One-Parent Families and Covid-19

We have been all learning how to live in the new regime brought about by COVID-19.  There is new information emerging every day and we are working to review this and bring you as much relevant information as possible. Please keep an eye on our Facebook and Twitter accounts for regular updates.

Based on calls to our askonefamily helpline and feedback from parents through our services these are the issues we believe are the most important to you right now:

  1. One Family Services: We have moved all our services to phone and online support for existing service users so your regular service provider should have been in touch already or will be shortly. Our national askonefamily helpline  (01-662 9212, 1890 662 212 and email support@onefamily.ie) is still operating and we are working to extend the hours available so we can support as many people as possible. We are still taking new referrals for services either through the helpline or perhaps from another professional you are working with. We will keep updating our website and social media accounts with any service changes. Click here for services available.
  2. Social welfare and income supports: We have been working with other organisations to ask the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection to think about lone parents and to protect their incomes as much as possible. The Department listened in relation to lodging social welfare payments into banks, the continuation of the Working Family Payment, flexibility re Supplementary Welfare Allowance and Illness Benefit moving online. We are still talking with them about how parents who have stopped receiving child maintenance can have their full payment reinstated quickly and whether those on Job Seeker’s Transition payment can receive the COVID Pandemic Unemployment Payment. If there are other issues specific to people living in one-parent families that we have not yet asked about please remind us and we will do our best.
  3. How to manage access well: The area of access/contact visits during Covid-19 is of major concern to many parents and children out there and with each new set of guidelines new problems are emerging. We have updated our guidance on this and the Law Society and the Courts Service have also both issued statements on how to manage this. If you need to think this through with someone then get in touch with our askonefamily helpline (01-662 9212) or the Family Mediation Service.
  4. Getting in the shopping: We know that it has been disappointing to see children spoken about so negatively and even being barred from some retail outlets. Whilst this is upsetting for all families it is making life extremely difficult for many people parenting alone as they must bring their children everywhere with them in order to keep them safe. We are now capturing information about those shops that are facilitating children and sharing them on Twitter and we have asked for the slots that were allocated for older people to now be made available for families. From 30 March, all local authorities will have dedicated phonelines and email addresses that vulnerable people and those who are ‘cocooning’ can contact if they need help. Please click here to see numbers available so far and please contact your local authorities to see what local supports are available. We’ll keep this page updated as services become available.
  5. Preparing to get sick: One of the biggest worries many parents are facing right now is considering who will mind their children should they get sick. This is something lots of people are worried about and working on. We are working on a guide to help you to prepare for this situation and we will share it as soon as it’s ready. Along with other organisations we are calling on Tusla to be resourced to plan for this so the best interest of your child can be front and centre in whatever may happen. Again if you want to think this through with our staff on our askonefamily helpline then just get in touch and we will do our best to support you through whatever difficult decisions or conversations you may need to have.
  6. Putting children first: we have been working with colleagues on the Advisory Council on Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures  to advise the Minister for Children & Youth Affairs as well as other government departments on what needs to happen during this crisis to protect and support children and young people. We are finding a huge willingness from policy makers to make the right decisions at this time of crisis and we will continue to work with them in the coming weeks as other issues come up for families. If your family are experiencing specific difficulties during this COVID crisis please let us know and we will do our best to put forward the issue and solutions to government.
  7. Education and Tech: We know that for many people it is practically impossible to keep up with school work or use the internet well without a computer and access to broadband. These things are expensive but essential when we are all asked to stay at home and communicate with each other and the world through online platforms. Along with colleagues in the Children’s Rights Alliance we are calling on the government, tech and communications companies to make sure children and young people can access the equipment and broadband they need to stay connected with the world. If you have ideas or you can help please let us know by e-mailing: comms@onefamily.ie
  8. Parenting and Isolation: we all know parenting alone and sharing parenting can be challenging under normal circumstances, but right now many of you out there are experiencing very high levels of anxiety, practical difficulties and possibly a lower than usual level of patience! All our team are at the end of the phone to support you and we have extended our hours so we can provide more call backs at times that suit you. Please see button below for a list of services.

Finally we want to reassure you, while you may be social distancing you are not alone, we are here with you and this crisis will end.

 

Local Covid-19 Supports

Covid-19 service restrictions

Following the restrictions announced by Government yesterday,  we have put restrictions on some of our services to make sure everyone stays as safe as possible as our absolute priority is the safety and protection of parents, their families and the wider community.

All our group-based programmes, Early Years Services and Child Therapy services are closed for the moment. If you are due in to see us in the next two weeks, we will be in touch with you individually to discuss arrangements.

If you would like to continue attending for a 1:1 service then that option is open to you although we will check with you to see if you have any risk factors. We will also offer support services by phone where possible.

Please feel free to get in touch with us with any queries on our askonefamily helpline on 1890662212 or 016629212 or support@onefamily.ie.

Stay safe and take good care.

Fun, family friendly fundraiser at Third Space

Fun, family friendly, fundraiser at Third Space, Smithfield on Friday March 27 from 7.00pm-9.30pm. Third Space, as part of their Square Meal, initiative provide all the food for free, the staff work for free, you enjoy a beautiful meal in the company of lovely people and you donate what you think the meal was worth/what you can afford and it all goes to One Family so we can continue to support families most in need. You can BYOB if you want and children are very welcome. You can book directly with Third Space on 01-529-7208 or email office@thirdspace.ie. Thanks for your support!

