The reality for single parent families

Single parents are not a uniform group - they are young parents; single dads; disabled parents; kinship carers and ethnic minority parents and much more.

Many families do not have the resources to meet their most basic needs. They tell us they are exhausted by the stress of living on a low income and feel like ‘shadow citizens’. Welfare reform, the benefit cap, the two-child benefit policy, austerity, precarious and low paid employment, fuel poverty and a shortage of affordable housing and childcare all contribute to parents struggling for stability. Many families don’t know where their next meal is coming from (food insecurity). Often parents cut back on the quality or quantity of food for themselves to ensure their children eat well. Many also make difficult choices between buying food or paying for housing costs or school clothing. Having a safe place to sleep is one of the most basic of human needs, yet OPFS staff are dealing with families affected by the benefit cap where parents struggle to secure their family home. Many of the parents engaging with OPFS have been affected by domestic abuse. This results in the (mainly) single mothers affected having extremely low self-esteem and confidence.

Supporting single parent families

OPFS supports parents on a pathway with the aim of moving families from crisis to long-term stability. Progress, however is not linear. Support may begin when the family is in crisis means dealing with the immediate pressures and creating stability, for example, using our ‘family essentials bank’; crisis welfare rights expertise; emergency debt advice and housing advice. Support then moves on to identifying the root causes, which can include the impact of welfare reform (benefit cap sanctions; Employment Support Allowance and Personal Independence assessments); stress; poor health or disability; isolation & loneliness; addictions; domestic or sexual abuse; homelessness; children’s health or behaviour e.g. school exclusions; ex-partner‘s behaviour and childcare issues. After key areas are identified OPFS staff work with parents to jointly develop an action plan to address the root causes.

The next stage is to plan for the future to prevent such circumstances becoming a long-term way of surviving. This might include joining a confidence building programme; anti- poverty planning; support with Job Centre Plus & the ‘claimant commitment’; childcare needs; work with schools; securing sustainable housing; addressing the needs of children; role of family and the other parent. We then work with parents to put in place a personal development plan to transition into moving on where appropriate into volunteering; employability programmes; training; further or higher education and sustainable employment.

Some families get trapped at the transitions stage, working through root causes only to find they are hit by another crisis. OPFS interventions aim to prevent ‘an endless loop’ of crises. We support the whole family and work with them to identify what they want and not just look at the issues they currently face. The service is holistic and person-centred. With our local partners, OPFS has developed a circle of support in the communities where we work which is not time-bound and aims to empower single parents to access their rights and reduce child poverty. However not all single parents come to us in crisis but are at a stage to progress their positive aspirations and ambitions and we can provide the support to make the next step to plan for the future.

Single parents need – and OPFS offers – a service that they can access at any point on their journey and drop in and out of as necessary, a service tailored to individual single parents’ needs