As a Clinical Psychologist specialising in working with children who’ve experienced relational trauma and a Systemic Family Therapist specialising in emotional driven communication within families, I was asked to join the Parenting Apart Team to ensure the programme maintained fidelity with the underpinning psychological theories and ensure that all those trained to delivering PAP, are able to employ the model and ethos.Dr Paul Walton
In my view, the Parenting Apart brilliantly weaves together ideas of containment, child development, attachment theory, conflict navigation, patterns of commination and developmental trauma to create a safe space where separating parents can come together and even though accompanied by emotions and conflict, forge a way forwards with a Parent Working Agreement to serve them into the future.
The Parenting Apart Programme explained
A core component of the Parenting Apart model is the central focus around the child’s voice. What children need is at the centre of every action a PAP practitioner takes with a family. Be it the psychoeducation around child trauma, loss and the impact of divorce; Be it bringing conflicting parents back to their shared common goal, a positive life for their child(ren); Be it ensuring that the Parent Working Agreement is constructed in a way which prioritises what children need to develop free of psychological trauma and emotional burden. As a practitioner working for many years with developmentally traumatised children, this approach resonates deeply with me.
A unique point of the Parenting Apart Programme is the Parent Working Agreement is a document which can be used to support the court process, evidence shared planning and a future working arrangement, ensuring everyone knows were they stand and a child has sufficient stability and consistency. Again, this is crucial to help parents and children find a sense of safety in a period of such significant upheaval.
However, it is not the Parent Working Agreement that is most significant about the intervention. Rather, it’s the ethos, internalised by separating couples, which becomes so meaningful. Within the short time couples have with a PAP practitioner they learn to navigate conflict, problem solve together and most importantly put their child’s development at the centre of their decision making. When parents find themselves back in a conflictual space (which they will) we want them to hear the voice of the PAP worker who so carefully and skilfully coached them over their original hurdles and find that shared wisdom they developed together.
The operation of the PAP practitioner, perhaps another unique part of the PAP, is the fine balance of validation and challenge they are trained to deliver. The art of being a PAP practitioner is to enable the emotionally driven conversation to unfold to the point it moves from constructive to destructive; from parents working out issues to blaming or accusing each other. To acknowledge with parents that their feelings are understandable but likely creating a roadblock to a meaningful future is a powerful intervention. PAP practitioners are trained to bring in the voice of the child and to support parents to find a middle path. The clear structure and ability of practitioners to maintain a safe respectful space is key to parents maintaining this practice outside of the sessions.
Finally, I am reassured by the PAP’s commitment to evidence-based practice, evaluation and the generation of practice-based evidence. The stringent review process PAP puts itself through in order to ensure that it is delivering the best outcomes for parents and children is a clear sign of ethical practice. It gives me the confidence to endorse and work with a Programme which has the wellbeing of its clients at the primary driver for its work.