Meeting of the Parliament
Meeting date: Tuesday, January 10, 2023
Official Report 1189KB pdf
Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, Point of Order, National Health Service (Winter Pressures), Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan, Independence Referendum, Urgent Question, Proposed Domestic Building Environmental Standards (Scotland) Bill, Decision Time, Shared Parenting
- Time for Reflection
- Business Motion
- Topical Question Time
- Point of Order
- National Health Service (Winter Pressures)
- Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan
- Independence Referendum
- Urgent Question
- Proposed Domestic Building Environmental Standards (Scotland) Bill
- Decision Time
- Shared Parenting
The final item of business tonight is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-06610, in the name of Fulton MacGregor, on a programme promoting the benefits of shared parenting. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament notes what it sees as the importance of the involvement of both parents when bringing up a child; asserts that every child of separated parents deserves the love and support of both of their parents; believes in the need for parents to co-operate where appropriate; understands that research has shown that there is a lack of support for children of separated parents; considers that parents, including in the Coatbridge and Chryston constituency, may need help to make important decisions about sharing the care of their children; acknowledges the view that there is a need for public policy to recognise these challenges; praises Shared Parenting Scotland for piloting the New Ways for Families programme; recognises that the online programme focuses on the key skills of emotion management, flexible thinking and behaviour moderation; applauds the ethos of the programme, which, it considers, puts children first, as well as focusing on improving co-parenting and making decisions together out of court; notes reports that a similar programme introduced in Canada saw a significant increase in parenting co-operation upon completion, and congratulates Shared Parenting Scotland for securing £16,500 worth of funding from the Scottish Government, The National Lottery, and an anonymous trust in order to deliver the programme.19:00
I am delighted to bring to the chamber this debate on shared parenting, in my capacity as convener of the cross-party group on shared parenting. I am pleased to see colleagues from all political parties here to support the debate. It has been another long day in the chamber, with business running on, so I appreciate people staying on for the debate.
The cross-party group’s secretariat is provided by Shared Parenting Scotland, who I thank for its support to the group and to members in general. In particular, I thank John Forsyth, who is in the gallery, and his colleague Ian Maxwell. I also thank them for their support in the preparation of this speech.
Since 2010, Shared Parenting Scotland has supported well over 1,000 parents across the country in a number of ways, including by holding monthly local support meetings, authoring policy papers and other publications, and running a helpline.
As a concept, shared parenting is pretty straightforward. It is estimated that up to 30,000 parents in Scotland separate every year, and research indicates that up to 33 per cent of Scottish children experience a family separation during their childhood. The idea of shared parenting is that the interests of the child are the most important consideration when separated parents are making parenting arrangements.
Although it has been observed that mothers have traditionally been more likely to be the main carers for their children post-separation, Shared Parenting Scotland notes that the number of fathers who provide equal amounts of care is increasing. The organisation helps same-sex couples who have separated, too.
A wealth of research supports the notion that a child’s development is positively impacted if the separated parents are present during the child’s upbringing. For example, the millennium cohort study—a longitudinal cohort study of about 19,000 children across the United Kingdom, which began at the turn of the century—has found that, for the children of separated parents, more contact with the non-resident parent was associated with better outcomes at age 11. Likewise, a recent study that Shared Parenting Scotland commissioned, which analysed the views and experiences of young people whose parents had separated at some point during their childhood, found that almost all contributors said that they would have liked to have seen the parent that they did not live with more often during their childhood.
All that backs up arguments that I made in debates about shared parental leave during the previous parliamentary session. I have long argued that we need to move away from the outdated notion that the mother should be the primary caregiver and the father the breadwinner—for want of a better term. Countries that have better shared parental leave policies tend to be happier, with more breaking down of gender barriers, particularly in the workplace.
Parental involvement in the early days can provide the groundwork for decisions that might need to be made about shared parenting at a later date. In essence, it stands to reason that the more involved both parents are at the earliest stage, the more likely it is that such involvement will be sustained, whatever the circumstances.
In short, when parents separate, it is in the best interests of the child that both parents remain present and involved during the child’s development. However, I should stress that there will be times when shared parenting will not work for a family and might even be detrimental to the child; the approach should be encouraged only when it is appropriate.
