Children's Commissioner accused of distorting divorce study

Studies cited by the Children's Commissioner to suggest higher incidence of mental health problems in children from divorced families actually show the opposite: that "most children do well" after divorce, and that "to suggest otherwise is to provide an inaccurate interpretation of the research findings." 

Children’s Commissioner Helen D'Amato on Monday cited studies by clinical psychologist Joan Kelly and Prof Robert Emery of the University of Virginia, which she claimed "showed children in their first family are at reduced risk from emotional trauma or even developing mental health complications than those living with second (reconstituted) families through cohabitation or remarriage."

But a read through the same studies reveals that D’Amato was highly selective in her quotations:omitting entirely the main bulk of the researchers’ conclusions, and misrepresenting some of the salient findings.

In reality the study quoted by D’Amato suggests that the effects of divorce are actually minor, and in any case entirely analogous with the effects of legal separation. The researchers also underline that the vast majority of children from broken marriages are not permanently scarred by the experience.

In ‘Children’s Adjustment Following Divorce: Risk and Resilience Perspectives’ (2003), Kelly and Emery observe that “although we do wish to promote more happy marriages, we conclude that although some children are harmed by parental divorce, the majority of findings show that most children do well".

Significantly, they added: “To suggest otherwise is to provide an inaccurate interpretation of the research findings.”

The study aims to “review the empirical research literature on the adjustment of children of divorce from the perspective of the stressors that divorce generally presents for children, the type and extent of risk observed in divorced children when compared with those still in married families, and factors that have been demonstrated to ameliorate risk for children during and after divorce.”

D’Amato presented her own interpretation of this research at a meeting of the anti-divorce lobby group Moviment Zwieg Bla Divorzju on Monday, where she argued against the introduction of divorce legislation.

Defending the use of children during the campaign, the Children’s Commissioner reasoned that children "have a right" to be informed of the effects of divorce. And while expressing her strong reservations about the proposed legislation, she also acknowledged that not all children would be affected.

"Divorce is neither a solution for the suffering of children experiencing marital breakdown... nor will it turn all children into victims."

Among D’Amato’s claims was that children of divorced parents are at greater risk of mental health disorders than others. She specified that while 10% of children coming from families without divorce are at  risk of having mental health problems, children coming from families who have gone through the process of divorce face a 25% risk. But on this too, the empirical research suggests otherwise. Kelly and Emery observe that: “Despite the increased risk reported for children from divorced families, the current consensus in the social science literature is that the majority of children whose parents divorced are not distinguishable from their peers whose parents remained married in the longer term.”

Furthermore, the researchers do not distinguish between divorce and separation, indicating that there is no evidence to suggest their effects are any different: “Not to minimise the stresses and risk to children that separation and divorce create, it is important to emphasise that approximately 75-80% of children and young adults do not suffer from major psychological problems, including depression; have achieved their education and career goals; and retain close ties to their families. They enjoy intimate relationships, have not divorced, and do not appear scarred with immutable negative effects from divorce.”

The same study cited by D’Amato concludes that a significant percentage of children from divorced families go on to become higher achievers: “approximately 42% of young adults from divorced families had well-being scores above the average of young adults from nondivorced families.”

When confronted with these and other discrepancies between the report;’s findings and her own statements on Monday, D’Amato defended her own interpretation of this research.  

“What I said was that children who experience divorce are more at risk to suffer ill health,” she told maltatoday. “I never said that all children who experience divorce will suffer ill health. The study I quoted mentions the risks that divorce can cause on children and how this can impinge on the social, educational, psychological and emotional well being of children. However please remember that when I was mentioning risks I used the words: ‘Ma hemm xejn assolut la naha u lanqas ohra, imma studji juru li t-tfal li jesperjenzaw divorzju jistghu jkunu f’riskju akbar’. (There is nothing absolute one way or another, but studies show that children who experience divorce could be at higher risk.) I also said that this also applies to separations, annulments and divorce.”

What the study concluded:

Although we do wish to promote more happy marriages, we conclude that although some children are harmed by parental divorce, the majority of findings show that most children do well’

To suggest otherwise is to provide an inaccurate interpretation of the research findings

The current consensus in the social science literature is that the majority of children whose parents divorced are not distinguishable from their peers whose parents remained married in the longer term

Approximately 75-80% of children and young adults do not suffer from major psychological problems, including depression; have achieved their education and career goals; and retain close ties to their families. They enjoy intimate relationships, have not divorced, and do not appear scarred with immutable negative effects from divorce.

