World Children’s Day was first established in 1954 as Universal Children’s Day and is celebrated on 20 November each year to promote international togetherness, awareness among children worldwide, and improving children’s welfare.
November 20th is an important date as it is the date in 1959 when the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child. It is also the date in 1989 when the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Since 1990, World Children’s Day also marks the anniversary of the date that the UN General Assembly adopted both the Declaration and the Convention on children’s rights.
What better time then for the publication of the report of the Family Solutions Group, entitled “What About Me?” with their comprehensive and well thought out recommendations for reframing the support for families following parental separation.
At the heart of the document is a call to put the children first in each and every situation and to think about the impact upon them. The report proposes the creation of a framework of directly accessible community-based services for children and young people whose parents separate, offering them information, consultation, support and representation. It suggests that for any child over the age of 10, their voice should be heard in whatever court process is being engaged or when major decisions are being made that affect them.
As the report says:
“It is critical to recognise that children are at risk of harm when parents separate. Family breakdown is a time of great vulnerability and research has consistently shown that unresolved parental conflict is harmful to children. Destructive inter-parental conflict affects children of all ages, across infancy, childhood, adolescence, and even adulthood. The way in which parents communicate with each other impacts children’s long-term mental health and future life chances”.
No one escaped unscathed when a family separates and attention needs to be paid to the children – not just the adults involved.
The report recognises that for some, court intervention is necessary but for the majority of families, court is not the best answer and the family would benefit from a different approach.
“For some families, this may not be safe. In cases of high conflict and abuse, safety is a priority and a court intervention may be required as one of a number of responses. Children in these cases must be identified early and they, and any parent who is at risk, need appropriate support and protection.
However, the majority of families need an entirely different support which is holistic and relational:
- A framework and language which promotes child welfare and a cooperative parenting approach.
- Access to information and direct services for children.
- Mechanisms for the child’s voice to be heard at the time when decisions are being made which affect them.
- Access to information and direct services for parents about how to parent following separation.
- A consideration of the emotional state of the parents and the impact this has on their parenting decisions.
- A multi-disciplinary response, involving therapists, parenting specialists, mediators and legal services. These do not form part of the administration of justice and currently there is no framework for the provision of suitable services, clearly signposted and accessible to all. “
I really like the reference to the Welsh Government’s Families Division, focussing on joined up thinking on the provisions for children and families. The suggestion is that we have a family lead in the English Government but I would really like to see a department set up for children and families. At the moment, we straddle several departments – DWP, HMCTS and Ministry of Justice. (Try herding that lot!)
I like the idea of two possible pathways:
- The safety pathway – those needing safety to be immediately signposted to appropriate legal and other support.
- The cooperative parenting pathway – parents to be supported in understanding the long-term needs of the child and offered options for resolving issues with the other parent. The majority of families will come under this pathway and will get the help that I think would be more useful to them.
The report is lengthy but to quote the President at the launch event ‘it is a page turner’ and ‘exciting’. I really recommend the report for a read through and for you to join the conversation.