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Research - Childhood report summary in full

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This is the ESRC End of Award Report form. The form should be completed in full and returned along with five additional copies to The Reports Officer, Policy and Evaluation Division at the ESRC on or before the due date shown. Award holders should also submit six copies of any additional papers to be evaluated along with the Report.
New Childhoods? Children and Co-Parenting after Divorce

The payment of the final claim on all ESRC Research Awards is conditional* upon the acceptance by ESRC of a completed ESRC End of Award Report form. The report must include the signatures of all the named award holders, the Administrative Authority in the institution to which the award was made and the Head of Department, School or Faculty in which the research was located and must conform to paragraph 2.6 of the guidelines (below).
The ESRC also requires all award holders to offer for deposit at the ESRC Data Archive copies, of any machine readable data within three months of the end of an award. The ESRC will withhold the final payment of an award if the dataset has not been deposited to the required standard within three months of the end of award, except where a modification or waiver of deposit requirements has been agreed in advance.

This report is an accurate statement of the objectives, conduct, results and output of the research project funded by the ESRC.

The Evaluation of ESRC Research

1.1 The Policy and Evaluation Division (PED). The ESRC is committed to the evaluation of all the research it supports. These evaluations typically involve an examination, through peer and merit review, of the effectiveness of research, the academic quality of the research achievement and the impact of that achievement on decision-makers in the private and public sectors. ESRC’s evaluation activities are managed by the Policy and Evaluation Division.
1.2 The End of Award Report. The first stage of any project or programme evaluation is the End of Award Report. This report, completed by the named investigators, is used to provide an assessment of individual projects. The report is intended to reflect on the organisation of, and activities pursued during, a research project, and on the substantive research achievements and impacts to date.
1.3 Evaluation of the End of Award Report. Each Report is processed through the following 9 stages:
1. Submission. The report is completed by the named investigator(s) and must be submitted to ESRC no later than 3 months from the end of the award. Researchers not submitting a report do not receive the final payment of the award and are barred from future ESRC funding until an acceptable report is submitted.
2. Acceptance. If the Report is acceptable, PED acknowledges receipt and the final payment on the award is released. If it is unacceptable a revised report is requested.
3. Rapporteurs. Rapporteurs are selected by the ESRC’s Research Support Teams. Each rapporteur receives a copy of the Report, the original proposal, references and other relevant information. They comment on the conduct, scientific contribution and impact of the project and assign a grade reflecting the achievements of the project.
4. Summary and Grading. The PED considers the Rapporteurs’ comments and assigns an overall grade on the following scale:
O Outstanding
G Good
P Problematic
U Unacceptable
5. Confirmation of Grade. Board Members are asked to confirm or reconcile grades where rapporteurs are not in agreement.
6. Feedback and comment. The grade and anonymised rapporteurs’ comments are sent to researcher(s) for information. Researchers may comment within four weeks.
7. Reporting. The PED reports grades for all projects, in confidence, to the funding Boards through the ESRC Evaluation Report.
8. Additional Action. All Reports are lodged with the ESRC and the British Library Document Supply Centre (where they are publicly available), and are reviewed by the ESRC’s External Relations Division for dissemination opportunities. Reports graded Unacceptable are retained within the ESRC.
9. Updating. Where a Problematic grade has been assigned, PED may consider regrading upon the submission of substantial new evidence. Where an Unacceptable grade has been assigned a regrading will be considered if a new End of Award Report is submitted. In both cases a Board Member and the Research Evaluation Committee will confirm any change of grade.
1.4 Failure to Submit a Report. The ESRC has a responsibility to ensure the proper expenditure of public funds. No further awards will be made to any award holder whose End of Award Report is overdue (see the ESRC Research Funding Booklet, available from the Registrar’s Office at your institution). As the ESRC makes awards to the host institutions to which the award holder is attached, it will be necessary to notify the host institution if the End of Award Report becomes overdue. If you are unable, for any reason, to submit the report on time please contact the PED immediately.
1.5 Further Evaluation. The Policy and Evaluation Division commissions evaluations of Programmes and groups of responsive mode grants. All such evaluations build on the End of Award Report as a first stage of evaluation. The PED also reviews the factors that support and inhibit successful research with a view to advising ESRC policy. Hence, we are concerned to know about the difficulties and problems encountered as well as the successes and achievements.
1.6 Publicity, Publication and Dissemination of Results. The attention of all award holders is drawn to the ESRC Research Funding Booklet which contains the requirements for publicity, publication and dissemination of results. One of the principal requirements is that the Council’s support, including the award reference number, must be acknowledged in all publications and announcements.
1.7 Datasets. A machine-readable copy of any dataset arising from the research must be offered for deposit with the ESRC Data Archive within three months of the end of the award. The ESRC will withhold the final payment of an award if the dataset has not been deposited to the required standard within three months of the end of award, except where a modification or waiver of deposit requirements has been agreed in advance. All enquiries should be addressed to: The Director, ESRC Data Archive, University of Essex, Wivenhoe Park, Colchester CO4 3SQ.
1.8 Publication. Publications data from the Report is entered onto REGARD, ESRC’s publications database*. You will be contacted periodically after the award to ensure that this data is correct and to allow you to add further publications arising.

Guidelines on the Preparation of the End of Award Report
2.1 Use of Guidelines. The purpose of these guidelines is to set out the requirements for End of Award Reports. Award holders should consider them carefully before preparing the report. Where there are any doubts about the preparation of the report, award holders should contact the Policy and Evaluation Division, quoting the reference number of the award.

2.2 Use of End of Award Report Form. The Report must be completed on the form provided. All parts of the report must be completed as instructed in these Guidelines.

2.3 Layout of End of Award Report. The report is comprised of the following sections:

Project details
Activities and achievements questionnaire.
Research summary.
Full report of activities and research results.
REGARD data.

2.4 Additional Materials. Two publications/other outputs, in print or in draft form, may be nominated for assessment with the End of Award Report. If nominated, six copies of these publications must be supplied together with the End of Award Report. The research will be assessed on the basis of the content of the End of Award Report and the nominated publications. Researchers not submitting publications with their Report are not penalised in any way.