The motion that I lodged asserts the need for separated parents to work together, if appropriate, for the benefit of their children. It highlights the lack of support for people who want to engage in shared parenting and calls for public policy to remedy that.
With that in mind, I praise a pilot programme that Shared Parenting Scotland has launched: the New Ways for Families programme is the first of its kind to be introduced in Europe. At its core, it teaches and reinforces conflict resolution skills for parents who are going through separation or divorce. That is a key principle; the approach helps separated parents with conflict management, joint decision making, respectful communication and stress alleviation, thereby addressing issues that are often the cause of a breakdown in post-separation parenting arrangements.
The 12-module online course includes three one-to-one coaching sessions, which are delivered by experts in therapeutic, legal and mediation disciplines, all of whom have been trained by the High Conflict Institute. The programme is completed on the passing of a final examination, to ensure that participants have understood the content of the 12 modules.
I can stand here and praise the programme’s goals and laud its introduction, but the most important question is whether it is effective. According to the most recent figures, just under 30 parents in Scotland have completed the course. Shared Parenting Scotland collected anonymous feedback from people who completed the course, which underlines how beneficial such a programme can be. One participant said:
“New Ways for Families benefits from being online, therefore giving a degree of flexibility to Co-Parents to complete their online modules when it best suits their lifestyles.”
“Really useful information. I expect I’ll use what I’ve learned regularly as I progress through my parenting journey. Have learned some really helpful techniques and tips that will help me with what I’m going through.”
“My coach was beyond excellent, experienced, patient, knowledgeable. The sessions really changed how I relate to my ex-partner and his relationship with our child.”
Similar programmes have been introduced in North America, with comparable levels of success. A Canadian version of the programme resulted in 75 per cent of parents maintaining and improving their joint making of major decisions for and overall involvement with their children. The programme also resulted in significant reductions in behavioural issues, stress and anxiety for the children of separated parents.
Shared Parenting Scotland will launch the New Ways for Families online training and coaching programme in spring this year for widespread use across Scotland. One of my main reasons for bringing the debate to the chamber is to ensure that members are aware of that programme for their constituents.
The pilot programme was funded by the Scottish Government, the national lottery and a trust fund. It is hoped that further funding can be sourced to support the coming launch. Once the programme is established, it is projected that fees will cover the costs of providing the online training and coaching and of the associated administration. Shared Parenting Scotland has also expressed a desire to ensure that free or low-cost places will be offered to parents who are on benefits or a low income. I thank Shared Parenting Scotland for that commitment.
I congratulate Fulton MacGregor on bringing this debate. He will recall the work that we did during the previous session of Parliament, when I brought forward an amendment proposing a presumption of shared parenting. He is absolutely right about the benefits that are being seen internationally, as well as about the concerns that were expressed about the need always to put the rights of the child at the centre of any decision. Does he believe that the work of the pilot programme and the further international evidence mean that we are closer to being in a position where the presumption of shared parenting might be safely introduced in the Scottish context?
I am glad that the member has taken the opportunity to intervene, because he spoke to me earlier to say that, had it not been for other commitments, he would have been speaking in the debate. I know that he is a strong advocate of shared parenting. In answer to his question, I think that we are moving in the right direction, but that there is much more to do. I thank Liam McArthur for his work in this area.
I commend Shared Parenting Scotland for their initiative in developing, piloting and launching the programme, which complements other courses available in Scotland, such as the parenting apart sessions available through local family mediation organisations across the country. That three-hour group session is another resource that separated parents might consider using as they transition to living apart while remaining part of their children’s lives.
When possible, shared parenting should be encouraged and supported. Adult relationships do not always work out as people might want, but the breakdown of a relationship should never mean that a child’s wellbeing must suffer. A shared parenting approach can help to alleviate the stresses and anxieties that children face during a separation and is beneficial for parents, children and the wider family.
I again thank everyone here. I am grateful to everyone who will participate in the debate and look forward to hearing their speeches.19:08
I am sorry to see people leaving as I stand to speak, but there you go.
I thank Fulton MacGregor for bringing the debate to Parliament and for his important work as convener of the cross-party group on shared parenting.
I have followed the issues raised by Shared Parenting Scotland with some interest, because Glasgow has more lone-parent families than any other local authority area in the country; in Glasgow, four in 10 families are led by a lone parent and 91 per cent of children in those families are being raised only by their mother. That means that many children in Glasgow are growing up without a father figure in their lives.
