Piloting child impact analysis and Positive Parenting Programme
As we progress into the New Year we will be evaluating our pilots in Essex and North Yorkshire which are replacing a standard section 7 report in private law cases with a child impact analysis. The pilots appear to have gone well and have also brought out some learning points. The key difference in the new approach is to focus on an individual child in much more depth than is possible in a more family-based report.
The main issues in child impact work are emotions and mental health concerns faced by children, not the finer details of arrangements for spending time with a parent, which can often be a secondary issue for children compared to the powerful separation-related emotions they are experiencing. In a child impact analysis, we are looking for the start of any difficulty for the child, which may be long before an application to court. Many children are affected by relationship breakdown for months or years so that when a case finally comes to court, the child may have been carrying complex and often conflicted emotions for a long time. The outcomes the child will be seeking are often simple: feeling happier; not being so worried; and being able to concentrate in school. Many children cannot conceptualise these emotions, they just feel them and are in the grip of them. We hope that through our work on child impact, we can get closer to what is going on for these children and help them and their parents to recover as soon as they can.
Another private law pilot is our Positive Parenting Programme, a new four-session intervention in complex cases that are stuck in conflict. Often cases included in the pilot will be where the court has identified that the child faces risks from protracted and unresolved conflict between parents or within the family. This can include between siblings and other relatives – separation is everyone in the family’s business, not just the parents. This programme is structured to work supportively with children and their parents to reduce the level of conflict and to assess whether a way forward can be found which limits further emotional damage to the child or children. We are aiming to prevent emotional damage becoming lifelong emotional wreckage. As in the TV drama Doctor Foster, this process is often happening for a child without either parent realising it.
2018 will undoubtedly bring more pressure – each year does in turn – but we hope these approaches will help us to improve the service we provide to children within the limited professional time we have available.