2.5 Responsibility for Report. End of Award Report forms are sent to investigators three months before the project is due to be completed. The completed final report is due three months after the project terminates. The responsibility for preparation and submission of the report is that of the named award holder. In the case of joint award holders it is a shared responsibility.

2.6 Detailed Reporting Requirements

1. Summary of Research Results. A 1000 word (maximum) summary of the main research results in non-technical language. The summary may be used by ESRC to publicise the research.
2. Full Report of Research Activities and Results. A full report of research should be appended to the completed report form. The length of this should not exceed 5,000 words. The report should be a succinct, self-contained document, giving a straightforward and critical appraisal of the research in non-technical language. The following standard headings should be used:
Including, for example, relevant previous or parallel research. Theoretical bases and hypotheses.

Aims and objectives of the research and any changes to these. You should state clearly how each objective has been addressed and whether the objective has been met or not, referring to other parts of the report as required. Where an objective has not been addressed or has not been met successfully, you should state the reasons for this. This will ensure that genuine difficulties faced in the course of the research are recognised and taken into account by the evaluators.
Specific reference to methods used, including survey design, special equipment, new methods and analysis of results.
A report of the results of the project and analyses to date.
To include related activities such as conferences, networks etc.
Publications, other dissemination, datasets (with confirmation of deposit at the Data Archive where applicable), software etc. These should not duplicate the REGARD return but may be used to highlight particularly important outputs.
Are there instances of the research results being used or applied outside of the project, including commercial exploitation, either actual or proposed? Please detail any links with, or interest shown by, users of the research.
Future Research Priorities
Are there lines of research arising from this project which might profitably be pursued (not necessarily with ESRC funding)?

2.7 Ethics. Where ethical considerations have arisen in the course of the research these should be explicitly detailed in the full report of research activities and results in the End of Award Report. Details of Codes of Ethics which have been referred to in the course of the research should also be included and, if necessary, appended to the Report form.

2.8 Confidentiality. If the report needs to refer to material which may be sensitive, this should be put in an annex clearly marked confidential. A covering letter should be added to the report emphasising this.

2.9 REGARD. The ESRC Research Grants Archive and Database (REGARD) holds information on awards that began or were supported from April 1985 onwards and on all research outputs arising from those awards. Award holders are requested to complete the REGARD publications survey questionnaire in order that the ESRC may achieve a comprehensive record of all its funded activities. Please notify PED in a covering letter if you send the REGARD return direct to the REGARD project at the University of Bristol.
Official Contact:
Centre for Research on Family Kinship & Childhood
Department of Sociology and Social Policy
University of Leeds
Leeds LS2 9JT TEL: 0113 233 4431
FAX: 0113 233 4415

E-MAIL: c.c.smart@leeds.ac.uk

There is a growing awareness of the extent to which childhood has changed and is changing in late twentieth century Britain. One of the main factors influencing this change is the rise in divorce and the increasingly common childhood experience of having parents who live in separate homes (often with new partners). Recently, family policy has been actively attempting to ‘mould’ post-divorce post-divorce parenthood into a joint parenting model in order to ensure that children retain both parents in their lives. While in some cases parents agree residence and liberal contact arrangements, others are choosing to literally ‘share’ the upbringing of their children, arranging for them to move on a routine basis between the two parental households. As yet we know little about how children themselves regard being shared in this way, whether they find it a positive experience, or whether it brings new dilemmas. The objectives of this study have remained consistent and are to explore the experiences of children engaged in this new form of family life and to locate their experiences in the context of how childhood is changing more generally. Implicit in the research is a desire that a real consideration of children’s own views should be brought into the development of family policy.

1. Summary of Research Results
Please describe, on a separate sheet and in no more than 1000 words, the main research results in non-technical language. Please refer to the Guidelines.

2. Full Report of Research Activities and Results
A full report of no more than 5000 words should be attached to this form. Please refer to the Guidelines for details on the preparation of the report.

3. Significant achievements
Please list below up to five of the most significant outcomes of your research. These might include: theoretical developments, new findings, new methods, new datasets, impact of the research on others (e.g. academics, policy-makers, practitioners etc.).

• The study offers a refinement of ideas on how transformations in family practices give rise to new formations of childhood;

• It also throws light on how children themselves come to reformulate their own understandings of ‘family’ in the light of changing family practices and structures;

• Additionally, it provides a re-theorisation of the moral agency of children and contributes to debates on children and citizenship, specifically the idea of children as citizens of the family.

• The study has proved to be particularly timely. Our findings are proving to be of considerable interest to policy makers and practitioners (in the UK and abroad) who work in the field of family law and who are concerned with children’s participation in the divorce process and/or the issue of supporting families.

• In terms of methodology, we have extended and consolidated skills in empowering children within research interviews (a subject which has also proved to be of interest to practitioners and generated requests for us to contribute to training workshops on communicating with children).

4. Dissemination

What specific plans do you have for further dissemination and publication of the outcomes and results of the research?

The main vehicle for dissemination will be a book to be published by Polity Press entitled: Changing Childhoods/Changing Families. Other planned publications include:

• ‘Objects of Concern? - Children and Divorce’ to be published in Child and Family Law Quarterly;
• ‘Divorce and Family Practices’ submitted to The Sociological Review;
• ‘Children and Co-Parenting’. In: Children and the Changing Family, edited by An-Magrit Jensen, one of a series of books arising out of the Children 5-16 research programme, which is to be published by Falmer Press;
• Hopes, Dreams, Divorce ... Life! A book for children, for which a publisher is to be sought early in the New Year.

Conference and seminar presentations
A number of conference and seminar presentations are also planned. Carol Smart is to give papers at:-
• The University of New Brunswick, 23 March 2000;
• The Family Policy Forum, Amsterdam, 9 June 2000;
• The International Society of Family Law conference, Brisbane, July 2000;
• The Ninth National Family Law conference, Sydney, 6 July 2000;
• The Australian Institute for Family Law, Sydney, 24-26 July 2000.

Amanda Wade is to give papers at:
• The Millennium Families Conference, Edinburgh, November 1999;
• The ESRC Seminar Group on ‘Post-modern’ Kinship, University of Leeds, December 1999;
• The National Family Mediation annual training weekend, University of Nottingham, April 2000.

