Advice For Families

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 How Divorce Affects Children


Anyone going through a divorce or relationship breakdown will understand how intensely stressful it can be, it is also extremely stressful for any children, regardless of their age, who are caught up in the adult problems. Ensuring that the children are given the right level of unbiased emotional support during this time can be difficult and it falls to the parents and close relatives to provide it.

Children will experience a range of emotions including feeling vulnerable, a sense of loss, grief, anger and a general sense of having no power to help or change things.

I consider that the best thing that parents going through divorce can do for their children is to maintain a civil relationship, especially when it comes to making decisions about their children.
The children will take their lead from their parents. If the parents adjust well then there is a much better chance that the children will follow their example.

Custody battles indicate a poor adult adjustment and as these battles rage the children will experience a lower level of contact to one or both of their parents, and even if there is plenty of contact this will be tainted with the child having to balance the loyalty to each parent.

Abilene counsellor Marc Orner said.

"The parents don't need to poison the well, so to speak, they don't need to talk bad about each other to try to get the child on their side."

One of the more prominent emotions dealt with by those who counsel children through divorce is guilt.

Children are egocentric, so it's natural for them to think the divorce was about them or that they are to blame. Although each child will cope with the problems in their own way age and parenting ability will either help or hinder the progress.

Possible effects at developmental stages:

Age 3-5 Regression to previously attained milestones. Disturbed sleep patterns and separation loss.

Age 6-8 Open grieving for the absent parent and loss of the family structure often with fantasies about the parents getting ‘back-together’ and a ‘happy ending’. They have difficulty coming to terms with the permanency of divorce.

Age 8-11 Anger derived from a feeling of powerlessness. Children at this stage of development are easily influenced and more likely to be involved by ‘Parental Alienation’ resulting in a ‘bad’ parent, ‘good’ parent belief. Many children in this age group take on the role of ‘little parent’, looking after their unhappy family members including mum and dad.

Age 12-18 Adolescents is a difficult time without family upheaval. Depression often with violent outbursts and a blame culture can be expected. These children may ‘judge’ their parents in a moralistic way, inappropriately pointing out each of their parent’s perceived negative ‘contributions’ to the family breakdown. 

Ideally parents would work together to ensure a positive transition for their children from the current family to the new family dimension, whatever that may be. 

Unfortunately, adults do not always act in an adult, responsible manner especially when they are under emotional pressure. Many parents have themselves had a difficult childhood with poor parenting models and do not have the life-skills to keep their children’s needs in positive focus.

This is where experts and dedicated professionals can help. Parents should be encouraged to seek help and not feel that they are failing or view it as an admission that they are poor parents. Organisations like a website dedicated to helping parents and children to work through family break-down and maintaining contact/access to the absent parent have a great deal of experience and can help to keep the parents focussed on the needs of their children.

As a starting point parents should:
Reassure the children that they are not the reason for the problems and           that they are not responsible for their parent’s difficulties.
Recognise that the children will experience many emotional difficulties               and will not necessarily have the experience to handle their emotions.
Children will need a lot of un-reserved love from all of the adults, including         grandparents and other close family members as they move through the           feelings of loss and grief.
Do not think that the older the child, the better they will cope or that they             do not need as much support, age does not negate the pain.
Be consistent and considered.
Avoid discussing the adult issues in front of the children, but do keep                 them informed. This should be age appropriate and definitely not a place         to ‘offload’ the adult frustrations or hurt.

Copyright 2011 Kenn Griffiths, All Rights Reserved.


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Going to Court is a daunting prospect even when you have to attend for your work. As a Child Contact Consultant I spend a lot of my time in Court and know exactly what is expected of me but I still feel nervous when I go before the bench.

So what is expected of the parents? I found this really useful guide in one of my old files but can’t for the life of me remember where it actually came from? Nevertheless it’s a valuable resource so I’m sure no one will mind my sharing it with you.

Before applying for an order the court expects you to have thought through a couple of things beforehand:

  • As parents, you share responsibility for your children and have a duty to talk to each other and make every effort to agree about how you will bring them up;
  • Even when you separate this duty continues.
  • Try to agree the arrangements for your child. If talking to each other is difficult, ask for help. Trained mediators can help you to talk to each other and find solutions, even when things are hard.
  • If you cannot agree you can ask the court to decide for you. The law says that the court must always put the welfare of your child first. What you want may not be the best thing for your child. The court has to put your child first, however hard that is for the adults.
  • Experience suggests that court-imposed order work less well than agreements made between you as parents.

