What is in the report?
Love Matters is the final report of the Archbishops’ Commission on Families and Households. The purpose of the report is summarised in the following words from its first chapter:
‘In a time of immense uncertainty in everyday life two key questions need to be urgently addressed:
1. How can we best support every individual and every family to flourish in our complex and ever-changing society?
2. What kind of society do we want to live in?
These challenging questions are at the heart of the Commission on Families and Households, established by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York in Spring 2021. The Commission’s task was, first, to draw attention to the pressures and hardships facing families and households in all their diversity in England today and, second, to offer practical ways to deal with those pressures. The Commission was asked to make proposals that would shape public policy relating to families and households across all government departments; and to recommend action by the Church of England, alone or in partnership with other Christian denominations, faith groups and external agencies, that will maximise the support given to families and households in radical new ways.
This report is the Commission’s response to the task set by the Archbishops. Despite the daunting challenges facing families and households in England today, it tells a story of hope, opportunity and love. It is a story that sets a new and sensitive narrative for our country at a moment in time when the unprecedented events of the past three years require us to pause, reflect and re-evaluate how we understand and promote human flourishing amidst considerable uncertainty in the world around us. In the chapters which follow, the thorny issues to be addressed are laid bare, and the opportunities for constructive and lasting change are celebrated, thus laying a solid foundation for hope inspired by a bold new vision.’ (p.12)
The report consists of ten chapters.
1. A story of Hope, Opportunity and Love
2. Understanding ‘Family’, Understanding Flourishing
3. Celebrating Diversity in Family Life
4. Fostering Loving Relationships and Promoting Stability
5. When Love Is Not Enough
6. Every Child Matters
7. Learning and Listening
8. Living in our Time
9. Creating a Kinder, Fairer, More Forgiving Society
10. Reimagining the Future
Chapter 1 is the introduction and chapter 10 presents the overall message of the report. Chapters 2-9 look at different aspects of the life of families and households in Britain today and conclude with key messages from the Commission and recommendations to the Church and the Government.
For example, in chapter 6 the key messages from the Commission run as follows:
‘In this chapter we focused on the vital importance of every child having the best possible start in life, and parents and families being given support at all stages from pre-birth throughchildhood and the teenage years. The aim must be to enable children to live with their biological parents wherever possible and when this is too difficult, to be given the most loving home possible. God requires all of us, irrespective of class, ethnicity, education or belief, to create a world which is fit for children to grow and flourish.
1. Every child matters and deserves the very best start in life.
2. Parenting is demanding and parents need support at different stages in their journey as parents: faith communities can and should support parents with their task.
3. Families provide a protective effect: emotional connection, love and joy; shared experiences of family life; strong positive and enduring relationships; and the ability to depend on one another for practical and emotional support. A number of factors inhibit this protective effect, and adequate support is needed to ameliorate them.
4. Young carers are especially vulnerable and attempt to hide their caring role, requiring everyone to be vigilant.
5. The children’s social care system is in need of radical reform.
6. The Church of England, other churches and faith communities can provide support for families and for children, irrespective of family structure and parenting arrangements, which is non-stigmatising and non-judgemental.’ (p.117)
The chapter’s recommendations to the Church of England and the Government are then as follows:
‘The Commission urges the Church of England:
Through the National Church
- Share awareness across the church of the needs of all new parents, including adoptive parents, and ensure that care and support is offered in a non-judgemental way.
- Advocate for children and young people in the care system, supporting them to find genuine permanency solutions, to the age of 18, and relational and accommodation support for young people leaving care. This could be done by seeking external funding for a time-limited project for relational and accommodation support for young people leaving care.
- Advocate for young people whose custodial sentences have ended to find genuine permanency solutions.
- Work with government and organisations supporting children and parents to use family-friendly language.
Through its dioceses
- Explore ways to provide loving, caring and non-judgmental support for mothers, fathers and carers to combat adverse childhood experiences.
Through its parishes and deaneries
- Encourage and support current and prospective kinship carers, foster and adoptive parents, and honour, celebrate and offer practical support to those who are caring for children and young people. This could begin through a national online campaign through the Church of England’s digital presence.
- Consider ways to offer accessible and affordable activities for young peoplewithin their community, in partnership with local organisations, local authorities and other faith communities,
- Be especially vigilant in respect of young carers in each community and find ways to support and walk alongside them and their families.
- Provide parenting support through: quality parenting courses, for all stages of childhood, including in partnership with schools; the provision of high-quality toddler groups and similar activities. This should be based on existing good practice and funded through bids for mission funding as this is an essential element of the Church’s mission.
- Take the opportunity when infants and children are brought in for baptismto encourage good parenting, and to support parental relationships, and to consider promoting The Parents Promise.
The Commission urges the Government to:
• Develop a clear cross-government strategy to end child poverty.
• Ensure that all prospective parents, including adoptive parents and guardians, have access to and receive comprehensive information about the supportavailable from professionals working with new parents.