5. Nominated Publications

Please list below the two nominated publications which should be assessed along with this report (see section 2.4 of the guidelines). Please give full details. Six copies of any nominated publications must be submitted with the End of Award Report.

1. ‘Objects of Concern - Children and Divorce’ Child and Family Law Quarterly, 1999, 11(4): 1-12.

2. ‘Facing the Unfamiliar: Children and Co-Parenting’; Chapter 7 of Changing Childhoods/Changing Families to be published by Polity Press in 2000.

6. Staffing

Please detail appointments and departures below. For each person, please note their name, age, grade and for departing staff, their destination type on leaving. (Destination types: Academic post, Commercial, Public Sector, Personal, Other).

7. Virements

With effect from 1st April 1996 investigators will be able to vire between grant headings without reference to Council, except where items of major capital are being provided for. Please detail below any changed use of resources and the benefits or problems this brought.

1. £372.05 was moved from the ‘exceptional’ heading into ‘travel’ to cover the additional expense involved in meeting twice with interviewees (see 8 below).

2. £411.28 was moved from the ‘exceptional’ heading into ‘consumables’ to equip Dr. Wade with a high quality tape-recorder and microphone (Sony Professional). Some of the children interviewed spoke rather quietly and the equipment available in the department was not sufficiently sensitive to provide a clear recording of what they said.

8. Major difficulties

Please detail below any major difficulties, either scientific or administrative/logistical, encountered during your research and comment on any consequent impact on the project. Further details should be included in the main report, including any advice you might have for resolving such problems in future projects.

We did not encounter any major difficulties. However, recruiting our sample was not easy and proved to be a very time consuming task. We had planned to find participants by bringing the research to the attention of parents through advertisements in workplaces, and by means of articles and broadcasts in the local media. However, the initial response to our recruitment drive was disappointing. It seems that the widespread assumption that divorce has adverse effects on children places a heavy burden on parents and many were reluctant to involve their children in the study fearing it may distress them or highlight aspects of their own behaviour about which they were uncomfortable. While we continued to place advertisements in a range of publications and venues we therefore broadened our strategy by seeking the assistance of the Family Court Welfare Service and Family Mediation, and through activities such as participation in a Children’s Festival. Snowball sampling was also helpful, with children we had already interviewed proving to be influential advocates for the study amongst their schoolfriends (and friends’ parents). Nevertheless, the sample is a little smaller than that we had proposed. We had hoped to interview 80 children but concluded our fieldwork once we had interviewed 65 children being co-parented across households, as it was thought that it would not be cost effective to try to extend the sample further. A further 10 children with ‘non-separated’ parents were interviewed as an aid to comparison.

In terms of solutions to the problem of recruitment, it is likely that access to children will often have to be negotiated through gatekeepers. However, it may be that the development of a wider recognition of children as persons with valid viewpoints of their own, will enable them to exercise more choice about research participation. Nevertheless, we are keenly aware that investigating children’s views on their family lives can be a sensitive topic for parents and that good communication and full information are important in securing parents’ trust and co-operation.

In relation to parents, an ethical issue which arose concerns the consent process. We had intially planned to secure the consent of both parents to their child’s participation in the study but this proved unsustainable, particularly where the relationship between the parents was problematic or where children were keen to participate and were supported in this by one parent but had their involvement vetoed by the other. We therefore decided to take a more flexible approach and be guided by the contacting parent on this matter.

We should also note that although we had proposed a single interview with the majority of children, in practice we found it helpful to have a preliminary meeting to allow children to become familiar with us, and ask questions about the project. Although, again, this was time consuming and led to additional travel costs etcetera, we feel it was a valuable exercise, enabling us to obtain particularly rich accounts from the children, who had been given time to think about what they wanted to tell us and also to feel at ease with the interviewer.

9. Other issues and unexpected outcomes

Please describe any outcomes of your research, beneficial or otherwise, that were not expected at the outset, or other issues which were important to the research, where these are not addressed above. Further details should be included in the main report.

For those unfamiliar with children, the richness of the data we have gathered and the thoughtfulness and articulacy with which the children express themselves (irrespective of their age), has been a revelation. Once the children’s views are heard it is difficult to sustain a belief that we have little to learn from them, or that they do not have a capacity for making balanced evaluations of their circumstances. The quality of the interviews which the children gave us also indicates that they can be willing to discuss potentially sensitive issues with persons they do not know well, given the right conditions. It might have been expected that within the space of a single interview (albeit with a preliminary meeting with the interviewer) the data would be bland and unrevealing - in other words, the children would simply tell us what they thought we wanted to hear, or give a rather superficial account of their family lives. However, this was not the case, and some talked at length about difficulties and dilemmas they have faced as well as the positive aspects of their lives. Of course, the fact that the children chose to take part in the study means that they were motivated to work with us, but we also believe that the care they took over the accounts which they gave us reflects the value they place on being listened to with respect and their ability to rise to this opportunity, given the occasion to do so.

10. Nominated Rapporteur

Please suggest the name of one person who would be suitable to act as an independent rapporteur for your project. Please state full address and telephone number.

Professor Julia Brannen
Thomas Coram Research Unit
Institute of Education
University of London
27-28 Woburn Square
London WC1H 0AA

Tel: 0171 612 6951

1. Summary of Research Results

1. Background
1.1. The question of how to raise children after a divorce is becoming increasingly important as the numbers of children affected by their parents’ divorce increases. There are indications that more parents want to be equally involved in raising their children after separation and this ethos is positively encouraged by the Children Act. Yet we know little about how children themselves experience being ‘shared’ across households; whether this is a positive experience, or whether it brings new dilemmas. In this study, we have interviewed 65 co-parented children to discover what family life is like for them when both post-divorce parents continue to play a major role in their lives.

1.2. Much research on children and divorce focuses on parental separation as a form of childhood adversity and is concerned to determine whether or how this might affect children in the short and long term. By contrast, we focus on the currency of children’s experiences and thus look more closely at childhood itself rather than valuing childhood simply as a training ground for the supposedly more important life stage known as adulthood. We have therefore explored the children’s views on family life; how they think the everyday problems and issues which can be encountered by children whose parents live apart might be managed; and the extent to which the children are active moral agents in family life.

