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    New parent during the COVID-19 pandemic? There is a simple way to make meaningful connections with your baby

    Around this time last year, an inexorable force swept into people’s lives. It upended everything — relationships, friendships, routines, work life, independence, and sense of control. In this respect, the COVID-19 pandemic has similarities to another dramatic event — becoming a parent. And just like the pandemic, nothing quite prepares you for it. For all those who became parents in the last year, these two realties have collided. New parents have been left without many of the usual support networks that help support them through the early days. Those networks include their own parents, parent-baby groups, informal social networks, and in-person postnatal and breastfeeding support groups. Added to all this is the constant threat from a life-threatening virus. “We hope it is a comfort to know that there is something simple and easy to do together, safely and in the comfort of home, that lays positive foundations for the developing brain.” It is too soon to say what effect these extraordinary circumstances will have on babies born during the pandemic, but the effect on parents is already being felt. Numerous studies show that parents have found lockdowns extremely hard emotionally, and that the strain they are under has affected their ability to parent, which has consequences for children. The lockdowns have been linked to an increase in parental anxiety, depression, and hostility. And the pandemic has put women at increased risk of anxiety and depression in the perinatal period. At the same time, increased parental support has been shown to help decrease stress associated with the pandemic. The brunt of this burden has fallen on certain groups, including single parents and low-income families. Because of this, it is vital that new parents receive additional support at this difficult time, especially in terms of their mental health. There are some very simple, intuitive ways parents can work on laying the foundations for their children’s development from the very early days. One of the simplest of these is to pick up a book and read together. Plenty of evidence shows how important it is to read with children, not least for their cognitive development and vocabulary. In one study, both the quality of the books and the amount of reading time starting at six months were important predictors of literacy and vocabulary four years later. New parents might be surprised to learn that a shared activity like reading promotes a kind of back-and-forth interaction between child and caregiver that can trigger a chain reaction of long-lasting beneficial effects, and that these interactions might also help reduce the stress parents are feeling. Adults who interact sensitively with a child — for instance, reading or singing, looking at the same things, and copying sounds and faces — help children feel safe and secure. In turn, these feelings can help children cope better in challenging situations later on — something we know is important during the pandemic. These interactions also encourage children to explore more, which helps them develop problem-solving skills. All this builds to the kind of learning and development that prepares children for big steps in life, like starting school. This cascade of development is supported by the science of early learning, which shows that parents and caregivers lay the foundation for secure caregiver-child attachment relationships, which help children develop the ability to focus and pay attention, remember instructions, and demonstrate self-control (also called executive function). Positive caregiver-child interactions also help children develop social-emotional skills, such as cooperating and playing well with others, and managing feelings appropriately. Together, secure relationships and strong social-emotional and executive function skills in children are related to resilience and school readiness. “New parents might be surprised to learn that a shared activity like reading or singing together promotes a kind of back-and-forth interaction between child and caregiver that can trigger a chain reaction of long-lasting beneficial effects.” The children are not the only ones who benefit. Positive and engaging interactions between children and the adults in their lives are also good for the adults, helping them become more confident caregivers. Reading to children may also help with parental stress and even depression. It can feel strange to read books to very young babies. Even without a pandemic, the early days of parenthood can be overwhelming and it can be hard for parents to know what they should be doing, especially given the deluge of parenting advice. Parents also underestimate just how early the care they provide has long-term impacts on their children’s development. For instance, in one survey, parents said they believed what they did started to make a difference at six months, but we know that the impact starts from birth. At a time when uncertainty abounds, especially for new parents, we hope it is a comfort to know that there is something simple and easy to do together, safely and in the comfort of home. And that the simple back and forth that reading and rhyming creates can extend beyond the pages of the book and lay positive foundations for the developing brain that last for many years. More

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    What makes us human? How minds develop through social interactions

