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Vulnerability of family ties and the issues involved Laura Bernardi

Parental separation and post-separation family changes are periods of transition for children. To help them adapt to these changes and find a balance within their new family homes (single-parent and/or reconstituted), the professionals working with the child can play an important role in strengthening psycho-social and economic resources and providing a favourable legal framework for the child and his or her family.

Our study looks at the adequacy of psycho-social and legal services (limited to personal relationships) for separating or separated families in the canton of Vaud, in terms of strengthening family ties that are important for the child's well-being.

New family configurations, as well as growing demands for equality between men and women in terms of their professional and family lives, are calling into question the 'traditional' way in which children are looked after, mainly by the mother in a two-parent household. Divorce and separation place greater demands on women to invest in the professional sphere (Struffolino, Bernardi and Larenza, 2020) and on men to look after their children.

Social science research findings show that the relationship between a child and both parents is a key protective factor for the child's well-being. Following separation, however, the quality of the relationship between the child and the non-custodial parent tends to weaken or even disappear. The relationship between the parents, but also between the child and his or her blended family (step-parents or new partners) and between the members themselves also play an important role.

A study (Schwarzer and Bernardi, in progress) shows, however, that the representation of the family that prevails among Swiss judges is only weakly corroborated. Judges therefore tend to value the relationship between the child and the mother, to the detriment of the relationship with the non-custodial parent, and the ties within the 'traditional' family (father-mother) alone. Step-parents are often not consulted by professionals working with children.

The main aim of our study is to gain a better understanding of the role played by professionals working with separated families living in single-parent and/or step-parent households in the child's relationships with other members of his or her family, and in particular with the non-custodial parent and any step-parents. The study also looks at the needs and challenges of service providers in terms of collaboration between professionals and with researchers.

The study is based on qualitative interviews with around ten providers in the psycho-social and legal fields (limited to personal relationships) in the canton of Vaud, as well as with one or two parents (and their partner) per provider.

Important links

Forum public "Divorce et séparation : vulnérabilité des liens familiaux et prestations des professionnel·les"

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