2. Findings
2.1. Most of the children felt that it is important to them to have both parents involved in their lives after a divorce. They wanted their parents to play a full part as parents and saw ‘parenting’ as involving activities intimately bound up with day-to-day family life. So it might include, for example, checking that the children have done their homework or are up, washed and dressed in time for school, as well as sharing meals, companionship, and activities together. For this reason, the children mostly endorsed the practice of co-parenting after a divorce and expressed a preference for this as opposed to having a home with one parent and contact with the other. A ‘contact’ arrangement, they thought, would inevitably diminish their relationship with the non-residential parent.

2.2. The desire for a close relationship with both parents meant that the majority of the children were prepared to tolerate the demands of continually moving between two households. Indeed, for young children co-parented from an early age, moving between their two homes often became routine. Others, however, experienced emotional and practical difficulties at some stage. Change-overs could be a particularly difficult time when children had to part from one parent and re-bond with the other. Some found it helpful to have an intervening activity between leaving one home and re-joining the other and so preferred change-overs to be on a school day. Others developed particular routines for dealing with the transitions, such as having a family meal, or a period of quiet to unpack and settle in. The time spent in each household could be especially important. For young children, a week was simply too long to be away from a parent, while for older children too short a time in each home could be unsettling.

2.3. Difficulties could arise where parents were hostile to each other, especially if the children themselves became a focus of conflict or were subject to conflicting loyalties. However, some children felt strongly that parental conflict should not be a barrier to co-parenting and that parents should resist the temptation to draw the children into their disputes. Other problems might occur over time, such as one parent moving further away, re-partnering, or having further children. As children grew older they sometimes experienced a tension between wanting to spend time with their parents and wanting to be with friends. This could reduce their commitment to co-parenting, particularly where the geographical distance between the two homes made it hard to engage in peer social activities. The children who were least happy with co-parenting were those who felt they could not talk to their parents about the arrangements and had no influence over how their time was divided between their two homes.

2.4. Most of the children saw their families as ‘normal’ once they had got over the initial disruption of the divorce. They saw the quality of the relationships within a family as being of much more importance than its having a normative structure so, especially where they had good relationships with their parents and saw the latter as being happier since their separation, were disinclined to express a wish for them to become re-united.

2.5. Not all the children had good relationships with their parents. Where parents were experienced as unreliable or uncaring, were oppressive in their behaviour, or paid little attention to the children’s wishes and feelings, they risked alienating their affections. The experience of family restructuring and re-negotiation of family relationships faces children with re-thinking their ideas about what a family is and what parenting involves. This often gave children an awareness of themselves as separate persons (rather than as extensions of their parents) and as having choices. Where they re-appraised a parent critically over a lengthy period, they would sometimes exercise their sense of choice by seeking to reduce or even sever contact.

2.6. The children valued relationships based on ties of love and affection. They valued parents who had time for them, who prioritised and met their needs, and who listened to them and treated their views with respect. They wanted to be involved in decisions about family life and aspired to be treated as ‘citizens’ within the family, not as packages to be passed around to suit the lives only of the adults.

2.7. If they wanted their parents to treat them ‘fairly’, children also saw themselves as having a responsibility to be fair. Excessive ‘neediness’ in parents could be burdensome to children but within relationships of care and respect they could be attentive to their parents’ needs; thoughtful about how their own actions might affect them; and actively caring in innumerable small ways such as making tea for a tired parent, or having a ‘nice’ conversation with a parent who was sad or lonely.

2. Full Report of Research Activities and Results

One of the key questions posed by the sociology of childhood concerns the extent to which childhood can be said to change over time and in relation to different social conditions. In this study we have been concerned with the ways in which changes in parenting are transforming children’s lives and specifically their experiences of family. One of the most significant of these changes in parenting since the 1970’s has been the increase in the divorce rate and the extent to which children now have parents who live in separate households. But there has also recently been another shift in post-divorce parenthood away from the model of the custodial parent and parent with access, towards a co-parenting project in which children are ‘shared’ across households.

The Children Act 1989 has encouraged separating parents to think in terms of joint parenting on divorce in order that children can benefit from the continued involvement of both parents in their lives. The Act abolished the concept of custody replacing it with that of parental responsibility, which is defined as an inalienable responsibility that is neither removed nor diminished by divorce. It was hoped that this shift in terminology would dispel the perception that the law sees children as ‘belonging’ to the residential parent and promote a greater willingness among parents to focus on the interests of their child rather than their feelings about each other. It was not anticipated that joint parenting would significantly alter arrangements for the day to day care of children but rather encourage new attitudes and more co-operation between former partners. However, as parents strive to overcome the problems associated with contact, especially the detachment from parenting which can be associated with living apart from children, it is becoming increasingly common for them to arrange for children to divide their time (and physical presence) between their parents’ households. This newly emerging model of parenting, in part a response to the legislation but possibly as much an adaptive response to the specific circumstances and demands which separated parents now face, represents a challenge to normative western concepts of child care in which stability is seen as central to children’s well-being. As yet, little is known about how children themselves experience being ‘shared’ in this way, whether they see this as a positive experience, or whether it brings new dilemmas. In this exploratory study we have conducted interviews with 65 co-parented children in order to begin to understand how they respond to this new form of parenting and how it is shaping their childhoods.

There have, of course, been a wealth of studies which have addressed the question of children and divorce. In most cases, however, these have been concerned with outcomes and the ways in which divorce can be said to affect children’s life chances. Thus the focus has been on divorce as a form of adversity, investigating its effect on children’s short and long-term social, emotional and cognitive development, with a view to developing more effective strategies of child welfare. It is hard to break the chain of reasoning associated with such studies, not least because in doing so it can appear that one is indifferent to the miseries associated with family breakdown. Nevertheless, we have wanted to step outside this framework in order to offer a different perspective. This means that our study is not designed to assess how children raised across households compare in their functioning with children from intact, custodial or solo-parenting families, nor is it primarily concerned to evaluate how co-parenting ‘works’ (although we do consider this from the children’s perspective). Instead, the study locates its examination of this new development in post-divorce parenting within a sociological examination of changes in the family and contemporary childhood. Rather than offering ideas on what is ‘good’ for children, or how parents can parent ‘better’ after a divorce, we have explored what children have to say about their experiences of family life in the light of the co-parenting ethos which structures their lives, and the way in which their experiences inform their concepts of what a family should be.

