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Penny Booth: Peripheral vision?

Date:2 JUN 2011

Penny BoothThe newspaper reports on the financial problems of Southern Cross care homes business indicate a malaise turning quickly to a panic. The care of the older members of society and the impact on families could be the start of the ‘in yer face' recognition that care in the community in its widest sense may not work - unless it is supported by some real money and some real change of heart. Where is the national generational support mechanism? Perhaps if you are wealthy it is ok; if you are not wealthy, then hope to die a bit younger.

Sad?  Despondent? Grim? Perhaps. Who, though, these days has the money to have a house large enough for their elder members to live in with them when age creeps on and brings ill-health or feebleness? Who has the time or the capacity to look after their elder family members?  Who has the life experience to have seen others do it (since it was far common among families fifty years ago) and who can be prepared to live inter-generationally themselves? Some ethnic groups are far more welcoming in their cultural approach to inter-generational care at home. This approach is not reflective of the UK generally right now. The results are showing themselves. First, the older members of families are affected, but who next in the family? If the NHS slips much further, it will be the sick. We already have few resources for those leaving hospital and still needing nursing care, and we just do not have the expertise or wherewithal in the family because as years go by, fewer people will have experienced this care in their own families. The televised brutality of one ‘hospital' for those with individual needs this week already shows what can happen where the resources are cheap or non-existent, and family support insufficient and reliance on state provision of care naively trusting. We expected the state to manage it and it cannot, and now the money is ‘tight', I do not think we can expect much better.

A different aspect of ‘welfare' may also be reflective of our approach in family ‘care', according to a study published last week by the Department of Social Policy and Intervention at the University of Oxford. I think we might just have been going round in circles on shared parenting. At one level, surely, the parenting is shared if parental responsibility is shared - that could be the more important aspect, of course, in many cases. If not ‘lost' on divorce/separation then it continues - what we need is to ensure is that parents continue it in a meaningful way. I feel certain that parents who cannot agree need direction, possibly that of the court, but had we been more successful in securing acceptance of sharing the parenting after the Children Act then sufficient time since the implementation of the legislation has elapsed for such concepts to have embedded themselves into the collective psyche (you would have thought). As the researchers have found, where it works, it could have worked anyway because of the cooperative nature of the parties and the remains of their relationship - perhaps even the sense of responsibility they feel as parents.

In their report the researchers said: "...shared parenting works best when separated parents are co-operative and flexible. However cases that end up in court are often characterised by conflict between parents and concerns about child welfare."

Where it does not operate well, individuals lose parental sight of their essential responsibilities as parents towards their children - and this is crucial. What sort of conclusions could be drawn?

"The researchers found no empirical evidence that increasing the amount of time spent with a non-resident parent improves outcomes for children. It is the quality of the relationship between parents and between parents and children, as well as practical resources such as housing and income that are important for children's well-being, not equal or near equal parenting time."

Heaven forbid that we lose sight of the welfare of the child being important, but I am not certain that the concept is consistently applied anyway.

So, perhaps no surprises that it is at either ends of the age spectrum we find problems this week. No shock, perhaps, but if we could sort those, then any problems in-between should be a piece of cake.

Penny sets the questions for Family Law journalCPD, a new way to gain CPD points by answering multiple choice questions based on the content of the journal.

She is an Honorary Research Fellow at Liverpool University Centre for the Study of the Child, the Family and the Law. Click here to follow Penny Booth on Twitter.

The views expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily those of Family Law or Jordan Publishing and should not be considered as legal advice.

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