Avoiding the unnecessary breakdown of relationships between parents and their children can be complex, especially when the relationship between the parents themselves has broken down. In those situations, it is helpful to have friends, family or support networks, such as neutral third-party organisations, in place to offer support. Often, the perspective of an outside organisation such as Shared Parenting Scotland can facilitate mediation or meetings in neutral areas, where a new way forward can be established.
That is incredibly important, as the impact of having no father or mother in the home can be devastating for children. I am sad to say that, in the UK, 76 per cent of children and young people in custody have been growing up in homes without a father. We know from the statistics that there are many other poor outcomes of parenting breakdown, such as emotional and behavioural problems, neglect, teen pregnancy, alcohol and substance abuse and poor school performance.
Programmes that end the cycle of the withdrawal of fathers, in particular, from their families—fathers are the majority of this group—are pivotal to improving outcomes for children. Wherever possible, joint parenting must be at the heart of shared parenting.
A unique initiative in America is working to combat generational cycles of fatherless homes and the criminalisation of children who grow up without a father. It is run by a Christian organisation, God Behind Bars, which works to reunite incarcerated parents with their children, so that relationships can be built and new memories created. One in four children in the USA is growing up in a home without a father present—that is more than 18.4 million children. As in Scotland, such children are statistically more likely to live in poverty and to end up in prison. The statistics suggest that some 85 per cent of the children in the USA who have an incarcerated parent end up in prison themselves. The initiative to reunite families is aimed at combating that cycle.
At Christmas, the organisation runs the all is bright project. Mums and dads pick out and wrap five or so presents, which have been bought by volunteers, for each of their children. The incarcerated parent also gets a new outfit to wear that day, so that they do not have to wear prison clothes. They then enjoy an all-day Christmas celebration with the whole family, which involves a full Christmas meal, gingerbread house building and games for the children. The event provides lasting, positive memories for little boys and girls and gives their parents an environment in which they can build relationships with their children—it is an opportunity to start again. One dad said:
“Let me explain something to you. This is the true definition of what hope is. Look at all of what you see, what all these people give us. This is the only definition of hope that any of us need to see. For guys like us, who have been down for such a long time, this is it.”
That kind of work, which has at its heart the restoration and transformation of parenting, is tremendous in its ability to restore relationships and break the cycle of fatherless homes. I welcome such initiatives and the shared parenting model, which value the role of both parents. As we in the Parliament do more to support such change, I hope that we will begin to see an increasingly positive impact on social outcomes for children who are reunited with their fathers and mothers.19:13
I am delighted to follow Bill Kidd, who gave an excellent speech in support of Fulton MacGregor’s motion.
Parenting is likely to be the most important role that many of us will ever have in our lives. I have no hesitation in supporting any effort or initiative, whether it is public or private, to maintain and strengthen the role of parents and the central place of the family as the fundamental unit of society.
It is a wonderful gift and blessing to be a parent and to be able to see one’s child grow, develop new skills and, ultimately, become self-sufficient, wherever that is possible. It fills the parent with no small measure of pride in their child—which is something that is actually quite difficult to explain.
Members should make no mistake: a child needs the loving example of their parents, as Bill Kidd said. No effort should be spared in encouraging separated parents to work together for the good of their children. The enduring love of a family is like nothing else in all the world.
It is a huge responsibility to be a parent, and there is no formal training for what is one of the greatest roles that a person might ever be called on to play. In the first few years after a tiny helpless person, who depends wholly on their parent, enters one’s life, one’s mindset must be reframed around the child’s needs. Make no mistake: that can sometimes feel overwhelming. I know that feeling; I think that every parent does.
For people who have more than one child, having the time and money to send them to all the activities that they become involved with, helping them with their school work, and giving them the love and support that they need, is a full-time job. Those responsibilities usually come at a point in life when time and money both feel like scare resources. It is quite a job of co-ordination, so every parent who is honest with themselves will tell of times when they feel overwhelmed, when the pressure is on and it feels like there is nowhere to turn.
