The impact of separation on children and young people is a major concern for parents in Northern Ireland. Local parenting support charity say separation issues are the single most common cause for calls to the Regional Parenting Helpline.
Hundreds of parents contact Parenting NI every year seeking support with separation, last year calls about separation and contact issues accounted for around 22% of all calls to the charity.
Parental separation and divorce is an increasingly common experience for adults and children. In 2016 Northern Ireland had 2,572 divorces which involved 1,935 children and young people aged 0-15. This is an increase on statistics from 2015 and does not account for a large number of parental separations where the parents never married.
Parenting NI are highlighting the need for parenting support to help parents manage separation effectively to reduce the impact on children and young people. Charlene Brooks, Chief Executive at Parenting NI, explains,
“Parenting NI understand that parents separate for many reasons and that it is one of the most high stress and difficult situations families experience. Despite the large number of children and young people affected, and the considerable impact on families and the state, there is a clear lack of policy to help support parents in order for them to be able to put their children and young people’s needs first.”
Charlene suggests there is an urgent need for policy makers to keep pace with the realities of this issue to ensure better outcomes for children and their families in Northern Ireland. In the consultation for the as-yet unpublished Children and Young People Strategy 2017-2027, family breakdown and parental separation is mentioned as an issue but gives minimal indication as to how to support parents to minimize its impact. Parenting NI say this is not good enough,
“Research is very clear that a poorly managed, high conflict separation is decidedly damaging for children and young people, therefore support for parents in managing this tense and difficult time needs to be high on the agenda.
The child’s voice is often lost amongst legal proceedings and whilst The Review of Family Justice by Lord Justice Gillen last year was heartening, it is disappointing that we are still in political deadlock hindering its implementation for the benefit of families across Northern Ireland.”
Parenting NI has a Parenting Apart programme specifically designed and proven to successfully support parents who have separated or are separating. Given the amount of calls the Regional Parenting Helpline receives in relation to this issue this is a programme which is in high demand. However, due to a lack of funding the programme has not been readily available to parents.
In order to meet the demand, the charity will be delivering a free Parenting Apart workshop for parents in Belfast on Wednesday 7th March from 6 to 8pm. The workshop will explore the challenges of parental separation, consider the factors that affect a child’s ability to adjust to the circumstances and offers tips to help parents manage their separation and adapt to their changing role as a parent.