Written evidence submitted by Parenting Apart (CYP0065)




        There is strong evidence of the link between parental conflict and poor child outcomes.

        Children are most likely to have adverse effects upon their mental and emotional wellbeing when their parents' separation is conflictual, and communication about parenting has broken down.

        The current approach to working with parental conflict in separation is inadequate: it's not working for children and parents. The family justice system reports it is overwhelmed, and it is not delivering value for a large amount of public expenditure.

        Parenting Apart offers a programme based upon evidence, creating research about its effectiveness in changing children's outcomes. For every £1 spent delivering the programme, Parenting Apart delivers a broader return of £46.52

        Our programme works but would be best within an approach centred on the rights of children enshrined in The 1989 Children Act. Recognising the risk of conflict for children in need would promote the mental wellbeing of children.

        With 3.4m children in separated families, the APPG's desire to look at early intervention could support a new approach to a large group of children that at present get excluded from a process that delivers adversarial interventions centred around parents.

        APPG's support to move to a systemic approach based on children's rights would promote better mental and emotional wellbeing for many children and give their parents skills that deliver lifelong benefits.


Call for evidence


We are pleased to submit a strong case for better support to children's mental wellbeing when they become caught up in conflictual divorce and separation. Our submission addresses your terms of reference by considering:


"The wider changes needed in the system as a whole, and to what extent it should be reformed in favour of a model that focuses on early intervention in children and young people's mental health to prevent more severe illness developing."


As a country, we know that children face long term consequences when their parent's divorce becomes characterised by high degrees of conflict. Parenting Apart have designed ways to support parents and children to prevent this from happening. We hope that this country will reach a point where every child caught in a conflictual divorce or separation has the opportunity to benefit from the success of programmes that demonstrably improve their mental wellbeing.


The research consistently shows the adverse effects of conflict between parents in children. Parenting Apart is an offer to prevent and reduce the impact of these effects on children. Our interventions make things better for children immediately and create the conditions which allow for successful co-parenting for the rest of childhood.


Voices of experience


The Parenting Apart Programme offers a unique methodology supporting parents to achieve a positive working relationship after deciding to separate or divorce. Here are two voices belonging to parents who have experienced our programme:


"Our biggest issue was two children who were caught up in the middle of the separation, but fortunately, we both agreed early on that nothing else mattered only their health, happiness and general wellbeing.' (A Mother)


"…(we) are now communicating, and our boys appear to be unaffected by the huge changes in all our lives". (A Father)


Who we are


Parenting Apart Limited has been leading the way and has an impressive reputation for supporting and advising families. Our vision is to make evidence-based programmes available to every child in a conflictual divorce in the UK. We see this ambition as part of a comprehensive approach to supporting everyone caught up in divorce, which would see better access to information and mediation for all and specialist support programmes like Parenting Apart for complex needs.


We have three objectives:


1.      To directly support parents, and the emotional wellbeing of children, going through conflict, separation or divorce. To offer unique and individual advice and support that seeks to enable positive outcomes beneficial to the whole family whilst prioritising the children's emotional and physical wellbeing.


2.      To increase engagement with parents/carers to support their understanding of children and young people's health needs, particularly their emotional health & wellbeing / mental health.


3.      To support services by identifying families in conflict and facilitating the Parenting Apart Programme training to professionals who can use the programme within their service areas.


To avoid confusion, it is often helpful to be clear early what Parenting Apart is not:



conflictual situations, Parenting Apart would work best within a comprehensive approach to the needs of all parents and children going through separation and divorce.


The nature of mental wellbeing for children in conflictual divorce


Inter-parental conflict within families can impact children of all ages in a multitude of ways. Hostile exchanges between parents and the associated breakdown of communication have demonstrable negative impacts on children's current and future wellbeing.