• Portray adoption as a way for children to find the family they need in order to enjoy the security and stability of a loving home in which their wellbeing and happiness is the paramount consideration.
• Implement at pace all of the recommendations of the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care.
• Encourage the imaginative development of different forms of relational and accommodation support for young people leaving care, ensuring that every young person leaving care should have consistent, loving relationships to help them flourish.
• Encourage the imaginative development of different forms of relational and accommodation support for children and young people leaving custodial sentences.
• Ensure that children and young people are protected as far as possible from harmful material online, in conjunction with supporting parents and carers, and to ensure that children and young people are able to navigate social media confidently and appropriately.’ (p.118)
Alongside the specific messages and recommendations in chapter 2-9, the report also puts forward five key messages and gives an overall answer to the issue of ‘what kind of society we want to live in now and into the future.’
The report’s five key messages are:
- Value families in all their diversity, meeting their basic needs by putting their wellbeing at the heart of Government policy-making and our community life, including religious communities.
- Support relationships throughout life, ensuring that everyone is able to develop and maintain loving and caring relationships, manage conflict well and promote the flourishing of individuals and families.
- Honour singleness and single person households, recognising that loving relationships matter to everyone.
- Empower children and young people, developing their relational skills and knowledge, recognising their value and agency, and protecting them from harm and giving them the best start in life.
- Build a kinder, fairer, more forgiving society, removing discrimination, division and deep inequality for the sake of every family and household. (p.7)
The report’s answer to what sort of society we want to live in is:
‘We imagine a society that:
- is kind, fair and forgiving, in which every individual, every household and every
family is able and supported to flourish
- values everyone for who they are, is not discriminatory, and celebrates the rich
diversity in our society
- seeks the common good and rejects discrimination and inequality
In this society:
- love will permeate our relationships and our daily lives
- each of us will be able to love and be loved
- children and young people will learn how to relate well, receive the loving care that they need to thrive, and have every opportunity to reach their potential
- adults will be encouraged and supported to develop and sustain strong, stable, loving
and committed relationships however they choose to live their lives
- the Church of England will strive to enable everyone to flourish and live their best life,
working in partnership with other churches and faith groups, the public and private
sectors, and government
- all government policies will have the wellbeing of families and households at
We do not believe that our vision is idealised, fanciful or unattainable. Nor does it necessarily require huge financial investment, although we recognise that some of our recommendations to the Church of England and to Government will need to be adequately resourced. We all have a role to play in fostering a change in culture and attitude that allows a different narrative to dominate – a narrative that shows we care for each other and, in biblical terms, demonstrates that we love our neighbour as ourselves.’ (p.218)
What are we to make of this report?
The first thing that has to be said is that there is much that is good in this report. Many of the specific recommendations contained in the report, such as those noted from chapter 6, are ones that everyone should be willing to accept and act upon.
However, the report is also problematic in four respects.
First, the report plays down the importance of marriage. The Bible and the Christian tradition see marriage between two people of the opposite sex as the God given setting for the procreation and upbringing of children, but the report suggests that all types of family arrangement can have equal value. The question is why? Why were the report’s authors unwilling to say that marriage is the gold standard for family life, given by God and empirically producing the best outcome for children? In addition, why were they unwilling to say, as the Bible and the Christian tradition have always said, that sexual activity is something that should only take place within marriage?
Secondly, the report plays down the moral seriousness of divorce. The report focusses on the need to ensure that the well-being of children is a central consideration when divorce takes place, but what it does not say is that divorce should not be happening at all. The question again is why? Why were the report’s authors unwilling to say that marriage is created by God to be a life-long relationship and that it is morally wrong to break the marriage bond?
Thirdly, the report is oddly silent about abortion. The report emphasises that every child matters and that every child should be given the opportunity to flourish, but it does not consider (or even mention) how this emphasis is compatible with allowing the deliberate killing of unborn children.
Fourthly, and most fundamentally, the report is silent about the centrality of God for human flourishing. The report emphasises the need for human beings to enjoy loving relationships with their fellow human beings, but it says nothing about the even more fundamental need for human beings to be rightly related to God. If, as the Christian faith tells us, human beings are created to know, love, and serve God why does this fact find no mention in the report? Why does the report say nothing about the need to encourage and support parents in seeing the development of Christian faith in their children as a top priority for family life?
 The report can be found online at https://www.churchofengland.org/sites/default/files/2023-04/H%26F%20report%20DIGITAL%20SINGLE%20PAGES.pdf
 ‘The Parents Promise helps parents make a positive commitment to their children when they
are born in case parents subsequently decide to separate and divorce while their children are
still growing up. Parents sign a promise to put their children’s needs first, ensure that both
parents will work together as partners to provide for the children, including not saying bad
things about the other parent, keep them safe, and create the best conditions for them to
thrive. The promise can then be revisited if parents subsequently split up.’ (p.81)