Single parent families are sometimes blamed for many of the ills of society, but there is no evidence that your children are doomed to be badly behaved. Many reports talk about single parent families and ‘broken homes’. As we know single parent families do NOT mean ‘broken homes’. Many single parent families are very complete families. ‘Broken homes’ can mean places where young people are living in an unstable environment ie in and out of foster homes, frequently changing schools... these children are unable to catch up or make friends and consequently start to truant.
Secondly, there are some people who attribute the rise in truancy figures to the increased tendency for headteachers to now record absence due to family holidays in term time as unauthorised. Families take holidays in term time because it is cheaper, the families with the least money are often single parent families and so it follows that a high proportion of those families are likely to be single parent families.
Practical things you can do to reduce the risk of truancy
Even with these factors it is still important to consider what we can do to prevent our child from becoming one of these unwanted statistics:
- Ensure you have good communication with your child, with a particular emphasis on listening, so that there is more chance that they will confide in you if they are having problems.
- Build a good relationship with your child’s school. Make sure you always go to parents’ evenings however hard it may be to fit in with all the other pressing commitments you have. Regularly visit the school, make yourself known to reception staff and get to know their tutor. Good communication built up when things are good will prove invaluable if things go wrong.
- Seek help as soon as you suspect there is a problem. Talk to your child’s teachers or headteacher and keep records of visits and contact. Find out who is your local Education Welfare Officer or Parent Partnership Officer. Again keep records of any visits of conversations.
- If you find your child is truanting seek help immediately. Find parents’ forums on line where there are other parents who have experience of what you are going through.
- Know the outcome you want and be determined. If you feel the school isn’t offering the help you and your child need or is not helping constructively, then push to get what you want – consider approaching the school’s board of governors.
- Be understanding of your child’s problems. Whatever pressure you may be being put under by professionals, make sure you understand exactly what your child’s difficulties or problems are and show that you take them seriously.
- You always have the right to appeal any decision that is made and you also have the right to complain if you feel you or your child have been treated unfairly.
The real relationship between single parent families and truancy
It is interesting to note that a research article, Truancy and Perceived School Performance, which lists living in a single-parent family as being one of the factors with the strongest associations to truancy, also points out that where a child has at least one parent who is both supportive and exercises some control, that child is more likely to perform well at school. At the same time other reports suggest that two parent families where both parents work full-time are also a significant factor on increased likelihood of truancy.
Single parents and work
This seems to suggest that it is not so much about single parent families as about families where parents are absent a lot of the time due to work pressures, and raises the question again of the wisdom of the government’s policy of getting single parents back to work as quickly as possible. How is this going to impact on performance at school and levels of truancy amongst children from single parent families?
We all know only too well what an incredible juggling act it can be raising children alone and trying to keep a roof over their heads, and if things don’t always go smoothly, particularly in adolescence, then we do well to remember that the reasons are a lot more complex than ‘two parents good, one parent bad’!
For more information on School Attendance and Absence go to the The Advisory Centre of Education website.