Research shows that exposure to parental conflict is the most devastating effect of divorce on children's adjustment and wellbeing 1 It is also apparent in research that this exposure to conflict heightens the chance of behavioural, social, and academic problems among children2


Research has documented that childhood trauma's adverse effects from parental divorce/separation are associated with an increased risk for child and adolescent adjustment problems. These might show as academic difficulties (e.g. poor performance and school absences ) or through disruptive behaviours (e.g. conduct and substance use issues).34 Children exposed to long-lasting strife between their parents after divorce are more depressed and show more psychological symptoms than children whose parents have experienced only minor levels of conflict5


In March 2016, the Early Intervention Foundation, in a collaboration led by Professor Gordon Harold from the University of Sussex, published a review looking into what works to enhance inter-parental relationships and improve children's outcomes.6This review again highlighted that the importance of the relationship between couples for children's psychological outcomes and long-term development is well established in scientific research.

The review summarised international evidence, which has shown that children are at an elevated risk for poor outcomes where they experience household conditions marked by frequent, intense and poorly resolved conflicts between parents.


These outcomes include:


  early attachment problems

  higher rates of anxiety, depression, aggression, conduct problems

  poor peer relationships

  reduced academic attainment and employability

1 Amato, P. R. (2001). Children of divorce in the 1990s: An update of the Amato and Keith (1991) meta- analysis. Journal of Family Psychology, 15(3), 355 doi:10.1037/0893-3200.15.3.355.

2 Kelly, J. B., & Emery, R. E. (2003). Children’s adjustment following divorce: Risk and resilience perspectives. Family Relations, 52(4), 352–362. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3729.2003.00352.x.

3 Dohoon L, McLanahan S. Am Sociol Rev 2015;80:738-63. [

4 van der Wal, R.C., Finkenauer, C. & Visser, M.M. Reconciling Mixed Findings on Children’s Adjustment Following High-Conflict Divorce. J Child Fam Stud 28, 468–478 (2019).

5 Kelly, J. B., & Emery, R. E. (2003). Op cit

6 EIF report 22 Mar 2016: What works to enhance interparental relationships and improve outcomes for children? Prof Gordon Harold, Dr Daniel Acquah, Haroon Chowdry and Ruth Sellers. Edited by Leon Feinstein


  heightened substance misuse and criminality

  future relationship breakdown and experience of domestic abuse

  poor physical health outcome

  adult psychiatric disorder and suicide


Consequently, one of the most challenging tasks for parents during and after divorce is establishing a high-quality co-parenting relationship based on reducing conflict and improving communication.



The numbers affected by parental conflict


The Family Justice Review 20117 highlighted the 500,000 children and adults who become involved each year in the family justice system at times of great stress and conflict.


According to the Family Solutions Group Report,8 48% of divorces in 2013 involved children less than 16 years old. Government statistics show approximately 2.4 million separated families, including 3.4 million children in 2017/18 in the UK. 9


Recent research on Relationship Breakdown10 confirms that high earners were 3.5 times more likely than the national average to experience relationship distress. This difference is thought to stem from work pressures and drives the need to find solutions that work for parents across all income groups.


About half of children whose parents separate do not have regular contact with the non- residential parent.


The need for change


The Family Justice Review 2011, described the system as one that deals with families' failure, parenting, and relationships. Whilst it accepted that the family justice system alone could not help all those failures, it acknowledged that:


"it must ensure it promotes the most positive or the least detrimental outcomes possible for all the children and families who need to use it because the repercussions can have wide- ranging and continuing effects not just for them, but for society more generally."11

7 Family Justice Review, Final Report, November 2011 https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/217343/f amily-justice-review-final-report.pdf

8 Report of the Family Solutions Group, p. 20 https://www.judiciary.uk/wpcontent/uploads/2020/11/FamilySolutionsGroupReport_WhatAboutMe_12Nove mber2020-2.pdf-final-2.pdf

9 UK Government, Estimates of the separated family population statistics: April 2014 to March 2018 https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/separated-families-population-statistics-april-2014-to-march- 2018/estimates-of-the-separated-family-population-statistics-april-2014-to-march-2018]

10 Howard Kennedy, Relationship Breakdown and the Workplace [accessed via: https://www.howardkennedy.com/en/latest/hot-topic/relationship-breakdown-and-the-workplace] 11 Family Justice Review, Final Report, November 2011


A decade later, the research evidence about the harm to children from adversarial parental separations has grown, but the design of services to respond is static. Parenting Apart has evolved its work during this period and would now welcome the support of the APPG to ensure that when parents separate, the children's mental health needs are met and supported. We believe this will be better for children and families and represent an effective use of public money.



