Abstract: Shared Care and Family Policy: A Comparative Analysis from 11 Countries (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Shared Care and Family Policy: A Comparative Analysis from 11 Countries

Friday, January 13, 2023
Alhambra, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Mia Hakovirta, PhD, Academic Researcher, University of Turku, Finland
Daniel Meyer, PhD, Professor, University of Wisconsin - Madison, Madison, WI
Mari Haapanen, PhD, Research Assistant, University of Turku, Finland
Background: Families are changing, and increasingly parents in separated families equally share the care of their children post-separation. But how can family policies support parents sharing the care of children in a context of family diversity? Some research on this issue has focused on the child support system but much less is known about other family policies, and the level of benefits (if any) available to: (a) parents who share care equally or (b) parents who have responsibility for their children a substantial proportion of time, but less than half, generally the father. Therefore, it is crucial to know whether children and parents living in these emerging family settings have access to social protection appropriate for their family arrangements.

Data/Methods: We investigate how family policies have been adapted to fit shared care in 11 countries. We consider four important family policy areas for separated families: child allowances (child benefits), housing benefits, social assistance (means-tested welfare), and child support policy. We ask if and how shared care is acknowledged in these policy areas. For the benefit programs, we also ask whether and how both parents have access to the benefits. We use vignette survey data collected in 2017, policy documents collected from various official sources, and the previous research literature.

Results: In Denmark and the UK only one parent can be entitled to receive child-related benefits, even if children live exactly half-time with each parent. In nine other countries, when shared care is considered, it is most often done in child benefit (or relevant tax credit) and housing benefit. If parents share care, child benefit can be split between parents in Sweden and Norway. In Australia and New Zealand, both parents can qualify of receiving tax credits if they each have at least 33% of the total care time. Sweden, Iceland, France, Belgium, Australia and the US can take shared care into account in housing benefits, meaning that both parents can count a child as a member of the household (and have the appropriate number of bedrooms). Considering shared care in social assistance is less common: only three countries (Finland, Norway and Belgium) consider children who live approximately half-time with each parent in their social assistance schemes. Recognizing shared care in child support policies varies from complete annulment of obligations, to some countries making finer grained adjustments and yet others making no changes with the paying parent still having to provide the full amount of child support.

Conclusions/Implications: Overall, our results show there is no clear family policy strategy with respect to parents who share care post-separation, and few rules about how to determine in which unit a particular child should be counted. This research highlights the need for improvements in family policy to help parents manage shared parental responsibilities post-separation and more broadly suggests the need for family policies to adapt to emerging family forms.