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Advice for single parents

If you're bringing up a child on your own, don't be afraid to ask for help from friends and family. You may also find that other single parents are a good source of support.

Finding support as a lone parent

You could:

  • Suggest a "swap" arrangement with another parent, so you take it in turns to look after each other's children. It might be easier to start doing this during the day. Later, when everyone's used to the arrangement, try doing it overnight. The children will benefit from having close friends too, especially if they don't have brothers and sisters.
  • Suggest a regular evening's babysitting by a trusted relative or friend.
  • Ask the grandparents if they would be happy to have your child stay overnight sometimes.

If you don't know people locally, you can contact other parents through local groups. Ask your health visitor what's available in your area or contact Gingerbread – a charity for one-parent families that can put you in touch with local groups.

Read more about meeting other parents.

Co-parenting when you live apart

If you'd hoped to bring up your child as a couple, you may be feeling angry and hurt. But as a lone parent it's important to keep those feelings to yourself and let your child build their own relationship with their other parent.

It's usually better for children to see both parents regularly, even if you start new relationships. Of course this doesn't apply if your ex-partner is violent towards you or your child, or you feel they may abuse your child in some way.

At first, you may find that your child behaves badly when they come home after a visit. Small children can't understand and explain their own feelings. Playing up is one way they can let you know they're upset or confused.

Unless you think something bad may be happening on access visits, the best way to deal with this is to be reassuring and calm. In the end, your child will learn to look forward to visits and to coming home.

You'll almost certainly need to talk about your own feelings. Try to find another adult to talk to. Your children don't need to hear the details of your feelings about their other parent. They may feel confused and unhappy about loving someone you clearly don't love any more.

The single parent's charity Gingerbread has advice on making arrangements for your children.

Benefits and child maintenance for single parents

Gingerbread offers free information packs to lone parents. It can also give you independent advice about benefits, housing and child maintenance problems.

Child Maintenance Options is a free service that helps separated parents come to an agreement about child maintenance. If you and your partner can’t agree child maintenance arrangements between yourselves, another organisation called the Child Maintenance Service can organise it on your behalf.

The Child Maintenance Service can collect payments from the paying parent and pass them on to the receiving parent, if you wish. It can also help you find the other parent if you don’t know where they are and help sort out any disagreements about paternity.

The Child Support Agency is no longer taking any new applications for child maintenance.

Read more about the Child Maintenance Service.

Single parents with a disabled child

Looking after a disabled child on your own can be exhausting and isolating, but lone parent carers can get support and financial help.

Try to include your child's other parent in their care, if possible. If your child needs any aids or adaptations around the home, you may be able to get a grant to help pay for these in both parental homes.

A social worker or an adviser from the Citizens Advice Bureau can provide details of groups that offer grants.

There are a range of benefits and tax credits you may be able to access as the lone parent of a disabled child. These include the Disability Living Allowance (DLA), Universal Credit and tax credits. If your child is 16 or over, they may be able to claim the Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

You can find more information on benefits and tax credits on the Contact a Family website, or you can call the Gingerbread helpline on 0808 802 0925. Calls are free from landlines and most mobiles.

Some charities and organisations issue grants to parents of children who have a child with a disability or long-term illness. Call Contact a Family's free helpline on 0808 808 3555 for a list of these organisations.

More information for single parents

Page last reviewed: 01/09/2015

Next review due: 31/07/2017

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