Fractured Relationships

Child and domestic abuse, sexual violence, family breakdown and workplace stress

Image by Anastasia Gepp from Pixabay

This article explores the reasons why ‘Relationships’ is one of nine key learning priorities in the proposed MAC life-based learning programme for 5- to 11-year-olds.

The importance of relationships to life

Young children experience their world as an environment of relationships, and these relationships affect virtually all aspects of their development – intellectual, social, emotional, physical, behavioral, and moral.

National Scientific Council on the Developing Child: Young children develop in an
environment of relationships

Relationships matter. Good quality relationships with partners, families, friends and wider social networks provide meaning to our lives and are central to our identity. But they also hold the keys to our health and wellbeing; to our ability to engage in and progress in education and at work, to our long term life chances and to instilling resilience in individuals. They are also the cornerstone of a thriving economy and society.

Relate: What’s love got to do with it: 14 ideas for putting relationships at the heart of policy [Forward: page 4]

The problem

Children and adults are experiencing major problems in their relationships, problems which underline the need to focus more on children learning the attitudes and skills required to create and sustain positive relationships.

The evidence

Child abuse

There are many ways in which children — up to the age of eighteen — suffer abuse. These are identified by the NSPCC.

Types of abuse: Bullying and cyberbullying; child sexual exploitation; trafficking; domestic abuse; emotional abuse; female genital mutilation; grooming; neglect; online abuse; physical abuse; sexual abuse.

One organisation estimates 3 million cases of child abuse a year:

Approximately 3 million cases of child abuse and neglect involving almost 5.5 million children are reported each year. The majority of cases reported to Child Protective Services involve neglect, followed by physical and sexual abuse. There is considerable overlap among children who are abused, with many suffering a combination of physical abuse, sexual abuse, and/or neglect.

healthychildren.org: Child abuse and neglect

Relationship domestic abuse

Many cases of domestic abuse are not recorded in crime statistics. Even so, the crime survey for England and Wales shows that one in 18 people experienced domestic abuse in the year ending March 2019. It is a shocking statistic.

According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales year ending March 2019, an estimated 5.7% of adults (2.4 million) experienced domestic abuse in the last year.

The police recorded a total of 1,316,800 domestic abuse-related incidents and crimes1 in the year ending March 2019.

Of these, 746,219 were recorded as domestic abuse-related crimes, an increase of 24% from the previous year.

Office for National Statistics: Domestic abuse prevalence and trends, England and Wales: year ending March 2019

Sexual violence

Key statistics about rape and sexual violence in England and Wales:

In the year to the end of March 2017, the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) estimated:20% of women and 4% of men have experienced some type of sexual assault since the age of 16, equivalent to 3.4 million female and 631,000 male victims

3.1% of women (510,000) and 0.8% of men (138,000) aged 16 to 59 had experienced a sexual assault in the last year. 

In January 2013, An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales, the first ever joint official statistics bulletin on sexual violence released by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), Office for National Statistics (ONS) and Home Office, revealed:Approximately 85,000 women and 12,000 men (aged 16 – 59) experience rape, attempted rape or sexual assault by penetration in England and Wales alone every year; that’s roughly 11 of the most serious sexual offences (of adults alone) every hour. 

Only around 15% of those who experience sexual violence report to the police

Approximately 90% of those who are raped know the perpetrator prior to the offence

More key stats:31% of young women aged 18-24 report having experienced sexual abuse in childhood (NSPCC, 2011) 

Rape Crisis: England and Wales: Sexual violence statistics

Impact of family breakdown on children

The UK continues to have some of the highest levels of family breakdown anywhere in the world.

The Centre for Social Justice: Family breakdown: stable, healthy families are at the heart of strong societies

“In [2019], there were 1.6 million lone mothers with dependent children in the UK. Dependent children are those living with their parent and either (a) aged under 16, or (b) aged 16 to 18 in full-time education, excluding children aged 16 to 18 who have a spouse, partner or child living in the household.” 172,000 long

The statistics further reveal 172,000 lone fathers with dependent children.

