Report concerned with how to improve and broaden the services provided to families going through a separation

Yesterday, the Family Solutions Group published a report, endorsed by Sir Andrew McFarlane, the president of the family court, entitled: “"What about Me?" Reframing Support for Families following Parental Separation.”

So what does the report address, and what broad recommendations does it make?

The report identifies many overarching and commonly encountered challenges for parents who separate and must necessarily take a journey of transition from their former relationship together, to one of co-parents. Overriding the report is how, with an improved inter-disciplinary approach, systems can operate more effectively to support parents make smoother transitions toward forms of co-operative parenting, and crucially, with a better understanding of why doing so is beneficial to their children.

While there are many professionals from different disciplines who specialise in helping parents going through a separation, the report highlights inconsistencies in the services available to families throughout different areas of England and Wales, as well as a general lack of knowledge about what help can best support parents and children who are making the transition to life in two households.

Important to understand is the report’s clear distinction between parents who require the support of the family court, for example because there is a safety issue (either to a parent, child, or both), and those parents caught in conflict arising from the separation itself but for whom there are no other safety issues. For families in the latter category, it is acknowledged they most often fare better if they can be supported and empowered to build their own solutions on a voluntary and consensual basis. Non-court based processes can assist parents gain an all-round understanding of the emotional and psychological elements of their separation, to focus on what helps children to feel properly supported and to flourish in life in two homes. The report sticks faithfully to the research findings, from which good practice can emerge, about what helps to enhance not only children’s short-term outcomes, but their life-long outcomes in all areas of their lives.

So what types of proposals does the report make to better serve the 280,000 or so children whose parents separate every year?

• It proposes a complete cultural shift, led by a wide public education campaign, which will encourage parents to work to cooperate over their parental and ‘shared responsibilities’, rather than a focus on their ‘parenting rights’.

• It proposes much improved accessibility and standardised information available for families who are separating, including via schools, GPs, health visitors and so on, making clear the impact of separation and explaining where parents can get help. In addition, and as part of their PHSE education, it recommends children be given education about healthy separations and the importance of their voice and role in the process.

• The introduction of a dedicated website and one stop shop for parents, to include a dedicated section specifically for children. The site will provide advice and guidance when a family is separating, as well as to set out clearly where parents can obtain professional help.

• Attendance by parents at a registered parenting programme to become the norm following separation.

• To establish a governmental lead, such as a Families Commissioner, to provide coherent oversight of provision for children and parents experiencing separation. Currently many different governmental departments contribute to family well-being in a somewhat fragmented way and so an individual with oversight would be valuable.

• A presumption that all children and young people aged 10 and over be offered the opportunity to have their voices heard in all processes for resolving issues between their parents, including mediation and solicitor-led processes.

• A more holistic and broader package of services for families, including legal services, mediation and counselling to be recognised as best practice for families going through separation.

This blog is all but a very basic introduction to some of the main themes and recommendations in the report, since the report itself runs to in excess of 165 pages! If you would like to know more, please do contact one of our child specialist solicitors and/or access the report itself by clicking here.

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