Belfast Telegraph

Single parent figures show changing society

Editor's Viewpoint

There will be some surprise that a growing number of children in Northern Ireland are being brought up in single parent households, and that this is particularly the case in Belfast.

Today we publish exclusively the birth certificate figures from the Office for National Statistics, which show that 5% of babies born here last year were registered by their mother without reference to the father.

However, a further 21% of the certificates contained details of the father, but they also revealed that he was living at a different address from that of the mother and child.

In effect, two in every 10 babies born here in 2016 were being brought up in a single parent household.

Significantly, the figures were higher in the capital, where 41% of babies were being brought up in a single parent household.

The detailed figures tell their own story, but one of the most important statistics revealed that throughout Northern Ireland 74% of children born last year were brought up in a family setting with two parents living at home, however the figure for Belfast was much lower at 59%.

These figures raise all sorts of questions, including why so many children are not living in two-parent families.

Further research is needed into why this should be so, and perhaps one reason is that there are still more traditional views of these issues in rural areas.

Overall, the figures reflect the changing nature of society, with relatively large numbers of one parent families, and also situations where the parents of a baby are choosing to live apart.

In former times the Churches' strong lead on such issues had much more effect. But people are now making up their own minds on such matters.

The Government and voluntary agencies need to do all they can to provide help to ensure that every child is given the best possible start in life.

In many single parent families, or in situations where the parents are not living together, the child may indeed be given the love and attention it needs.

However, there must be an awareness that in circumstances where the child's needs are not met, the single parent, or parents living apart, may need specific practical help or advice.

There may not be one rule that suits all cases, but this is an important subject that needs to be handled with common sense and sensitivity.

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