Education And Debate

For Debate: Social policy as a cause of childhood accidents: the children of lone mothers

BMJ 1995; 311 doi: (Published 07 October 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;311:925
  1. Ian Roberts, research fellowa,
  2. Barry Pless, professor of paediatrics and epidemiologya
  1. aDepartment of Community Paediatric Research, Montreal Children's Hospital (C-538), McGill University, Montreal, Quebec H3H IP3, Canada
  1. Correspondence to: Dr I Roberts, Child Health Monitoring Unit, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Institute of Child Health, London WC1N 1EH.
  • Accepted 14 July 1995

Almost one in five British mothers is a lone mother. Their children have injury rates that are twice those of children in two parent families. In this article the link between lone parenthood and childhood injury is examined. The increased injury rates for the children of lone mothers can be explained by the poverty, poor housing conditions, and social isolation of lone mothers in Britain. The problem of reconciling the demands of paid work with the demands of the unpaid work of childrearing is particularly difficult for lone mothers, who find themselves in a benefit dependent poverty trap. Many such mothers would seek paid work if affordable day care were available. Day care would also provide a safe environment for their children, who are otherwise exposed to the environmental hazards of poor housing. Provision of day care is a social policy that would have important effects on the health and welfare of lone mothers and their children. These effects deserve to be properly evaluated.

Since the early 1970s the number of one parent families in Britain has increased by between 30000 and 40000 a year. Currently there are over one million lone parent families in Britain, about 21% of all families with children. Nine out of 10 of these families are headed by a mother.1 The children of lone mothers have the highest death rates of all social groups. In a reanalysis of British census data, the children of “unoccupied” parents, of whom an estimated 89% are unemployed single mothers, had a death rate 42% higher than children in social class V, the poorest socioeconomic group.2 Injuries were responsible for 60% of the deaths among the children of lone mothers.2

The strong association between single parenthood and risk of childhood injury is well established from epidemiological studies. …

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