This project was a partnership between the Law School, the Medical School, and the Graduate School of Education. Our work was concerned with transitions into and out of relationships across the life course and their impact on mental and physical health. We focused in particular on children and young people, in terms of how they can develop the skills needed to have healthy relationships in the future, and how they might be supported to cope with parental relationship breakdown and future relationship transitions of their own. Public narratives around marriage, divorce and relationship breakdown often make expectations around transitioning into and out of relationships intended to be long term, mismatched with reality. Changes to Relationships Education are being introduced as part of the PSHE curriculum from September 2021, yet evidence suggests many schools are still not well prepared to deliver the aspects which focus on healthy relationships rather than on sex.
Evidence from two projects, the Shackleton Relationships Project and Mapping Paths to Family Justice, showed an appetite among young people for:
· more education at school (which they help to develop) about how to build positive relationships and handle ‘normal’ relationship difficulties
· more information, and for their views to be better represented in mediation processes following parental relationship breakdown
In the HeaRE strand, we explored the best ways to co-develop messages and materials about healthy relationships together with young people which can be used in schools, based on the core attributes and key skills identified by the Shackleton project. We also carried out qualitative research to better understand young people’s perspectives on the most important outcomes of relationship education to inform further work on outcome measurement and evaluation.
In the HeaRT strand of this programme, we focused on the impact of parental relationship breakdown on children and young people, and how young people and adults can learn skills to cope better with transitioning into and out of a range of relationships across the life course. In particular, we considered how to make child-inclusive mediation better understood and more accessible for parents and children as well as build wider practitioner confidence in the process. To this end, we worked with mediation agencies, the Family Justice Young People’s Board and relationship experts, as well as interviewing both professionals and families who have participated in child-inclusive mediation.
In a final series of webinars, the findings from the two strands were brought together to look at how relationship education and family justice processes can normalise relationship transitions, help give voice to young people and build appropriate skills to help them make healthy relationship choices and cope better with relationship difficulties – their own or their parents.
Children and young people experience various relationships and relationship transitions as they develop. How well they navigate these can profoundly affect their mental health and well-being. Working with young people (and others), this study considered the role of relationship education (RE) in preparing them for transitions into partner relationships and coping with transitions out of relationships and intact families if parents separate. RE was found to be key to building healthy relationship skills and to understanding children’s voices in parental separation processes, such as mediation. Young people’s experiences of child-inclusive mediation were also explored, with positive attitudes and effects on their well-being identified.