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About this book

Supporting children and families through separation and divorce is a major area of concern in contemporary society. However, it is sometimes hard for those professionals who are helping families to hear the `voice' of the child in this process. Writing from their wide experience as clinicians working with children and families, Emilia Dowling and Gill Gorell Barnes set out in this book to address this gap, and allow the child to be heard.
Working with Children and Parents through Separation and Divorce combines research with clinical and practical approaches to working with families going through stressful changes linked to separation or divorce. Attention is given to the wider context of children's lives with the implications for general practice, schools and other services addressed in special chapters. A focused approach to divorce related problems that takes each family member's view into account is illustrated. Combining individual and family work helps parents to resolve difficulties, enabling children troubled by parental separation to progress with their own lives.
This book is essential reading for `front line' professionals as well as specialists who encounter children and families going through this life transition in the course of their work.

Table of Contents

Introduction the Changing Lives of Children: Working with Families Through Separation and Divorce

Abstract
Over the last two decades family life in westernised countries has undergone fundamental and dramatic changes. The increase in the number of divorces, single parents and reconstituted families has resulted in a significant number of children growing up in different family configurations from that of the traditional nuclear family. According to recent research (Rodgers and Pryor, 1998, p. 4) 'On recent trends it is estimated that 19% of children born to married couples will experience parental divorce by the age of ten and 28% by age sixteen. However, these figures may underestimate the rate of family dissolution, since they do not include the separation of cohabiting parents.’
Emilia Dowling, Gill Gorell Barnes

1. Family Change and Children’s Anxieties

Abstract
Family forms are changing, and diversity in family life is increasing. The idea of marriage as a permanent institution which allows children to look forward to spending their childhood within the same household has also changed; divorce becoming a reality in the lives of one in 20 children before they are four years old and one in four children under 16. Divorce has also therefore become an anxiety within the minds of many children whose parents are together, the wider experience of family life learnt through school and among friends creating ideas about the realities divorce entails and provoking anxieties about what might happen to their own family lives. In this book we hope to address some of the realities experienced by children as the family move through changes and transitions following the parental decision to divorce, anxieties about what will happen to them, to their brothers or sisters, to their mothers or fathers or pets in both the short term and the long term; anxieties about home, possible changes of school and sports teams and of friends, the changing fabric of everyday life.
Emilia Dowling, Gill Gorell Barnes

2. Theoretical Framework: Transitions and Risk Factors in Separation and Divorce

Abstract
The aim of this chapter is to explore how children develop through the various stages of the family life-cycle, and how these processes are affected by the experience of a parental divorce. Our ideas are based on the premise that growth and development only acquire meaning in a given context. If children grow up in an environment where not only their basic physical needs but also their emotional needs are met, they will develop secure attachments to their care-givers and gradually evolve a narrative about themselves as loveable and likeable which will form the basis of further positive relationships. We are concerned with examining the impact that separation and divorce has on children at different developmental stages.
Emilia Dowling, Gill Gorell Barnes

3. Families Going through the Transitions of Divorce: Research Focus on a Clinical Sample

Abstract
In this chapter we will introduce the families with whom we have worked over the last five years in the divorce research project, to show some of the complexities of life experience with which divorce and separation processes can be interwoven. The work described took place as part of a child and family mental health service in inner London. We have selected certain aspects of family culture, structure and organisational arrangements for all the families we have seen, and against this background we will set the clinical dilemmas and approaches discussed in Chapters 4 and 5.
Emilia Dowling, Gill Gorell Barnes

4. Working with Parents and their Children: A Focus on Parents

Abstract
As the family begins to engage with the experience of separation and change, each person from their different position and role experiences individual stress, in addition to the collective stress that affects everyone. In recognising the separate stresses that led to separate stories we found it useful to work with individual family members as well as different combinations of family relationships. The goals of helping the parents move forward with their changing relationship in ways that took a positive account of the children’s point of view remained central. However, allowing individuals to tell the story of the lead-up to the present situation from their point of view, without the editing that the presence of other family members might incur, became an essential part of the work. Where the divorce involved other sexual liaisons this process always involved a series of questions around ’how much should I/we tell the children’ but similar concerns about parent/child boundaries arose in relation to issues like violence, sexual dissatisfaction, and worries such as debt or mental illness, from which parents felt children should be protected. As children become entangled with parental disputes and loyalty issues it also proved useful to see different children with a particular parent to free them from some of the conflicted stories in which they were caught up, or to enlarge the information from which they had made deductions that were wrong and which were causing them unnecessary anxiety.
Emilia Dowling, Gill Gorell Barnes