    Just how social we are as a species is made even more evident by the COVID-19 lockdowns that have restricted our everyday social interactions and affected our physical and mental health. Social engagement influences us at an even more fundamental level because it is crucial to the formation of human thinking and minds. We address this issue in What Makes Us Human? How Minds Develop Through Social Interactions. In the words of a 9-year-old, the question is, “How do you go from a bunch of cells to something that thinks?” How are we as humans able to explore such questions about our own origins and the workings of our minds? Humans are intrigued by the possibility of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, but a puzzle unfolding right before our eyes is how intelligence develops in our homes as babies start to communicate and then understand the world in ways that adults simply take for granted. In our book, we develop and justify the idea that the essential aspects of being human arise through our relations with other people. To understand these processes and the way human intellect develops, it is essential to look closely at the nature of communication in infancy and childhood, with which much of our thinking is intricately entwined. To explore the complexities of human language, we begin by describing the rich social and emotional niches in which human babies develop and the forms of interaction on which communication is based emerge. We develop and justify the idea that the essential aspects of being human arise through our relations with other people. Have you ever considered why human infants are born so helpless that they must be cared for over many years, yet they develop such powerful ways of thinking? Our answer to this question follows a historical tradition that suggests that this helplessness is an important factor in the development of human thinking. This is because the need for constant care in the early years necessarily produces a social context in which complex human skills develop. Although the infant is unable to fend for herself, she is born with a host of evolved biological characteristics that draw her into engagement with others. For example, typically developing babies are interested in looking at human eyes, which are particularly striking compared to the eyes of other primates because the dark center is surrounded by contrasting white sclera. Such attentiveness to eyes may be interpreted as indicating babies’ apparent interest in other people, and this interest is typically reciprocated by parents, who love to engage with their infants. This bidirectional process of attentiveness promotes the infant’s development. Initially, this consists of staring into the eyes of a caregiver, or cuddling into the caregiver for comfort, but these early and simple skills soon develop into more complex abilities like smiling or cooing. These new forms of interaction elicit even more positive experiences because they are so rewarding for parents. This repeated daily social interaction between infants and their parents becomes increasingly coordinated, which reflects early forms of communication. For instance, when a baby reaches her arms toward her parent, the meaning of this action — a desire to be held — is clear to the parent, who typically picks up the baby. Through experiencing this response to her reaching, the baby learns to anticipate this outcome of her reaching action. That is, she comes to grasp the meaning that her action has for others and then she gradually learns to communicate this desire intentionally. This is a crucial change in ways of interacting, not seen to such an extent in other species that lack an extended period of helplessness: The baby becomes aware of the meaning in the interaction and can then anticipate the response and communicate intentionally. Later, she can learn to add words such as up or uppy to these sorts of shared social routines. Other acts, such as mutually sharing a toy with a caregiver or gesturing in a specific way, develop in a similar fashion as their meaning emerges within shared patterns of interaction. Beginning at about 10 to 12 months, babies typically start to point, but not in a sophisticated way. It takes a lot of experience to realize that successful pointing involves the pointer gesturing to the object and checking that the receiver is following the line of the point. It also requires the receiver to identify what is being pointed to and why their attention is being drawn to it. The hard-won reading of these sorts of gestures reveals the origins and nature of children’s understanding of other people. It shows how a grasp of simple experiences like reaching to be picked up facilitates further interaction in which children develop yet more complex communicative and social skills. These are concrete examples of how increasingly sophisticated human thinking and minds emerge as communication develops in everyday interaction, a fact that makes their significance easy to overlook. They are instances of the sort of mundane interactions on which human ways of being and thinking are based. The use of words is an extension of earlier communication with gestures. Language gradually becomes part of the way thinking can take place. Initially, the baby’s words refer to objects and actions in the here and now, but gradually they can be applied to experiences not directly perceptible – for example, toddlers can relate what happened at preschool or make up a story about an imaginary character. More sophisticated forms of social understanding emerge when children gradually master the language skills needed to talk about human activity in psychological terms. Most toddlers articulate what they want with words by age two, and soon afterwards use words like think and know to show that they are aware that they and the people around them are influenced by their own thoughts and motivations. By acquiring the ability to talk about the psychological world, children can begin to reflect on themselves and others in these ways. From the perspective we have developed here, morality emerges at the level of interaction as children learn to coordinate their daily activities with others in relationships of mutual affection and respect. These interactions based on equality are well suited for reaching mutual understanding because they require children to listen to others and explain themselves. This allows them to coordinate conflicts and develop a practical morality in their interaction with equals. A further step is to begin to articulate what was first implicit in their activity, which then makes reflection possible. In this way, children become able to articulate and reflect on their initially practical ways of interacting with others. Moral notions such as fairness and justice do not have their source in biology alone, nor are they pre-existing and passed on from a previous generation to be imposed on children. Instead, they arise through particular forms of cooperative interaction among equals based on mutual affection and respect. To understand the way human intellect develops it is essential to look closely at the nature of communication in infancy and childhood, with which much of our thinking is intricately entwined. Of course, explaining the origins of human thinking is controversial and not everyone will agree with our account. In our book, we compare our developmental account, which is grounded in the processes of social interaction, with two competing explanations for human thinking: that it is either simply determined by biology or that the computer makes a good metaphor for the human mind. First, we show that although biological factors are crucial in structuring the developmental system in which human skills emerge, the claim that thinking is determined by genes is incompatible with work in biology over the last 50 years. Research in genetics and developmental neurobiology highlights that we must consider the complex developmental system in which multiple levels of biology and environment interact with each other to drive the individual’s development. Key aspects of human thinking, although based on neural activity, emerge only at the level of the person interacting with others. Second, the claim that thinking can be likened to computation is based on a flawed assumption that meaning is fixed, as it is in a computer. Instead, as we illustrate, human communication is rooted in shared ways of interacting. This is also why current approaches to artificial intelligence that attempt to model human intelligence are based on the wrong foundation. Revealing the flaws in these two general approaches to human psychological development supports our argument that human communication and thinking emerges within interaction with others in a developmental system in which biological and social levels are thoroughly interwoven. We trace this development by beginning as gestures emerge in early interaction, leading to language and then to human forms of thinking. Header photo: Gigin Krishnan. Creative Commons.  More

