New resources and services available to children whose parents are separating and when should children be involved in the family mediation process?
This article was first published by Solicitors Journal (www.solicitorsjournal.com) on 5th February 2013 and is reproduced by kind permission.
In a recent joint family mediation session I held with parents to three children, the parents had agreed to separate but were unsure how to tell the children that they would be divorcing shortly.
Parent One wanted to tell the children with both parents present while the other parent (Parent Two) initially did not want to be present. Parent Two then took some time to reflect during the joint mediation session and agreed that both parents should be present when they spoke to the children. It was agreed that a unified front would be best for the three children to see even though the parents would be living separately. Both parents also wanted to show that they could still communicate to each other so agreed to plan in advance what would be told to the children. It would be an impossible scenario to plan the reaction of the children but they would also think through what questions they may be asked. Exams were going on for the next week so it was agreed that they would both speak to the children after this stressful period when everyone would be calmer.
The parents left the session together talking about what resources and people their children may consult once they had discussed the divorce which prompted me to look into what is currently available.
Resources and Services
The children’s TV programme ‘Sesame Street’ has explored the sensitive topic of divorce in December 2012 for the first time and has posted online videos for its viewers. In one of the videos the scene shows drawings held up by the Sesame Street characters:
“This one is where I live with my mommy. And this is the one where I live with my daddy,” says the Muppet character about the two houses. ‘But, Abby why don’t you all live in one house together?’ ask Elmo. ‘Well, because my parents are divorced,’ says Abby. ‘Divorced? What does divorced mean?’ Elmo asks. Abby then explains to her friends what divorce means.
In contact centre cases I have worked on at Welcare it is not unusual for one child to ask the parent during a session why do the parents no longer live together. By Sesame Street posing these questions for young children this could in some way help.
Also a short film has been created in America called ‘Split: Children’s journey through divorce’ which is available online. The children filmed are aged between 6-12 years old. The film aims to get children talking to each other, to their parents and to other adults in their lives to encourage children to say what they need and want as their family environment changes through divorce.
Children And Family Court Advisory And Support Service ‘CAFCASS’ has used social media through Twitter in January 2013 for young people to voice parental separations impact on Kids. Someone tweeted “I was worried, but it was ok because I went through it with my brother. It was confusing at first, but it slowly made sense.”
‘A Kidspace’ in London has been formed by an experienced drama therapist and counsellor. They run a support programme for children going through family breakdown. I have been fortunate to meet one of the founders twice and she speaks very passionately and knowledgeably about how their programme helps children to cope, manage changes and come to terms with the separation of their parents. A parent has provided feedback on the service on the ‘A Kidspace’ website ‘When my children arrived at your door they had no ‘points of reference’ and absolutely no ‘coping mechanisms’ in place for what was happening to them, and indeed for anything that might be going to happen to them. Within the safety of ‘A Kidspace’ they were able to be quiet, to be angry, to play, draw, listen and talk…..if they wanted to. I know that each of my three girls got something different from the experience’.
When I arrange supervised contact sessions CAFCASS often ask how will the children be prepared when there has been a long gap since the child had contact with one parent so I am pleased to see ‘A Kidspace’ offering this valuable service to children.