What can we, as parliamentarians, do to support parents in such situations? Do we remove responsibility? Do we transfer a child’s upbringing to an agency or to a system that is determined by a faceless bureaucratic state, or do we empower parents—as we have been hearing, including by supporting separated parents—to fulfil the responsibilities that they have for their children to make them feel like the gift that they are? The answer is clear, as has been said by previous speakers: we must empower parents.
Every public policy and every piece of proposed legislation should be made to pass the test of family friendliness—we must ask whether it supports the family.
Children must never feel, when they are growing up, that they are a burden on their parents. If they do, they will likely experience issues with their personal confidence, which will impact on their relationships and the direction of their lives. Therefore, every effort that we make to support good parenting—which is highlighted in Fulton MacGregor’s motion—is, to me, a solid gold social good.
Families in Scotland are gloriously diverse; every family is unique and has circumstances that are fashioned around the people who are in them.
I am enjoying Stephen Kerr’s speech. He mentioned “good parenting”. As a father of two, I know that there is no such thing as perfect parenting, and in the context of this debate, we should all accept that we are allowed to make mistakes and that parenting is not a black and white issue. We can be the best parents that we seek to be, but there is no such thing as perfect parenting.
I completely agree with Bob Doris—parenting is a work in progress. We learn all the time from our children—and, in my case, grandchildren—about how to be better parents and grandparents.
In principle, any statist attempt to categorise families or to homogenise families is at odds with the reality of family life in all its varieties. A Government that believes that the answer to everything is to increase its own powers is a Government that is in denial of the nature of the root causes of many of the problems that we face, as a society. When more government is the answer, it is always worth looking to see whether it was the Government that caused the problem in the first place.
We must recognise that a one-size-fits-all out-of-the-box solution, such as the state often reaches for, rarely works. We must not always reach for the power of the state as if it were the only response available to us, because it is not—as is illustrated by the motion. That is why the Scottish Conservatives reject the idea of the state empowering itself at the expense of parents. That is not an ideological position; it is one that acknowledges that love is the key ingredient in all our lives, especially the lives of children. Ideally, love is added through a family, and the family is best supported when the state works to enable parents and lets families live their lives and pursue happiness in their own way.19:18
I congratulate Fulton MacGregor on securing the debate. I also acknowledge the work of Shared Parenting Scotland, which helps parents to work together despite their differences, to share the care of and responsibility for their children, and to provide them with the stability that they require.
It is inevitable that children will face difficulty when their parents part, and there can be a great deal of animosity between parents when a relationship breaks down. The children can feel that they are being pulled in different directions because of that. Therefore, sensitive handling can ease their distress and reassure young people. It is, therefore, important to support parents to make the right decisions for their children and to reach amicable solutions that put their children first. We see cases in which parents put aside their personal hurt and anger in order to ensure that the children’s relationship with the other parent continues.
We also need services that recognise the importance of shared parenting—for example, in relation to access to housing. Both parents need access to adequate housing in order to provide a home for their children. Too often, when they share parenting, we see the mother being given access to adequate housing, while the father is not housed adequately to allow the children to come to live with them.
In the majority of cases, the best outcome for the child is that both parents are involved in the child’s life and future. However, there are exceptions. It is clear that abusive parents, for example, should not have an automatic right of access to their children. Far too often, family courts are used by one parent to continue to perpetrate domestic abuse of the other parent. I have many cases in which abusive fathers use access to their children to identify where the mother is living in order to continue physical abuse. That is absolutely unacceptable—and neither is it acceptable to place the onus on the child to keep that information secret.
I also have constituency cases in which abusive fathers use the system to continue to exercise control—even when no physical abuse is involved—by making arrangements to see the child only to cancel at the last minute when they become aware that their ex-partner will be doing something else while they have the child. In such cases, they cancel the arrangement or return the child early in order to scupper those plans and to exercise continuing control over their ex-partner.
Parents who use their children as weapons should not have access to them, and parents should also not have access to their children when they cause damage and there is an abusive relationship. We know that the life chances of children who are brought up in abusive households are severely impacted. It has an impact on their ability to learn and on their self-esteem, which goes on to impact other significant aspects of their lives. Such problems are a direct result of domestic abuse. Abusive parents should not have access to their children until they can prove that they are no longer abusive and that the wellbeing of their children will come first. I hope that the minister will address those concerns and advise how she will prevent abusive parents from continuing to damage the lives of young people even when the relationship has broken up.
