased now with new arrangements and flexibilities required due to travel restrictions. We want to remind everyone that District Courts are taking applications in relation to domestic abuse; Women’s Aid have a new helpline to support people in court cases [link] and there is a government campaign called Still Here to support victims [link].

Access to ICT: We know that many families are struggling with not enough data as free wifi is now unavailable in public places and children and parents are trying to learn from home. The telecomm companies have agreed a number of measures to ensure customers stay connected [link]. There is also work ongoing between organisations and government around sourcing laptops and tablets for families who need them [link].

If you need support or help the askonefamily helpline can be contacted Monday – Friday on 01-662 9212 email: info@onefamily.ie or on social media.

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.

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

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

Analysis of the Survey on Income and Living Conditions (SILC) 2018 results (released November 2019)

The latest Survey on Income and Living Conditions (SILC) report published on 28 November 2019 shows that lone parent families continue to be the poorest families with children in this State. They endure the highest rates of all types of poverty for families (‘at risk’, ‘deprivation’ and ‘consistent’ poverty).

While One Family welcomes the drop in rates since last year, the ‘at risk’ and ‘consistent’ poverty rate drops are not statistically significant and continue to keep one-parent families trapped in poverty.

Numerous Government and independently commissioned reports have identified the issues and offered similar conclusions – lone parents need targeted supports to help them and their children out of poverty.  While we welcome measures in Budget 2020 that offered supports to working lone parents more needs to be done.

Creating a child-centred response to poverty, which includes full recognition of diverse family forms, will stop the extreme inequality between different types of families in Irish society, as we outline in our Pre-Budget submission 2020.

At risk of poverty rates for lone parents

  • In 2018, households with one adult and children aged under 18 have the highest at risk of poverty rate at 33.5%. This rate is 9.9% for households with two adults with 1-3 children aged under 18. Lone parents are three and a half times as likely to be at risk of poverty as two-parent households.

Definition of At Risk of Poverty: Households with incomes below 60% of the national median income of €264 per week / €13, 723 per annum are at risk of poverty.

Deprivation rates for lone parents

  • In 2018, households with one adult and children aged under 18 had the highest deprivation rate at 42.7%. This rate is 14.3% for households with two adults with 1-3 children aged under 18. Lone parent families are almost three as likely to be living in enforced deprivation as two-parent families.
  • People in lone parent households continue to have the lowest disposable income out of all households with children in the State.

Lone parents continue to struggle to meet living costs for themselves and their children every day. Housing, food, heating and clothing costs continue to put lone-parents under considerable stress, with the costs of schooling adding to this burden. Ireland is not a poor country and government needs to introduce targeted supports for one-parent families. Government commitments through the Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures strategy to lift 100,000 children out of poverty by 2020 must be met if these trends are to be reversed in a stable and consistent manner.

Definition of Deprivation: Households that are systematically financially marginalised from availing of the goods and services considered the norm for most people in society are considered to be enduring ‘deprivation’.   Deprivation is the inability to afford at least two of the eleven basic deprivation indicators outlined below. Furthermore, experiencing two or more of these indicators, for example, going without a substantial meal for  24 hours and being cold because it is too expensive to heat a home, creates ‘enforced deprivation’ for many lone-parent households.

  1. Two pairs of strong shoes
  2. A warm waterproof overcoat
  3. Buy new (not second-hand) clothes
  4. Eat meal with meat, chicken, fish (or vegetarian equivalent) every second day
  5. Have a roast joint or its equivalent once a week
  6. Had to go without heating during the last year through lack of money
  7. Keep the home adequately warm
  8. Buy presents for family or friends at least once a year
  9. Replace any worn out furniture
  10. Have family or friends for a drink or meal once a month
  11. Have a morning, afternoon or evening out in the last fortnight for entertainment

Consistent poverty rates for lone parents

  • In 2018, households with one adult with children aged under 18 continue to have the highest consistent poverty rate at 19.2%. This rate is 5.0% for households with two adults with 1-3 children aged under 18. Lone parents are almost four times as likely to be living in consistent poverty as two-parent households.

Definition of Consistent Poverty:  Households living with incomes below 60% of the national median income of €240 per week, and experiencing deprivation based on the 11 deprivation indicators outlined above, are living in consistent poverty.

How Poverty Traps:

Time plays a role in poverty. We know that the longer any lone-parent family is exposed to an ‘at risk of poverty’ category, the more likely they are to start experiencing enforced deprivation. These two types of poverty combined then force lone parent families into ‘consistent poverty’.  Consistent poverty is living in a poverty trap, where the daily and weekly living is nearly always living ‘on the back foot’, never able to plan head, participate in social life easily, and are usually always in some type of debt. (See EAPN for further poverty analyses: https://www.eapn.ie/poverty/understanding-poverty/)

Read our Press Release on the SILC results:

One Family Pre-Budget Submission calls for evidence based targeted supports rather than blanket increase in social welfare

Minister Doherty must resist attempts to give blanket social welfare increases and instead use research to focus increases on the most vulnerable groups

[Dublin 20 July] One Family, Ireland’s organisation for people parenting alone, sharing parenting and separating has today said Budget 2019 must focus on evidence based targeted supports rather than blanket increases to social welfare. The charity’s comments came at the launch of its Pre-Budget Submission ahead of the Pre-Budget Forum in Dublin Castle.

Karen Kiernan One Family CEO said, “Budget 2019 must focus on targeted ‘evidence based’ increases to social welfare and we call on Minister Doherty to resist attempts to give blanket increases to all social welfare recipients. The Minister should use the realms of research that clearly show children living in one-parent families are consistently more likely to be poor than children in two parent families to target supports to one-parent families.”

Consistent research has shown that children in one-parent families are most at risk of poverty, Government must now act to support these vulnerable families. One Family’s Pre-Budget Submission includes recommendations that would enable Government to provide targeted supports to children living in poverty.

They include:

  • Full restoration of the Income Disregard for One-parent Family Payment and Jobseekers Transition. Increase earnings disregard to €161.40. In 2011, before the 2012 cuts were introduced, the earnings disregard equated to 16.9 hours of National Minimum Wage employment. A disregard of €161.40 would restore these hours and payment levels.
  • Standardise the child maintenance process and provide support for those parenting alone who are pursuing child maintenance. Do not leave this process solely to the parent with care responsibilities.
  • Raise the base rate of the Qualified Child Increase (QCI) from €31.80 to €35.00 per week for one-parent families most at risk of poverty and raise the QCI for children over the age of 12 to €37.80 per week, in recognition of the higher costs faced by families with older children.

One Family’s Pre-Budget Submission can be viewed here.

About One Family
One Family is Ireland’s 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 662212, counselling, and provision of training courses for parents and for professionals. One Family also promotes Family Day every May, an annual celebration of the diversity of families in Ireland today.

Further Information

Karen Kiernan, One Family, CEO  | t: 01 662 9212 / 086 850 9191.

Noel Sweeney, Communications & Events Manager | t: 01 662 9212