5. The Children’s Perspective: Enabling the Child’s Voice to be Heard

Abstract
Divorce and separation are a difficult transition and very often the parents find themselves at a loss about how to explain to the children how the break-up of the marriage has come about. The children will have many questions, and in the absence of an explanation will develop their own ideas about what happened. These unfortunately may include blaming themselves or seeing themselves as somehow contributing to the family break-up.
Emilia Dowling, Gill Gorell Barnes

6. Beyond Rational Control: Anger, Violence and Mental Illness

Abstract
Divorce and separation are a difficult transition and very often the parents find themselves at a loss about how to explain to the children how the break-up of the marriage has come about. The children will have many questions, and in the absence of an explanation will develop their own ideas about what happened. These unfortunately may include blaming themselves or seeing themselves as somehow contributing to the family break-up.
Emilia Dowling, Gill Gorell Barnes

7. Family Reordering: New Households and New Patterns of Parenting

Abstract
In this chapter we consider some of the ways in which reordered families interrelate both practically and emotionally with the families that have preceded them and continue to coexist in different forms alongside them. Reordered families usually bring previous baggage with them, losses of former close relationships, hurt, jealousy and disappointment, many of the stressful effects of transitions still present in current lives. These stresses need to be taken into account by parents in planning the management of reorganised family life, and time needs to be set aside for talking about the hopes and plans for the future. Thought also needs to be given to the difficulty many children have in coming to terms with living in close proximity with strange adults, an issue that often escapes attention at a time of complex family change.
Emilia Dowling, Gill Gorell Barnes

8. The School: A Secure Base?

Abstract
The relationship between families and schools spans a considerable period of the family life-cycle (Dowling and Osborne,1994). During this period the teachers are entrusted with responsibility for the children, but will have varying degrees of knowledge about events at home which are affecting the children’s development and state of mind. Considerable responsibility can be placed on teachers when the family is in crisis, although they are often not prepared for it. In the face of the increasing demise of local services, parents tend to use the school as the first port of call to share family crises and sometimes the expectations placed on teachers far exceed their ability to respond to parents in distress. (Personal communication from a primary headteacher.)
Emilia Dowling, Gill Gorell Barnes

9. Divorce and Primary Health Care

Abstract
General practitioners are at the front-line of the primary care service. Their relationship with patients and their families may span across the family life-cycle, and in the more stable communities there probably will be an intergenerational relationship. They are therefore more likely than any other professional to hear about — and intervene — when a family transition occurs. The distress, upheaval and often conflict-laden situation surrounding the process of separation or divorce may not be, in the eyes of the parents, ‘serious’ enough to warrant a referral to what in the NHS current jargon is defined as ‘secondary’ services — that is, adult or child and adolescent mental health services. However, many will feel able and willing to talk to their GP about issues affecting their family life and seek advice, sympathy or simply a listening ear.
Emilia Dowling, Gill Gorell Barnes

10. Broadening the Context: Applications in Different Professional Contexts

Abstract
Throughout this book we have examined the conditions under which children may be particularly vulnerable, and we have looked at the risks as well as the protective factors that will promote resilience in children and families. Our work has been done in the context of a multidisciplinary Child and Family Mental Health Service. In this chapter we consider how a range of professionals who are likely to come into contact with children going through the family transitions following separation and divorce can bear in mind the dilemmas we have described as these relate to their own work. We have focused in particular on those who are likely to work directly with children as they go through divorce and family change. We are aware of the many other professionals whose contact with the family or focus of work may be different, who will nonetheless be working with children for whom divorce and family reordering is a large part of their childhood experience. The problems for which they are referred may not be directly connected to separation issues by the referring person. However, it is important for professionals to bear these issues in mind and to ask about them when considering what help to offer. Similarly, professionals working with adults, particularly in the social services and mental health field, will need to remember the relevance of divorce to their clients’ experience, or to the experience of their clients’ children.
Emilia Dowling, Gill Gorell Barnes
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