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A recent study from America has found that young adults are increasingly marrying at later ages—if at all—and giving birth to more children outside of marriage.

According to the study, from the Population Reference Bureau (PRB), only 20% of all households included married couples with children in 2010, down from a high of 44% in 1960. By contrast, people living alone now represent 27% of all households.

Other findings of the report include:

  • By 2012, only 46% of young adults ages 25 to 34 were married, down from 55% in 2000. The median age at first marriage continues to rise, reaching 28.1 for men and 26.5 for women in 2011.
  • Married couples and unmarried cohabiting couples are equally likely to have children younger than age 18 in their home, about 40% for each group.
  • In 2010, 41% of all births were to unmarried parents, up from 33% in 2000. The steepest increases in nonmarital births were among women in their 20s: about 63% of births to women ages 20 to 24 occurred outside of marriage in 2010.
  • Not only are women having fewer children (the current U.S. average is 1.9 children per woman), but rates of childlessness also have increased. Between 1980 and 2010, the share of women ages 40 to 44 who were childless nearly doubled, increasing from 10% to 19%.

"If current trends continue, more men and women will postpone marriage until their 30s, thus spending a smaller portion of their adult lives married," said Mark Mather, associate vice president of Domestic Programs at PRB and report co-author. "Compared to their mothers and grandmothers, more of today's 25-year-olds appear on track to remain unmarried through age 40."

Think tank Policy Exchange has published a paper examining the case for equal marriage.

The report takes a detailed looked at the pros and cons of same sex marriage, and claims that the balance of argument favours equal marriage.

The report recommends that:

  • Same sex couples should be allowed to marry and given the same benefits of marriage as heterosexual couples.
  • Religious bodies or institutions should not be forced to carry out same sex marriages on their premises.
  • Religious bodies or institutions should be allowed to ‘opt in’ if they wish to carry out a same sex marriage on their premises.
  • A fast track should be provided for existing civil partners who wish to transfer to full marriage.
  • Once equal marriage has been introduced, no new civil partnerships should be created.

David Skelton, co-author of the paper, said: “Marriage brings with it hundreds of years of history and a long record of providing stability. It is understandable that some religious bodies do not want to marry same sex couples and the state should respect their choice. Likewise, other religious bodies might wish to carry out gay marriage ceremonies on their premises and they should be able to opt in if they so wish.

“Gay people do not want to change the nature of marriage as some have argued. They just want to be part of an institution that transcends communities, promotes commitment and fidelity, as well as providing stability and a valuable social support structure.”

The Government has announced the establishment of a new fund, worth up to £14 million over two years, to develop effective and innovative support services for separated and separating families.

The new services will help parents to foster collaborative relationships with each other after separation, including agreeing child maintenance.

Work and Pensions Minister Maria Miller said:

“If separation is unavoidable then having both parents actively involved in their lives is the best way for children to develop. So this is a challenge for organisations and individuals to suggest how we can make this important investment in families really count.”

The announcement reaffirms the Coalition Government’s commitment to shared parenting which also includes changes to the family justice system and an overhaul of the child maintenance system to see parents supported to make their own, family-based, child maintenance arrangements whenever possible.

The Child Support Agency currently costs the taxpayer approximately £0.5 billion per annum. Department for Work and Pensions research has suggested that the majority of separated parents currently using the CSA believe they would be likely to make their own maintenance arrangements with the right help and support.

Families Need Fathers has welcomed the release of the Government’s consultation on proposed legislation on the involvement of both parents in a child’s life. The recognition that the full involvement of both parents is a crucial component of child welfare, and not a challenge to it, is a simple, yet hugely significant, development in family law.

Ken Sanderson, CEO of Families Need Fathers, commented, “By making explicit the importance of both parents being fully involved in their child’s upbringing following divorce or separation, the Government will be making a crucial and long overdue amendment to the law. It will support and strengthen the overwhelming social change over the past 40 years whereby both parents are expected to contribute fully to their child’s wellbeing, both emotionally and materially.”