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    Obituary: Dr. Graeme Russell

    Dr. Graeme Russell died on 2nd April 2021 after a long battle with cancer. At the time of his death, he was a Flexibility and Diversity Consultant in Sydney, Australia, Research Collaborator and Knowledge Program Facilitator for the Diversity Council of Australia, and a retired Associate Professor of Organizational Psychology at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. Graeme cared deeply about the issues of gender equality, diversity and family well-being in Australia, devoting his professional life to research and practical work to promote these goals. He collaborated with scholars and practitioners throughout the world and will be sorely missed.
    Graeme pioneered research on fathering, starting in the late 1970s, and his 1982 book, The changing role of fathers, remains the point of reference for research on primary caretaking fathers because it sought to place the fathers’ behavior in the context of intrafamilial and broader societal beliefs, practices, and constraints. Graeme continued to publish articles and book chapters on primary caregiving fathers, father-child relationships in childhood and adolescence, shared parenting, grandfathering, Australian fatherhood, and family policy over the succeeding decades. Because of his scholarship, researchers now recognize that men can be active parents in the move toward greater gender equality and that social attitudes and institutional policies play an essential role in constraining and facilitating parental behavior. Graeme was actively involved in organizing and disseminating outcomes from the first International Fatherhood Summit at Oxford in 2003 and was a key figure in helping the Australian government design policies to promote gender equality and work-family integration, for example, by engaging in several projects for the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, established in 2012. In 2017, he co-authored a book entitled Men make a difference – engaging men on gender equality.
    For nearly four decades, Graeme was avidly involved in supporting working fathers, consulting with companies interested in promoting gender equality and work-family integration in many countries, including Australia, China, Japan and Korea. He established workshops for fathers in the workplace to help them integrate work and family demands and published several articles on the impact of workplace practices on father involvement. His keen interest in workplace flexibility and its promise for gender equality led him to design team-based approaches for work redesign, making it possible for companies to implement flexible work arrangements, assuring benefits for individuals and companies. At the time of his death, he was focused on ensuring that human resource professionals were aware of these important possibilities.
    Graeme’s success as a consultant and colleague was facilitated by his genuine warmth, friendliness, and accessibility, which allowed him to get along with everyone regardless of their personal characteristics or ideology.  His personal strengths were especially evident in his skillful engagement with diverse groups, including senior managers, employees, unions, politicians, academics and social activists. While Graeme’s professional and personal lives were mutually enriching, his first priority in life was always his family, comprising his wife Susan, his children (Kirsten, Emily, and Benjamin) and his eight grandchildren. He especially adored his grandchildren and played an important role in their daily lives, spending as much time as possible with them. He was a loving husband, father, and grandfather.
    Graeme’s legacy as a pioneer of gender equality in Australia will be long-lasting and his influence on students, collaborators, scholars, human resource practitioners, and policy makers has been profound.

