Divorce damages children, says official report

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Divorce Impact on ChildrenAccording to a new state-sponsored report, family breakdown is as damaging for children today as before 1970 when divorce was thought unacceptable.

The report, published by the government's Economic and Social Research Council, says that children from broken homes continue to suffer the consequences as they grow, even into old age.

It argues that the effects on children of parents' separation was "consistently associated with psychological distress in adulthood during people's early 30s".

The report says that the teenage years are "a time when risks accumulated since childhood start to snowball, affecting the behaviour of young people and their timely transition to adulthood".

The paper, prepared by an academic team under Prof Mel Bartley, also notes that the problem crosses generations, with the impact on mental health unchanged as divorce and separation have become more common.

"Family life has undergone dramatic changes over recent decades," the report says. "Families no longer have to have 2 parents, they can contain children from different parents, and parents no longer have to be of different genders."

However, the paper warns that greater freedom confers less certainty, leading to worries over the effect of family instability on the health of children and adults alike.

"Family living arrangements are related to children's physical health," the report continues. "Children whose parents remain married throughout the early childhood years are less likely to suffer from breathing problems such as asthma, to become overweight, or to be injured in accidents by the time they are 5 years old than children who have experienced a more unstable family situation."

The report follows recent figures demonstrating that around 50% of all youngsters have been party to family breakdown before the age of 15. It argues that lifestyle conditions – in the shape of a stable family environment and expressed in the paper as "social medicines" – directly impact on good health.

The report also refers to how levels of cortisol, a stress-linked hormone, suggest that childhood experiences could affect people through their lives.

"We have measured cortisol levels in thousands of adults at the age of around 60 to find evidence of long-term effects of psychological stress in childhood," the report says.

"People were asked if they had been separated for more than one year from their mothers. The people who had experienced this much separation were found to have higher cortisol levels."

"This tells us that childhood separation appears to result in an increased risk of a less healthy stress response many years later in adulthood."

However, the findings contradict the claims of politicians and some social workers who have insisted for years that, provided both parents part amicably, children are not damaged by divorce.


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