How separating parents can come together to put children’s wellbeing first Children’s needs are often overlooked when parent’s communication has broken down and in conflict. Divorce or separation is a confusing and stressful process for everyone but children have no control over what is happening. It can throw their lives into turmoil, leading to overwhelming feelings of loss, anger and anxiety. The Parenting Apart Programme (PAP) is designed specifically to bring children’s emotional wellbeing to the forefront by supporting separating parents to work towards outcomes that are beneficial and positive for the whole family.
The voice of the child is at the heart of everything we do,” says Kam Kaur, senior social worker at PAP. “We improve the mental health, emotional and physical wellbeing of children whose parents are divorcing or separating. We do this by supporting parents going through divorce, separation and conflict to prioritise the mental health, emotional and physical wellbeing of their children.
Seeing separation through the eyes of children
Separating parents are referred to the structured four-week programme so that they can refocus on their children’s welfare needs instead of issues arising from their relationship breakdown. Each parent meets individually with a trained PAP practitioner to develop trust before meeting together with their estranged partner. During the joint sessions, they learn how to communicate and, crucially, form a new respectful relationship focused on parenting and seeing their separation through the eyes of their children.
“So often upon the ending of a relationship the fallout tends to involve a tug of war over the children, and this is where the Parenting Apart Programme really rises to the challenge, helping separating couples prioritise the physical and emotional needs and welfare of their children above all else via a form of alternative dispute resolution,” says Kevin HarrisJames, a partner at Harrison Clark Rickerbys, which refers parents.
“The programme provides separating parents with the impartial and objective assistance they so often desperately need to help mend the broken family dynamic as far as the effective co-parenting of the children is concerned.”
Parents jointly devise a Parent Working Agreement which details how they agree to work together in the best interest of the child. It covers practical aspects of parenting apart such as transition of care, overnight stays, holidays, schooling and handover arrangements.
In addition to the core programme, PAP practitioners are trained to support parents to practically overcome common challenges that arise after an agreement has been made. For example, they can attend the initial transition of care between children and their parents and role-model appropriate behaviour and language.
Benefits of The Parenting Apart programme
Engaging in the programme can reassure children that their parents are making changes. It has been evidenced that it can help children to handle the separation better and has a positive impact on their mental and emotional wellbeing. The programme can bring a wide range of other benefits, including:
- Children continuing to have relationships with both parents
- Children having a more stable environment between homes
- Parents gaining a better understanding around what is best for their children
- Improved relationships between parents
- Reduced parental stress and anxiety
PAP also helps parents to take back control and make their own decisions about their child, rather than going through the court process and having it decided by a third party.
Parents who complete the programme can self-certify the C100 application form to courts that they have completed Alternative Dispute Resolution and accredited PAP practitioners can provide court-requested reports. The PAP can also be offered alongside mediation or following a MIAM where the mediator has identified that it is not appropriate. The time and expense of court proceedings is then reduced drastically along with the stress that litigation brings.
Social return on investment
Social worker McKenzie believes that the PAP approach will help many social work departments faced with increased referrals involving family breakdown. “These cases are known to consume many social work hours due to acrimonious parents becoming so entrenched in their own needs, they lose sight of the needs of the children,” she says.
A Social Return on Investment report found that in just two years, PAP delivered more than £10.2m of social value. Despite this, the programme is currently used predominantly in private law proceedings but it is being made more accessible to the public sector by the launch of a national accredited training programme developed by PAP alongside clinical psychologists Dr Paul Walton (Clinical Psychologist / Systemic Family Therapist) who is lecturer at Hull University and Dr Sarah Morgan (Clinical Psychologist) who has extensive knowledge of relationship-based and trauma informed practice.
Getting the programme in front of more parents
The training programme, to be launched in early 2021, is aimed at professionals who are health and social care sector with experience of working with families and will be delivered over three days.
Claire Field (Social Care Consultant) the author of the programme wants more people trained to deliver the Parenting Apart Programme so that more families can benefit from coming together and learning how to communicate better. “It is important for governments to recognise that if they invest in this training then the social return is much bigger than the cost,” she says.
“Family breakdown is one of the big negative factors on children’s mental health which is putting greater pressure on an already struggling mental health service and other external agencies. It is important to highlight that children need their parents, and stability in their home life.”
There is significantly increased demand for our services due to the pandemic. More parents are separating and are in conflict. Domestic abuse is escalating. Parents’ and children’s mental health challenges are increasing. Courts have large backlogs of family cases. Statutory services (e.g. social care) are overwhelmed. To help address these issues we have managed to secure National Lottery Funding through the Covid-19 Crisis until March 2021. This has enabled parents on low-income, litigants in person or had access to Legal Aid eligible for FREE support though PAP.
During the lockdown in March to December 2020, we worked with over 100 families and circa 200 children. Majority of the parents compiled an agreement and the non-resident parent re-established relationship with their children. It is important that we inform parents of this support especially if they have accessed mediation and this has been not appropriate.
As a mother (July 2020) who accessed the programme said: “I could not be happier with the service that was provided. Not only was it professional throughout, but I can also honestly say that it was so supportive through some of the more difficult times. The Parenting Apart Programme made what has been an extremely difficult time in my life easier and it was comforting to have the support if I was to have any problems or needed any advice”.
As a father (November 2020) who accessed the programme said “I am pleased to confirm that at our hearing this week the Judge has approved the agreement and order and now the case is closed. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you from the bottom of my heart for all your support and guidance without which this would not have been possible. Hope you continue in your great work to help as many families as possible and the outcome is as good as ours”.