    Linda Haas, Indiana University, Indianapolis, USAPhilip Hwang, University of Gothenburg, SwedenMichael E. Lamb, University of Cambridge, UK More

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    The pitfalls of platonic co-parenting

    Platonic co-parenting
    Strangers making babies, an intriguing new show, recently started on Channel 4, shining a spotlight on the concept of platonic co-parenting. 
    With apparently 70,000 people in the UK currently advertising online to be co-parents (some simply on a Facebook group), the show follows a group of single, would-be parents looking for a platonic partner to have a baby.
    Unlike surrogacy, which has soared in popularity in the last few years, partly thanks to celebrities such as Elton John and Kim Kardashian West, platonic co-parenting remains little understood and less spoken about. 
    However, what it does share with surrogacy is a complexity in the law and the potentially complicated process of both parties become legal parents. 
    What is co-parenting? 
    Co-parenting is defined as parents raising a child or children together who are not or have not been in a romantic relationship.
    People choose to co-parent for various reasons, and co-parenting can work for individuals and couples. 
    For example, a gay couple may choose to co-parent with a lesbian couple, or two heterosexual friends may choose to co-parent. 
    Things to think about when considering co-parenting 
    Before embarking on co-parenting, it is important to consider who you want to co-parent with and how your relationship as parents will work. 
    You also need to be clear about your expectations, shared values and approaches to parenting, and practical considerations. 
    One of the most important considerations is how the baby will be conceived and carried, and you need to think about, 

    Undertaking health and fertility checks 
    The method of conception, for example,  will you use a home insemination method or a fertility clinic for artificial insemination or IVF
    Who will be recognised as the child’s legal parent and have parental responsibility for the child

    A co-parenting agreement 
    Once you’ve decided to go ahead and start your family, you may wish to enter into a pre-conception or co-parenting agreement which a lawyer and/or a mediator can assist with. 
    This agreement is designed to record your intentions as co-parents and create a framework outlining both parties expectations and can include: 

    Who will attend antenatal appointments and the birth 
    Choosing the child’s name 
    How you explain to the child their life story
    Your views on health, for example, opinions on vaccinations
    Your approach and views on education, including how you wish to choose a school, private fees and involvement with the school concerning parents evening, school reports and attendance at events
    Agreements around childcare, such as using the services of a childminder, nanny or nursery 
    Your approach and view’s on managing challenging behaviour 
    Whether your child will be encouraged to follow a religion
    The time that the child will spend with each co-parent including for special events such as their birthday, Christmas and school holidays. 
    Financial support for the child, including any maintenance that may be paid, life insurance and financial provision in the event of your death.

    These agreements, however, are not legally binding. Since they cannot be enforced by UK law, the co-parents must rely on trust. This can leave people concerned about what might happen in the event of a disagreement or other conflicts further down the line.
    Who will be the legal parent? 
    The woman who carries the child will be automatically recognised as the child’s legal parent and detailed on the birth certificate in all circumstances of conception. 
    If you are co-parenting, it is important to consider who will be recognised as the second legal parent on the child’s birth certificate and granted parental responsibility. 
    However, who can be recognised as a parent will depend on the circumstances and the family’s makeup. 
    One male and one female co-parenting 
    If a single female wishes to co-parent with a man, then he can be the child’s legal parent by being registered on the child’s birth certificate, either at the time of the child’s registration (and he will need to be present for this) or through a Statutory Declaration of Parentage or Court Order. 
    If you wish to conceive the child using a registered sperm donation clinic, you will need to consent to his legal parenthood before treatment begins, and a clinic may refer to this as a “known sperm donation”. 
    It is recommended that you use a clinic for this reason. If you proceed with artificial insemination at home, then you are trusting the mother to agree to register the father at birth. 
    Couples who co-parent with a third parent or another couple
    As the law only allows two parents on a birth certificate, if you are looking to co-parent with more than two parents, you need to consider further arrangements to grant parental responsibility for the child through a Parental Responsibility Agreement.  
    For example, if a single female and a gay couple who are married or in a civil partnership agree to co-parent, only one of the men can be registered on the birth certificate as a legal parent alongside the mother.  In these circumstances, a third person can be granted Parental Responsibility as a step-parent of the child or by way of Court Order. 
    This means that while they are not legally defined as a parent on the birth certificate, they have an equal say to the legal parents on the key decisions regarding the child’s upbringing. 
    Find out how to apply for a Parental Responsibility Agreement. 
    Read more about the legal implications of sperm donation, egg-freezing and surrogacy.
    What if we disagree? 
    Meaningful discussions before entering into a co-parenting agreement will hopefully prevent disagreements in the future, but if a disagreement arises regarding the care of your child, you may wish to attend mediation to discuss matters. 
    Alternatively, your lawyer can forward proposals and negotiate on your behalf. Whichever method you choose, the key to an amicable agreement is good communication and realistic expectations.  
    Solicitors can discuss further options such as a roundtable meeting where both lawyers and clients are present or arbitration. 
    If agreements cannot be reached for whatever reason, an application to Court may be advisable.  The application may be for a Specific Issue Order, for example, if you disagree over a choice of schools, a Prohibited Steps (which prevents a parent from doing something), Parental Responsibility or a Child Arrangements Order which sets out how much time a child spends with each child.  
    Get in touch
    If you would like any advice on platonic co-parenting or other family law issues, please contact our Client Care Team to speak to one of our specialist lawyers here.  More

