Parents have primary responsibility but it takes a village to raise a child and the community has a part to play to help separating families reduce conflict.
Early intervention can lead to better outcomes for children and significantly reduce the amount of support services required at later stages. Organisations can help by:
- Understanding that having a relationship with both parents, where it is safe, is important for a child’s long-term wellbeing and prospects.
- Staying neutral. Both parents have a right to be informed about their child’s progress and be involved in making important decisions about their welfare unless a court order or social services specifically states otherwise.
- Developing a Divorce and Separation Policy which is communicated to parents.
- Improving communication systems to include both parents.
- Ensuring the child’s right to their identity is maintained. Nobody should be changing a child’s name without the permission of everyone with parental responsibility or a court order allowing it.
- Training staff who work with children going through family separation about this dynamic.
- Recommending the right interventions. Therapists, social workers and others who do not understand this dynamic may make things worse by aligning with one parent and making suggestions that entrench a child’s position, furthering the abuse of the rejected parent e.g. pressuring the parent to apologise to the child for something they have not done or suggesting waiting for the child to be ready for contact.
- If you’re worried that a child is experiencing emotional harm as a result of parental separation, report it to social services, as you would for any other form of abuse. It is a child protection matter.
- Canvasing your MP to ask for change to better recognise this problem across all government services in order to develop solutions for the UK.
- Keep and use statistics about services users and outcomes to help to inform your organisation’s policies and improve services for children.
Family relationships are protected by human rights do what you can to help uphold them:
- Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights gives people the “right to enjoy family relationships without interference from government. This includes the right to live with your family and, where this is not possible, the right to regular contact…’
- Article 9 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child advises ‘States Parties shall respect the right of the child who is separated from one or both parents to maintain personal relations and direct contact with both parents on a regular basis, except if it is contrary to the child’s best interests.’
Where the court is involved a judge can intervene early to reduce emotional harm to the child by requesting assessment of the family by a suitably experienced expert and can enforce orders where arrangements have been broken. In severe cases they can use child protection measures to transfer residence of the child to the rejected parent and allow the right therapeutic support to the family to ensure a child maintains relationships with both parents.