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…..           

Mmmmmm.

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.

13 comments

  1. woodman1959 · November 9, 2013

    It is absolutely heart-warming to hear of this program – especially on the day my daughter completely spontaneously suggested that she would prefer to live one week with me and the next with her Mum.

    Family separation is an absolute inevitability in a culture which has largely embraced serial monogamy as the way forward. It is almost, it would seem, seen as a recommended way of achieving ‘personal growth’ – to change partner every 8-10 years.

    What is going on here? Are we still looking for the ‘perfect partner’ – or have replaced this with the idea of a constant flux?

    Either way, it is funny how no-one seems to have really thought about how this might impact on the children.

    Perhaps some academic will now come up with a theory that says all this upheaval and instability is great for the children as well?!

    If we were to start from the other end – the children’s end – what kind of family environment would it be best for children to grow up in? If we really do care about children…maybe we adults could start arranging our lives (which of course still need to be fulfilling in their own right) around their needs?

    Would such a thing be possible?

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    • karenwoodall · November 9, 2013

      Not only possible Woodman, essential I would argue. Our book ‘Putting Children First’ which was based pretty much on our own personal as well as professional experience of family separation, shows parents exactly how to do just that. And rather than the phrase meaning, letting children tell us what they want to happen, which is how too many of these charities interpret the needs of children after family separation, putting children first means arranging adults lives in ways that ensure that adults bear the brunt of the change, so that children do not have to. And contrary to many, who say that that is all well and good but mothers don’t want to have to change their lives, away from the individual rights dominated women and single parent lobby, mothers actually want to understand how they can do it. Its only when services which are lead by the rights of women get involved that post separation arrangements start to be interpreted as being ‘abusive’ if women are not in charge of them. Is it abusive of women to ask them to share care of their children? I don’t think so. Is it abusive of women to ask them to arrange their lives so that they bear the brunt of the change so that their children do not have to? I don’t think so. Of course, where any relationship has been based upon power and co-ercive control and/or has involved violence in any of its forms, perpetrated by either man or woman, we should put safeguards in place. To routinely base post separation relationships upon what is best for women first however is not, in my view, putting children first, its putting them secondary to the rights of their mothers and its subsuming their right to a relationship with their father into the way that their mother feels about their father. Its all wrong.

      I spent seven years arranging my life, my marriage and my living arrangements in ways that ensured that my daughter and step children did not have to do too much moving about. I worked as hard as I could to make sure that my daughter’s relationship with her step father as well as her father, stayed strong. I shared the time and the decision making and the influence over her life. My relationship with her is as strong as it ever was these days, it made no difference in the end to how she and I are together. Nick did the same with his kids. Its not perfect and it takes some doing at times, especially, I would argue, as a mother, when the cultural expectation to be the one who is in charge is so strong. But I did it. And others can and actually want to do it too.

      Its the rights based lobby that controls the space around government, which causes many of the problems that families encounter. That and the system we have to work under, which in my view, could and should be reformed wholesale, starting with a new system of financially supporting children and ending with a presumption of shared parenting – which I hope previous critics of mine, will note, is a change of mind on my part. Not that I will ever believe that it is the magic wand that people are convinced it is, but as part of wider reform, I have come to understand that it signals, for many, something significant (which is why it is so fiercly resisted by the single parent/women’s rights lobby and why One plus One just cannot help but show their hand when it comes to the crunch on shared parenting). K

      Like

  2. exInjuria · November 9, 2013

    The Oxflappers should be quaking in their boots,

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    • karenwoodall · November 9, 2013

      if only exinjuria, more likely they will be cobbling together their next application to the Nuffield Foundation to ‘prove’ how insane and unnecessary I am!!! I jest, I know you understand.

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  3. Blake · November 11, 2013

    I think that back in the 80s there was all this rhetoric about putting the children first. What this really was was adults imposing on children what their own sense of the child’s needs and wishes were. I don’t think for a second that this was ever really done with the children’s interests in mind. That was just a cover. I think it was done because several professionals (especially in the divorce industry, but not limited to that) working in different areas realized that there was money to be made by turning children into commodities, and producing according to gender the haves/have-nots hierarchy that we are familiar with. I think it was also done to advance the narcissism of the me-generation, and produce the most grotesque sense of entitlement, completely in line with the notion of ownership under capitalism. The deplorable level of child-trafficking that is occurring today seems to be directly related to the idea that children have been commodified, are things that we own.

    I suppose a critic would ask: how can we reverse this, how can we avoid the same mistake, how can we do something more than pretend to be putting the children first?

    Humanity will once again set in when we take the money out of family law, the health and educational systems, etc. But as we know, the government is working in the complete opposite direction to this. Is there really any hope, Karen?