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    Physical punishment has a cascading effect on children’s behavioral problems and literacy

    Research has consistently shown that children who are physically disciplined by their parents, such as getting hit or slapped, have more externalizing problems (like aggression) and more disruptive behaviors in the classroom. Their academic performance is also lower than that of children who are not physically disciplined. Even in studies that do not focus on physical punishment, children who behave in problematic ways in the classroom tend to do less well academically, in general, than their peers.
    However, this research raises the proverbial chicken-and-egg question: Does disruptive behavior in the classroom interfere with the learning process? Or do learning challenges lead children to act out? For example, when children act out in school, they are sometimes separated from other children and removed from the classroom, which may give them fewer opportunities to learn. Under this scenario, which has been referred to as the adjustment erosion hypothesis, negative behavior comes first, followed by academic challenges. An alternative idea, called the academic incompetence hypothesis, suggests that when children have difficulties learning, they can become disruptive, perhaps out of frustration.

    “We found that children who were physically disciplined by their parents in kindergarten had more externalizing problems in first grade, slower rates of literacy learning from K-8, and ultimately, lower overall literacy skills by eighth grade.”

    Many studies lack the data to determine when problems start, how children’s behavior changes over time, or even if these challenges start as a result of disciplining practices at home. To examine these questions, my colleagues and I conducted a study, focusing on children’s literacy as an important indicator of academic performance. Literacy is the foundation for acquiring knowledge, especially as children shift from learning to read to reading to learn.
    We analyzed data from a large U.S. sample that tracked children from kindergarten through eighth grade. While controlling for factors that have also been associated with children’s behavior and learning, such as socioeconomic status and parents’ education, we found that children who were physically disciplined more frequently by their parents in kindergarten had more externalizing problems in first grade, slower rates of literacy learning from K-8, and ultimately, lower overall literacy skills by eighth grade when compared to children whose parents did not use physical discipline early on. Our findings support the adjustment erosion hypothesis and show that parents’ physical discipline practices have long-lasting, cascading effects on children’s behavior and learning.
    Why might physical discipline in early childhood lead to children’s problem behavior and lower literacy over time? As children transition into a new educational system, as they do when they start kindergarten, they may be particularly vulnerable to the challenges at home. We know from a number of studies that in times of stress or change, children need support. If parents are sensitive to their children’s needs, and offer a supportive and predictable caregiving environment, children feel comforted, safe, and less stressed.

    “Promoting a positive environment at home should start as early as possible.”

    They also regulate their feelings better, meaning that when a child gets distressed, as all children do, they are better at recovering from their negative feelings. However, if children are parented harshly or inconsistently, they can feel unsettled, and this adds to the stresses they are already experiencing. When some children feel heightened levels of stress, they act out. Moreover, when children are hit by their parents, it signals to them, even unintentionally, that aggression is a way to control others. So harsh discipline in the home may set up children to struggle with getting along in the classroom environment and ultimately, with learning important skills such as reading.
    We also know from our research that promoting a positive environment at home should start as early as possible. Early in infancy, when children are so dependent on support, they need a safe and responsive caregiving environment. For example, when babies are very young and cry, they are signaling that something does not feel right. Caregivers need to respond by picking them up and trying to figure out what they need. Babies cannot be spoiled by caregivers responding their needs.
    As children get older, they start to test limits and boundaries. Sometimes they engage in behaviors that could harm themselves or others. Parents can learn strategies that are more authoritative in which they set clear boundaries (e.g., telling that that “it is not okay to push your sibling”), teach them better ways to regulate their feelings (e.g., using words, not physical force), and provide comfort when children are distressed. Using more authoritarian methods such as hitting a child to “teach them the rules” may work in the short term but does not work over time.
    Early parenting behaviors are important for children to help them feel safe, learn how to explore safely, and regulate their feelings so they do not resort to acting out at home or in the classroom. Promoting better ways for children to manage their behavior can also help them in the learning environment, which can set them up for success.
    Header photo: CDC. Unsplash. More

