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Cafcass launches Planning Together for Children on behalf of the Ministry of Justice to help parents


Cafcass has today launched on behalf of the Ministry of Justice, a new course and set of resources for parents to help them think about how to prioritise their children’s needs while they are separating. Planning Together for Children combines e-learning, group work and online support for parents involved in private law family court proceedings. It replaces the Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP). Around 24,000 parents are referred to a SPIP course every year and their feedback has been used to develop this new set of resources.

When parents separate, the risk to a deterioration in their child’s emotional wellbeing and mental health increases significantly if the separation involves a high level of conflict. This can be exacerbated by the anxiety and uncertainty caused by lengthy family court proceedings. In some cases, the damage this causes to children can last for a long time. Planning Together for Children encourages parents to consider how they can communicate and work together to agree parenting arrangements without the need for more court hearings and to understand how disagreements and arguments can worry their children and impact on their wellbeing and development. It was designed with input from children and families.

The new programme aims to reduce the time families spend in family court proceedings and to lower the number of families returning to court. In this regard, Planning Together for Children aligns with recent government initiatives – such as the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) White Paper on supporting the earlier resolution of private family law arrangements – which set an ambition to reduce the number of private law applications made to the family court by encouraging parents to pursue alternative, less-confrontational methods of reaching agreement following a separation.

Since 2009, Cafcass has commissioned on behalf of government a programme known as the Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP). From 29 March 2023, no new referrals can be accepted to SPIP. However, as part of the transition to Planning Together for Children, SPIP will continue for those referred before this date. The Planning Together for Children programme will be commissioned by Cafcass on behalf of the Ministry of Justice. Action for Children will lead the delivery and coordination of the programme across England, working with other partners.

How Planning Together for Children works

Planning Together for Children is for families in private law family court proceedings and can either be ordered by a court or referred by a Cafcass Family Court Adviser at any stage of proceedings as long as the right risk assessment is in place and there is no known risk of harm to any children involved. It was co-designed with children and parents following an extensive review and a consultation with over 20 stakeholders. The learning materials have been developed in collaboration with Family Justice Young People’s Board members and the Cafcass Family Forum as well as a wide range of organisations with experience of working with children.

Unlike SPIP, which was a one-off four-hour course, there are three stages to Planning Together for Children:

  • a set of self-directed e-learning modules that focus on topics such as what happens if parents go to court, understanding and managing emotion, and looking at things from a child’s point of view;
  • a group workshop where parents will be encouraged to discuss, think about and extend their learning from the e-learning modules, covering topics such as understanding the impact of conflict on children and communicating in positive ways with each other; and
  • a supplementary online parenting plan – to help parents to make agreements about important parts of their co-parenting relationship and the arrangements for their children, where this is safe for the children and adults. Parents will be encouraged to share an understandable version of the plan with their child/ren.

The online parenting plan is available without the need for a referral on the Cafcass website. The interactive plan allows separating parents to agree arrangements for their children online and then to consider how they will discuss them with their children.

Cafcass Chief Executive, Jacky Tiotto, said:

“Children often think that parental separation is their fault. They also often feel caught in the middle if there is conflict and sometimes they are encouraged to or feel that they have to take sides with one parent over another. This is something they tell us time and again causes them distress. They find the uncertainty scary especially as they worry about what will happen to their friendships, their schooling and contact with their wider family.

“Planning Together for Children is a new and improved course that has been designed in collaboration with children and young people and that helps parents to prioritise their safety and their welfare.

“Our best hope is that parents who take part in this programme are able to separate and make arrangements without the need for further court involvement and with a plan that serves their child’s very best interests. That is what all children deserve.”

Justice Minister Lord Bellamy said:

“I want to protect children from the damaging impact family separation can have on their life chances. Our proposed reforms to fund mandatory mediation will help families find more reasonable resolutions away from the adversarial atmosphere of a courtroom.

“Planning Together for Children builds on these and will help ensure parents put their child’s wellbeing first, making them feel supported through what can be an incredibly challenging time.”

Imogen, a member of the Family Justice Young People’s Board (FJYPB), said:

“It has been great for the FJYPB to have been involved with and feed into the new Planning Together for Children course. We have been able to share feedback on behalf of children and young people, to give our view on what parents need to understand when they go through separation.

“In this way, we hope the new course will help to prioritise the interests of children and young people and each individual child within groups of brothers and sisters. We also hope the new course will mitigate harm faced by children and young people during separation.”

A spokesperson for the Cafcass Family Forum said:

“The Cafcass Family Forum is a group of parents, carers and extended family members who have had direct experience of court proceedings.

“By sharing their lived experience of private law proceedings and the difficulties they faced whilst navigating co-parenting, the Family Forum members have been influential in the development of Planning Together for Children.

“This is a subject close to their hearts and they hope that their passion in shaping this service will help future children and families avoid some of the harmful effects of parental conflict.”

Action for Children’s chief executive, Paul Carberry, said:

“This innovative programme helps puts children at the heart of how we support parents during what can often be a traumatic time for families.

“Through our years working in this area we know the difference such a programme makes to children, by helping parents keep the needs of their children front and centre as they navigate through separation and divorce.

“We will work with our partners to help more parents focus on their children’s needs and improve how they talk through all the issues to ensure the best possible outcomes for families.”