Where do I belong? Children in multi-resident families
How and where do children feel at home when they grow up with divorced parents?
A sense of belonging or being part of something bigger than yourself is a fundamental human need. This feeling develops in the early stages of our relationships with parents or primary caregivers and has a profound effect on children's well-being and cognitive performance.
Nowadays, over one in six children living at home in the Netherlands experience parental divorce. Knowledge about this sense of 'belonging' is thus becoming increasingly important. After all, if you feel at home among your family, at school, among friends or in your neighbourhood, you will feel better and have a better chance of developing optimally.
Young people and divorce
Each year in the Netherlands, about 35,000 marriages end and around 60,000 couples (cohabiting or registered partners) go through an informal separation. As a result, over 86,000 children living at home are affected by divorce every year. Scientific research consistently shows that children from divorced families generally experience more problems than their peers from intact families. While these problems diminish or resolve in most children within the first two years of the separation, about 15% experience longer-term problems.
Which factors determine whether a child feels at home or not? How will this affect them in the short and longer term? What are the main factors involved (e.g. parents, neighbourhood, school, friends, media and legislation such as visitation rights)? What can we do to make sure children continue to flourish after a divorce, even if circumstances are unfavourable?
Our team combines knowledge from various fields such as geography, linguistics, family law, pedagogy and computer science. Sharing our expertise allows us to develop new insights that yield interesting scientific knowledge while providing guidance to policy-makers at central and local government levels and within schools and the judiciary.
For example, we aim to examine the influence of legislation (in terms of legal recognition, responsibility and parental visitation rights) on family dynamics and children's sense of belonging. How do visitation rights affect children's daily lives in terms of time and geographical space, and thus their sense of belonging?
How can we strengthen young people's sense of belonging in the aftermath of a divorce?
The effects of divorce on children's sense of belonging
A divorce can also impact young people's sense of connectedness with their environment – their sense of belonging. Although most children of divorced couples tend to live with their mothers, a growing number are growing up in co-parent families, where the amount of contact with both parents is roughly the same. In these cases, young people live in two different houses and grow up with family members who do not necessarily all live in the same house. Some also have to deal with new family members, such as the new partners of their parents, stepsiblings and/or half-siblings. These young people also have to divide their time and energy between two houses and two neighbourhoods, which can affect their freedom of movement in terms of going to school, making friends or pursuing their hobbies.
Hub research team: Combining expertise
As Zoë Rejaän – researcher and PhD candidate at the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences' Youth and Family research group – points out, feeling and being at home involves numerous aspects that require a multidisciplinary approach.
Researchers at the 'Where do I belong' hub combine knowledge from various fields such as pedagogy, geography, linguistics, family law and computer science. Sharing our expertise allows us to develop new insights that yield interesting scientific knowledge while providing guidance to policymakers at central and local government levels and within schools and the judiciary.
We hope the results of our research will add substance and nuance to the current state of knowledge and understanding of the separation process. We believe we can achieve that by focusing more intensively on children's views and opinions.
Research project: A focus on young people's perspectives
The research team is currently conducting a longitudinal studyamong 150 divorced families with children in the 12-18 age group. The emphasis is on children's own perspectives: how do they experience growing up in a divorced family? Which factors determine whether they do or do not feel at home. How does this affect them in the short and longer term? What are the main factors involved (e.g. parents, neighbourhood, school, friends, media and legislation on care and visitation rights)? What can we do to make sure children continue to flourish after a divorce, even if circumstances are unfavourable?
Inge van der Valk, assistant professor at the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences' Youth and Family research group: 'Every parent wants the best for their child. Our research is aimed at developing more long-term solutions and preventative measures.'
Collaboration with partners
The hub also collaborates with various external parties such as the youth welfare service, the Netherlands Youth Institute (NJI) and the national Platform Scheiden zonder Schade (Divorce without Damage Platform). Harmke Bergenhenegouwen regularly works with Inge Van der Valk on behalf of the NJI. 'The Youth Welfare and Protection Guidelines Programme Team has updated the guideline on Separation and youth welfare issues. We are also working with the Divorce without Damage Platform to develop a number of training instruments for professionals.’ Bergenhenegouwen feels the cooperation is both meaningful and pleasant. 'We complement each other well in terms of knowledge and experience, and Inge and her colleagues are very involved and enthusiastic; they're always focused on the possibilities.'
Interested in this theme? Please contact Zoë Rejaän MSc via email@example.com.
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