What does the Parenting Apart Programme do?


The Parenting Apart Programme is a facilitated series of meetings held over an initial four- week period. It includes individual and joint face to face consultations, a personal bespoke Working Parents Agreement, review meetings, telephone support and continued advice and guidance through its duration.


The aims of the programme are to:


1.      To change parents' mindset to prioritise their children's needs and place them at the centre of all decision-making processes.

2.      Enable better communication between parents to create a more stable and sustainable parenting environment, which is emotionally beneficial to their children.

3.      Encourage parents to make their own decisions regarding future plans through the establishment of the Parent Working Agreement.


The evidence base behind the programme includes:


        Psychological research surrounding child and adolescent social, emotional and cognitive development

        Neuroscientific research in the field of Childhood Trauma and Neuro-development

        Research into Attachment Theory, Complex Developmental Trauma and Adverse Childhood Experiences

        The application of Conflict and Communication theories

        Evidence-based practice from the field of Couples and Family Therapy


Parenting Apart is not an approach for all parents: it is a method specifically for working with high levels of conflict and distress. Consequently, the model works alongside safeguarding children and complex court reporting.


Parenting Apart is not a mediation service: we want more separating parents to access mediation to provide earlier assistance to everyone and help identify any conflict at a much earlier stage. While it is a stand-alone programme for complex conflictual situations, Parenting Apart would work best within a comprehensive approach to the needs of all parents and children going through separation and divorce.


Our impact


Parenting Apart recognises that there is less research into what constitutes effective intervention whilst there is widespread evidence of the effects of conflict and separation. Parenting Apart agrees that:


"There is a need for interventions of demonstrated effectiveness to be developed, based on the best evidence available about what is needed to help children and their parents to cope with the changes occurring, to manage and cope with conflict and distress, to facilitate communication, and to move towards constructive new forms of cooperative parenting following the separation. The findings highlight the potential benefits of developing parenting programmes that are specifically targeted at supporting parents to manage the effects of family breakdown on themselves and their children." 12



Evidence matters to us: it shows in our programme's structure, and we want to evaluate our outcomes. We have researched our programme to date through actively engaging with Universities and research bodies.


An external evaluation carried out in January 2018, and a Social Impact Report conducted in 2019 concluded that evidence suggests that the Parenting Apart Programme:


a)  Improves communication between parents


b)   Promotes a child-centred approach by parents, in part through increasing the display of respectful behaviour of parents towards each other in front of their child(ren),


c)  Reduces the court process's length of time, which is vital since court proceedings can be highly traumatic and can cause a complete breakdown of communication between parents, which can have a significant emotional and mental impact on children.


d)   Gives parents back control and responsibility of making decisions about the future of their children.


e)  Supports the voice of the child throughout the process


f)    Supports parents and children in re-establishment of relationship through parental conflict13


Parenting Apart also worked with researchers to create a Social Return on Investment report that analysed the Parenting Apart Programme results from 2017-19, which calculated

£10.2m of social value. In the year in which the parents attend the programme, the social value delivered is over £4.65 million or £31,649 of social value per couple that separates or

12 Impact of Family Breakdown on Children’s Well-Being, Evidence Review Ann Mooney, Chris Oliver and Marjorie Smith Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London, 2009


divorces. Every £1 spent providing the Parenting Apart programme generated a Social Return On Investment of £46.52. These benefits arise from the child's voice being heard throughout, as parents place them at the heart of all decisions and take greater responsibility for making these decisions together.


