Good morning sunshine!

First day back at my desk and its a sunny introduction to 2014.  Reading around the field of family separation I see that not much has changed in the world, Relate have produced a report which tells us that a significant number of mothers do not believe their children need a father, F4J are busy reading the riot act on allegiance to the cause and Anthony Douglas is on TV tonight in a programme about adoption.  Its the same old song. Pity they cannot find another one to sing.

2014 for us however, is the year of the new song, for 2014 sees the launch of our National Network for Separated Family Centres, an independent, community based network, which links together a number of projects who work in the whole family model that we have developed over a number of years.  This Network is heralded by the launch of the Jersey Centre for Separated Families, a community based initiative which is run almost entirely by volunteers. The Centre will be launched by ex Children’s Minister Tim Loughton MP and will offer, for the first time on Jersey, a place where mothers AND fathers can go to obtain the help that they need to make their own arrangements for care and provision for their children.  The Jersey Centre will be closely followed by centres on the mainland which will be launched later in 2014 and which will be linked up to our Family Separation Centre online Hub, which will cascade information, support, advice and information on all matters to do with coping and co-parenting after family separation.  This is the work that we have always wanted to do and it offers, for us, a new way of reaching out to the families who need help.  Independent of government and free at the point of access, this initiative allows us to do what we know needs to be done and as the sun shines brightly through the window on my first day back, I have a little spring in my step already at the thought of the possibilities to come in developing this.

Underpinning the delivery of our services will be our whole family, gender aware strategies that engage with the different needs of mothers and fathers.  We don’t need fancy reports to tell us that some mothers don’t want the fathers of their children involved in family life and we don’t need the governments millions to make something like this work for families.  What we need is what we have got, dedicated people who care about family life and who are prepared to put in the work for the pleasure of helping.  For the small amount of start up funding required for each project to be up and running, we know we can help many families in local communities who never get the help which is promised when government makes money available to the charitable sector.  This year, for the princely sum of £25,000, we will build, develop and deliver, five separated family centres and get help and support to hundreds of families as a result. Compare that to the 1.4million received by Relate to release reports telling us what we already know and you will understand why I am smiling.  Freedom to do what we know is needed never felt so good.  2014 is going to be a good year.

Elsewhere in our work we are building research and evaluation into the issue of parental alienation and starting to make inroads into delivering training on our way of working to a wider audience.  This is information to practitioners through the backdoor and its amazing just how many people who work in the family courts, want to know more about this difficult issue.

My New Year’s resolution this year is to focus only what is good and to build hope and inspire change by delivering what we know is needed and showing the world how things can be done differently.  Its what we have done for many years but this year we are doing it entirely independently and away from the ghastly greed of the charitable sector that sits around government soaking up the funding whilst delivering the same old outcomes and singing the same old songs.

This year our song is different and the sunshine seems to herald bright new beginnings.  Let the others squabble, fall out, fritter away the millions and tell us what we already know, in short, let them keep on doing what they have always done.

This year, we are doing something very different indeed.

Welcome to 2014!

16 comments

  1. Johnnie · January 13, 2014

    Hi Karen,

    How could someone get involved in what you are doing? I don’t mean, someone in need of help, I mean someone who wants to help.

    Best regards,

    Johnnie

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    • karenwoodall · January 13, 2014

      You can email us to start with and we will brief you on the plans for development and then if there is something that you feel you can offer we can discuss how we can work together. We have a number of centres up and coming so you might live near one or you might want to give us a hand with the online stuff, we need people who can work with us to deliver information, operate forums, answer emails etc. Email us at info@familyseparationclinic.co.uk to start with, the new hub address will be up and running soon. K

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  2. Jane Jackson · January 13, 2014

    Thank goodness for the sunshine.
    2014 is going to be a good year for families.
    Good to have you back Karen.

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    • karenwoodall · January 16, 2014

      Well its been a good week back so far Jane x

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  3. nrjnigel · January 13, 2014

    Yes I look forward to your good sense and compassion in 2014.

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    • karenwoodall · January 16, 2014

      Thank you nrjnigel, and more optimism this year I think too! K

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  4. RhG · January 14, 2014

    The initiative you’ve started sounds excellent and I’m sure is greatly needed. It feels sometimes though that I am in an invisible group of parents who are sadly not likely to make use of these centres, primarily because the vagueness of legislation around child act matters and state financial support matters have resulted in them in effect losing contact with their children. The state no longer regards that they and the children constitute a family, and certainly not one worthy of financial support. The same factors lead to children being taken away to the other end of the country, against their wishes, due only to the selfish wishes of a parent who so often then has absolutely no need to keep the other parent informed of anything in relation to the children. The nature of divorce settlements, the keeping of all state support, the use of the CSA as a money collector, the ease of ignoring court orders and expense of enforcing them, the proximity of support by other family members, all combine to give one parent the impression/reality of being completely independent of the other.

