Richard Meier, policy and projects manager at Tavistock Relationships, talks about the work the charity is doing, funded by BBC Children in Need, to support young people experiencing mental health problems as a result of inter-parental conflict
Last November, we were delighted to receive funding from BBC Children in Need to deliver therapeutic support to separated parents, where their conflict is affecting the mental health of their child.
We know that inter-parental conflict damages children. What we do in our couple and co-parenting relationships affects the success of our children in every area of their life.
‘Family relationships’ are the second most common reason why children contact ChildLine1, and are also the most commonly cited presenting problem in young people’s IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) NHS services2.
We know that couple therapy is extremely effective in reducing inter-parental conflict. And nearly a year into our three-year Children in Need project, we are receiving regular requests from Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) practitioners calling for access to couple therapy within their service.
We would like more pilots of work with parents to be trialled in CAMHS, Child Well-being Services and Early Help departments. In asking for this, we echo calls made by more than 60 MPs in the Strengthening Family Manifesto published in 20163.
As one of the children who is receiving support through our Children in Need programme put it: “My parents have been separated for a long time. I’ve never really seen them speak to each other, or be in the same room as each other.
“Sometimes my Mum speaks badly about my Dad in front of me, and he does the same about her. All I want to do is to be able to speak to my parents openly and honestly. It’s hard to do so when they are too busy speaking badly about each other.
“I feel like I’m stuck between two families. And I’m a part of neither of them.”
The young people receiving peer mentoring with Fitzrovia Youth in Action, as part of this project, have the following advice for separated parents who are experiencing difficulties in communicating and co-parenting:
1. Address the issues between you – you need to be in the same room as each other to be able to co-parent efficiently. Not being in the same room as your child’s parent puts your child in an uncomfortable and unfair position.
2. Don’t speak badly of the other parent in front of your child – it is important that your child isn’t put in between the arguments you and their other parent have. It is unfair and unkind to expect your child to listen to you speak badly of their parent – they do not want to defend their parent to another parent.
3. Communicate with your child – when parents break up, it is of course hard on you as parents. But it also affects your child. Lots of children feel as if it’s their fault, even though we know it isn’t. Speak to your child, tell them that it’s not their fault. And most importantly, listen to their feelings.
4. Remind your child that you love them
5. Find support for yourself – a break up is difficult. If you find you are struggling with coping, there are support groups in lots of different forms, maybe try therapy or research online for what might help.
For more information about the support provided by Tavistock Relationships, services, including help with relationships and family life, visit our services page.or call us on 020 7380 1960.
1. NSPCC, 2018
2. In a sample of over 42,000 children being seen across 75 young people’s IAPT services, family relationships was cited by professionals in 52% of cases. Wolpert, M. (2017) Outcomes for children and young people seen in specialist mental health services.
3. Strengthening Families Manifesto https://www.strengtheningfamiliesmanifesto.com/assets/Family_Manifesto.pd