During the research, 294 parents accessed the programme, and 85%   completed it. Of those who finished, 100% reported reduced stress and anxiety, 100% reported improved communication, and 45% declared improved mental wellbeing.


Parenting Apart has shown a determination to create evidence through practice: the debate that we need evidence about interventions to determine spend has led to more research confirming the harm happening to children from conflictual divorces. An argument that we hear too often about the need for evidence to choose the right intervention is a profound denial of the clear evidence of the risk of harm to children when parental conflict is a part of their separation.


Some countries have the completion of parenting programmes or plans as a mandatory requirement for those seeking to divorce or separate. There are increasing moves towards self-regulation of programmes in the UK, which has commenced in Wales. Parenting Apart would welcome similar actions in England as a step towards creating a better network that has a greater understanding of the range of services required to meet the different needs of parents and children.



Public and Policy Responses to children in divorce


There has been growing interest in alternative dispute resolution services rather than using the court service and legal profession, which is often a costly route to an unsatisfactory resolution. The 2011 Family Law Reform report stated that it 'was not convinced these resources are spent in the most efficient and effective way.' The Family Justice Reform Implementation Group is now designing a complete overhaul of the system. Still, the pace of reform within the justice system moves at a rate that is inconsistent with children's needs and a system that is increasingly clear about its inability to cope, let alone respond appropriately.


One consequence of the slow pace of judicial reform is the growing clarity from organisations like the Private Law Working Group and Parenting Apart was delighted to play a role in their report.14 The Family Solutions Group have set out how we might achieve change by titling to an approach that recognises the Children Act and is based upon children's rights.


The total annual cost to the taxpayer of family breakdown is now estimated to stand at £51 billion, up from £37 billion ten years ago.15



14 Report of the Private Law Working Group, The Time for Change, The Need for Change, The Case for Change, March 2020


Even though there is extensive evidence of the harm to children's wellbeing and the poor use of public money, the system-wide responses to date are piecemeal and inadequate.


There are some pointers and some superb projects that point towards a better approach:



1.      Family Justice reforms have suggested implementing Family Hubs as a central point to provide critical support and information for all families in the process of separating. The Hubs could also become contact centres for parents who require supervised interaction with their children and facilitate mediation services for couples in conflict. The #SortitOut campaign argues for a similar approach with relationship distress Touchpoints 16. These ideas remain mostly at the campaigning level, with some localised examples creating a support network around all parents beginning to separate.


2.      The DWP launched the Reducing Parental Conflict (RPC) programme in 2017 with up to £39 million over four years to fund projects delivered by local authorities. Of the 148 top tier local authorities in England, 145 have accessed strategic leadership grants to assess their ability to provide RPC programmes and embed the work within existing services.17 Parenting Apart has been part of some of these programmes, which enhance practitioners' skills within current service provision.


3.      In Wales, a recent Separating Families scoping study commissioned by the Welsh Government highlighted a real need for a 'Supporting Separating Families Alliance'. The Alliance would set a national strategy for adequate inter-parental conflict support (CASCADE, 2020).



Wider Service Reform


This country has disregarded the harm to children's mental health from conflictual separations and divorce for too long. Children face a lottery of interventions and gaps in services during the divorce process, and should they seek to recover from the harm done, face the lengthy waits for CAMHS services. With decreased court budgets and increases in Family Law applications, the family justice system is transparent that there is a need for systemic change and earlier interventions. The pace of change has been glacial despite the growth in evidence of harm and wasteful use of public resources at a time of scarcity.


Parenting Apart is clear that it is focussed upon a level of complexity of a conflict that characterises some separations but by no means all. We want to make sure that our programme is available to those children at risk of harm to their mental wellbeing, and this must sit within a comprehensive approach to the support made available to all parents.