    Centres as will be built I’m sure will be great to help work things out between parents if both are agreeable to being helped or to provide emotional support, but in all honesty, if the whole family law field were revamped, parents and their children would not so often be faced with circumstances where one could so easily refuse to cooperate, ending with the other having to seek a centre’s help. They would not be faced with children being uprooted and relocated against their will, with one parent and often the children having to bear the considerable brunt of travelling. They would not be faced with one parent having to go cap in hand to the other to ask for a fair share of child benefit to contribute towards the children’s food, heating costs etc and having to face the indignity of the other parent just refusing. They would not be faced with children becoming estranged from one parent and extended family and parental alienation would be more difficult to achieve.

    Centres, advice groups, counselling bodies all deal with the aftermath of family law. It’s not that they’re not important, but the crux of the matter is to change family law. I’m not sure if any groups are pressing for that by now, or whether everyone has given up. The new legislation which looms is going to do nothing to change the lot of children and one parent (+extended family). At the root of all the ills is the ease with which a rebuttable presumption of equal parenting has been brushed aside as something totally unworkable which would endanger the welfare of the child, based it would appear on the flimsiest of ‘evidence’ from Australia as considered by the Family Justice Review Panel and the untested opinion of a choice ‘expert’ before the Justice Select Committee. This could so easily be a starting point if consistent with a child’s wish and when no proven risks to the child had been demonstrated by the opposing parent. It is deeply shocking that new legislation can be created on such poor foundations and that there is still no grasp of the distress that current family law creates despite so much evidence. Is it too late to change the Bill?

    Good luck with your plans.

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  5. Anonymous · January 15, 2014

    I agree with everything you say RhG, but the Centres will be the groundswell of all that can be achieved. The therapeutic centres will become places where academics will want to do their research. They will attract interest from the very organisations that are able to make the changes we desire. It will help in their understanding of how things should be and it will be done in the best and kindest way possible. Instead of inviting conflict and antagonism the centres will be demonstrating what is good about families, how we are all important, and how to respect one another. This is what needs to be displayed. The issues you bring to our attention need to be addressed and it may be a long time before they are, but what we need is proper organised support for what is a successful proven institution; the family.

    Kind regards

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    • RhG · January 16, 2014

      Perhaps I can’t quite envisage how your centres work. Why would a parent who pretty much got everything that was planned to be got out of a divorce – tax free lump sum, no mortgage worries, monthly tax free sums in state benefits and CSA money, family help with childcare, the pleasure of seeing the children grow up most days and having the bonding that comes with daily interactions, with the ‘achievement’ of belittling the other parent and extended family’s contribution to boot, seek a centre for help with care and provision for their children? It is too late for these parents to show respect to the other parent because they have wrought such damage already, and respect was never on their minds anyway.

      If a ‘non resident’ parent were to seek one of the centres’ help ‘to make their own arrangements for care and provision for their children’, are you going to advise them that they will have to make their own financial arrangements with no state assistance because they are not really regarded by the state as a family, separated or otherwise? Are you going to tell them that they won’t be eligible for tax credits if they earn over £13k, but that a parent with whom the child ‘normally lives’ (which in law need only be anything over 50% of the time) can get these credits up to a much higher income? Are you too going to advise them to ask the other parent nicely for a bit of child benefit money to keep the house warm when the children are with them, or to buy some winter clothes when they don’t arrive with them – those ‘day to day costs’ as HMRC calls them, or to just soldier on and pay for everything themselves because the CSA has deducted a bit of money from their contributions to pay for all these child related costs whilst simultaneously taking a sum of money every month to put into the other parent’s bank account which no one has the slightest idea how it’s spent? Will you tell them if they do not pay as the CSA demands, that their employer will be forced to deduct the money from earnings and that ultimately passports and driving licences can be taken or a jail term given, whilst no one will ask how much the other parent sets aside from income to support the children? I know all this will sound embittered and very money focused, but that is the reality of post divorce life for many parents, and the only thing that will change it, to avoid centres like yours having to be opened, is changing the legislation that gives rise to it. Emotional help is important no doubt, but it can be sobering to have some counselling and feel positive for a while only to realize that nothing really has changed and that as a parent, it will still be a struggle to keep a relationship with a child who is infrequently seen only because the other parent wanted it that way. I’m not sure which other organizations, as you say, are likely to bring about changes – none have succeeded for a few decades and none have before Children and Families Bill becomes the next Act to cast a shadow.