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    Ten ways to protect your child against bad experiences

    Adversity, such as abuse, neglect, and poverty, damages children. But protective experiences can build resilience against adversity and promote positive development.
    We identified 10 relationships and resources proven to counter the impact of adverse experiences. They have hidden magic that can transform an otherwise miserable childhood. Perhaps a child has been abused and has an alcoholic or depressed parent – or both. Down the street lives a grandmother who provides safe harbor. Maybe a caring teacher or an athletics coach takes the child under her wing. These are just a few of many protective antidotes that can diminish the toxicity of adverse experiences. They mean that a child’s outcomes may turn out to be much better than expected in the face of difficult circumstances.
    This list of PACEs – Protective and Compensatory Experiences – is based on more than common sense. The impact of such experiences is often identifiable through changes to the brain and in behaviors. For example, experiments with mice graphically demonstrate what can happen when a PACE repairs some of the damage caused by bad early experiences.
    PACEs and genetic changes
     A new mother mouse placed after the she gives birth in an unfamiliar environment with inadequate bedding typically becomes abusive to her pups. She may step on her young, and stop licking or grooming them because she is stressed. These pups grow up and act in a depressed manner, and are more likely to be harsh and fail to nurture their own pups. However, when the pups are fostered by non-stressed, nurturing mothers, over time, the epigenetic change driving their abusive behaviors can be reversed.

    “When children experience multiple forms of adversity, the impacts are magnified. Multiple protective experiences may also have a cumulative effect.”

    We do not yet have data for humans on the epigenetic impact of switching from an adverse to a protective experience. However, infants raised initially in Romanian orphanages who were later fostered in nurturing homes showed developmental benefits that likely mirrored the neurobiological improvements observed in mice.
    Our colleague, David Bard, professor of pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, has demonstrated how positive parenting practices in thousands of U.S. families have buffered children against the impacts of adversity. Activities such as reading to children; ensuring they have routines; and taking them to shops, museums, and playgrounds were associated with better learning in preschool and fewer behavioral problems at school than would otherwise have been expected.
    Top 10 protective and compensatory experiences
    From research evidence, we have assembled a list of the top 10 types of relationships and resources that provide the PACEs that bolster children against adversity. These are detailed more extensively in our new book, Adverse and Protective Childhood Experiences: A Developmental Perspective.

    Receiving unconditional love: Not only do children need to be nurtured and loved, that love should feel unconditional. This does not mean that children never get in trouble or parents never get mad. The crucial point is that whatever a child does, the parent stays on the child’s side. As an infant, it means that when you cry, you get a response; your parents make eye contact with you and cherish you; and they sing, play, and talk with you. As a child, you can count on your parent’s eyes lighting up when you walk into the room; mom or dad always has your back. And when you grow older, it means that your parent sets limits and explains how things are done. There are many ways to express unconditional love.
    Having a best friend: Close friendship offers protection from peer rejection, bullying, and victimization. This happens not just because a child has someone to talk to, but because it helps the child learn how to deal with conflict and grow a relationship over time. Children have a sense of being important and they have someone to go to.
    Volunteering in the community: Volunteering helps children learn about the needs of others and gives them the opportunity to see a world outside their own. When they understand that helping is not done out of pity, it allows them to accept help from others when they need it.
    Being part of a group: Being in a group gives children a sense of belonging outside the family. It allows children and teenagers to learn about themselves in different contexts, and provides opportunities for friendship and leadership. Taking part in school clubs and sports is linked to academic success, psychological well-being, and lower rates of substance abuse.
    Having a mentor: Having an adult other than a parent who can be trusted and counted on for help and advice helps protect against psychological distress and academic difficulties, and reduces the incidence of high-risk activities. Even if children have exemplary parents, an adult outside the home can be an alternative role model to whom children can aspire and is a reminder that someone else loves them.
    Living in a clean, safe home with enough food: These primary needs are crucial. Good, regular nutrition is important for brain development and protects against health problems; eating dinner regularly with your family reduces the risk of weight problems. Chaotic, unpredictable home environments are associated with harsh and inconsistent parenting. Children who live in unclean, cluttered homes have worse outcomes than those living in clean, organized homes.
    Getting an education: Just like living in a clean, safe home, the opportunity to learn and be educated in an environment with boundaries and rules also protects children from risk. High-quality early childhood programs make a lasting difference to outcomes for children from low-income families.
    Having a hobby: Whether it is playing an instrument, dancing, doing judo, reading, or playing chess, any recreational activity helps teach self-discipline and self-regulation, and can provide children and youth with a routine and a sense of mastery, competence, and self-esteem.
    Engaging in physical activity: Being physically active helps children handle the physiological effects of stress on the body, and improves mood and mental health. In so doing, it reduces the likelihood that children will grab a bag of chips or lash out to relieve stress.
    Having rules and routines: Security comes when children know what to expect and when caregivers enforce clear rules and limits. Children cannot parent themselves; they need high expectations, consistency, and parents’ involvement. In early childhood, this means that parents should establish and enforce bedtime and other routines, redirect children when they misbehave, and as children grow up, explain the effects of their behavior on others.

