Over the past 6 months or so Elizabeth Coe from NACCC has been working with NYAS and the University of Exeter to develop a range of educational resources that can be used by schools across the country as part of their National Curriculum teaching.

The resources developed, allow children a greater understanding of issues relating to Parental Separation and what rights children have, when experiencing this.

The national curriculum is planned around the needs of children and young people preparing them with the knowledge and skills they need to be taught at school in order to do well in life. Whilst subjects like Personal, Social & Health Education (PSHE) have been teaching about healthy relationships and sex education for some years, it was found that there was little in the curriculum to support children to develop an understanding about the pressures of relationships ending.

As part of the development of this project, Elizabeth recalls that some young people made the point to her that:

At school they teach us sex education, but few of us are likely to get pregnant. They don’t teach us about relationships ending, yet this is something that is happening in our lives

The work developed by NACCC, NYAS, and the University of Exeter seeks to equip them with understanding in this area so that they don’t feel quite so isolated if or when this happens in their own lives, but equally important to help them to understand that there are ways and means of accessing support.

One of the focus points of the resources developed includes helping children to understand their rights during these very difficult parts of their lives and to make sense of where to seek support to practice these rights.

To date, the resources developed include the infographic and video below, which will be displayed in schools and taught in lessons.

In order to develop this project, further NACCC is now working on resource packs for children that will help them to better understand their world, as it changes. These packs focus on the difficult emotions that they might experience and seek to help them to manage these.

Why does any of this matter?

The absolute number – and proportion – of families and children who experience separation in the UK is substantial. One in six children are born into a family in which their birth parents do not live together (ONS, 2016) and one in three children experience the separation of their parents during their childhood (OECD, 2013). Around two percent of families with dependent children separate each year (authors’ analysis), resulting in 2.5 million separated families raising over four million children at any point in time (Punton-Li et al, 2012). Three million children are living in single-parent households (25 percent of children), and a further one million with step-parents (eight percent of children) (ONS, 2015).

Understanding the lives of separating and separated families in the UK: what evidence do we need?” (Mary 2017)

How does Parental Separation impact on children and young people?

The Royal College of Psychiatrists (2020) report that, children may feel

  • a sense of loss – separation from a parent can mean you lose not only your home but your whole way of life
  • different, with an unfamiliar family
  • fearful about being left alone – if one parent can go, perhaps the other will do the same
  • angry at one or both parents for the relationship breakdown
  • worried about having caused the parental separation: guilty
  • rejected and insecure
  • torn between both parents.

In the same article they go on to explain that

Emotional and behavioural problems in children are more common when their parents are fighting or separating.

Children can become very insecure.

Insecurity can cause children to behave like they are much younger and therefore bed wetting, ‘clinginess’, nightmares, worries or disobedience can all occur. This behaviour often happens before or after visits to the parent who is living apart from the family.

Teenagers may show their distress by misbehaving or withdrawing into themselves. They may find it difficult to concentrate at school.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation builds upon the implications of parental separation, particularly where there is added conflict noting:

  • children will tend to grow up in households with lower incomes, poorer housing and greater financial hardship than intact families (especially those headed by lone mothers);
  • Children can tend to achieve less in socio-economic terms when they become adult than children from intact families;
  • They are at increased risk of behavioural problems, including bedwetting, withdrawn behaviour, aggression, delinquency and other antisocial behaviour;
  • Children and young people may tend to perform less well in school and to gain fewer educational qualifications;
  • They are more likely to be admitted to hospital following accidents, to have more reported health problems and to visit their family doctor;
  • Children and young people are more likely to leave school and home when young and more likely at an early age to: become sexually active; form a cohabiting partnership; become pregnant; become a parent; and give birth outside marriage;
  • Children and young people also tend to report more depressive symptoms and higher levels of smoking, drinking and other drug use during adolescence and adulthood.

So how can parents support children and young people?

The above impact needn’t happen to all children, all of the time. There is much that parents can do, with the support of professional services, if needed, to reduce the impact upon their children and to offer them better outcomes following Parental Separation.

Information produced by the NSPCC states that in order to support children through Parental Separation in a way that is complementary to their need’s parents should:

  • remind them that they’re loved by both parents
  • be honest when talking about it but keep in mind the child’s age and understanding
  • avoid blame and don’t share any negative feelings the adults have about each other
  • keep up routines such as going to school and specific mealtimes
  • let them know they can talk about their feelings with you – explain that it’s okay to be sad, confused or angry
  • listen more than you speak – answering questions will help them to open up.
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