News - Child Maintenance Options

Separated families in Essex get new help in child maintenance pilot

27 June 2011

Separated parents in Essex will be among the first in England to get extra help with sorting out child maintenance. The initiative is designed to ensure that parents meet their financial responsibilities and avoid the conflict that so often goes with separation.

The innovative pilot – only the second of its kind in the country – will work through eight children’s centres in the county from June onwards and, if successful, could be rolled out more widely.

Outreach workers and centre staff will be trained to identify separated parents who need support in setting up a child maintenance arrangement and to guide them towards expert support. Child Maintenance Options – a free information and support service to separated parents - is behind the pilot and has joined up with by charity 4Children, which runs children’s centres throughout the county.

The six-month pilot will offer group discussion sessions and workshops and face-to-face home visits for those who require follow-up support after setting up a child maintenance arrangement.

Work and Pensions Minister Maria Miller said:

"Too often the current child maintenance system pushes families down the statutory route by default and takes responsibility away from parents causing conflict and hostility. The Government is clear about how important strong family relationships are for a child’s well being. If separation is unavoidable, then initiatives like this will help support parents to make their own family-based arrangements which are in the best interests of their children."

Around half of Britain’s 3 million children who live in separated families miss out on child maintenance because their parents don’t have an arrangement in place. The Essex children’s centres are unusual because they cater for parents of children aged 0-19 rather than just 0-5s.

Janet Wojtkow, Director of Child Maintenance Options, said:

"Too often this is an issue that’s overlooked. When parents are dealing with all the emotional and practical issues that come with separation. This pilot is about ensuring parents understand their responsibilities to their children after a relationship breakdown and know what their options are for setting up child maintenance".

Child Maintenance Options is a free, confidential and impartial service offering parents information and support on how to make their own family-based maintenance arrangements and talks them through their other choices. It can also help parents work out the amount of maintenance they should pay or receive as well as giving them tips on how to negotiate with their ex-partner.

Tracy Lindsell, Head of Children’s Services at 4Children, said:

"This partnership will offer local parents the chance to talk to someone face-to-face about child maintenance in familiar surroundings. It will hopefully help to raise awareness of both parents staying involved - emotionally and financially. Crucially for 4Children, it helps families to overcome difficulties together and encourages them to be involved in creating their own solutions. This approach benefits everyone in the long run and I’m pleased to be supporting it through our Essex Children’s Centres."

Emma from Essex has already used the Options service and said:

"I couldn't recommend Options highly enough. When my husband and I separated I was devastated. I didn't know where to turn. Although he was paying me something for the kids, he tried to reduce the amount. Had it not been for the maintenance calculator and the friendly help of an Options consultant, I wouldn't have known where I stood. The service helped me agree a fixed maintenance payment which my ex-husband sticks to through a family-based arrangement. It's working well".

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