The court therefore expects you to do what is best for your child:

  • Encourage your child to have a good relationship with both of you.
  • Try to have a good enough relationship with each other as parents, even though you are no longer together as a couple.
  • Arrange for your child to spend time with each of you.

Remember, the court expects you to do what is best for your child even when you find that difficult:

  • It is the law that a child has a right to regular personal contact with both parents unless there is a very good reason to the contrary. Denial of contact is very unusual and in most cases contact will be frequent and substantial.
  • The court may deny contact if it is satisfied that your child’s safety is at risk.
  • Sometimes a parent stops contact because she/he feels she/he is not getting enough money from the absent parent to look after the child. This is not a reason to stop contact.

Your child needs to:

  • Understand what is happening to their family. It is your job to explain.
  • Have a loving, open relationship with both parents. It is your job to encourage this. You may be separating from each other, but your child needs to know that he/she is not being separated from either of you.
  • Show love, affection and respect for both parents.

Your child should not be made to:

  • Take the blame for the break-up.
  • Hear you running down the other parent (or anyone else involved).
  • Turn against the other parent because they think that is what you want.

You can help your child:

  • Think about what he or she feels about the break-up.
  • Listen to what your child has to say:
    • About how she/he is feeling
    • About what he/she thinks about any arrangements that have to be made.
  • Try to agree arrangements for your child (including contact/visitation or residence) with the other parent.
  • Talk to the other parent openly, honestly and respectfully.
  • Explain your point of view to the other parent so that you don’t misunderstand each other.
  • Draw up a plan as to how you will share responsibility for your child.
  • When you have different ideas from the other parent, do not talk about it when the children are with you.

If you want to change agreed arrangements (such as where the child lives or goes to school):

  • Make sure the other parent agrees.
  • If you cannot agree, go to mediation.
  • If you still cannot agree, apply to the court.

If there is a court order in place:

  • You must do what the court order says, even if you don’t agree with it. If you want to do something different you have to apply to the court to have the court order varied or discharged.’


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In lots of children and family work the word attachment comes up. Attachment theory focusses on how children form a bond with their primary care giver and the influence it has on the child's emotional development, growth into adulthood and parenthood. Half of all children show their first specific attachment between the ages of 6-8 months, developing a fear of strangers and then attaching to other key figures afterwards.


Parent separation is never easy and conflict is often a long and protracted 'eggshell' of a route. You can minimise the conflict if you can continue to communicate with the other 'side'. That's easier said than done I know but there are a couple of simple rules that often help the first is:



  1. Put the adult relationship on a business-like footing. Keeping it business-like means that you can avoid the personal issues that are the 'powder keg' to negative communication. You have to be prepared to put your emotions to one side and keep to the agreed contact schedule. Keeping it business-like means having an agreement and both parents should enter into a parenting plan. This should be written down and take into account all of the day to day decisions about the children and the contact arrangements, for example, there may be difficulties in the handover, the contract should have in it an agreed handover procedure, maybe picking up and dropping off at a neutral venue. In any event keep it in mind that the kids should come first, always!
  2. Communicate with confidence Research shows that more than 50% of a conversation is non-verbal, the way we bodily present ourselves, facial expression, invading people's space. Keep your manner upbeat, but not arrogant. Avoid reacting on the other parent's negative non-verbal communication. You've had a relationship; you know the 'looks' that stir your temper. Don't react, keep your own council and get on with the job of looking after your children. Think before you speak tone of voice accounts for another 40% of communication. Leaving only 10% of the words. Not much left after you've said hello and goodbye, better keeping it to that then. Oh, and don't use the kids to pass messages.
  3. Work on conflict resolution keep it reasonable, even if you think the other side aren't. Two being unreasonable means conflict and conflict and conflict etc. etc. There has to be one of you who actually takes responsibility for working through the difficulties with resolution as the goal. That doesn't mean your way is the only way. It means taking account of the other person's thoughts and position. No matter what, do not place the blame on the other parent, don't criticise and don't fall into the 'I have to win' trap. There are no real winners in separation. There are losers, often the kids! Think about it. They are precious and probably hurting.

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You know the reasons why you are no longer a couple. You know the problems you've had and the unhappiness that goes with ending a relationship.

