Single Mothers and Problem Families

In the 1980s Charles Murray, a new right thinker, stated poor educational attainment and an increase in crime rates was partly due to a decline in traditional family values and the rise of single mothers. Over the intervening thirty years the problems identified by Murray still exist.

It has been suggested some young girls choose to have children because they wish to experience the unconditional love they were denied in their own families. Others see children as a way to claim more benefits. Of course this doesn’t apply to all families or single mothers as the decreased stigma against lone-parent families allows parents to escape abusive partners without being excluded from society, as they would have been in the 1940s/50s.

Louise Casey, head of the Government troubled families unit, claims it is irresponsible for families to continue having children when they already can’t cope. She calls for harsher treatment to curb the habit of problem families having too many children (a fifth have more than five). Casey visited the country’s top 16 problem families who cost the tax payer £200,000 a year. She says that although we need to help these families, we shouldn’t use the “soft-touch” approach.

Louise Casey, head of the Government troubled families unit

Now, I don’t usually agree with the right-wing point of view, but in this case it makes sense. Obviously “soft-touch” policies haven’t made a difference, so a new, harder alternative must be found.

I remember a few months ago, I saw a TV programme about social care for children and there was one woman who had already had one child taken away from her (now in the care of the mother’s mother) and was fighting to keep a second child. She was allowed to see her baby girl three times a week under supervision and if she proved she, and her partner (not the father) could stay off drugs and find work they could have the baby back. It all seemed to be going very well, with both of them co-operating with the social workers. However, in the end the little girl went to live with her grandmother and sister. To make matters worse, the woman was pregnant again and was yet again preparing to fight for custody of this baby.

From what I saw she seemed to be a good person – not violent or anything – but she just couldn’t stay off drugs or find the motivation to find a better life with her children. Personally I can’t understand this. Casey is right, these parents need to think about the child they’re bringing into the world and not be so selfish.

Am I being to harsh? Are these families just stuck in a rut so deep they can’t see a more rewarding future? What can be done to stop problem families having more children, short of neutering them?

Being more strict on benefits could help. On the other hand, cutting benefits to single mothers is probably not going to deter these women from getting pregnant for purely selfish means. It will only punish the women who work hard to bring up their children and provide for them on their own. Also, there was talk in the papers about women having to pay to have the child’s father found and made to pay child care contributions themselves. This is not right, won’t it only encourage more unwilling fathers to disappear and leave their children without a backwards glance?

What’s the solution to this issue which has lingered for over thirty years?


18 thoughts on “Single Mothers and Problem Families

  1. I appreciate you grappling with and exploring such tough issues. Here are my thoughts:

    The development of cognitive functions, particularly the frontal cortex area of the brain, is strongly associated with the ability to do the harder thing. People with frontal damage cannot exercise delayed gratification even if they know there is a greater reward, or a better result in store. Addicts are notoriously myopic in this respect. In effect, their behavioral choices are governed by more immediate gratification factors, not “the big picture”. This lack of depth perception is also inherent in the fact that cognitive function in humans does not even mature until about age 25. Drugs also may stagnate the development of the benefits of developing cognitive depth at critical developmental periods, leaving the individuals unable to shake the parasitic substance that is destroying the foundation to build a satisfying experience of life. Environmental factors also play a huge role in whether such things as empathy, thinking skills, and so on work as a unified body.

    With all of this it still leaves us with what to do. I think whatever we do should be through a lens of seeing maladaptive behaviors through a lens of wounds and starvation, not crimes and punishment. In other words, taking the baby for instance needs to be backed up with a commitment giving the child a healthy environment to work toward breaking the cycle of wounding and malnourishment that would occur leaving it in the hands of people who can’t see past the immediate proximity. I agree with you that this type of broader social response to damaging behavior must occur, and that it might even look harsh and cruel from a certain perspective, but from another it is the kindest thing we can do for all parties, including the mother who would grieve for the loss of her child.

    Thanks again for your post.

    • Thanks for such a comprehensive comment. I don’t much about psychology so the information about the cognitive functions is very interesting and gives me something to read up on 🙂
      Do you think the inability to see future benefits can be genetic? As it’s normally children of troubled families who continue to be problem families. Or is it more of an environmental factor since they don’t really know any different?
      Obviously something drastic needs to be done in order to curb a persistant habit festering in these families.

