Young people and family separation in Scotland

A survey on Young People and Family Separation in Scotland undertaken by Erin Campbell MYSP explored young people’s experience of what happens when their parents split up.  79 young people responded, aged between 12 and 25, of whom 84% had separated parents.

Erin is the deputy convenor for Equality and Human Rights of the Scottish Government Youth Parliament (SYP), and the survey was circulated by MYSPs, in social group chats and by Children 1st and Young Scot.  Views expressed in the survey report are not necessarily the view of the SYP.

Right from the start of the survey some of the issues facing these young people were revealed. When asked if they felt they could talk honestly to their parents about their feelings, 42% of the respondents answered no.  39% answered that they felt they could talk honestly to one of their parents, and only 13% felt that they could talk honestly to both parents.

When asked if they had ever been prevented from speaking to one of their parents, 34% answered yes.  65% of the young people agreed that the things one of their parents says about the other does not match either their feelings towards that parent of what they know about them. Just over half of respondents (51%) said that they had felt that they were expected to chose between their parents.

Even more telling were some of the comments added to survey forms.  One young person said “The lack of control young people often have in seeing one parent or another, when the case is not done through the courts. My parents split ‘informally’, with no involvement from the court or police etc, meaning there was no legal arrangement/requirement to see my father. I never saw my dad again. I don’t even know how many siblings I have now. The trauma this has inflicted on me was not realized until I began forming relationships at university level, almost 10 years later. As a child, I bought into everything I was told about my father and so I agreed not to see him, but now, I don’t think I will ever know the truth”.

While this survey can only provide a snapshot of the views of Scottish young people, it raises some very interesting questions that must be considered as the changes relating to children and young people in the Children (Scotland) Act 2020 are implemented.  When parents separate, children are often faced with loyalty conflicts and difficulties in trying to stay fully involved with both of their parents.

Alongside new ways of obtaining children’s views and letting them know about court decisions, it is vital that children should be offered far more even-handed support through school and other services to help them deal with any conflict.  As one respondent noted: “… when my parents separated I found it really hard to talk to people about it because I felt I couldn’t talk to my mum or dad about it since it was their decision to separate and I didn’t want to make them feel bad. None of my friends had experienced it so I felt really alone, and it would be good if there was more information for young people to access to help them cope”.