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Splitting up: a child’s guide to a grown up problem

scan13-jpg-191397-lowA new book giving an insight into the impact of family separation from a child’s perspective has been released this week. Splitting Up – A Child’s Guide to a Grown Up Problem is a joint project by London-based law firm Mishcon de Reya and children’s mental health charity Place2Be. 

The book is comprised of six chapters:

–     Breaking the news: the shouting and the silence

–     When a family falls apart: pain, loneliness and worry

–     Torn in two: caught in the middle

–     New home, new family, new routine: living a double life

–     Take it from me: advice for children of separated parents

–     The way it should be: advice for separated parents

At the end of each chapter, Dr Stephen Adams-Langley, a Senior Clinical Consultant at Place2Be, offers insight and practical guidance on how to address some of the issues the children raise in each chapter.

Mishcon de Reya is calling for fundamental change to the way we approach divorce. Litigation should be the last resort for resolving disputes involving children as it can be a divisive and traumatic experience for all parties involved. Court proceedings also do not address the underlying issues in a way that enable parents to work together to reach solutions that are in the best interests of their offspring. Given the low impact of compulsory mediation, Mishcon de Reya is calling for greater therapeutic input to resolve disputes funded by the public purse. Instead of focusing on the destructive nature of court proceedings, parents would engage in focusing on their child’s needs before their own.

Commenting on the book, Dame Benita Refson DBE, President of Place2Be, said:

This book has been created to give children’s voices a platform. We believe they are not heard soon enough. The children who contributed represent the views and experiences of other children in our society who find themselves caught between parental conflict and separation.”  

“We want to encourage adults to engage with their children to really understand how their actions affect them, both in the short and long term.”

“Here, we are offering a necessary insight into what children of separated parents are going through, advice on how to help them and an opportunity for parents to start a dialogue with their children. Without an outlet for their pain, young people will continue to suffer, and often this suffering will be in silence.”

Sandra Davis, Head of the Family department at Mishcon de Reya added:

Taking into account the welfare, wishes and feelings of children during a family dispute is an enshrined legal principle, but without the concerted effort of parents to prioritise their children over their difficulties with one another, the law can only do so much.”

“It is only through listening to children that we can begin to develop a long term mechanism to ensure they are protected during and following their parents’ separation. And never has this been more important. According to data released by the ONS at the end of last year, almost half (48%) of couples divorcing in 2013 had at least one child aged under 16 living in the family. And that’s just married couples. Cohabiting families are the fastest growing family unit – the number of children living in opposite sex cohabiting families has more than doubled, from 0.9 million in 1996 to 2.1 million in 2015 according to a House of Commons briefing paper published earlier this year.”

“Society no longer follows the traditional structure for which the law was developed, and yet we continue to see courts being forced to make decisions for modern families that will inform the lives of the children within them. Alternatives to litigation such as therapy or mediation have been shown to deliver better outcomes for children and their parents.  Public finances should be more widely used in supporting these services.” 

“Confusion, loneliness, worry and the multitude of other feelings that accompany the breakdown of a family don’t have a gender, class, race or religion. It is not just our parental responsibility to our children that is vital, it is our societal responsibility to listen and seek to understand what children tell us about how we can serve their needs better in the event of a family breakdown.”

Dr Stephen Adams-Langley of Place2Be epitomises this debate in his advice to parents that they “have to put more effort into the love they have for their children than into the animosity they may have for each other.”

Writer and long-time Place2Be supporter Sophie Dahl has written the foreword for the book – of which all proceeds will go to Place2Be – and input was provided by the Voices in the Middle project.

Splitting Up – A Child’s Guide to a Grown Up Problem is available on Amazon