I would like a system in which such parents go through a process of training and acknowledgement of their wrongdoing in order to ensure that they no longer continue to perpetrate abuse. They should have to complete that process before getting access to their child. In that way, we would protect young people.
For far too long, I have been seeing in my casework the impact of domestic abuse on families, and how children are abused and used in such situations. We should not allow that to happen, so I look forward to the day when family courts no longer allow themselves to be used as a weapon in domestic abuse cases.19:22
I am happy to speak in this members’ business debate on an important topic that deserves more consideration than it often gets, so I thank Fulton MacGregor for securing time for the debate. It has been my pleasure to sit on the cross-party group on shared parenting, and I look forward to continuing the important discussions that take place in that forum.
I whole-heartedly agree with what Rhoda Grant said, and I hope that the minister will address the comments that she made a few moments ago.
All children deserve to be brought up in a safe, loving and supportive environment, regardless of who they are and where they come from. Without that, their opportunities in life can be severely limited. As my good friend Stephen Kerr said, parenting is a great gift. From personal experience, I can say that children can bring a lot of joy into a home—that has certainly been my experience with my twin girls. However, it is also a huge responsibility that requires us to put others before ourselves and to make sacrifices for their sake. We often have to put our child’s best interests before our own comfort or preferences, and that extends to life after family breakdown or the separation of parents.
A substantial body of research now underlines the benefits of shared parenting for children whose parents no longer live together. Outcomes are significantly better for children who have regular contact with both parents, including the one who no longer lives in the home. We are lawmakers, so we should do everything we can to provide incentives for parents to work together for the benefit of their child.
We must support all efforts to support shared parenting, be they from government or third sector organisations, to ensure that children are being brought up in the best environment possible. That is why I am pleased to support the motion and praise Shared Parenting Scotland for piloting the New Ways for Families programme, which endeavours to give parents the skill set that is needed to manage their shared parenting responsibilities. Those are valuable skills, such as emotion management and behaviour to cool things down, help dialogue between parents and aid in the making of decisions outside a court.
I know from personal experience of being a solicitor and being brought up by a father who did family law all his life that court is the last place one wants to go to to decide on parenting matters and who gets parenting rights.
I am pleased that a number of constituents have contacted me after having had first-hand experience of the programme, and they have been very complimentary of the service. They told me that it has helped them to deal with situations without letting emotions run high, in addition to teaching them the benefits of healing themselves. They describe the coaches as compassionate, brutally honest and attentive.
I thank Shared Parenting Scotland again for the positive difference that it has made to the lives of my constituents and others across Scotland, and I wish it continued success in the future. Ensuring that children receive the support and nurture that they require and deserve should be a fundamental priority for the Parliament, and I hope that we can continue to support Shared Parenting Scotland’s valuable work.19:26
Presiding Officer, thank you for affording me the right to make this speech. I had not intended to speak, but this is a high-quality debate and I wanted to play my part in the discussion.
I congratulate Fulton MacGregor, who has been a committed champion of shared parenting issues in his time in the Parliament. I commend Fulton on that work.
I welcome the positivity and dedication of Shared Parenting Scotland to engage with the legislative process in this place constructively and positively, and to engage openly about how to nurture and develop a child’s relationship with both parents when the relationship between the parents has broken down—that is vitally important.
As MSPs, we often hear about parenting issues only when things go badly wrong. Rhoda Grant alluded to that in her speech. We will have heard examples of controlling and coercive behaviour, domestic abuse and courts being used as a tool and a lever of power and control in the embers of a dying relationship between parents.
I know from my experience that some contact centres have not been of the required standard. I am pleased that they will now be regulated by the Scottish Government, and that those in contact centres who prepare reports that go to family courts will now have the skill set that they should always have had so that they can make informed decisions in relation to child care orders. I am pleased to work in partnership with the Government on that.
We should say clearly that, in all the examples that I just gave, it is predominantly— although not always—men who have engaged in controlling and coercive behaviour, carried out domestic abuse and abused the court system. However, we cannot demonise men. Most dads are great dads and good fathers, and they want to be better dads and fathers. We have to make sure that the structures that we have in society are there for dads as well as mums. However, I should say that all the negative issues that we have talked about predominantly impact women. I would not be doing my job properly, as a constituency MSP, if I did not put that on the record.