Statista: Lone parent families in the United Kingdom (UK) 2019, by parent’s gender

“Children of separated families have a higher probability of: 

being in poverty and poor housing; being poorer when they are adults; behavioural problems; performing less well in school; needing medical treatment; leaving school/home when young; becoming sexually active, pregnant, or a parent at an early age; depressive symptoms, high levels of smoking and drinking, and drug use during adolescence and adulthood…”

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation: Divorce and separation: The outcomes for children

Family breakdown – whether in the form of divorce, domestic abuse, bereavement or conflict between children and parents – can all contribute to someone finding themselves on the streets.

A high proportion of people who develop mental health or substance misuse problems have suffered trauma in earlier life, often within the family home.

SHP: Family breakdown

Workplace abuse

It is evident from the causes of stress at work identified by HSE that, while ‘relationships at work’ is identified as a cause in its own right, relationships play a crucial part in all other identified causes:

There are six main areas that can lead to work-related stress if they are not managed properly. For example, employees may say that they: are not able to cope with the demands of their jobs; are unable to control the way they do their work; don’t receive enough information and support; are having trouble with relationships at work, or are being bullied; don’t fully understand their role and responsibilities; are not engaged when a business is undergoing change

HSE: Causes of stress at work

Not getting relationships right has consequences for the economy as well as for the individual:

49% of all working days lost in 2016-2017 were reported as being due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety.

Perkbox: The 2018 UK Workplace Stress Survey

Our latest statistics on work-related ill-health and injury show in 2016/17 over half a million workers suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety, while 12.5 million working days were lost. The damage work-related stress has on our working population is devastating.

For Britain’s employers, the cost of a workforce suffering from stress is eye-watering.

For example, consider what the working days lost truly means; huge costs for sickness absence payments, costs around lost production, and the expense of either hiring temporary replacement workers to fill the gap or making overtime payments to existing staff. In the longer term, highly stressful jobs lead to difficulties retaining existing employees and cause a higher turnover of staff.

HRZone: Stressed out Britain: How to manage work-related stress in your organisation

The answer

Relationships are rising up the public policy agenda. Most major political parties are beginning to recognise their importance as the basis of a thriving society.

Relate: What’s love got to do with it: 14 ideas for putting relationships at the heart of public policy

A report by the Scottish government identifies positive relationships in schools as having the most positive effect on better relationships, better behaviour and better learning.

Learning Communities – across early years, primary, secondary and special sectors – which focus on social and emotional wellbeing and creating a positive school ethos based on mutual respect and trust are having the most positive impact [page 5].

The Scottish Advisory Group on Behaviour in Schools (SAGBIS): ‘better relationships, better behaviour, better learning’

The PSHE Association provides a way of creating better relationships, better behaviour and better learning through its personal, social, health and economic education programmes of study for all age groups, organised into three core themes:

Core Theme 1: Health and Wellbeing

Core Theme 2: Relationships

Core Theme 3: Living in the Wider World

The relationships core theme provides comprehensive learning opportunities categorised as pupils learning about:

  • Families and close positive relationships
  • Friendships
  • Managing hurtful behaviour and bullying
  • Safe relationships
  • Respecting self and others

The obstacle

The obstacle is the subject-based approach to learning adopted by many countries.

In the National Curriculum in England, for 5- to 11-year-old children, there is no place in its eleven subjects to teach relationships, along with other important learning areas such as health and wellbeing, economic awareness, citizenship and the environment.

The National Curriculum response to this is to create yet another subject which brings many of the above learning areas together under the banner of PSHE (personal, social, health and economic education).

The intention for children to learn about relationships is further demoted in the National Curriculum in England due to its hierarchical approach to learning, with English and mathematics (and to a lesser extent, science) as ‘core’ subjects and all other subjects as less important ‘foundation’ subjects.

As a result, the importance of relationships learning, already demoted down the hierarchical list, is further lost in the plethora of subjects competing for space in the crowded timetable.

The solution

The solution is to raise the profile of relationships education in primary schools for children.

The Merged Action Curriculum (MAC) is an example of a life-based curriculum for children aged 5 to 11, giving equal focus to relationships education as one of nine equal learning domains.

Presence + Focus + Attention = Results

You can read more about relationships education through the indicative Relationship Study Action Areas:

  1. What children need to know about relationships
  2. Non-verbal relationship skills
  3. Verbal relationship skills
  4. Interaction skills and competencies

The inclusion of ‘non-verbal relationship skills’ and ‘verbal relationship skills’ is an important new emphasis in children learning para-language, body-language and the importance of words used at the heart of personal, social and work relationships.

Michael Mac