When parents part but children hold together

3rd July 2009 at 01:00
School progress often unaffected by divorce despite emotional upheaval at home, survey finds

It can throw children's lives into disarray, sending them into emotional turmoil. Yet for almost two-thirds of pupils, divorce has no adverse impact on their education.

A survey by law firm Mishcon de Reya shows that only 39 per cent saw their school grades drop during and after their parents' break-up.

And even fewer - 24 per cent - said they stopped caring about their education as a result of the domestic upheaval going on around them.

Sue Minto, head of the charity ChildLine, said: "The biggest difficulty for children is when they haven't been able to share their worries and get support.

"But there's something quite public about divorce and separation. Teachers know about it, so they give an extra helping hand, have a bit of patience."

In fact, a supportive school can serve as a sanctuary from the troubles of home. "Maybe children see school as a safe, stable place," Ms Minto said. "It's a constant in their life, particularly when teachers reach out and give them that little bit extra."

But Suzie Hayman of the charity Parentline Plus argues that one in four children still suffers educational disillusionment.

"That's quite a damning indictment of how we deal with this," she said. "This isn't about separation. It's about how we handle separation.

"Shit happens. We help children enjoy the good times and deal with the bad times. But in one in four families, that fall-out isn't managed as well as it should be. That's an awful lot of children disengaging from education."

Two thousand children of divorced parents took part in the poll, which marked the 20th anniversary of the Children Act 1989.

Respondents included adults and children, all of whose parents had divorced after the introduction of the act, which promotes the welfare of children during divorce and separation.

For a small number, divorce did have a significant adverse effect on their education: 13 per cent began playing truant when their parents split up. And one in 20 was either suspended or excluded after their parents' divorce.

Christina Tait, founder of website Divorce Aid, believes children might also be affected in more subtle ways. "Children have problems with their own self-image or their friendships when their parents get divorced," she said.

"That will be felt by children into young adulthood, as they form relationships. The ripples of divorce are long-lived."

Ms Hayman agrees. Often, she said, the effects of divorce can be felt years later - for example, when a parent re-marries.

She recommends that all schools have an on-site counsellor to help tackle such difficulties.

"In a lot of schools, nobody bothers to ask the question: what's going on in your life that might make you feel bad?" she said.

"If children suddenly change, there's a reason for it."


Damage limitation

- 24 per cent of respondents said they "stopped caring" about education after their parents' divorce.

- 39 per cent saw their grades fall after their parents broke up.

- 13 per cent started playing truant as a result of their parents' divorce.

- One in 20 was expelled or suspended during or after their parents' divorce.

- 19 per cent felt they had been "used" by their parents.

- 17 per cent had been involved in violent rows between their parents.

- 21 per cent said they had no faith in relationships and would never marry.

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