The kids don't, or shouldn't, but they may think that it is their fault. You need to make sure that you let them know that it is definitely not their fault. Just telling them this may not be enough so you and the 'other-half' should talk about this together with the kids. Even then there will be areas of confusion. The kids need to know what will happen. Tell them that you both still love them, tell them who they are going to live with and what the contact arrangements are for the absent parent. Explain that your anger is about sadness and the difficulties between the adults, not about them. Tell them about the future of the family pets. They may not be able to tell you how they feel. Give them a lifeline by putting them in touch with a safe, unbiased member of the family or close friend. Change is not easy but with understanding, children will find that things get better over time. And don't forget to give them lots of hugs, no matter how old they are!

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Q. What makes a bad parent?

A. A bad parent!!!!

Being a mother or father is a natural function but parenting is certainly not. What makes a parent is, a parent. Simple! Parents always get things wrong, that's the nature of the beast. But generally most parents do a good job. If they have managed to get to adulthood without too many poor parenting episodes themselves then they will have a good chance of transferring the 'good bits' to their own parenting style. But what if we never had that opportunity? What if our own parents were dysfunctional, what skills would we learn? We'd probably be street wise. We'd probably have a good sense of self-preservation. But these 'skills' are often in conflict with good parenting. Giving your child unconditional love, putting them before you, ensuring that they are safe and well, introducing them to society's rules, these are the basis of good consistent parenting. Any decent social work assessment would quickly show whether or not a mother or father has the capacity to parent. Where there is a lack of capacity there should be a further assessment to decide whether or not some social work intervention would improve that capacity. Where it can not then the children should be removed and put with parents who can offer them a decent opportunity to get to adulthood with the minimum of difficulties. Leaving children in dysfunctional families can only lead to more poor parenting. It's dangerous!

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Assertive Communication

Quite often people view being assertive as winning, being more aggressive than their opponent and forcing their opinion on them.

In the 80’s a sports journalist said:-

‘……. to learn the essential difference between aggression, which is to demolish and destroy, and assertion which is to overcome or triumph over opposition including oneself. Aggression can lead to personal demolition.’

Aggression comes from within. The need for its use may well be externally influenced but the reaction is very definitely an internal reaction.

Faced with an unpleasant, aggressive or violent incident the body’s reaction is to enter into the fight or flight mode. Before you know it you are reacting without considering the actions. It’s difficult to stop reacting long enough to allow you the time to adopt the most appropriate action for the situation.

To get the best out of the situation you need to control your reactions and use behaviour that will help the situation and stop it from becoming a negative interaction.

Positive communication in all aspects of your life can be the outcome if you take the time to learn and practice the technique of assertive interaction.

‘Learning and practicing assertive techniques can give freedom and strength. Although it is not a panacea it is to be recommended for everyone…’ Diane Lamplugh.

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Good parenting during these emotional times can be difficult but the children’s needs have to be kept in the forefront of adult thinking. Parents should make sure that the children are protected from hearing or seeing the harmful effects of conflicts as well as protecting them from any physical abuse.

Parents who put their children’s needs first take the time to talk through the best way of dealing with contact to the absent parent. A Parenting Plan can help to focus the discussion and does allow both parents the opportunity to work through possible future problems and how best to deal with them.

Talk Radio Europe

Click above to hear our Child Protection expert Kenn Griffiths gives his specialist opinion on the relevance of married parents to young offenders in an interview on Radio Europe.

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The best way of communicating with children is to enjoy communicating with them. If a parent or carer prefers not to communicate the child will become frustrated and learn behaviours that force the parent to communicate. Often this is accomplished by poor behaviour, as the child quickly learns that negative behaviour will gain a response sooner or later. The parent’s reaction may well be one of anger and aggression. This reaction will not be good for the future relationship but does give the child a sense of engagement there and then. No matter how angry or aggressive the parent becomes the child will continue to get a response by behaving badly.

“Ideally the care and development of a child should be placed within the context of a loving, caring family background. All too often this is not achieved; not because of a lack of finance but because of a lack of knowledge, common sense and motivation.” (Valda Reynolds

Childhood is a time of new and mixed emotions ranging from happiness and achievement to sadness and loss. How children deal with these and develop coping strategies is very much down to the parent’s own attitudes and beliefs. Imagine being a child, coping for the first time with loss and not being able to communicate with and share the experience with a loving parent. It’s not difficult to see how a child could internalise the unresolved hurt, that later leads to poor coping skills and the possibility of delinquent behaviour in adolescence and beyond.

