Call in Fife to overhaul child maintenance system

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New research published in Fife has found that there is an urgent need to improve the system of child maintenance if both children and parents are to flourish.

The research, commissioned by Fife Gingerbread with support from Family Nurture Partnership, was carried out by the Poverty Alliance.

It has made a number of recommendations and will be used as the basis to launch a campaign for improvements to the system.

Key findings include:

The system is complicated and difficult to navigate: this is a need for improved advice and information services;

There were problems with compliance, particularly when voluntary Family Based arrangements had not been agreed;

Fees introduced with the new system were seen as a barrier for some parents to engage with the system.

Rhona Cunningham, strategic manager of Fife Gingerbread, said: “We know from our day to day work with families who are experiencing poverty that child maintenance is not even on their radar.

‘‘The present system does very little to support them and the bottom line is their children go without the basics as a result. Child maintenance has been a taboo subject, and maintenance is frequently confused with access – they are two very different issues.

‘‘At long last, we have credible and tangible evidence that more needs to be done to support parents and their children through what is a very emotional and difficult process for everyone. This report will start that conversation.’’

Throughout the research – carried out with parents and people providing services in Fife – it was repeatedly found that the process of establishing child maintenance between parents who had separated was stressful for all involved. Problems were heightened when there was experience of domestic abuse. A number of recommendations were made to improve the system.

These included:

The UK Government should remove the initial £20.00 charge for accessing support from the Child Maintenance Options as this is a barrier to low income families and prevents some families from pursuing a claim.

The Scottish Government should carry out further research on the needs for non-resident parents to better understand what factors contribute to maintaining successful child maintenance relationships.

Fife Council should coordinate training for service providers and agencies working with families to highlight the issues of child maintenance and to support families to access advice on their child maintenance needs.

The findings will now be discussed at the launch of the report today (Friday) where speakers at the launch event will include Tam Ballie, the Scottish Commissioner for Children and Young People.

He said: “This report shines a light on an area which has been overlooked for too long.

‘‘It shows the injustice that many children and families are deprived of child maintenance, contributing to the risk of them living in poverty. This aspect of child poverty is avoidable if we had systems which have the best interests of children at their heart.

‘‘At present we have complex systems which make it difficult to ensure all families have access to the child maintenance they are entitled to expect.

‘‘To improve the position, action is required by the UK Government, Scottish Government and local authorities. The sooner this issue is recognised and addressed the better for our children affected.”

A DWP spokesman said: ‘‘“We want to encourage people to come to their own child maintenance arrangements which is usually in the best interests of their children, and the charges are designed to do just that. The charges also help cover the costs of running the service, which ensures better value for taxpayers.”