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  4. Nick Child · November 11, 2013

    As well as the bits on One Plus One that you have highlighted, Karen, I found they have nothing that comes up when you search for “alienation”. Now there is a lot on that website, and I have certainly not even skimmed through the whole thing. I am increasingly thinking that it is important for us all to do that kind of thorough reading, rather than make assumptions. That’s the best way we can make up our own minds, and “think critically” for ourselves. So apologies for my poor critical thinking here! But …

    But, whatever position they / anyone wants to take in relation to this term “alienation” and the field that goes with it, it seems to me important that something is said about it on a website like One Plus One’s. It’s a complicated subject, but keeping people ignorant is not a solution. Good information on PA can be hugely therapeutic. And: We all agree that prevention is better, and certainly families can benefit from being gently or more strongly urged to do the right things for their children (see below too). But some are definitely not motivated to seek help or take guidance from a website, and we all know that “wait and see” is a positively bad thing for those situations. Saying nothing about “alienation” is tantamount to keeping families ignorant – it effectively creates the delay that promotes entrenchment.

    However, I also had a fair look at the Parenting Connection website and programme and resources (linked to and presumably created by One Plus One). Here:
    http://theparentconnection.org.uk
    and here especially:
    http://theparentconnection.org.uk/programmes/programmes/getting-it-right-for-children-when-parents-part

    And I would really urge everyone to look at these, register for the excellent and thorough programme with very well done video scenarios to help learn skills that avoid conflict escalating between parents that then affects the children – Stay Calm, Listen, See It Differently, Think For Myself, Be Clear Stick to the Point and Rules, Negotiate, Work It Out. Try these out, and even try out the Listening Room with its live online advice and Forum or whatever. It would be really good to know what others think, and especially if it works for you.

    My caveats above still stand though: The kinds of families where the conflict and alienation have got really severe are not the kind that can or will head for these resources. But it is still really really important to have any and every kind of guidance, help and support available to those facing these nightmares to provide a way for those who can and will seek and use this help. Please feedback here or to me direct at: Nick.Child@virgin.net Thanks.

    Nick

    Like

    • karenwoodall · November 11, 2013

      Thanks Nick, I like your optimism and fair mindedness, I don’t share your enthusiasm for the parent connection…but then I wouldn’t.. here is my feedback – a) if an organisation is underpinned by a covert agenda for women’s rights, it will deliver that agenda regardless of how shiny and fancy and dandy its materials are and b) the parent connection took much of its material from the Centre for Separated Families, without permission and without crediting it. As the Centre for Separated Families did not have a covert mission to deliver women’s rights dressed up as support for parents it offered what it said it offered, whole family support which helped children, in my view the parent connection does exactly the same as One Plus One, it delivers outcomes that suit its covert agenda, which is not about children and not about dads, its all about women. And that includes the listening room, I’ve been in there and asked the questions. I never criticise those organisations I don’t try out myself first! K

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      • expoƒunction · November 11, 2013

        Nick / Karen,

        I’m now always very sceptical about programmes like this (Parenting Connection) one, so please read my comments with that in mind.

        I agree with a great deal of what Nick says about the programme and issues it covers (and it’s limitations too). It is good of course for these issues which affect children negatively to be given a good airing; to help ensure they’re avoided.

        However Karen’s description of this one having a ‘covert agenda’ is worthy of careful consideration in my view.

        What struck me was that 3 of the 11 ‘photo blocks’ on their home page relate to the issue of step-parents adopting step-children.

        The information was provided by CAFCASS and there’s a link to more information on adopting a step child on the CAFCASS site.

        The information is factually correct as far as I can see, but nowhere is the motivation behind wanting to do this questioned.

        Of course there will be situations where adopting step-children is
        appropriate and in the best interests of those children, but my feeling is
        those cases are likely to be exceptions to any ‘rule’.

        My concern with the way this issue is portrayed on the main page is that
        it comes close to promoting/normalising the idea (of adopting step-children).

        Of course our Judicial systems in the UK are unlikely to entertain widespread post-separation adoption of step children as things stand.

        Perhaps this is where we’re heading next – routine adoption of
        step-children – and routine societal acceptance of that as the new
        ‘normality’.

        Perhaps I’ve simply been reading too much Professor Hoff Sommers recently.

