The parent/child connection: plain speaking about family separation

A rainy Saturday.  I have just moved house.  Now that I can lay my hands on everything again my mind turns to some of the emails and messages I have been receiving lately, about children’s needs for help through separation. This is something that I have written about in previous blogs but its something that all parents clearly need more information about.  Helping children, it seems, can be almost as difficult as the separation itself, in part because of the high level of emotional distress for all concerned, but also because of the lack of information available about the real impact on children.

I often wonder why so little information is available about these issues, which are present in so many families across the world.  Why do we not routinely provide helplines, online spaces and written materials to help people through these times of monumental change in our lives?  Given that family separation is one of the most frightening and soul destroying times of life and given that our precious children are so affected by the experience, why is there almost a conspiracy like silence, in the UK at least, about the impact of the issue?

‘Ah but we do’, I hear some say, ‘we put millions into helping’.  Just look at the recent investment by the government into the Department for Work and Pension’s Help and Support for Separated Families…..           


Let’s take a quick look at some of the organisations receiving the funding for the HSSF shall we?  Let’s take, for example, One plus One, a relationship charity working to support family relationships.

If I head to the section called Splitting Up on the One plus One website I am confronted with a headline which reads that women are 40% more likely to enter poverty after separation….  Now, I can’t decide, whether this is a warning to women not to split up, or an unconscious disclosure by One plus One about whose side they are on and what the real issues about splitting up are from their perspective.  Either way, when I drill down the sub sections of the page, I see again and again, the statement that women are worse off than men, single mothers are worse off than anyone else and not very much at all about children.  Unless I look at the section which discusses shared care, where I read that…

It is significant then that the Oxford Centre for Family Law and Policy has advised that a presumption of shared care would not be in the best interests of children.

Which clarifies which side of the fence this organisation is on. Regardless of its shiny, fancy packaging and its many many pages of words dedicated to supporting parents to work together, the reality is, that this organisation, like all of the others funded by government, starts from one premise.  The rights of women.  The reality of it jumps right off the page and when you spend a little time wandering on the site, you finally come up with the truth of the matter with these words…

OnePlusOne worked with Gingerbread – a charity for single parents – to produce Firm Foundations: shared care in separated families: building on what works. This report looks into the issues and challenges of shared care.

I bet it does.

What this report really means and what this partnership really does, is rethink the issue of shared care into what is acceptable from the perspective of the single parent, women’s rights lobby.  This report being something that One plus One and Gingerbread hope will influence policy around family separation.

I bet they do.

Talk about the emperor’s new clothes.  Once again, the result of an attempt to reform the voluntary sector services that sit around government, has ended in a great big pretend game, where charity fat cats cream off the spoils and produce something that looks like they are told the government wants.  When in reality, it is nothing short of making it look like supporting shared parenting when it is anything but.

I really don’t need to ponder on why there is so little information, so little help and so little care about what happens to children and their families through separation.  The pretty little platitudes, which fill the pages of the government sponsored websites, are little more than a cover for the reality that when families separate in this country, its women first when it comes to support, with fathers and their children a bolt on extra, as and when government policy demands it.

Whole family support it most certainly is not.

Back in our world, of supporting the whole family, an approach which requires more than words and more than shiny happy websites to make it real, information about what happens to children through and beyond family separation is vitally important.  Its important because parents need to know how to help their children.  Its important because children need their parents to help them. And its important because by not preaching the gospel of the single parent charities and telling single parents they are brilliant all of the time, we are doing something far more useful,  something that many so called ‘single parents’ tell us they want and need.  We are helping parents to help their children through and beyond the life crisis that is family separation.

Something that matters to us more than anything else, and in the months to come, throughout 2014 and beyond, we will be bringing to life our Network of Family Separation Centres, which will be linked up to our Family Separation Centre Hub and which will provide, for the very first time in this country, a joined up, whole family focused support service, through which all of our information, support and advice can be accessed.

To support that I will be writing, in the coming months, a series of blog posts about children and family separation, from all different perspectives, but focused largely upon the way in which children react to the experience.  I will be including in these posts, practical advice, strategies for coping, ways of supporting your children and how to deal with the really difficult stuff.  I will be discussing children’s behavioural issues, transitional problems and how to make shared care a working reality that supports children’s needs in ways that enable both parents to be fully connected to their childrens daily life.

As we go through the next months I will also be drawing upon practical experiences, of whole family practitioners, from our Centres and also from individuals who understand the difference between whole family and women’s rights based approaches to supporting children.  There are more people out there who understand what is required than we were previously aware of, joining up those people, with a community based network, is one of our primary goals for the coming years.

Because when family separation, is put back in the hands of families themselves and the state sponsored rights based services are bypassed, children will get the help that they need and their connection to the parents that they love so dearly, will not be systematically eroded.

And that’s when humanity will once again set in.

What Next?

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