‘Approximately 42% of young adults from divorced families had well-being scores above the average of young adults from nondivorced families

Additional reporting by Nestor Laiviera

More in Divorce Referendum
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The only paragraph discussing 'Remarriage and Reparenting' in the whole study goes as follows: "Divorce creates the potential for children to experience a continuous series of changes and disruptions in family and emotional relationships when one or both parents introduce new social and sexual partners, cohabitate, remarry, and/or redivorce. The effect of serial attachments and losses may hinder more mature and intimate attachments as young adults. Estimates suggest that three quarters of divorced men and two thirds of divorced women eventually remarry (Bumpass, Sweet & Castro-Martin, 1990) and 50% of divorced adults cohabit before remarriage, whereas others cohabit instead of remarriage. It is estimated that approximately one third of children will live in a remarried or cohabiting family before the age of 18 (Bumpass, Raley, & Sweet, 1995). For some, these new relationships are accompanied by family conflict, anger in the stepparent-step-child relationship, and role ambiguities (Bray, 1999; Hetherington & Clingempeel, 1992). Reparenting may be stressful and problematic for children when entered into soon after divorce (Hetherington & Kelly, 2002)." (p. 355) Another mention of reparenting occurs at p.356 "The increased risk of divorced children for behavioural problems is not diminished by remarriage. As with divorce, children in stepfamily homes are twice as likely to have psychological, behavioural, social and academic problems than are children in nondivorced families (Bray, 1999; Heterington & Kelly, 2002, Zill, 1998; Zill & Schoenborn, 1990)." The rest of the study speaks of various arguments, an interesting study. I'm not arguing but just presenting the facts. I feel, Church, State and all must pull up their socks and invest more in family preparation, support measures, and all ... the problem is people entering abusive relationships in the first place ... I'm just saying I'd rather invest my energy, money, etc in something that in the long term might give better fruit for our society than opting for a solution which everybody agrees its not actually 'a solution'. If sincerely somebody finds any study speaking of the benefits of divorce for children, parents and society, would really like to have a look at it.
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The only paragraph discussing 'Remarriage and Reparenting' in the whole study goes as follows: "Divorce creates the potential for children to experience a continuous series of changes and disruptions in family and emotional relationships when one or both parents introduce new social and sexual partners, cohabitate, remarry, and/or redivorce. The effect of serial attachments and losses may hinder more mature and intimate attachments as young adults. Estimates suggest that three quarters of divorced men and two thirds of divorced women eventually remarry (Bumpass, Sweet & Castro-Martin, 1990) and 50% of divorced adults cohabit before remarriage, whereas others cohabit instead of remarriage. It is estimated that approximately one third of children will live in a remarried or cohabiting family before the age of 18 (Bumpass, Raley, & Sweet, 1995). For some, these new relationships are accompanied by family conflict, anger in the stepparent-step-child relationship, and role ambiguities (Bray, 1999; Hetherington & Clingempeel, 1992). Reparenting may be stressful and problematic for children when entered into soon after divorce (Hetherington & Kelly, 2002)." (p. 355) Another mention of reparenting occurs at p.356 "The increased risk of divorced children for behavioural problems is not diminished by remarriage. As with divorce, children in stepfamily homes are twice as likely to have psychological, behavioural, social and academic problems than are children in nondivorced families (Bray, 1999; Heterington & Kelly, 2002, Zill, 1998; Zill & Schoenborn, 1990)." The rest of the study speaks of various arguments, an interesting study. I'm not arguing but just presenting the facts. I feel, Church, State and all must pull up their socks and invest more in family preparation, support measures, and all ... the problem is people entering abusive relationships in the first place ... I'm just saying I'd rather invest my energy, money, etc in something that in the long term might give better fruit for our society than opting for a solution which everybody agrees its not actually 'a solution'. If sincerely somebody finds any study speaking of the benefits of divorce for children, parents and society, would really like to have a look at it.
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This is nothing. I just read a study proving that divorce makes your balls shrink and your hair fall out. No lie. Seriously though, there's so much rubbish people drag out in this argument that they've forgotten the fundamental point. Instead of getting lost debating the logical contortions necessary to make divorce seem like the end of days, shouldn't the debate really be about whether or not people should have the right to self determination? I'm sure there are serious relationships that end badly for everyone involved and serious relationships that end well for everyone involved, and that official marital status has very little, if any, meaningful impact on those outcomes. And the data Raphael's just finished quoting seem to support that. So given that, the important point it seems to me is not whether divorce will really change society all that much (which it evidently will not, see science), but whether or not people should be left alone to get on with living as they feel most comfortable and as they see most fit. Do we want a society where very conservative (apparently non-religious) people can regulate your lifestyle? Or do we want a society where we leave people alone to enjoy, and deal with the consequences of, own choices? The Yes camp will lose this debate as long as they keep arguing the No camp on the No camp's issues.