• to explore new forms of post-divorce childhood from the perspective of the sociology of childhood

The emphasis given by the sociology of childhood to children as social actors is at the heart of this project. Rather than focusing on the difficulties children experience at the time of their parents’ separation, or how children whose parents divorce turn out as adults, we have wanted to highlight the importance of children’s experiences as children and understand more about the actuality of their lives in the here and now. As indicated above, this has meant moving beyond the developmental and dependency paradigms which have dominated previous research in this field. We do not assume, for example, that children should be regarded as the passive victims of their parents’ divorce, nor that differences in their intellectual, moral or social capacities mean that their views and experiences are of less value than those of adults. Thus we have looked at how children rise to the challenge of their new childhoods, exploring their perceptions of the positives as well as the negatives of co-parenting, and their means of influencing their families and actively contributing to family life.

• to investigate specifically the experience of children living under the ethos of co-parenting

Co-parenting stands in marked contrast to the practices of custodial or solo parenting which until recently have provided the more usual solution on divorce, and represents a challenge to the normative frameworks which emphasise the importance to children of having a single, settled home. Debates about the effects on children of routinely moving between households are limited by the dearth of information from children themselves. In this study we have interviewed 65 children who are ‘shared’ in this way and have been concerned to explore what it means for children to have both parents actively involved in their lives after separation and what costs and benefits there might be from the perspective of the child.

• to give consideration to children’s perspectives on independence and autonomy where they are inhabiting two households and interacting within two discrete parental milieus

In considering how co-parenting structures children’s experiences in the here and now, we have wanted to investigate whether this new form of parenting grants new freedoms to children as they move between households or whether the requirement that they meet the parenting needs of two households rather than one places increased restrictions on their opportunities for social independence and personal autonomy. We have also wanted to explore how children make the emotional and practical transitions from one household to another, particularly where their parents’ values and lifestyles differ. We have done this by focusing in a grounded way in interviews on the actualities of the children’s lives and the day-to-day practices in each household. Additionally, we have considered independence and autonomy in the more abstract sense of the extent to which the children regard themselves as separate persons rather than as an extension of their parents. We have been concerned to know if the experience of family restructuring has led the children to think in new ways about the concept of ‘family’; whether they see themselves as having choices about where, how, and with whom they live; and how their experiences might be said to inform the moral reasoning which they apply to the resolution of everyday dilemmas which can be faced by children whose parents live apart.

• to observe the impact of children’s agency on these post-divorce arrangements and the impact of these new arrangements on children’s social lives

Children have little say in whether or not their parents choose to divorce. Moreover, parents in general are in a powerful position to shape the conditions of their children’s everyday lives, having at their disposal considerably more social and economic resources. However, within their day to day lives children have considerable scope for influencing and impacting upon those around them and are faced with a range of situations and choices about which they make decisions. It is in this sense that we have regarded children as social and moral actors and have investigated the ways in which they are active participants in the family. In particular we have focused on how children re-negotiate their relationships with their parents after divorce and respond to new family members such as new partners and any new siblings. In some cases such negotiations are conducted openly and we have considered these in the context of the democratisation of family life and children’s ‘citizenship’ within the family. In other cases children may choose (or be restricted to) more surreptitious means, or may indeed opt to do nothing. We go on to consider how children manage the demands on their time and space created by moving between two households and whether they experience tensions between spending time with parents and engaging in a social life outside the family.

• to offer to policy makers an alternative way of thinking about children after divorce which may supplement the dominant concern with long-term outcomes and welfare.

Children have tended to be the ‘intellectual property’ of psychologists and social work theorists. The impact of this has been to discursively construct children within child developmental and welfarist frames of reference and, in terms of divorce, has led to an emphasis on the potential harms which a parental separation can have for children both in the short and longer term. While not wanting to deny that a divorce can be extremely upsetting for all concerned, or that adjusting to parental separation can be difficult for children, we have wanted to suspend the notion of ‘harm’ in order to move beyond an exploration of the ways in which adults might ‘protect’ children from adverse outcomes. Instead, through our focus on children as social agents, we have wanted to examine how children rise to the demands of their new lives. Moreover, in challenging ideas about the superiority of the nuclear family and by drawing on the children’s evaluations of their family lives and personal well-being, we have raised questions about the association sometimes drawn between children’s welfare and the structure of their family. In so-doing, we have hoped to offer policy makers a sociological framework within which to understand contemporary changes in family life and childhood experiences which will supplement the dominant welfarist perspective which pertains in the field of family law.

We followed the methods specified in the original proposal. As indicated in section 8 of the report which follows, we experienced some difficulty recruiting the study sample, in that the response to our advertisements for research participants was slower than we had anticipated. We had thought that we would find that where co-parenting arrangements had been agreed, many parents would see themselves as being in the vanguard of an innovative approach to caring for children after a divorce, and would welcome the opportunity to disseminate information about such arrangements. However, we had underestimated the burden of anxiety which many separated and divorced parents carry, and the extent to which they are fearful of having harmed their children through their divorce, even where the children themselves appear well-adjusted and happy. We found that we often had to work as hard to reassure parents that it was not our intention to be judgmental about their decisions and parenting practices as we did to allay their concerns about research participation being distressing to the children themselves. In some cases, however, parents who believed their children had found it difficult to adjust to the separation saw research participation as a constructive means of enabling the children to express some of their difficulties and concerns to a neutral but concerned third party. This was particularly helpful in ensuring that we secured a balanced sample.

We achieved our eventual sample through persistence; we placed regular advertisements in a range of publications and venues; publicised the research in the local media; and additionally sought the assistance of the Family Court Welfare Service and Family Mediation. By these means we achieved a small but steady flow of volunteers to the study. Moreover, the support we received from practitioners working in the field of family law helped to ensure that research participants included children from families where the divorce had been acrimonious and co-parenting adopted less as an arrangement of choice than a means of resolving a protracted dispute over custody.