      I don’t think it helps to discuss so much in terms of mothers and fathers either. Whatever the statistical reality of post divorce parenting, the emphasis should always be on the children’s right to equal parenting and both parent’s equal starting point as capable parents unless it can be proved otherwise and what should be their equal treatment in law.

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      • karenwoodall · January 16, 2014

        Just to be clear RhG, the comment above was not from me, it was from someone else who seems to grasp exactly what we are aiming to achieve through the Network of Centres, so whoever anonymous is, I am hugely impressed by your understanding.

        I can see that you RhG are coming from a place which starts with the belief that equal shared parenting legislation is what will make a difference. Perhaps you are right but if I thought you were I would be working along those lines instead of what I am doing, which is building a community based Network with other folk who understand what is needed to make things different.

        Now, I don’t expect this to be the thing that magically changes the world of family separation. I do however, think it will offer parents something that they need in a world which currently does not provide it.

        We forget, when we work in this field or are involved in it for any length of time, that there are thousands of people out there who never come near the political field of family separation. They have no idea about family courts, position statements, child maintenance, domestic violence, parental alienation and the like, they simply know that their lives have fallen down (and this is mothers as awell as fathers and also the wider family) and they want something to help them through the worst time of their lives.

        Now. We can either, leave it to Relate, One Plus One and all the other government funded machines that replicate the same old outcomes to do the work of assisting these people or we can, collectively, provide something for them ourselves.

        And when one gets to those people, before the solicitors do, before the domestic violence lobby does and before any of the government funded single parent model underpinned projects do, what they get is what we offer and what we offer is what brings mothers and fathers to a place where working together seems to them like the very best they can offer their children in difficult circumstances.

        It works because we have tested it. We tested it on the Isle of Wight, we tested it in London, we tested it on Jersey. It doesnt work for everyone and it can be undermined if people are influenced into using other services but, if we get to people in time we keep them involved with our way of thinking and working because our way of thinking and working aligns with their way of thinking and working for the best outcomes for their children.

        We cannot change legislation through doing what we are doing but we can change the way that parents interact with legislation.

        So we cannot prevent the courts from stamping all over their lives, but we can get them into a working agreement for parenting their children that never goes near to the courts.

        We cannot prevent the CSA from stampeding into their lives but we can get them into a private agreement outside of that and we can help them to manage that over time.

        Most of all we can hold and contain their pain and suffering away from their children so that they have someone to reach out to when they need it most.

        And contrary to what those of us who work in this field come to believe because we are constantly faced by cases that make us believe this…not every mother is a vindictive person who wishes to wreck the lives of her children and their relationship with their father and not every father is a feckless man who seeks to hide his earnings so he doesn’t have to support his children.

        Most are ordinary people who are grateful for the help that we can give and when we give it with their children at the heart of it, they can and do act differently.

        Your way starts with legislation. Our way starts with doing what we can in the shadow of what we have. I have no doubt whatsoever that different legislation would make what we are doing easier but just because we cannot do one doesn’t mean that doing the other is futile. K

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  6. D · January 15, 2014

    I don’t think this is about the family, or trying to validate this as an institution. However one feels about the family, the reality is that this has long been thrown out as something oppressive and patriarchal, and there are way too many parties against it. Talking about the family will just get one labeled a Tory and promptly dismissed as a right-wing nutter.

    The problem is simply one of getting people to recognize the importance of a father. Not just in the courts, which are agents of the Dept of Work and Pensions whose sole concern is ensuring that children continue to be the financial burden of one parent rather than the state. Not just among doctors and schools. But simply among ordinary people, who with the help of the media and through what Karen identified as the BMP, have just become downright skeptical about the importance of the father.

