London Free Press

March 13, 2001

Kids thrive best in intact families

By RORY LEISHMAN -- London Free Press

Prof. Heather Juby of the Universite de Montreal has piqued more than a little interest on both sides of the Atlantic with an article in the British Journal of Criminology in which she cites evidence that boys who grow up with single mothers are no more likely to become delinquent than boys who are raised in harmonious, two-parent families.

Does it follow that out-of-wedlock births, separation and divorce pose little or no risk for children who live with their natural mothers?

The research report in question was jointly written by Juby and David P. Farrington of Cambridge University. They base their findings on a long-term survey of 411 men in a working class district of London, England, who have been followed since they were first contacted in 1961-2 at ages eight to nine.

Juby and Farrington relate that, "Delinquency rates were higher among 75 boys who were living in permanently disrupted families on their 15th birthday, compared to boys living in intact families." That result is not at all remarkable. Numerous studies in Britain, Canada, the United States and elsewhere have established that boys who grow up in broken homes are far more likely than their peers to get into trouble with the law.

A distinguishing feature of the Juby and Farrington study is their detailed examination of the impact of different kinds of broken homes on juvenile delinquency. One of their interesting observations is that after divorce, the boys in the study who had been abandoned by their mothers were far more likely to become delinquent than those who lost their fathers.

However, much the most surprising finding reported by Juby and Farrington is that, "Boys from disrupted families who continued living with their mothers had similar delinquency rates to boys from intact harmonious families."

The data in the study clearly bear out this assertion. Among the 247 men who had grown up in intact, low-conflict families, 21 per cent had an adult conviction. Among the 39 men who had lived continuously with their mother after the loss of their father, the adult conviction rate was 24 per cent.

Nonetheless, this is not to suggest that a father can abandon his children in the confident belief that they will thrive just as well so long as their mother is willing to look after them. In fact, the Juby and Farrington study points to the opposite conclusion: Single motherhood looks good for children in the context of widowhood, but not separation and divorce.

Thus, the 15 men who lived continuously with their mother after their father had died had the lowest adult conviction rate in the study -- just seven per cent.

The men who had lived continuously with their mother after their father left the home did not fare nearly so well: No fewer than 33 per cent had registered an adult conviction. For the men who grew up in homes where the father left and a stepfather moved in, the adult conviction rate was still higher -- 38 per cent.

Overall, the Juby and Farrington study serves to confirm what numerous other studies based on far larger surveys have found: Boys who suffer through the separation or divorce of their parents are far more likely to get into trouble with the law than their peers who grow up in an intact home under the care and guidance of both of their natural parents.

That goes for Canadian boys, in particular. In a paper on divorce in Canada published by the Vanier Institute of the Family, Anne-Marie Ambert of York University relates that Canadian children whose parents are divorced are far more likely than children whose parents remain together to become young offenders. "In one study I did with a colleague in Montreal," she writes, "we found that over 65 per cent of the young offenders' parents were separated/divorced."

Of course, not all intact families are good for children. In some homes, severe and unremitting marital strife poses such a serious risk to the health and life of a parent or child that the estranged parents have a duty to live apart.

Fortunately, such extreme cases of marital turmoil are rare. Research on the bitter fruits of rampant separation, divorce and out-of-wedlock births over the past three decades has established that the great majority of children thrive best in stable, two-parent families. It follows that responsible parents should make every reasonable effort to keep their marriages and families intact, if only for the sake of the children.


Write Rory at The London Free Press, P.O. Box 2280, London, Ont. N6A 4G1 or fax 519-667-4528 or E-mail.
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Copyright (c) 2001 The London Free Press,