    Photo: Anna Earl. Unsplash.
    We know that when children experience multiple forms of adversity, the impacts are magnified. Likewise, multiple protective experiences may have a cumulative effect for children, though the power of this accumulation requires further study.
    PACEs matter for all children
    Adverse experiences can happen anywhere to anyone — the rich as well as the poor. All children should have access to experiences that bolster and protect them. Children from more well-to-do families who face adverse experiences, such as family break-up, mental illness, and substance abuse, are more likely to have compensatory experiences. These might be opportunities to participate in clubs, have tutors, go to drama classes, choose to play an instrument, and have teachers and coaches who really care about them.

    “Down the street lives a grandmother who provides safe harbor. Maybe a caring teacher or athletics coach takes the child under her wing. These are just a few of many protective antidotes that can diminish the toxicity of adverse experiences.”

    In contrast, children in families living in high-crime and high-poverty neighborhoods might lack access to protective experiences because their families have insufficient money or time. These children face a double jeopardy – more adversity and less compensatory protection. Their difficulties have increased in recent decades as many PACE resources, such as youth sports and activities, have become increasingly expensive.
    The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized how alone many parents are as they try to help their children gain access to PACEs. Parents have struggled to support their children’s learning at home, grappling with isolation; lack of routines; inadequate opportunities for exercise and hobbies; and in some cases, lack of enough food to keep children healthy.
    The pandemic reminds us that promoting childhood development is about much more than preventing adversity. We need to think more about how to ensure that children have the good things in life so they are less likely to be hindered by what can go wrong.
    Header photo: Anna Samoylova. Unsplash.  More

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    Separated parents and choosing schools

    Separated parents and schools: What can you do if you disagree on where your children go to school?
    As schools started to open their doors again this week, you could hear an audible sigh of relief from households across the UK as children made the welcome return to education.  
    Due to the covid-19 pandemic, schools’ closing has emphasised the vital role they play in providing education, routine, structure, friendship, and a  safe space for children. 
    This renewed interest may have caused some parents to question whether their children’s school is the best one for them or should they look to move them elsewhere?  In-year applications to move schools can still be submitted, so it is certainly possible. 
    For separated parents, deciding on a school choice can cause complications if they are not in agreement. For those parents that find themselves in this situation, how can a family lawyer help them? 
    The process
    The first step is to discuss your concerns with the other parent and/ or anyone else who has parental responsibility for your child(ren). 
    You may find that there is common ground, and you agree that changing school is in your child’s best interest. 
    If you require assistance in broaching this conversation, you may wish to consider contacting a mediator or lawyer to help you talk about your opinions on the current school and the proposed alternative.
    If you cannot reach an agreement, then it is open to you to refer the matter to the court by way of a Specific Issue application. The court will consider both parent’s positions and order where the child(ren) should attend school. 
    If you are not the child’s parent, but you have parental responsibility, you are the child’s guardian, or you are the person with whom the child(ren) lives as per a Child Arrangements Order, then you may apply for a Specific Issue Order. 
    If you are unsure if you fall into one of the above categories, it is best to check with a lawyer before making your application. 
    Considerations for separated parents choosing schools
    When deciding any children matter, the court will be guided by the welfare checklist, as set out in s1(3) Children Act 1989. 

