Responding to the evolving definition of single parenthood

One Parent Families Scotland has not always been known by its current name. It can trace its roots back to 1940 and the formation of ‘The Scottish Committee for the Unmarried Mother and Her Child’. The use of the words ‘unmarried’ and ‘mother’ paint a picture of an era where there was a very narrow and gendered definition of single parenthood.  In fact, it was not until 1973 that the term ‘unmarried mother’ was dropped, and the charity adopted the new name of ‘The Scottish Council for Single Parents’. A further move to combat stigma around single parenthood eventually led to the name One Parent Families Scotland being taken on in 1995.

Fast forward to 2022 – who are the single parent families we support and seek to represent and reach out to now?

We know single parents are not a homogenous group. They share one common characteristic: that of being the only parent or carer in their family. We have moved on from our original narrow definition of single parenthood to recognise that single parents can include single mums, single dads and kinship carers. Single parenthood should perhaps be seen as an umbrella term that can encompass young people who have parenting responsibilities for their younger siblings.

Within each type of single parent or carer there are a multitude of subgroups based on ethnicity, sexuality, gender identity and physical and mental ability. Based on ONS estimations, of the 143,000 single parents with dependent children in Scotland in 2021, nearly 9 in 10 (88.7%) were women. Recent data from the Family Resources Survey also revealed that 30% of single parent households in Scotland have someone with a disability, and 18% of single parent households in Scotland are from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities.

By partnering with LinkNet Mentoring, our Edinburgh based Mental Health and Wellbeing group is hoping to reach more single parents from minority communities, and in Glasgow, a peer mentoring group has brought together parents who had been socially isolated but through the group have now found friendship with other African single parents living in Scotland.

Being approached by Save The Children Scotland recently as part of a project to provide support to newly arrived Ukrainian refugee parents has prompted us to broaden further our definition of single parenthood to include adults who may be parenting alone for the first time due to the fact their partners have had to stay behind in the Ukraine. To ensure that Ukrainian parents see our services as being relevant to them, we have been careful when developing targeted promotional material to talk about people who are ‘parenting alone’ to make it clear that our services are not limited to parents who are bereaved, separated or divorced.

At Corra’s recent Equity, Diversity and Inclusion event, we and other voluntary organisations talked at length about the importance of avoiding making assumptions when seeking to become more inclusive. It has been very much with this in mind that our approach to connecting our services to new groups of single parents has been one of asking questions and being open to learning from individuals and organisations who work more closely with the groups of single parents we are seeking to make connections with.

We have established a dedicated Justice, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (JEDI!) Working Group who take the lead on ensuring that we are both inclusive and visible to all single parent families in Scotland and we are continually striving to learn and improve as an organisation. Our Parental Participation Working Group, which includes single parents who represent a broad range of the community, works closely with the JEDI Working Group to ensure that we take an intersectional approach and embed Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in all our work, from service provision to media representation and policy and campaigning work.  By adopting this approach, we hope to continue to respond in an agile way to the ever-evolving definition of single parenthood.

This blog was authored by Philippa Kemp, Communications Officer, & Stacey Powch Scott, National Programmes Lead, at One Parent Families Scotland

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