In interviewing the children we followed the methods specified in the original proposal. The interviews themselves were conversational and topics were explored in an open ended manner, depending on their salience to the particular child. Drawing was used extensively, as this provided a relaxed (and sometimes humorous) way of opening the interview. Additionally it enabled children to take early charge of the discussion through their decisions about who and what should be included in or excluded from their depiction of their family; provided valuable information about potentially sensitive areas; and gave helpful pointers to how the child’s experiences might be explored. Activity sheets, mapping the children’s relationships and their day-to-lives in the two households, were used as a means of introducing variety into the interview and lessening the intensity of one-to-one discussion, while also generating useful data in themselves. Amongst the most valuable tools which we identified, however, were vignettes. We used these to explore the ethical frameworks the children employ to resolve the sorts of everyday dilemma which children of divorced parents can face, such as the competing demands of spending time with parents and with friends. The children responded to the vignettes with enthusiasm (several were disappointed at being asked their views on ‘only’ three and asked if we had more) and demonstrated clearly how they use their personal experiences to inform the values to which they subscribe.

In almost all cases the children chose to speak to the interviewer alone. However, two children invited a friend to be present during their interview; a 13 year old boy asked to be interviewed with his 19 year old sister; and an interview with a four year old girl was facilitated by her father. The interviews have been transcribed in full

Our policy of engaging in ethical research means that we wanted to create an environment in which children felt at ease and able to contribute fully in interviews. We therefore gave priority to obtaining children’s own informed consent to research participation, and to ensuring that they were confident that whatever they told us was treated as confidential. We produced information leaflets outlining the focus of the study and what participation would involve, which children had an opportunity to read before deciding whether or not to proceed. Additionally, where they expressed an interest in the study, having seen the leaflet, they were given an opportunity to meet the interviewer and ask questions about the study before deciding whether to go any further. We believe that the richness of the data which we have been able to collect is in part due to the fact that the children knew what to expect from the interview; had been able to think about what they wanted to say; and felt in control of the interview process itself.

In the course of the study we conducted interviews with 65 children (from 47 families), who move routinely between their parents’ households (or who have done so in the past). There are more girls (39) than boys (26) in the sample, but the children are almost equally divided between those aged 10 years and under (32) and those aged 11 years and above (33). The youngest child interviewed was aged just 4 years at the time of interview and the oldest 17 years.

The children come from a range of backgrounds and varying economic circumstances although the sample is skewed towards children from the middle classes, with approximately a quarter of the children interviewed being from the ‘traditional’ working class. In some cases we found it difficult to apply conventional class categorisations as a significant proportion of the ‘middle-class’ parents are culturally rich (having the benefit of higher education) but materially poor, and some have adopted ‘alternative’ lifestyles. There are no ethnic minority children in the sample but five children (from three families) are of mixed race. The length of time during which the co-parented children have been moving between two households ranges from one to 10 years. Their parents are almost equally divided between those who have repartnered and those who remain single. Similarly, they divide between those who have developed a friendly and supportive post-divorce relationship (approximately 25 percent), those between whom there is hostility and conflict (25 percent), and those who co-operate to the extent of sharing the care of the children but otherwise have no or minimal contact with each other (approximately 50 per cent).

As outlined in the original proposal, we based our analysis of the children’s interviews on the grounded theory approach, immersing ourselves in the data and moving critically between our theoretical conceptualisations of childhood and children’s agency and the content of the interviews.

Moving between households
Most of the children felt it is important to them to have both parents actively involved in their lives as parents, that is, that they should continue to be involved in such basic familial practices as sharing meals with the children, ensuring that they are up, washed and dressed in time for school; and engaging with them in discussions and activities around their interests, concerns and friendships. They therefore for the most part endorsed the concept of co-parenting after a divorce and expressed a preference for this as opposed to a residence/contact arrangement, for example, which they felt thought would invariably erode their relationship with the non-resident parent.

The emphasis which they placed on the continuation of a ‘real’ relationship with both parents modified the demands which some saw as associated with moving between households. For children co-parented from an early age, moving from one parental establishment to another had become routine; indeed, some saw this as preferable to living in one household and appeared to be thriving on the variety which it introduces into their lives. These children often saw their homes as complementary; in one, for example, the child might have to ‘share’ their parent with a new partner and new siblings, whereas in the other the parent might live alone and have only the one child. In this case the individual space and attention available in the solo parent household tended to be valued as offering a respite from the noise and activity of the multi-person home, while the latter was seen as off-setting the loneliness associated with having no siblings to play with.

However, although the children mostly accommodated to their new family arrangements and even flourished under them, they could still encounter problems. For some there was a particular problem associated with ‘transitions’ from one household to the other. These could be practical such as having to pack clothing and/or school books every week and meant that the children had to develop skills in personal organisation. As one sixteen year old said, ‘It’s like putting your life into a couple of carrier bags every week.’ Many children spoke of the frustration of discovering that a book needed for their homework was missing, or the problem of being refused permission to take things bought by one parent to the other parent’s house. Other children found change-overs emotionally demanding as they had to detach from one parent and re-bond with the other. Here, the amount of time in each home could be especially important. For some very young children, a week was simply too long to be away from a parent. Equally, too short a time in each home (some children moved on a daily basis) could be too unsettling.

While some parents were supportive of each other’s parenting, or co-operated in maintaining the co-parenting arrangement while minimising contact between themselves, others remained locked in hostility. This could create difficulties for the children, particularly if they themselves were a focus of conflict or were subject to conflicting loyalties. However, some children felt strongly that parental conflict should not be a barrier to co-parenting, particularly where parents are able to resist the temptation to draw the children into their disputes. The children who were least happy with co-parenting were those who felt they could not talk to their parents about the arrangements and who had no influence over how their time was divided between their two homes.

Re-negotiating relationships with parents
Although co-parenting means that children are able to continue to engage with both their mother and father in the day to day practices which make up the parent-child relationship, these relationships are nevertheless altered by the restructuring of their family, and have to be re-negotiated. The children’s expectations of their parents have to be revised and they may see them behaving in unaccustomed ways, perhaps distressed or lonely, or perhaps relating to a new sexual partner, or step-parenting ‘strange’ children.

