The Parents in Dispute Therapeutic programme engages with the most difficult cases and provides an alternative to protracted and damaging court battles for separated couples and their children
A new programme has demonstrated that it is possible to successfully engage parents 'entrenched' in emotionally damaging and costly legal disputes surrounding the care of their children.
The results, just announced, of the innovative Parents in Dispute programme, run by The Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships
and the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass
), show that substantial numbers of parents are willing to participate, and benefit from, specialist therapy for themselves and their children.
Funded by the Department for Work and Pensions through the Help and Support for Separated Families Fund, Parents in Dispute (PiD) targeted long-term separated families in entrenched conflict which involved the family courts.
In seeking to resolve conflict or improve the capacity of parents to co-parent effectively, PiD offered a new intervention in this field aiming to engage and work with both parents by using the skills of a specifically trained psychotherapist.
Remarkably, given the mutual long-standing antagonism which these parents have towards each other, nearly three-quarters of the parents who attended individual assessments were helped to also attend joint sessions together. For those parents who did attend at least one joint session together, the evaluation showed that they demonstrated a significant increase in the strength of their parenting alliance.
Strengthening this relationship between separated parents is of particular importance, given the growing body of evidence which suggests that the quality of co-parenting has both direct and indirect effects on child outcomes, via associations with parents' psychological well-being and parenting capacity.
Other results of the programme included: nearly 70% of parents increase their understanding of the impact of inter-parental conflict on their children, as well as enabling 90% to be better able to identify types of situation which might put their own, or their children's, safety at risk.
In addition, mothers also showed a significant reduction in terms of their anxiety and psychological distress; an important finding, given that we know that poor mental health in parents presents a risk for children's emotional well-being.
These results are significant given the research which conclusively shows that poorly managed conflict between parents - whether expressed overtly or through emotional withdrawal - has a debilitating effect on children's psychological development.
These findings are all the more startling given that many parents on the programme reported that, prior to embarking on it, they would not have believed it was possible to engage in joint therapeutic work to make positive changes for their children.
Couples caught up in such entrenched court-based conflict invariably have a deep mistrust of each other, which makes them very difficult to work with constructively; let alone achieve some resolution to their ongoing dispute regarding the care of their children. Referrals were generated through the family court system, principally via Cafcass case workers, solicitors and the courts themselves.
The programme targets the couples who are involved in protracted proceedings; of the couples referred, the highest duration of a case in court was 358 weeks, and the combined total of the 30 cases was 2,613 weeks or 50.25 years in court.