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carmel duca
@ Anthony Mifsud - You wrote: "When it comes to remarriage the data is negative with bad effects on children." What data? Where in that report does it specifically suggest that remarriage has negative effects on children?
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Again it is a distortion of important data!! I invite you to read the study and it is evident that what is being said in one phrase doesn't represent what the study has to say. Both sides are very reductive. Another important point is that most of the study refers to current separation vs. living in a broken families. When it comes to remarriage the data is negative with bad effects on children. I'm sorry that people are again voting on misinterpretation of data and misunderstanding!
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If this is correct and Ms D'Amato has either deliberately or negligently interpreted these findings, she should either be sacked or resigned in that she failed in her primary duty and that is in defending the interests of children. You do NOT defend the interests of children by selectively quoting or misinterpreting findings for political purposes. It is clear she is in bed with the PN.
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This reflects badly on Ms D'Amato. She is either incapable of interpreting a research paper, or has a very low regard to the Maltese people. In both cases she is should not be holding such a position. It's no use asking for her resignation since in Malta nobody is held accountable. No wonder the voters of the 5th District voted her out of parliament. Come next election they will vote her out of any undeserved job, she can go back to her previous job, not that her would be students would appreciate it.
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This reflects badly on Ms D'Amato. She is either incapable of interpreting a research paper, or has a very low regard to the Maltese people. In both cases she is should not be holding such a position. It's no use asking for her resignation since in Malta nobody is held accountable. No wonder the voters of the 5th District voted her out of parliament. Come next election they will vote her out of any undeserved job, she can go back to her previous job, not that her would be students would appreciate it.
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U mhux ovvja li jghidulha jkolla taghmel. Tilaq kemm tiflah. Inkella ma ddumx hemm. Faxxismu a la' Pn malti.
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Unethical and irresponsible conduct, according to the American Psychological Association Ethical Standards, but tolerated by a conformist and supportive local one...
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Such studies are worthless. The reason is that they don't control for the factors that cause divorce, such as marital conflict and abuse. For a comparison to be fair, a comparison should be made with families those 'stable families' that have the same problems. This way only divorce will be tested and all other variables will be kept constant. What I am saying is that there is no way one can claim that divorce is causing any problems, when there are other factors such as conflict and abuse that DO harm children. Correlation does not imply causation - any more than sleeping with one's shoes and clothes on causes headaches. Getting drunk causes headaches. or as ice cream sales increase, the rate of drowning deaths increases sharply. Ice cream does not causes drowning.
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And what academic qualifications does Helen D'Amato has to make such an absurd statement. More so how was she chosen to occupy such a high position? Is the fact that she is an ex-Nationalist MP the real and ONLY reason? Having once contested the election on the PN ticket opens a flood gate of opportunities. Look at how Josef Bonnici found himself governor of the Central Bank of Malta. This is yet ANOTHER, in a series, of unbroken promises by the Dr Gonzi i.e. that important government positions would be filled after a public call is made!
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Adrian Busuttil
Judging from what was written in this article, it appears that there are people in Malta more than ready to prioritise their own agenda over those they are appointed to protect. I must admit this comes as no surprise when one observes the dirty war going on between the Iva and Le campaigners. Were there such a thing as ACCOUNTABILITY in Maltese politics then such people would think twice before doing things like this, but as things stand, who cares?
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Madam Commissioner to allow yourself to be used by the devious and the immoral is your business, but to try and feed the gullible this misinformation is a disgrace and a reflection that the position you were appointed to hold was simply another confirmation of how theocracy manages those that are ready to prostitute themselves for those 30 pieces of silver ? How sad that women like you carry a yellow strip down your backside and continue to oppose civil laws that are favourable to women and children in order to appease those whom you prefer to serve. My final questiuon is regards your office ans whether you found any reports that detail the mental, physical and sexual abuse that children suffered in catholic institutions and schools?