16 #Sortitout Campaign: Family and Relationship Hubs Briefing Note

17 Centre for Social Justice, Fully Committed? p.51 : https://www.centreforsocialjustice.org.uk/wp- content/uploads/2020/11/CSJJ8330-Covid-19-Recovery-report-201116-WEB.final_.pdf


The limited support available for parents who are in conflict has led to a reliance on Family Law to resolve disputes. The majority of these families do not meet the eligibility criteria for publicly funded support. The lack of early intervention creates situations where reliance on very resource-intensive legal processes becomes the only avenue for inter-parental conflict mediation.


At present, essential services that have a core role in children's support also adopt the view that children in conflictual divorce are the Court's responsibility. For example:


1.      There is no consistent Public Health pathway. When public health needs assessments identify children's mental health, there is almost no assessment of parental conflict despite the considerable evidence base about its harmful effect.

2.      There is little sense of the use of the Children Act: children affected by conflict in divorce are children in need


Parenting Apart is impressed with the arguments put forward by the Family Solutions Group for:


"a much-needed societal shift, through public education and government support, away from what many parents still see as 'custody battles', to the long-term goal of cooperative parenting." 18


To achieve this, the FSG has set the objective to reach separating families before they turn to the law. Central to this is seeing the child's rights as centre stage where they should be the primary focus rather than the present position where children are 'mere secondary subjects of dispute resolution between their parents'.


The FSH set out a holistic support framework that promotes child welfare and a cooperative parenting approach. The scope of this would include:


        Access to information and direct services for children.

        Mechanisms for the child's voice to be heard when decisions that affect them are made

        Access to information and direct services for parents about how to parent after 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


This framework would create the basis for providing timely services, clearly signposted and accessible to all. The framework would be outside the current mindset that responsibility and services form part of the administration of justice.



18 Family Solutions Group, What about me?: Reframing Support for Families following Parental Separation, November 2020


Parenting Apart recently hosted a workshop to bring current partners together to improve our understanding of the current range of services and make us more effective in working together. APPG will be interested in:


        Current leaders of provision to children facing separation did not see the present position as representative of a system. They saw it as too fragmented.

        There is little focus on the needs of children

        Professionals who may see signs of parental conflict (for example, teachers) face a similar maze of complexity in getting early help to children and families.


Current partners share similar ambitions to parenting Apart to create a more comprehensive approach. Recognition of children in divorce as children in need would expedite this approach. The 1989 Children Act has much to commend it as an ambitious, rights-based approach to legislation. It is over thirty years since the law became centred upon core concepts about children's best interests and rights. We would seek the support of APPG in applying this to children in divorce.




There is strong evidence of the link between parental conflict and poor child outcomes. This evidence has been obscured by the UK's focus upon establishing evidence about the effectiveness of services to respond. Many of the services are currently at an early stage in establishing evidence, which means we don't yet know what impact they have on family outcomes – and child outcomes in particular.


The Early Intervention Foundation did establish that programmes can lower the risk of child distress and reduce the prolonged impact on emotional wellbeing (EIF, 2019). Therefore, early intervention is essential to address the unmet needs of children adversely affected by family conflict.


We believe that Parenting Apart has already set out an approach that is 'evidence creating'. We are committed to further developing learning about what works with parents and children who are separating.


We have clearly stated that the current approach to family breakdown is harming children's mental health. Parenting Apart is part of the solution for those parents where communication breakdown and conflicts have escalated to such a level that evidence suggests a clear correlation with harm to children. Embracing a solution based upon the Children Act makes sense of our policy towards children in this country, relieves pressure on a justice system that is clear it is unable to cope (pre the effects of the Pandemic), reduces costs and is better for children.


Therefore, it is time to approach family breakdown in ways that promote children's rights. The long-term benefits of cooperative parenting will support the child's rights and promote their emotional and mental health.   A holistic response to separation is overdue in the UK. It is time to encourage both parents' chances of providing cooperative parenting to their children to ensure their wellbeing.



Feb 2021


February 2021