      • To answer your question, it is both nature and nurture. In simple terms, there is a bidirectional flow between the two and sometimes they both can work together to amplify a certain behavioral choice pattern. In environmental terms (nurture), certain conditions can have greater power to influence long term behaviors if these occur at specific times in a person’s developmental environment. Look up the term “critical periods” or read this paper to give you a flavor of some environmental influences. There is much more to it than this, it is just a good place to start. In terms of genetics, it is not just genes, but epigenetic factors that influence the choices made. For instance, grandparents that suffer malnutrition during the formation of gametes (sperm for male, and egg for female) have a great influence on the life track and health of their grandchildren. Since females form eggs in the womb, and males at puberty, these are critical periods, but the major influence does not manifest until the grandchildren live. They have an average of 25 years less life expectancy among other things. This means that more than genes are at play in shaping the influences that determine how one will live their life. Some of the information gets carried through in all the other cellular material. A good book on this is called “The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter and Miracles. By Bruce H. Lipton, Ph.D.”
        If you want to get educated on this whole process in a general sense, I recommend watching the lecture series by Professor Robert Sapolsky at Stanford University. Here is a link to the series of lectures.
        I am glad you have a passion for this. Unfortunately the joke “How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? One, but the light bulb really has to want to change.” is quite true. Some people are on a track where their self-made poverty is so entrenched by so many factors that they will fiercely defend the poverty inducing behaviors with passion. While this is not true in every case, from my perspective, the only effective substantive measures in these cases is to intervene in the next generation to break the cycle, and if the truth be told; sometimes this intervention must span generations as well.

        • Thanks for the links. I find parts of psychology fascinating but never really studied it properly, I do have an introductory book though that should hopefully ease me into it as what I have studied as part of my degree was quite hard to get my head round.
          You have some interesting thoughts, thanks again for sharing 😀

  2. To address your question (in short,), we don’t have any answers. And I’m not sure that Louise Casey’s approach to “problem families”, whatever it will be, will be the answer either. We’re still “othering” these “problem families” and trying to pathologise their activities and way of life without questioning (on anything other than a theoretical level) why they may be struggling/ in trouble/ irresponsible etc. What we don’t do (again, other than theoretically) is examine the broader society in which these people and families are located (because that would involved mounting a serious challenge to a very unequal society). This is particularly missing in Cameron et al’s Big Society nonsense which is certainly not helping the families in question..

  3. Living in an area with a high number of single mothers who are welfare dependent, I dont believe for a minute that is the conscious decision of people to have children to claim more benefits. That is simply a lie perpetuated by those opposed to the welfare state and, to be blunt, is often class snobbery.
    This is an issue which is personally very close to me. I was raised in a single parent family and have never been considered a ‘problem’ child or adult. If many parents had stayed together it would have been a far more toxic environment with bickering and arguing and done me more harm.
    Single parent families are never in themselves the cause of behavioural problems. That is a theory concocted by those with a utupian view of life according to religious values which, unfortunately, are irrelavent in the real world.

    • This post wasn’t designed to be a rant against all single mothers, I did say it didn’t apply to all and that the decreased stigma allows for some women to escape ‘toxic’ environments that they wouldn’t have been able to 50 years ago. In fact I admire many single parents, it’s just the few that take advantage of the system which is why I don’t think cutting benefits for lone parents will help as it will only punish the good parents.
      As for deliberately become a single parent, it does happen, a girl in my year at school deliberately got pregnant at 16. Something I still can’t understand.
      Casey saw the top 16 problem families (not single parents) which I suppose is an extreme example but these families are out there costing taxpayers money.

  4. In the United States this is a huge issue. Methamphetamine users can never usually get off the drugs. So many children are going into the foster care system. It is very sad. The mothers keep having children.
    I had no idea this was an issue in England too. Working Americans are paying for many Single-mother, Methamphetamine users food stamps, housing, healthcare, and child care. Most of the time the Mother has a boyfriend that lives there, and is scamming the system.
    There are people that truly need help, like battered women. I enjoyed reading this post. I knew you had a masterpiece like this post in you!

    • Thanks, I’m not sure it’s a masterpiece though 🙂 lol
      I can imagine it’s an issue all over the western world, with countries struggling to find a balance between helping those in need and punishing those who take advantage of the system.

  5. The only way I can see to solve this ‘problem’ (and others) is by helping each individual to wake up – break the chains of this society/civilization and become aware of who & what we/they really are. Then, each person will most likely & naturally seek out the proper way to be, the proper way to raise families, etc. We cannot force people to do our bidding – it is just plain wrong (goes gainst freedom) and will only serve to propagate our own errors within them (“one man’s poison is another man’s tea”).

  6. Pingback: Does the underclass really exist? | mystudentstruggles

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