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Malta is known as a Catholic bastion in Europe. 98% of the 400,000 Maltese are Catholic, and more than half of them regularly attend church. This is now using their influence and support a campaign with huge posters of reading on which is "Christ YES, NO divorce. accompanied this campaign will legalize the already strong propaganda of the Catholic Church against a law proposal that divorce in Malta. In many cases, Catholic dignitaries said publicly that a good Christian could not be, who vote for the legalization of divorce. People who are doing so, committed a "mortal sin". The Bishops' Conference of the island nation was threatened with excommunication supporters. Even Pope Benedict XVI. took effect on the debate and told the Maltese: "You should be proud that your country both to protect the unborn as well as a stable family life policies by rejecting abortion and divorce." The proposal was submitted last year by a delegate of the conservative Catholic party government PN (Partit Nazzjonalista). Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, who lives separately from his wife, is based here on the example of Ireland. His bill will allow distinctions when relationships are irrevocably broken. With this initiative, he triggered an intense debate. While the opposition Labor Party agreed to the proposal that was stirring in the camp of the ruling party to Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi lively resistance. Since the PN went out with 35 seats in Parliament holds only one seat more than the Labor Party (34 seats) and the legislative initiative of a Member of his own party, Gonzi would have in a vote in Parliament to fear for his government majority. For this reason, he wants to leave the decision of the Maltese people, which is to vote in a referendum.
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u hawn mill- germanja: Religiöse in Malta machen gegen Scheidung mobil Perspektiven Malta ist das einzige europäische Land, in dem Scheidungen verboten sind. Doch es regt sich Widerstand in dem Inselstaat, der als katholisches Bollwerk Europas gilt. Ein Referendum soll Scheidungen legalisieren, der Kirche passt das gar nicht. THOMAS HUMMITZSCH Die religiösen Kräfte in Malta unterstützen mit hohen Beträgen eine Kampagne zu einem Referendum, welches verhindern will, dass eine gesetzliche Regelung für Scheidungen verhindern will. Neben den Philippinen ist Malta das einzige Land auf der Welt, in dem Scheidungen verboten sind. ha naghmel translate : Religion in Malta to mobilize against divorce Perspectives Malta is the only European country where divorce is prohibited. But it stimulates resistance in the island state, considered as a Catholic stronghold of Europe. A referendum to legalize divorce, the church does not fit that. THOMAS HUMMITZSCH The religious forces in Malta with high amounts of support a campaign for a referendum, which will ensure that no one wants to avoid legal regulation of divorce. Besides the Philippines, Malta is the only country in the world, are prohibited in the divorce. http://www.diesseits.de/religi%C3%B6se-malta-machen-gegen-scheidung-mobil
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Look what europeans are saying about what is happening : Malta: Catholic Bishops intimidating voters POSTED ON MAY 5, 2011 Christ Yes, Divorce No" The religious establishment in Malta is spending countless thousands of Euros in funding a referendum campaign to prevent the civil right of divorce from entering legislation. Large billboards try to intimidate the Maltese Catholic faithful with the cry of “Christ Yes, Divorce No”. Bishops are issuing pastorals stating that you cannot be a true Catholic and vote for the enactment of divorce legislation. http://secular-europe-campaign.org/2011/05/05/malta-catholic-bishops-intimidating-voters/
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Isabelle Borg
Kieku mhux ghax ghajnejha blu,mhux qeda hemm. Messa tisthi.
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Luke Camilleri
She will not bite the hand that feeds her! She is just a glove puppet in the hand of the puppeteer running a Punch and Judy show and as credible as him! why didn't she comment at all on Fr. Joe Borg' s abuse of data on children he wants to obtain from parish Priests to use on his anti-fivorce campaigns, for which his brother , who works at the OPM was even approved Leave????
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@ falzonsilvio...il-Prim mhux popolari imma NOTORJU !!!!
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Paul Sammut
''could be at higher risk'' she says. 'Could' does not mean a thing. We could also say that the interests of our children 'could be at a higher risk' under a sloppy commissioner too. Only in Gonzi's Malta.
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Diga tajt ismijiet ta nies popolari madwar id-dinja kollha , li gejjin min familji separti/divorzjati. U meta qed nghid popolari mhux bhal ezempju xi hadd bhal PM li haw, ghax dak popolari Malta biss :)
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X'tistenna minn hu lest li jaghmel kollox biex jimbotta l-karru tal-'Le", u min jahseb li kulhadd c..c u ma jafx jaqra rapport
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What can you expect from an ex-PN minister who was appointed in her present position due to her PN qualifications and not any specialisation on children's problems !
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U mhux ovvja, trid tkun bahnana biex ma tindunax. l-ewwel reazzjoni tieghi kienet . Hija immisha tkelmet kemm qed ibatu dawk it-tfal li qedghin fi zwigijiet hziena. Hemm hell ibatu l-aktar it-tfal- Hafna mit-tfal jiehdu r-ruh meta il-genituri taghhom jisseparaw. U halluna , tghddu z-zmien , imma taf b'min hux? B'xi cuc.