Positive parenting before and after a spousal relationship breakdown is vital. Even if mum and dad were doing a great job of bringing up their children before the relationship breakdown, that is a difficult job, as we have heard, and it is made even more difficult after that relationship breakdown. There needs to be positive parenting before and after a relationship breakdown.
The New Ways for Families programme sounds like an innovative approach to dealing with the situation after a relationship breakdown, and I wish it every success. Fulton MacGregor put some of its successes on the record, and I look forward to hearing more about it.
I was reluctant to intervene, because it is quite an awkward situation in which to make an intervention.
Does the member agree that part of the issue that we are talking about comes back to my point that it is a societal issue in that, with parental leave, there is an expectation that mothers will do the main caring and, similarly, when people separate, there is an expectation that the mother will do all the caring? That is a barrier to gender equality. Does the member agree that we need a societal and cultural change in that regard? I agree with Stephen Kerr’s point that it should not all be about Governments intervening.
I agree absolutely with Fulton MacGregor on that point. In that sense, maybe it is an equalities issue. That is why we must ensure that dads are performing a shared parenting role while they are still in the relationship. One of the issues that we have in society is dads not pulling their weight in the relationship prior to its breaking down. We can understand the indignation of some mums when dads then demand rights that they were not exercising before the relationship broke down. That leads to tensions. Taking out those tensions through the New Ways for Families programme is an innovative way of dealing with some of that.
I want to talk briefly about how we ensure that we empower dads, irrespective of whether there has been a breakdown in the relationship. We know about the work that Dads Rock does—it has been a good friend of the Parliament—and Home-Start Glasgow North and North Lanarkshire in my constituency has a dads group. I am reminded of the fact that dads sometimes feel alienated from antenatal classes in the NHS. My wife and I were lucky enough to be able to pay for a National Childbirth Trust two-day class in a small group. That is a high-quality interactive experience that enables prospective parents to consider what shared parenting looks like for mum and dad. Maybe that is the kind of thing that all parents should be aware of when they are starting a family, rather than waiting to talk about shared parenting when relationships break down, as they inevitably do in some circumstances.
Shared Parenting Scotland is doing some really innovative work. I am pleased that Fulton MacGregor has brought the issue of the benefits of shared parenting to the chamber for debate. When the minister sums up the debate, I would like to hear more about the positive work that we can do before relationships go wrong, because that will empower people to do the right thing once relationships fragment.19:32
I congratulate Fulton MacGregor on securing this important debate, which gives me my first chance as a minister to respond to a debate. What a wonderful debate to do that in.
The debate has looked at fresh perspectives and initiatives on an area that can often be difficult and challenging: how to bring up children when separating parents do not agree. The debate has raised a number of issues about parents who separate, including support for the children involved and support for the parents. It is in our collective best interests that the rights of children are seen as paramount. Those rights are hugely important when parents separate.
The Scottish Government is pleased to work with Shared Parenting Scotland, members of which I welcome to the gallery. In this financial year, we have provided financial support to the organisation from the children and families portfolio and the justice portfolio. In 2022-23, we have provided a total of £77,574 of financial support for Shared Parenting Scotland. That includes some money for supporting the New Ways for Families programme that is mentioned in the motion.
Following my recent appointment as the Minister for Community Safety, I will meet Shared Parenting Scotland on 2 February to learn more about its work and future plans. I am already aware of the valuable work that the organisation carries out through its helpline, its publications, its training, its group meetings and its WhatsApp groups, which are fantastic in enabling parents to access support at any time they need it. All that work supports separating parents through what is a stressful, emotional and difficult time. Research published by the Scottish Government notes the stress that separating parents go through, and the stress and trauma that are experienced by parents who go through that situation are regularly raised in the correspondence that we receive from parents.
That stress and trauma can, of course, impact on how the parents speak to their children about what is happening. In any disputes or disagreements between separating parents on how to bring up their children, the welfare of the children must be paramount. That underlying principle is the key principle in the Children (Scotland) Act 1995. We need to follow that principle when disputes or disagreements between separating parents about bringing up their children are resolved outside of courts as well as when they are resolved within the court system.