For most of the children in our sample, co-parenting provides clear messages about the importance of their place in their parents’ lives and the strength of their parents’ love and commitment. The children correspondingly often expressed a renewed sense of attachment to and esteem for their parents. Asked if his relationship with his father had changed at all, a 12 year old boy said, ‘No, it’s just the same. ... Sort of, like, appreciate him more. Sort of think about it more. Whereas before I just like took it for granted that he was there’. These children were concerned to give time to their relationships with their parents and would sometimes forgo outside activities or contact with friends in order to do so. While younger children tended not to see this as a problem, some older children experienced a tension between wanting to see parents and wanting to see friends, especially if a parent had not re-partnered and was thought by the child to be lonely.

The experience of family re-structuring and associated process of re-evaluating family relationships means that children can experience themselves as persons with their own needs and opinions, and as having choices about their involvement with other family members. It is clear from the children’s accounts that their commitment to their parents is not given unconditionally and that divorce opens parents up to re-appraisal by their offspring. Where a parent fails to establish him or herself as reliable and caring, is oppressive in their behaviour, or pays little attention to the child’s wishes and views, s/he risks alienating the child. Some children had reached the conclusion that they do not like or respect one parent very much. In these cases they had exercised the sense of choice which they feel they now have about their family ties, and reduced or even severed contact.

Family and kinship
The increase in the number of children experiencing their parents’ divorce means that the stigma once associated with family breakdown is disappearing. The children in our study almost invariably saw their family as ‘normal’ once they had got over the initial disruption of the separation, and a number questioned the dominance of normative concepts of the nuclear family. A 14 year old who described her family as being ‘different’ nevertheless continued, ‘but I don’t mind that because who says what a family should be like?’.

The children defined their families in terms of relationships and practices rather than formal structures. This is not to say that they did not recognise blood or legal ties. They clearly distinguished, for example, between what they called their ‘real’ parents and parents’ new partners, and between new spouses and co-habitees. However, these formal ties were defined by them as being of less importance than the quality of the relationships between family members. So, as indicated above, where a parent failed over a long period to act as a parent ‘should’, the child might decide to limit or break off contact. This evidence of children’s autonomy suggests there may be a shift in kinship practices. The child-parent relationship is usually thought of as representing a quintessentially enduring tie. It is seen as an exception to the highly individualised and affective nature of kinship in the UK, where commitment to kin is based more on the degree of liking and affection between family members than the positional relationships which exist between them. The experience of divorce seems, however, to be making children aware that family relationships are, in a fundamental sense, contingent, and that they require work and commitment if they are to have meaning.

Moral reasoning
During the course of the study, through our exploration of children’s views on how the everyday problems and issues associated with family life after a divorce can be managed, we developed an interest in children’s moral reasoning. We decided to investigate the extent to which children are moral agents in family life and have uncovered a wealth of information about how they seek to be fair to their parents, actively care for their parents, and wish to be treated themselves.

We have found that in thinking about how families should ‘work’ the children subscribe to a broad set of principles which we define as involving an ethic of fairness, an ethic of care and an ethic of respect.

Insofar as co-parenting is, at its best, concerned with parents working together to share the care of their children, it is perhaps unsurprising that the children should identify fairness as one of the most important values underpinning family life. What is interesting, however, is the extent to which children see this as applying to their own involvement with other family members rather than simply representing how they themselves should be treated. So, the children in our sample were concerned to ensure that their parents feel they are treated equally by the child and neither has more of the child’s time, presence and affection than the other. In practice this means that children thought hard about what they should do if, for example, alterations in their schedule meant them temporarily spending more time with one parent than the other.

The way in which the children approached the question of what constitutes fair treatment involved the articulation of a set of principles which we term an ethic of care. The children displayed considerable sensitivity towards their parents’ wishes and needs, and were aware of their parents as separate persons with their own aspirations and desires. So, while the children might resent the presence of a parent’s new partner from their own perspective they might simultaneously acknowledge the benefits which the relationship had brought to their parent. Or they might simply make the tea for a parent who was tired, or ‘have a nice conversation’ if their parent seemed sad or lonely. The construction of children as dependants means that their participation as agents in family life is often invisible to adults. There is no word equivalent to that of ‘parenting’ which captures the sense in which children ‘take care’ of their parents and we ourselves are still searching for a term to express this.

If children saw themselves as having a role in caring for other family members and ensuring that others are treated fairly, they also expected such treatment in return. They therefore thought parents should take their wishes and feelings into account when making decisions which would affect them. Thinking in terms of how this principle of respect might be put into practice within the divorce process the children displayed an intense awareness of the dilemma of ‘choosing’ between parents. However, this did not mean they wanted to avoid involvement in the decision making process. While they did not want to choose they did want to participate and emphasised the value of a negotiated outcome in family matters .

Activities and Outputs
Articles in practitioner journals
Carol Smart (1998): ‘Children Talk Back: Children’s Views on Family Life after Divorce’, Family Mediation, 8(2): 3-4.

Carol Smart (1999): ‘Divorce and Changing Family Practices’, The UK College of Family Mediators Gazette.

Carol Smart: ‘Divorce and Changing Family Life’, One Plus One Bulletin, February 1999.

Carol Smart: ‘Children and Divorce’, Solicitors’ Family Law Association Review, February 1999.

Working papers
Bren Neale, Amanda Wade and Carol Smart: ‘“I just get on with it”. Children’s Experiences of Family Life following Separation and Divorce’. Centre for Research on Family, Kinship & Childhood, Working Paper No. 1: University of Leeds.

Bren Neale and Carol Smart: Agents or Dependants?: Struggling to Listen to Children in Family Law and Family Research. Centre for Research on Family, Kinship & Childhood, Working Paper No. 3: University of Leeds.

Carol Smart, Bren Neale and Amanda Wade: Divorce and Changing Family Practices. Centre for Research on Family, Kinship & Childhood, Working Paper No. 11: University of Leeds.