    The court’s primary concern is the welfare of the children. Would moving school really be in their best interest? 

    Some of the factors that the court will consider are the wishes and feelings of the child(ren) dependent upon their age and understanding, their physical, emotional and educational needs, the likely effect of the change of school upon them, their age, sex and background, and any harm that the child(ren) may be exposed to. 
    When approaching an application for a change of school, you should consider the practicalities of the change, such as how the child(ren) gets to and from school, academic credentials, pastoral factors, such as access to learning support and funding (if applicable). 
    Points to consider 
    Change of schooling can be approached as a standalone issue, irrelevant of whether you are the child’s primary carer. 
    If you have parental responsibility, you have the right, duty and obligation to decide how your child(ren) is educated. 
    The primary focus of any application regarding children should be to act in their best interest with full consideration of their welfare.
    Get in touch 
    If you would like advice as separated parents on choosing schools, please contact our Client Care Team here, who can put you in contact with a specialist child law solicitor.
    Jennifer is an Associate Legal Executive based in our Manchester & Preston offices. More

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    Can the court force you to vaccinate your children?

    Can the court force you to vaccinate your children?
    The continuing roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccination programme has brought back the debate on the safety and long-term implications of administrating vaccines.  
    Similar to when Andrew Wakefield released his false conclusions that the MMR vaccine could be linked directly to autism,  a minority of people fundamentally opposed to vaccinations have found a voice. 
    The speed at which vaccines for Covid-19 have been approved appears to be at the root of concerns. People who may have previously been pro-vaccine may now have doubts – particularly parents considering vaccinating their children. 
    And while children are not currently in line to receive the vaccine, the current situation shines a spotlight on the difficulties they face if separated parents have very different beliefs about childhood vaccinations.
    The law on vaccines
    Vaccines are not compulsory by law.
    However, there have been several recent court cases that have dealt with childhood vaccinations, including Re H (A Child: Parental Responsibility: Vaccination[2020], a case where a local authority wanted to vaccinate a child in its care against the father’s wishes; and M v H and P and T [2020] EWFC 93, a private law case where the judge ruled that NHS scheduled vaccinations (i.e. MMR and others) were in the best interests of the children despite the mother’s objection. 
    The general principles from the family court are that if the vaccine is approved by the regulator and in the child’s best interests, the court will almost certainly rule in favour of administering the vaccine. 
    Putting aside the arguments for and against, from a child law perspective, this issue is no different from other issues that can arise between parents regarding what the law terms as “specific issues” about their children. These include decisions about which school they should go to, what religious education they should receive or the medical treatment they should have. 
    So what options do you have if you cannot agree on ‘specific issues’ with your ex-partner? 
    Resolve between yourselves 
    The best approach, if possible,  is for parents to agree directly with each other on any arrangements and specific issues as they are the right people to make decisions concerning their children.   
    Family counselling or mediation
    However, this is not possible in certain situations, and the introduction of a neutral third-party can help. 
    Some separated parents can benefit from family counselling and other alternative dispute resolutions services, including mediation and collaborative law. 
    These routes can reduce the time and cost for everyone, avoid protracted court proceedings, benefit future relationships, have a far higher success rate, and put the child’s best interests first. 
    Going to court 
    If all else fails, then the decision will have to be passed to the family courts. 
    The Court can order what is known as a Specific Issue Order under Section 8 of the Children Act 1989. 
    In these circumstances, the Court will have to determine the issues based on what it believes to be in the children’s best interest and not necessarily what the parents want.  
    The court has particular regard to the factors at section s1 (3) of the Children Act 1989, the welfare checklist, namely:
    Wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in the light of his age and understanding);
    Physical, emotional and educational needs;
    Likely effect on him of any change in his circumstances;
    Age, sex and background;
    Any harm or risk of suffering;
    The range of powers available to the court 
    At the moment, children are not due to be vaccinated against Covid-19. However, if the Covid-19 vaccination is approved for children and added to the NHS list of childhood vaccination, we may see an influx of applications for a specific issue order for a child to have the vaccine being made to the courts. 
    Considering the current backlog at the family courts, exacerbated by the pandemic, where possible, it always preferable for parents to resolve matters outside of the courts. 
    Get in touch
    If you would like any legal advice as you cannot agree on ‘specific issues’ with your ex-partner please do contact our Client Care Team to speak to one of our specialist divorce lawyers here.  More