What do we do about it?
by Trev Martin
In 1995, Canadian Press published the results of a massive Statistics
Canada study of 23,000 children across the country during an eight month
period in 1994 and 1995. The central conclusion of the study was that children
raised by single mothers face increased risks of emotional, behavioural,
academic and social problems. (Statistics Canada)
One in six children in Canada live in single-parent families, 93% of
these headed by single mothers. (Statistics Canada)
Social researchers have long known that growing up in poverty puts children
at higher risk for problems such as hyperactivity, emotional distress or
failing a grade at school. But, the agency found the incidence of such
problems among children of well-off single mothers was generally higher
than for children from poor two-parent familes. (Portia Priegert, Canadian
Such statistics do not mean single mothers are worse parents, rather
they suggest that single mothers have a tough job juggling their responsibilities
at work and home and have fewer resources than traditional families. (Carolyne
Gorlick, social policy professor at the University of Western Ontario)
And children may be more prone to problems because their parents have
gone through painful divorces. (Robert Glossop, Vanier Institute of the
The fact that children raised by single mothers are at increased risk
is found over and over again. Acknowledging that fact is the first step
to changing our legal framework and cultural attitudes toward parenting
and raising children.
Once children are brought into the relationship between a man and a
woman, there needs to be an increased importance and responsibility attached
to maintaining the family structure for the benefit of the children. This
may mean tax benefits, available counselling or a climate of compromise.
Children who do not experience divorce reduce many risks facing them today.
This is not to suggest that a spouse remain in a relationship which is destructive to them or their children. There have always been and will always be necessary reasons for divorce, such as in situations where one partner is abusive to the other or to the children.
Somehow, we have to make the separation/divorce process less traumatic
and confrontational, in the interests of the children. A court system which
forces a winner take all outcome rather than encourages mediation and compromise
does not produce justice. We all know that when parents emerge from separation/divorce
able to work together in the best interests of the children, their risks
are much lower than if the parents remain in unresolved conflict. They
thus avoid experiencing unnecessarily painful divorce and are more likely
to be able to maintain healthy relationships with both parents.
Child poverty as a result of divorce cannot be solved by social welfare
programs or by increased transfers from non-custodial parents. This is
not an argument against child maintenance payments, just a recognition
of reality. Social welfare programs have not solved anything and are seen
by many to encourage the problem. When you take a household with one income
and split it into two households with the same income, the only possible
result (except for the few cases of extremely high income) is two households
in poverty. The answer must be to reduce the divorce rate and keep families
Another consideration is that the present regime is undermining the
economic viability of second families and discouraging them from forming
at all. Single parents and children who would benefit from the relational,
parental and financial support of a “new” parent and spouse are
being denied that possibility. This is not to suggest that the responsibilities
of a parent towards his/her children of a previous relationship are not
primary, but to suggest that we should not be so quick to assign long-term
family maintenance obligations to the “new” parent when a new
family is formed, where those children are the product of a previous relationship.
Another answer, then, is to encourage “new” family formation.