Conference papers
Bren Neale, Amanda Wade and Carol Smart: “I just get on with it”: Children’s experiences of family life following parental separation or divorce’. Socio-Legal Studies annual conference, Manchester Metropolitan University, 15-17 April. 1998.

Bren Neale: ‘Agents or Dependants?: Struggling to Listen to Children in Family Law and Family Research’. Fourteenth World Congress of Sociology, 26 July - 1 August 1998, Montreal, Canada.

Amanda Wade: ‘Children and Co-Parenting after Divorce’. Joint Meeting of British and Norwegian Childhood Researchers, 30-31 October 1998, the Copthorne Hotel, Manchester.

Amanda Wade: ‘New Childhoods? Children and Co-Parenting after Divorce’. Paper given at New Research: Challenges for Practice, a conference organised by Family Mediation (Scotland) and held at the Scottish Office, Edinburgh, 16 November, 1998.

Carol Smart: ‘Children Talk Back: Children’s Views on Family Life after Divorce’. Lucy Faithfull Memorial Lecture given at the Annual General Meeting of National Family Mediation, 26 November 1998.

Carol Smart: ‘Children and Divorce’, ESRC Programme Users Conference, Westminster, London, 23 February 1999.

Bren Neale: ‘Dialogues with Children: Participation and Choice in Family Decision Making’. Socio-Legal Studies annual conference, University of Loughborough, 6-8 April 1999.

Amanda Wade: ‘Experiencing Co-Parenting’. Socio-Legal Studies annual conference, University of Loughborough, 6-8 April. 1999.

Carol Smart: ‘Children’s Perspectives on Post-Divorce Family Life’. Greater Manchester Family Mediation Service AGM, 29 April 1999.

Bren Neale: ‘Children’s Citizenship’. Rethinking Citizenship: An International Conference, University of Leeds, June 1999.

Amanda Wade: ‘Altered Spaces: Family transitions as a site of learning’. Paper given at Sites of Learning: An International Conference on Childhood, the University of Hull, 14-16 September 1999.

Carol Smart: ‘Stories of Family Life: Change v Instability’. Domestic Partnership Conference, Queens University, Kingston, Canada, 21-23 October 1999.

Public lectures
Carol Smart: ‘Post-Divorce Childhood: New Identities for Children’, University of Durham, 10 February 1999.

Seminar presentations
Bren Neale and Amanda Wade: ‘Children’s Experiences of Family Life following Parental Separation and Divorce’. Seminar paper given at the Centre for Research on Family, Kinship & Childhood, University of Leeds, 13 May 1998.

Carol Smart: ‘Divorce and Changing Family Practices’. Paper presented at the ESRC seminar series ‘Post-modern Kinship’, the University of Leeds, 6 November 1998.

Carol Smart: ‘Post-Divorce Childhoods: Perspectives from Children’. Seminar paper given at the Centre for the Study of the Child, the Family and the Law, University of Liverpool, 12 November 1998.

Carol Smart: ‘Children and Divorce’. Seminar paper given to the North Eastern Branch of the Family Law Association and the Solicitors’ Family Law Association, 13 November 1998.

Bren Neale: ‘What do Children Value about Family Life?’. Paper given at the National Stepfamily Association Annual Research Seminar, London, January 1999.

Bren Neale: ‘Listening to Children in Family Law and Family Research’. Seminar paper given at the University of Bradford, March 1999.

Amanda Wade: ‘Post-Divorce Contact’. Paper given on 23 April 1999 at a seminar on post-adoption/post-divorce contact organised by the West Yorkshire Family Court Forum.

Bren Neale: ‘Post-Divorce Family Life: Children’s perspectives’. Seminar paper given at the University of Newcastle-on-Tyne, May 1999.

Bren Neale: ‘Children, Families and Caring’. Paper given at a CRFKC day conference, University of Leeds, June 1999.

Carol Smart: ‘Objects of Concern’. Child and Family Law Quarterly Annual Seminar, All Soul’s College, Oxford, 2 July 1999.

Training events.
Amanda Wade: ‘Ascertaining children’s views’. Paper given at the National Family Mediation: National Residential Training Weekend, 27 March 1999, University of Nottingham.

Amanda Wade: ‘Communicating with children’. Talk and workshop given at “So what is a good report?”, a training event organised by the North Eastern Region Family Court Welfare Service, and held at the University College of St. John, York, on 12 July 1999.

We plan to deposit our interview data with the Data archive. Our interview transcripts have been cleaned, ready for depositing, but background information (to provide an accessible context to the interviews for other researchers) still has to be finalised. We expect this work to be completed very shortly.

The study has proved to be extremely timely. Although implementation of Part 2 of the Family Law Act has been delayed, the question of whether and how children should participate in the divorce process remains a central concern. Views differ on whether children should be ‘protected’ from participation in discussions about their future care (both inside the family and as a part of the legal process) or, alternatively, whether they value their wishes and views being sought and find the process of participation especially helpful at times of family change. Debate on these issues is made more difficult by the dearth of information from children themselves about their experiences of parental separation and divorce; for example, Rogers and Pryor recently produced a comprehensive review of over 200 research reports and papers on children and divorce, but were able to include less than 20 publications which had directly elicited children’s views. We have therefore found that policy makers and practitioners working in the field of family law have shown a keen interest in our findings on children’s participation, as well as the specific issue of co-parenting which, again, is a subject of considerable debate with regard to its implications for children’s well-being. This level of interest is reflected in the number of talks and presentations which members of the research team have been invited to give and our involvement in a number of associated activities. These include the compilation of a summary of current research for a seminar organised by the Rowntree Foundation on Listening to Children’s Views and Representing their Best Interests on 5 July 1999 (the report of which is to be considered by the Lord Chancellor’s Advisory Board on Family Law) and participation in a working group convened by NCVCCO and invited by the Lord Chancellor’s Department to develop leaflets for children as part of the information materials relating to the Family Law Act (March 1999 and on-going).

Future Research Priorities
We have secured funding from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation for a further study which will focus on children aged between six and ten years. We propose to investigate their perceptions of family change and explore their views on the information and support which they believe is of most benefit at such times. We are also considering a follow-up of the children who took part in the present study.

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