The research carried out by Jamie Wark, who is a Robertson scholar, which is mentioned in the motion, raises the issue of how best to support children when parents separate, and I congratulate him on carrying out that research and raising that very important point.
The research shows that the separation of parents can have a direct impact on an individual’s perception of relationships and their own life, so, as we have heard from members this evening, there can be longer-lasting, generational impacts. The Scottish Government has recognised that having separated parents can be one of the adverse childhood experiences that we talk about. Jamie Wark’s research shows that children might not always have enough support and advice when their parents are separating.
In his eloquent speech, Bill Kidd outlined how that trauma can have lasting effects. When we think about parents who are apart—especially when incarceration is involved—we need to remember the generational impact that that can have.
The Scottish Government plans to consult in 2023 on how best to implement the provisions of the Children (Scotland) Act 2020 on child advocacy services, and we will include in that consultation some discussion on how best to support children when parents separate while recognising that parents, along with other trusted family members, will always be the key source of information for their children. That speaks to some of what Stephen Kerr and others have mentioned.
Of course, we need to make it as easy as possible for parents to communicate with their children, and one of the aims of the New Ways for Families project, which Fulton MacGregor mentioned in his motion and others have referred to, is to make family separation less traumatic and stressful for parents and their children. The project aims to provide enhanced skills in a range of areas such as managing emotions, flexible thinking, modelling behaviour and developing empathy and respect, in order to provide parents with the skills and insights to provide solutions and to put their children first, which is not always easy at a time when resilience is low and positions can become entrenched. As Stephen Kerr rightly pointed out, as parents, we do not get a manual when our children are born, but this project helps to equip parents in this greatest of endeavours. Further, those important skills can transfer into lots of other areas in people’s lives, too.
As Fulton MacGregor mentioned, the evaluation in North America has shown positive results for the New Ways for Families project, and I am aware that initial feedback from parents who have gone through the pilot in Scotland has also been positive. Some of those experiences were brought to life by Jeremy Balfour, who talked about his constituent, and Fulton MacGregor, who quoted some of those parents. Clearly, the full evaluation of the Scottish pilot is crucial to enable funders and Shared Parenting Scotland to consider next steps in this area, and I welcome Shared Parenting Scotland’s commitment to evaluate the pilot, and look forward to hearing its final results. It will be interesting to see whether the pilot merits the positives that we have heard from the evaluation of the project in Medicine Hat in Canada in terms of the reduction in children’s experiences of stress and anxiety, which result in stomach aches, headaches and episodes of acting out. I am keen to see that evaluation.
The Scottish Government will continue to work with Shared Parenting Scotland, Scottish Women’s Aid, children’s organisations and others to improve our family justice system and, where possible, to encourage resolution of disputes outside of court.
I was struck by Rhoda Grant’s speech for a number of reasons, one of which concerned the surrounding housing issues. That took me back to 2005, when I was practically supporting my ex-husband to remain in secure housing, as we had agreed to fully share the parenting of our son. A lot of people do not recognise that such arrangements are for the benefit of the children—at the time, a lot of people thought that it was a bit strange that I was doing that.
We want to build consensus in this Parliament and among key stakeholders about how to support parents and children during separation and about how disputes should be dealt with. There may well be differing views and perspectives, but there will also always be common ground in relation to matters such as welfare of children and the reduction of stress and trauma. It is also important to emphasise that we will always support both parents to be fully involved in a child’s life, where that is safe—as a former women’s aid worker, I am pleased that Shared Parenting Scotland’s approach recognises that, where a history of domestic abuse is at play, that must be fully considered, and contact should not be used to further and continue abuse at any point in the process. I take on board the concerns that Rhoda Grant and Bob Doris expressed in that regard, and I will continue to ensure that that issue is at the forefront of our considerations.
The motion and this debate raise some interesting questions and, importantly, we have debated some solutions, too. I look forward to seeing the evaluation of the New Ways for Parenting pilot and I assure the chamber that we will discuss with Shared Parenting Scotland the outcomes of the evaluation and its thoughts on how best to take forward the project in Scotland.
Across all sectors and portfolios, we must consider how we look at society as a whole, and think about how families can be supported to ensure that children thrive in an environment in which everyone has their welfare at heart.Meeting closed at 19:39.