        Like

      • karenwoodall · November 12, 2013

        I think you may well have been close to taking what some call ‘the red pill’ Expofunction. Now. I never ever wanted to go down the road that I am on. I never ever wanted to become someone who spoke of feminist domination or other such ‘nonsense.’ However. Ten years ago, I began to look under the surface of things through our work on gender and our direct contact with parents themselves and by doing so I began to see a startling disconnect between the way that family separation is lived and experienced and the way that it is supported and the needs of parents served. I started to see that behaviours in parents (and their children) were being shaped by legislation and delivery of services and that these shapes were made by feminist dominated theories. It took me a decade for it to dawn on me that family separation in this and other countries, is engineered, it is not that our country is full of horrible, violent, men, from whom innocent women must flee in order to save their children. Of course some men are those things and some women must flee and some women are horrible and some men must flee but, the way in which family separation is depicted by charities to government, is so far removed from reality as to be quite frightening in some respects. And adoption of children by step parents? Well, that’s just part of the social fatherhood idea which permeates all feminist ideology. It can even be found in UN charters and reports – you see this is how it goes – any man can be a father to any child because fathering is not biological in the same way as mothering and so as long as children have male role models all will be well. In London, on the tube, you can see adverts on how to make fatherless children. Sperm donor clinics now appeal directly with the words ‘thinking of being a single mother?’ We are manufacturing fatherless children as a lifestyle choice and in order to do that and make it acceptable, we must render biological fatherhood irrelevant. We have already reached the place where routine acceptance of fatherlessness is normalised. This, I believe, is what underpins organisations like One plus One and others that sit around government. I make no apology for what I think and believe and write about. In the twelve years or more that I have been working to try and change the government agenda towards acceptance, recognition and support of fatherhood, I have seen the way in which the dominant discourse of the irrelevance of fathers has won out each and every time. The covert agenda is not so far from the surface, its women’s rights first and the subsuming of the needs and rights of all other family members to that overriding aim of putting and keeping women in charge, in the home, in the workplace and of the policies and practices surrounding children. The rights of women have a place in any society in my view, however they do not overrride other people’s rights and especially not the rights of our children. I don’t want my step son and grandson growing up in a world where their inherent masculinity is shaped by the demands of feminism. That is not equality. One plus One, like all of the others, covertly supporting a single parent/women’s rights agenda, whilst purporting to do something else.

        Like

  5. Nick Child · November 12, 2013

    Thanks Karen for allowing my post through and adding your views. I think it is important to have the full story and picture known so that – for example – credit can be given where it is due and where it hasn’t been given by them. Presumably though, if they stole your ideas, parts of their work must be good?!

    Whether the market place is about iPhones vs Androids or about the rival publications of helping professions, crediting authorship and copyright is at least polite and may be a matter of one’s name and income. Being newer to PA than you, I also appreciate the lessons in how to read and spot the gaps in other resources and thinking.

    Leaving aside the wider website, if you’ve been through the Parenting Connection Programme itself (there is no room for extra input into that), can you highlight for us please where the problematic agenda comes through? That would allow the parts of the programme that ARE good to be recommended … with a caveat and proper credit too.

    And thanks to expofunction for emphasising my own criticism by pointing out how infuriatingly unjust and ignorant it is for an alienated parent to find that their situation is not even mentioned while the resource generously covers bringing in new step parents to a separated family.

    Meanwhile thanks for publishing parts of your forthcoming book here. I hope you get it published before someone else has a chance to steal that too!

    Nick

    Like

    • karenwoodall · November 12, 2013

      Don’t worry Nick, I am confident that I am well enough established as the reference point in my work that anyone publishing material from here would have a job to make it look like their own. Neither am I precious about what I do, what is the point of being precious about work that helps other people? One plus One were cheeky enough to take our work and our concepts and then ask us to direct people to their site! That I take exception to.

      For me there are far more worthy places to go to for support than the parent connection or other government sites where the covert agenda is about driving outcomes that suit women first and everyone else second. Its not the content, its the wrapping of the content that causes the problem in my mind and you can go all over the internet and find more useful stuff than anything the government here is funding or promoting.

      and I am not particularly interested in whether One plus One have Parental Alienation on their site, you won’t find it anywhere on any government site because although it is increasingly accepted in the family courts, you won’t find the government or CAFCASS going anywhere near the subject – far too political a hot potato – disliked widely by feminists as a ploy by men to keep control over children, PA is not something you will read about in many places in this country – other than on this blog and as we expand our Family Separation Centre Network – on our new hub.

      In ten years or so I am sure you will find all this on government sponsored websites…for now, I remain what someone recently called me.. a lone voice crying in the wilderness…

      Like

      • Nick Child · November 12, 2013

        Karen, you wrote that “there are far more worthy places to go to for support”
        As well as your own links here and on the Centre for Separated Families, can you tell me / us where your approved non-governmental links are please? We all want you to not have to be so much of a lone voice!

        Like

  6. Blake · November 12, 2013

    I’m always amused at how the NSPCC try to intervene in family life. They are always publishing literature that puts fathers in a bad light. I saw something today where they had two case studies, both of whom were about fathers behaving poorly toward children. Yet, when you approach them and ask them to address the epidemic of child abuse caused by parental alienation, they don’t even bother replying. They lost my donation long ago.

    Like

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