“These proposals are not just about those families who end up in court; the law provides the context in which those who come to private arrangements approach post-separation parenting, and it is crucial that an expectation is set that all parents should continue to maintain a meaningful relationship with their children. This will help to ensure minimum disruption to the children’s family life, and in doing so promote their social and emotional wellbeing.”

Kent County Council has called on councils to do more to ensure that children in care are placed as close to home as possible to minimise disruption to their lives.

According to the Council, there are currently 1,267 children in care that have been placed in Kent by other local authorities.

The leader of Kent County Council, Paul Carter, said: "Being taken into care is probably the most traumatic thing that can happen to a child. Children in care deserve a better deal and all councils must work much harder to provide placements that enable them to remain in their schools and with their friends, unless there is a threat to their safety. This will minimise disruption in their lives and protect the wellbeing of some of our most vulnerable children."

He went on to say that: "There are very good reasons why authorities place some children far away from home – with prospective adopters, with relatives, in specialist residential provision, catering for acute need or disability, that is not available closer. However, there are far too many vulnerable children and young people placed in children's homes and with non-related foster carers miles away from home. It is extremely difficult to be an effective ‘corporate parent’ and look after children placed so far away from home.”

The Council has called on the Government to legislate to:

  • require local authorities to place children within 15 miles of their home or school, unless by exception,
  • ensure all local authorities report annually on how many children have been placed more than 15 miles away or in another local authority area, and
  • require London councils to work together to commission care placements in London to enable children to stay close to home, and reduce pressure placed on Kent's public services by supporting children from other council areas.

Gingerbread, the single parent charity, has issued a statement in response to the recent publication by the DWP of new quarterly performance data from the Child Support Agency (CSA). The figures show that more than 5,000 past and current CSA cases remain over £50,000 in arrears

Fiona Weir, Chief Executive of Gingerbread, said:

“These new statistics show just what an important role the CSA plays in collecting child maintenance from thousands of parents who simply refuse to pay voluntarily. But it is shocking that, in the future, parents looking after children will lose out when the CSA steps in – facing the deduction of up to 12% of any money they are due to receive for their children.

“In recent years the CSA has failed to halt rising arrears, which have grown from £3,761 million outstanding in March 2010 to £3,799 million in March 2012. While Gingerbread supports a renewed focus on taking all enforcement measures necessary to collect child maintenance, the new collection charges will punish the children whose parents refuse to pay.”

Involving children’s guardians in vulnerable families may avoid the need for care proceedings according to a pilot study from Lancaster University and the University of Bradford.

Stage One of the pilot identified a number of benefits in regard to the Children’s Guardian becoming involved in pre-proceedings.

Applications to take children into care are at record levels, with 10,199 new applications recorded during the last year by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service.

In addition, the family courts report extensive delays for children, with case duration now hitting 60 weeks in many cases.

The pilot study, listed in the Family Justice Review and Government response to that review, examined whether earlier involvement of the Children’s Guardian might ensure more cases are prevented from going to court, or where cases go to court, that they are resolved more quickly.

Researchers are following care proceedings in a sample of 27 cases and 30 comparator cases. Stage One has identified positive impacts in regard to the engagement of parents in a number of cases, with some cases now successfully diverted from court. In other cases, discussions between the local authority and the guardian may have narrowed the issues which will come before the court if care proceedings are issued.

The report from the pilot project will go to the Ministry of Justice and the project will now be extended to Liverpool.

The Fostering Network has called on the Government to make further investment in foster care as a matter of urgency. The call comes after the latest figures from Cafcass show that care applications have exceeded 10,000 over the last twelve months for the first time.

Vicki Swain, campaigns manager at the Fostering Network, said: “As the vast majority of children in care are fostered, this rise in applications will put even more pressure on a fostering system already feeling the strain.

“Fostering services have been struggling with a shortage of foster carers for the last few years. This has made it difficult to make sure children and foster carers are well matched, meaning children end up living a long way from home or being repeatedly moved around the system as placements break down.

“We are therefore calling on the Government to provide more funding so that fostering services are able to properly pay and support their foster carers and have the resources to encourage more people to foster. Without this, the system is going to struggle to cope and will fail this very vulnerable group of children.”

 

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