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    • karenwoodall · January 16, 2014

      I agree D, the problem is getting people to understand and recognise and support the importance of fathers and fathering. But I think ordinary people do understand the importance of fathers and fathering, I think it is the ‘system’ and our blinded government who are too afraid of recognising it. I think the BMP is most alive and well within the charitable sector that sits around the government soaking up the funding and spinning the delivery of services in the same model that has been used for forty years, whilst telling themselves and the outside world that they are doing it differently. They are not. And my belief is that in time we will see they are not. Just as we saw in the waste of millions in the Kids in the Middle Campaign (can anyone tell me where the evaluation of the pilots for parenting together after separation that was funded in that campaign went? Nope, thought not), in five years time when the 20 million made available by Maria Miller has been wasted, the evaluation of this round of nonsense will have disappeared too. It is breathtaking how much money is wasted in this arena, truly truly breathtaking and its got absolutely NOTHING to do with the well being of children or families. K

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  7. D · January 18, 2014

    I’m intrigued Karen. What do you think this wastefulness in a time of austerity is serving? Or who is it serving? Would you agree that the Bad Men Project is primarily operating to make sure that fathers don’t have care and that mothers aren’t complete burdens on the state after separation? Or do you think it is more complicated?

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    • karenwoodall · January 19, 2014

      I am not sure why this waste continues D but I know that it is typical government strategy…. What happens is that the charities involved with children and families which sit around the government…tell the government what they want the government to hear…the government responds by making money available…the money goes to the big charities, who spend it centrally, not locally. Good example is the North London Relate Centre which closed down just as the head office for Relate got a few million quid from the Kids in the Middle Campaign in 2010..to do what? Not very much in reality. That Campaign spent 10 million pounds on so called parenting apart pilots, the evaluation showed that the projects spent £3000 per head on delivering services over two years – £3000!!!! The evaluation of those pilots has disappeared into the void along with all the other wasted money. In reality, the money that is spent by government goes to fund inflated salaries for charities bosses and managers and gives those business the opportunity to ‘make their margins’ – ie: money to spend on expanding the already over bloated, over administrated, over managed sector which in turn gets to tell the government what is needed in the outside world…the people who work in those kinds of charities are as far away from what happens in the real world as the Civil Servants in the hallowed halls of Westminster and the Ministers they are talking to. Its a bubble of non reality and the money that is made available is simply spent on maintaining that. The Bad Men Project serves to ensure that the children and families sector continues to perpetuate the lie that men don’t care and women are poverty stricken after separation so that the children and families sector can maintain its over bloated domination and fund jobs for managers and CEO’s paid at a higher rate than the Prime Minister in some cases. And in the domestic violence sector, this is simply replicated but to an even greater financially breathtaking waste… I am going to blog about this soon. K

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  8. Anonymous · January 20, 2014

    We all have a similar understanding of what is wrong with “Society” and even who we would like to blame. What Karen offers in setting up the Family Centres is a template for good working practice. She is going to the heart of the problem and giving guidance and help for those of us going through separation, the most difficult time of our lives. If this is at all successful it will be a demonstration, to all those who care to take note (this could be anyone from Charity Directors to Politicians to Social Workers to you and to me) that it’s best to retain the bonds and ties that exist in our families and there are ways in which this can be achieved.
    There are so many mistakes being made by our Institutions, trying to satisfy one ego or another, inadvertently perhaps bullying our children into siding with one parent. Karen’s social service is exactly what is needed. In a way it sidesteps all those battles you have become involved in, pitting your wits against the mighty Courts, the dogmatic politicians and the accusing fingers of the media. It identifies and validates your emotions and allows you the mental peace that you need to solve your problems. ( I am not suggesting that you shouldn’t protest if you feel strongly about something, but you need to sort out yourself and your family connections first……….)

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  9. Nick Branson · September 13, 2014

    Karen and Nick,

    Why doesn’t the Family Court place separating parents thru an ‘induction’ course from day one? The perspective only a – Childs Best Welfare. Direct from independent NHS child health experts. It meets the criteria of a Childs Best Welfare and as being ignorant is not an excuse used by our law, why not inform parents before entering the Courtroom proper?

    The perspectives of parents are likely to change. Dogma about a genders ‘parenting magic’ and the spurious benefits of single parenting removed from the Courts culture but much more importantly removed from parents. In effect to disarm and de-power both with knowledge. Children would be far more effectively supported.

    Cafcass do not employ a single child psychologist or psychiatrist, nor is one found on it’s board of directors (government appointments). This was reported to me by a child guardian 2 years ago. Cafcass with it’s limited parameters is truly a distant and ignorant guide on behalf of children.

    ‘Children’s Best Welfare’ the overriding responsibility given to Family Courts by our Law. Keeping that in mind why on earth doesn’t it employ the most appropriate tools to do it’s job properly? The Law does not excuse ignorance even when it’s a Court.

    A small but corrective step along the way would be the required appointment to the Cafcass board of directors of a NHS child psychiatrist or psychologist. Specifically not chosen by Cafcass or the government but by the NHS itself.

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