With three children in every classroom presenting with a diagnosable mental health problem and 1 in 8 children between the ages of 5 and 19 said to have a mental health condition, raising awareness of mental health issues in children and young people is crucial. Initiatives such as Children’s Mental Health Week, coordinated by children’s mental health charity Place2Be, are pivotal in highlighting the importance of promoting positive mental health and wellbeing in children and young people.
Family breakdown is known to be one of several childhood experiences that can lead to young people developing mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. One study has shown that children whose parents separate when they are between the ages of 7 and 14 are more likely to have emotional problems and behavioural issues.
As family law practitioners, we support families facing the challenges of relationship breakdown every day. The breakdown of the family dynamic is, for most clients, the most difficult time of their lives. Unfortunately, in most instances, there are also children involved and whilst often thought of as the most resilient, the impact of the upheaval can sometimes affect them just as much. In most cases, relationship breakdown means that one parent leaves the family home and suddenly the stability and familiarity that is so important for children, is gone. Children who are used to seeing both parents everyday may now only see the non-resident parent two or three times a week, and emotions are likely to be high as everyone in the family adapts to the changes.
Statistics like those above can be worrying and stressful for families going through divorce or separation. It is however important to balance this risk with the potential risk of harm to children of families who stay together where there is toxicity and acrimony. As well as this, there are many ways in which this negative impact on children and their wellbeing can be reduced.
The theme for Children’s Mental Health Week this year is ‘Find your Brave’ which focuses on encouraging children and young people to think about what bravery looks like for them as an individual. Below are some top tips for parents in supporting children to be brave through this difficult time:-
- Consider the long term. Even though this is an emotionally-charged time, your relationship as parents will continue for the foreseeable future. You will still need to communicate and maintain some level of contact as co-parents going forward, particularly if the children are young. Therefore animosity should be avoided as much as possible.
- Save the “grown-up talk” until the children are not around. Exposing children to parental conflict is known to be harmful and have a negative effect of their wellbeing. It is not in their best interests.
- Avoid making any proceedings unnecessarily acrimonious. For example when drafting your divorce petition, try to keep the particulars as anodyne as possible and where the situation allows, consider discussing the content with your ex-partner beforehand.
- Where possible, attempt out of court resolution such as mediation and family arbitration. Mediation encourages parties’ to communicate and reach an agreement that works best for them, using a neutral third party to assist. Rayden Solicitors are able to recommend to you a number of experienced mediators to suit your needs and location.
- Ensure that routine and structure are put in place which works well for the entire family, but most importantly the children. Stability is key for children, particularly after relationship breakdown.
- Consider a parenting plan. A parenting plan is a written agreement between parents after they separate. The parenting plan clarifies the arrangements for contact going forward, and sets down what each parent expects of the other when the child is in their care. The Child and Family Court Advisory Service (CAFCASS) has produced a template parenting plan which can be found on their website.
- Tell your children about what is happening in a child-focused way. Explain to them that they now have two homes and how exciting this is.
- Make sure that your child always has someone they feel that they can talk to. You may wish to consider talking to your child’s school so that they are aware of the situation and can support both you and your child where needed.
- Consider whether professional support would be beneficial for your child. Rayden Solicitors are able to provide details of recommended counsellors and child psychologists to support your child during this time.
Rayden Solicitors are family law specialists committed to working with families and other solicitors to minimise the impact of relationship breakdown on the children of the family and as a result their mental health and wellbeing. We assist our clients in dealing with separation in a way that puts the children first and promotes their best interests. If you have any questions or require any support regarding any of the issues in this blog, please do not hesitate to contact us.