Wednesday, 22 June 2011



There are many reasons why parents and their children are living apart. It could be because there are family proceedings in the courts and the children are taken in to the care system whilst the decisions about their future with the birth parents is decided. During these difficult times parents are expected to attend for contact with their children as, where and when, the social workers decide. Quite often the venues chosen are inaccessible. I have worked on cases where contact is organised to take place in a remote social work office well away from public transport routes. I’ve witnessed parents turning up fifteen minutes late to be told by a family aid, that contact has now been suspended because they have not shown ‘proper commitment’. Rarely is contact supervised by qualified social work professionals. The work of contact is seen as a secondary issue and more of an inconvenience for the professionals than the very important piece of work that should be used to help the family as a whole and underpin the child’s future knowledge of its family.

David and his wife Kim have twin sons. The boys were removed from the parents at four months for unexplained injuries. No contact was arranged and the parents instructed lawyers to fight the local authority for contact. Eventually it was agreed that Dad could have 3 hrs of contact once a month supervised by the social services and, as the children were placed with Mum’s parents awaiting the court outcome as to where the children could be safely placed, she could have weekly contact supervised by her parents.

For ten months Dad’s 3 hours of contact was supervised by eight different, unqualified, family support workers in a 12x12 social work office store room with few toys and poor changing facilities.

I’d like to say that this story is not the norm, but in my experience it certainly is.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Divorce Harms Children?

According to a recent survey carried out by Hyun Sik Kim a leading researcher at the University of Wisconsin, children are ‘permanently’ damaged by divorce. Kim says “Children of divorce experience setbacks in maths test scores and show problems with internalising behaviour. They are more prone to feelings of anxiety, loneliness, low self esteem and sadness”.
I don’t have a problem with this in general terms but I have to say that couples that stay together when it is clear that they are not compatible life partners I’m sure have an even greater part to play in their children’s emotional damage. Families living with domestic violence cause far more difficulties for children. A child subjected to years of hearing and sometimes seeing their parents being verbally and physically abusive to each other is internalised by children even if they are not in the same room. The fact that they can hear the arguing is enough to cause irreparable damage.
Divorcing and separating parents who put their children’s needs before their own can help their children to come to terms with the family break-up without any emotional damage. In fact, done properly the divorce may well help their children to achieve better results at school simply by removing the uncertainty about the family’s future.
Starting a divorce is a journey. Properly planning that journey is the most important part. Throughout there will be cross-roads, hazardous bends and steep hills. At each junction there will be decisions to make. The straight route will be the one with the least amount of stress and difficulty. Many divorcing couples use the children as pawns, using them against the spouse or partner. Statements like ‘if you do what I say you can see the children’, is firstly, not recognising the child’s right to have contact with their family members, and secondly, damaging the child’s development by putting them under unacceptable emotional pressure.
Remember that when you divorce you are not divorcing your children. A statement made to me by a distraught child was exactly that “I want to see my Dad but Mum says we’re divorced now”, tears streaming down her 7 year old face.
Being honest both with yourselves and your children is the best way to stay true to your course.
Ten tips for a positive divorce:
1. Have respect for the other person.
2. Go into each discussion with a real wish to make a positive advance.
3. Remember that when all the hurt has gone you have to live with your decisions. Making good, caring decisions is the best way to settle your conscience.
4. Difficult though it is, make every effort to maintain a civil relationship, this is especially necessary if you have children.
5. If the going gets tough, do not argue or discuss difficult issues in front of, or in the hearing of your children. Better to have these discussions away from the family home in a neutral venue.
6. Ensure that the children are kept informed of what is happening, but do not put them under pressure or use them as a sounding board.
7. Do not burden the children with the adult hurt.
8. Focus on what has worked not what hasn’t.
9. Look after yourself.
10. Be the best ex-partner and parent you can.