Children’s Mental Health Charity Backs Calls to Reform How Parents Separate

Fegans, a charity which provides professional children’s counselling and parenting support services, has welcomed a report published today by the Family Solutions Group which calls for a radical change in how parents separate in the UK to better protect children.

“We whole-heartedly welcome this report from the Family Solutions Group which puts children first and sets out a clear case for giving parents the motivation, confidence and tools to resolve conflicts outside of court and to co-parent effectively as a unit together,” says Fegans CEO Ian Soars. “Every year, 280,000 children see their parents separate. How those separations are handled will affect the rest of their lives.”

The report, ‘What About Me?’ warns that parental conflict causes psychological harm to children, impacting their long-term mental health and future life chances. Every day in its counselling rooms Fegans witnesses the psychological impact this has on children. Its qualified counsellors work with over 400 children, one-to-one, every week and the single most common reason for referral is family relationship difficulties and the effects of family breakdown[1]. Anonymised case studies[2] published by the charity show that children dealing with conflicted family breakdown struggle with a range of issues including self-blame and low self-esteem which can lead to behaviours such as self-harm.

Fegans also owns and runs a website DAD.info which hosts a forum with over 38,000 users giving free online peer support from those who have lived experience of separation and divorce. The forum is full of parents struggling to navigate the legal system and access support to resolve conflicts with their ex-partners, in particular regarding access arrangements for their children. One forum user recently posted: “Be reminded your kids are in the middle and you have to punch or kick through them each time to hurt your ex.”

DAD.info recently carried out a survey of over 1,000 separated parents. It found that third of parents applied to the family courts to make childcare arrangements during their separation. This is something which the Family Solutions Group wants to see replaced with a “solutions approach” outside of court which “gathers round the family and contains the fallout.” (However it is clear that the family court still has a role to play for families where safeguarding issues are identified).

The charity Restored Lives, which helps people recover from relationship breakdown, echos the view of Fegans. Restored Lives CEO Erik Castenskiold says: “The report confirms our shared view that the court system is the wrong place to resolve parenting issues. Unresolved emotional issues and the adversarial nature of the divorce system fuel the fire of a confrontational approach which damages children, who become the innocent victims of the process. We urgently need to find a new way that puts children first and resolves parental conflict outside the court.”

As advocates of effective co-parenting, Fegans is fully in agreement with the recommendations made in the report which promote children’s welfare and a cooperative parenting approach. In recent years Fegans has built a wealth of resources for parents using evidence-based outcomes, much of it available online. These include a short film developed in partnership with Wells Family Mediation which clearly demonstrates that it is not the fact of parental separation that affects children’s long-term welfare, so much as the way it is handled; a key finding of the ‘What About Me?’ report.

Family Mediator at Wells Family Mediation, Helen Adam, says: 

“The transition which parents make from being together to living apart is a vulnerable time for all. It takes great courage to move on from the turmoil of relationship breakdown and choose to cooperate with the other parent. The brave option is the cooperative parenting route, brave and challenging and it may take time, but this brings lasting benefits to the whole family.”

Ian adds:

“Separation is an incredibly stressful and upsetting time, and we can’t always protect our children fully from the impact of a broken relationship. However, research shows that children benefit from ‘shared parenting.’ This is not just about how much time they have with each parent – although that is important – but it is also about how they experience the relationship between their parents”

The publication of “What about me?” coincides with the launch of a free online course on co-parenting after separation. Developed by Fegans, the course includes on-demand lessons through animations and videos from parenting coaches, downloadable support materials and access to a private Facebook group to receive ongoing support from other parents who have been on a similar journey. Parents sign up online and receive links to a new lesson each week for 10 weeks.

References
[1] 28.3% of referrals to Fegans for counselling in the academic years from 2018-2020
[2] https://www.fegans.org.uk/case-study/alice/
https://www.fegans.org.uk/case-study/isabellas-story/

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