The Children’s Society has repudiated its support for the traditional married family, with Archbishop Sentamu’s backing: is he aware what he has done?

Dr John Sentamu greets members of his congregation (Photo: John Giles/PA Wire)

Does the Most Reverend John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, believe in marriage or not? On the Today programme this morning, he did actually say (as even Anglican bishops are supposed to say) that he thought that marriage was the “bedrock” of society. But what did he actually mean by that? He was launching a report produced by what used to be called the Church of England Children’s Society, but which (though it maintains its links with the C of E) has for some years called itself simply the Children’s Society, because it thinks that an openly avowed connection with religion puts people off.

This report finds among other things that half a million children across Britain are unhappy with their lives but also that nine out of 10 children are happy. It also finds that “Children who have low levels of happiness are much less likely to enjoy being at home with their family” and that “the quality of children’s relationships with their families is far more important than the structure of the family that they live in”.

The implication has been quietly slipped in, you will note, that the “structure” of the family (in other words what kind of family it is, whether “traditional” or not) is wholly unimportant. And this is where we enter the realms of cloud cuckoo land: the land where we find Archbishop Sentamu saying to himself (and then to the nation at large on the Today programme) that he will always stand by the children of single parents, and the children of “gay marriages” (so far so good), that many such children are just as happy as some of those brought up by married parents, and that there are lots of unhappy children whose parents are married. Well, of course he shouldn’t fail to “stand alongside” children of whatever “family structure”: and of course there are unhappy “traditional families”. But?

I was waiting for the archbishop to go on to say that but, and then explain that though of course, as the Children’s Society says, “the quality of children’s relationships with their families is far more important than the structure of the family that they live in”, that nevertheless a basic determining factor in the quality of relationships within any family is that family’s stability, the sense of security it gives its children, and that all the evidence shows that families based on marriage are very considerably more likely not to break up (that, archbishop is why marriage is the “bedrock of society”, it isn’t just a mantra you are supposed to utter before going on implicitly to deny it). The word but was, however, never uttered by the archbishop, just as in the Children’s Society report he was launching, the word “marriage” doesn’t appear at all, not once.

What is going on here? As Steve Doughty points out in the Mail: “The findings run counter to its previous studies. Three years ago the Children’s Society published a report in which it said children do best when brought up by two parents with a long-term commitment to each other, and warned that cohabiting relationships were more likely to break up and damage children.” There has obviously been some kind of revolution inside the Children’s Society: I suspect a case of murky internal politics.

I repeat: what is going on, not just in the Society but in the mind of the Archbishop of York? It really shouldn’t, at this date, be necessary to have to refer once more to the now very solid evidence for the no longer controversial proposition that “co-habiting relationships [are] more likely to break up and damage children”. Last month in this column I quoted Dr Patricia Morgan’s now classic study Marriage-Lite: The Rise of Cohabitation and its Consequences published a decade ago, by Civitas, the Institute for the Study of Civil Society. This is available as a free download, here, and it shows irrefutably that “family structure” is fundamental to children’s well-being. I suggest, archbishop, that you peruse carefully chapter five, “The Outcomes for Children”, where among much else you may read the following:

the most safe family environment is one where both biological parents are married to each other [and] the most unsafe of all family environments is where the mother is living with someone who has neither a biological or legal tie to her child. Most abuse-prevalence studies look at step-parent families (married and unmarried) in comparison with intact families. One study that looked at the relationship between child abuse and the marital background of the parents found that the rate of severe abuse was 14 times higher than in a biological married family for a child living alone with a biological mother, 20 times more likely where the child was living with cohabiting biological parents and 33 times higher where the mother was cohabiting with a man who was not the biological father.

There is much more, of course, and the whole book should be studied following the injunction to “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” it. You will see, archbishop, that I haven’t forgotten the Book of Common Prayer’s collect for the second Sunday in Advent, any more than I have forgotten what the Church of England Children’s Society used to say in my time about marriage and the family. That the Society has now repudiated what once it taught has to be seen as a major betrayal of the Christian cause: and it is a betrayal that you yourself should not now be aiding and abetting.