Childhood is a time for character building, a time of innocence, irresponsibility, a need for peers and relationships. Children have a natural thirst for adventure, exploration and knowledge. Trying to fulfill their needs with computer games will develop a distorted set of values and perceptions. Parents who can’t be bothered to engage their children with physical play and constructive adventures should not be allowed to parent. They are putting their children at risk by not giving them the opportunity to develop properly. They are, in fact, abusing their children.

Good parenting is about engaging with the child from the very second they are born. Actually, I would advocate talking to the child even before birth. Parenting is unfamiliar territory. There is a need to quickly agree what is acceptable behaviour and what is not. Acceptable behaviour must be encouraged by constant positive feedback. All too often when a child is playing quietly the parent leaves them alone, hardly a word is spoken. Good parenting recognises the need for a child to develop their imagination by self play but the child needs to know that the parent is still aware of them and interested in them. There is a need to help build a child’s self-esteem. Tell them when they doing good things whether you are involved in the activity or not. Tell them how proud you are of them and reinforce good, positive behaviour with smiles and happy expressions. When unacceptable behaviour is displayed tell them about it at the outset, do not let it develop to the point where they get on your nerves so much that your reaction is one of anger and aggression. If you are shouting you have lost! Let them know in a calm manner that their behaviour is not acceptable and tell them how they can get back on the right track. If needs be, keep your responses to a minimum so that that child has to alter the behaviour to gain a positive response from you. Make sure that you start the positive responses at every step back to acceptable behaviour no matter how small the step. Be consistent in your approach. Allowing a period of poor behaviour before intervention will lead to mix messaging and acceleration.

Constructing and sharing adventures with your child from the very beginning is the best way to develop good quality communication that will last a lifetime and pay dividends when the going gets tough from the terrible twos to the teenage crises and beyond.

Good adventures should have an element of excitement and danger that you have risk assessed and have some control over. Children who are excited and feel a sense of mild danger will naturally look to you for support, guidance and safety. There you have it! You are now building their trust and positively developing their self-esteem. The activity is the vehicle, communication is the tool and a good strong, enduring bond is the outcome. Your kids will look up to you, trust you, and mutual respect will develop. The more adventures you share the better the relationship the better the communication.

Choose your adventures carefully. The impact of an adventure should make a lasting impression. It will help to positively shape the pattern of your child’s life. Adventures don’t have to be expeditions to remote areas of the world. A trip to the park can be just as valuable. Before you go, think about what you are going to do. You may decide to have a fishing trip, cook a simple lunch on a camping stove or learn about the habitat of the local wildlife. Whatever you decide make sure that you properly plan the trip to the last detail; build in contingencies for every possible event. Planning should include the children. Let them know what’s on offer and encourage them to take some responsibility. Get them to think about the activity, the route, equipment, timing and weather. They need to understand that the adventure isn’t over until after the clearing up and packing away is complete. Encourage them to keep a log and scrapbook of adventures. All of this needs good communication skills both yours and theirs.

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Divorce can be a very difficult time even when we know that it’s the best way forward. Trying to make positive decisions when you are surrounded by negative emotions can be a recipe for disaster. Yet there is an expectation that decisions will be made that will have a lasting effect not least on the children, especially if the parents can’t agree about what’s best for them.

The starting point has to be to make sure that the children don’t take on the adult issues and don’t feel that they are responsible for the ‘break up’.

All too often disputes involving the children go to Court. The very term ‘Court’ is daunting and can escalate the anxiety surrounding the adults and children. It is very important from the outset to make every one aware that the Court is not a criminal Court; it is a Family Court and does not have the same powers or ethos as a criminal Court.

At Court the Judge, or Magistrate in family proceedings, listens to everyone’s views and then has the task of deciding about important decisions. These are usually to do with where the child will live and what type of contact or access arrangements are best for them. On occasions children can attend at Court and make their views known but in most cases the child’s wishes and feelings are made known to the Court by way of a report compiled by a professional court advisor, a qualified social worker employed by the Government’s Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS), in some cases the Court will appoint an independent social worker or, where the family are known to the Local Authority, one of their social workers may be given the responsibility to prepare a report. No matter who is appointed the work they should carry out is the same. There is an expectation that the child’s wishes and feelings will be sought and this means spending time with the children and getting to know them. The reporter should also be available to help the child to understand what is happening. The child should be encouraged to talk openly about what they would like to happen and their views should then be properly reported to the Court. Not all children are able to give their views and so workers must ensure that they bring in other professionals to help with communication or to understand any special needs. The very process of doing this work can help the parents to understand that they have to put their child before themselves and competent reporters will spend time with all of the important people in the child’s life in an effort to get everyone working together in the child’s best interests.

