The Parenting Apart Programme (PAP) provides a peripatetic service to families with an office base in Edgbaston, Birmingham. The programme makes a distinct difference to the lives of children by reducing the conflict between separating parents and creating better communication and is a facilitated series of meetings held over an initial four-week period. It includes individual and joint face to face consultations, a personal bespoke Working Parents Agreement, review meetings, telephone support and continued advice and guidance through its duration.
The programme receives referrals from Cafcass (as part of their Improving Family and Child Arrangements – IFCA work), other agencies working with families and parents can also self-refer.
The aims of the programme are to:
- To change parents’ mindset to prioritise their children’s needs and place them at the centre of all decision-making processes.
- Enable better communication between parents to create a more stable and sustainable parenting environment, which is emotionally beneficial to their children.
- Encourage parents to make their own decisions regarding plans by establishing the Parent Working Agreement.
The evidence base behind the programme includes:
- Psychological research surrounding the child and adolescent social, emotional, and cognitive development
- Neuroscientific research in the field of Childhood Trauma and Neurodevelopment
- Research into Attachment Theory, Complex Developmental Trauma and Adverse Childhood Experiences
- The application of Conflict and Communication theories
- Evidence-based practice from the field of Couples and Family Therapy
- Practice-based evidence of developing positive relationships and strengths-based communication between parting parents
In the Assessor’s opinion the programme is a sensible next step to the generic Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP) as it allows parents to take some learning from the former and apply it to their own situation with the help and support of a professional family consultant. Evidence is suggesting that there are improvements to relationships in the majority of families with the added bonus of financial savings for families and family justice agencies.
On receiving the referral, the programme arranges to meet with parents and draw up the Proposed Work Plan (PWP) which works with parents towards agreement of co-parenting, including contact dates and times, communication between parents, children’s needs etc. in the form of a Parental Working Agreement (PWA). The initial agreement sets out the first steps for say a month. Work during this time often involves joint Zoom meetings with parents, or sometimes individual sessions with parents to help them move on. The focus of the agreement and all discussions is very child centred, focussing on parents accepting that they are responsible for how the children feel about the separation. At the end of each agreement a review is undertaken, and next steps agreed, with a further agreement being drawn up.
As the Parenting Apart Programme is an intervention between separated parents it does not always involve child contact per se. In this regard it would not automatically fit into the considerations above in the way a child contact centre would. It does however have a focus on improving parental relationships and communication to enable child contact to be a positive thing and the work done with parents involves them to think about the children’s needs, about emotional warmth, safety, guidance, and boundaries etc.
All contact sessions (whether with parents or involving children) are recorded and they inform the final report. Whilst the PAP does not automatically fit into the NACCC national standards for child contact in the conventional way, the standards are flexible enough to recognise the scope of the programme and that its outcomes are comparable to those of NACCC. Any recommended actions following the visit are now complete meaning the service meets the standards for enhanced (supervised) accreditation.