The best outcome would be that everyone involved agree. But, where this is not achieved the Judge will decide what is best.

So, who ever has the responsibility for the report, will:

  • Listen to the child and record the child’s wishes and feelings
  • Interview everyone who is important in the child’s life and welfare, this can include teachers, extended family members and the family GP
  • Explain the Court and its purpose in easily understandable, age appropriate language
  • Prepare a report that reflects everyone’s positions and share that report before the Court hearing so that those involved have the chance to read the report, its conclusions and recommendations and seek legal advice especially if they do not agree with the outcome

The Child has a right to:

  • See a CAFCASS worker or another professional who will listen to the child and tell the Court what the child   wants
  • Visit the Court in person and tell the Judge what they want
  • Know what has been said and reported
  • Be kept informed about the case and the progression
  • Know what the decisions of the Court are and why those decisions were made
  • Complain

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Child Protection Expert Kenn Griffiths writes:

Relationship break down doesn’t happen overnight it is usually the result of a long unhappy period that quite often includes the months of pregnancy.

Increasingly, especially in Western society, relief from life’s stress comes from drowning the sorrows with alcohol. It doesn’t work of course but that’s beside the point. People think it does and so the self abuse of copious amounts of wine, sprits and beers will continue.

Although many pregnant women give up drinking many more don’t. They try to cut down but then the need to ‘feel better’ about their lot in life drives them back to alcohol.

In many parts of the world authorities are tackling what they believe.

Is one of the main reasons for the increase in children being born with learning difficulties, hyperactivity, poor memory and speech difficulties. These difficulties are collectively referred to as Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). According to The National Organisation for Foetal Alcohol Syndrome – UK, this is such a well recognised condition in the rest of the world that there are over 250,000 existing websites on the subject (if you are searching you will need to use the international spelling of ‘Fetal’).



  • Alcohol can cause more damage to an unborn baby than any other drug.
  • FAS is one of the leading known causes of mental retardation.
  • FAS can cause serious lifelong social and behavioural problems.
  • FAS and alcohol related birth defects are 100% preventable if no alcohol is consumed during pregnancy.
  • There is no safe level of alcohol during pregnancy.


If you have any specific concerns do get in touch with our experts:

My Child Contact

Email :
Helpline: Freephone 0800 0283163

The National Organisation for Foetal Alcohol Syndrome – UK

Helpline: 0870 0333 700

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Child Protection Expert Kenn Griffiths writes:

The news that every agency is to blame for Baby Peter’s death leads me to ask a simple question. Where was the lead agency in this case? In every child protection case, one agency should take responsibility for sharing information effectively between all agencies, and it’s usually the local authority. Without communication and coordination, social workers are unlikely to gain access at the right time, or find themselves on the front line, without the knowledge they need.

I’m sure that every frontline member of staff, from the police to the social worker, who came into contact with Baby Peter, knows that more could have been done. But how can one person make up for the lack of communication that has plagued this case? I believe strongly that the local authority should have been responsible and that without their leadership, it was impossible to protect Baby Peter.

Working alone, many social workers knock on a door and fear for their own safety when the door is answered. No-one takes on this type of work without a strong personal motivation to help others, but even this can be superseded if a social worker is faced with danger and threats to their personal safety. Often the fear takes over and they can fail to challenge the family of the child effectively enough. Is this the right atmosphere in which to make profound and emotive decisions about a child’s welfare?

It’s clear that changes are needed. A central place for this sensitive information to be stored, shared and accessed is essential, and the Government urgently needs to find an effective solution. Social workers should no longer be handling these cases alone – it should be standard practice for two people to work on a case, providing the support they need to make the most appropriate judgements in these difficult, disturbing and challenging cases.

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Divorce, Separation and Adoption

Just imagine going through a change in family structure in a positive way and engaging all the family members, including the children, in meaningful and constructive talks. How good would that be? Having enough confidence to ‘hold your hands up’ to a relationship break down without blaming each other or arguing about who was in the right and the wrong, mutually agreeing the best way forward and ensuring that the children get to see both parents and enjoy the new relationships they are introduced to.

Do you think this is impossible? Well, it’s not. Not all divorces and separations end in protracted legal battles. A great many never get any where near a court. Well balanced adults do take the time to properly plan their family change. So why not you!

Kenn Griffiths Radio Stoke Barnardos Statement

Click above to hear Child Protection Expert Kenn Griffiths expert views on Barnardos Statement that vulnerable children are being left in limbo by the court system.

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