One Family submission to the Mother and Baby Home Commission

Who We Are

One Family is Ireland’s organisation for people parenting alone, sharing parenting and separating. We provide a range of specialist family support services to one-parent families and advocate for improvements in policies, legislation and services.

One Family was established in 1972 as Cherish. At that time Cherish was Ireland’s first organisation for single mothers, organised by single mothers, and run on a human-rights, rather than charity/ ‘benevolence’ based model.[1] The organisation’s early work was concerned primarily with providing direct support, information and advocacy to thousands of women in crisis who were unmarried, pregnant and who felt they had no choice but to hide their pregnancy and possibly have their babies removed for adoption. Over time the organisation was able to provide visibility, social supports and legal protections to these families in partnership with others resulting in more unmarried mothers being able to decide to keep their pregnancy and parent their own child.

Whilst we are not providing direct testimony to the Commission in this submission, as organisations that have worked for many decades with unmarried mothers and their children we are aware of the direct experience of hundreds of thousands of women. We are bringing our collective knowledge and experience to bear in our observations and recommendations to the Commission. We believe this submission can inform the work and findings of the Commission as it is based on the longstanding credibility we hold as an organisation working directly with vulnerable parents and their children.

Terms of Reference

We note the Terms of Reference which were provided to the Mother and Baby Homes Commission.  We note the mandate on consent where you are directed to consider the extent of mothers’ “participation in relevant decisions … (and) … whether these procedures were adequate for the purpose of ensuring such consent was full, free and informed.”   

In relation to this, we strongly caution against interpreting consent as being fully and freely informed on the basis of signed documentation given the direct experience of many of the women we supported. As has been well discussed elsewhere many women were not aware of what they were signing, were not aware they had a choice and did not consciously consent to the adoption of their child. 

We note that Section 1 (I) “to establish the circumstances and arrangements for the entry of single women into these institutions…” permits a review of how women came to enter and stay in institutions often against their will and where they lost control of their children through adoption. This system of containing women in Mother & Baby Homes, in order to conceal the pregnancy and the resulting child, contributed to a society which protected itself against the perceived social deviations of unmarried mothers and any associated economic costs. We look forward to the findings of the Commission in relation to this issue and in particular to the social history module.

As an organisation that continues to work with women today who parent alone in difficult circumstances, frequently from unplanned or crisis pregnancies, we believe that there are direct links between the period of time that the Commission is examining and the challenges faced by many lone parents today. We note that many of the negative attitudes, policies and laws that mitigate against the success of one-parent families today are based in beliefs, customs and practices that were current in the mid part of the last century.

 

Single Mothers in 2020 

Widely available research and Census data clearly show on an ongoing basis that living in a one-parent family in Ireland is extremely disadvantageous. Most poor children in Ireland live in one-parent families; those who parent alone are four times more likely to live in consistent poverty; single mothers are the most socially isolated people in Ireland and experience higher levels of depression and anxiety; lone parents have less access to savings than anyone else; most homeless families in Ireland are headed by a single mother. Having said that, when economic and poverty issues are accounted for; children in one-parent families do just as well as other children. Therefore issues related to structural poverty, economic exclusion and inequality are paramount, and can be addressed though policies which recognise one-parent families and political will.

It is our experience that some of our legal, social and policy institutions continue to work against women (and men) who parent alone, or who parent outside a ‘traditional’ married family. We still have significant historical structures that preference a two-parent married family over a one-parent or unmarried family. These structures range from the highest legal levels of our Constitution through to systematic unequal treatment between one and two-parent families in policies employed by various Government departments.

Lone parents in receipt of social welfare supports experienced significant cuts in Budget 2012 which catapulted thousands of their children into higher levels of poverty – to this day the effects of these cuts are still felt.

The ESRI has noted the gendered impact of Budgets in the austerity period and most cuts were experienced disproportionately by women and children.[2]

Many people parenting alone report to us the ongoing negative stereotyping by society and media in relation to their families. Sometimes this can be subtle, and sometimes quite overt. A survey of 166 parents undertaken in 2014 by One Family found that the majority (78%) of those surveyed think that members of one-parent families have experienced shame or embarrassment because of their family type.

Transitional Justice | Recommendations & Reparation Efforts

We welcome the engagement of the UN Special Rapporteur on the “promotion of truth, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence”, and the adoption by the Minister for Children & Youth Affairs of a more robust Transitional Justice framing, which “aims to achieve not only individual justice, but a wider societal transition from more repressive times … that … will find out and record the truth, ensure accountability, make reparation, undertake institutional reform, and achieve reconciliation.” [3]

We note in Section 6 of the Terms of Reference that “the Commission may include in its reports any recommendation that it considers appropriate…”

We request that the Commission strongly considers the following recommendations in your forthcoming reports to Government as a means to provide some recognition, recompense and rebalance for the harm inflicted on unmarried mothers and their children in the past – consequences of which many families still experience today. Our recommendations are:

  1. Support the women who directly suffered in Mother & Baby Homes: Implement the eight recommendations of the Clann Project, in particular recommendations for access to data; inclusion of all stakeholders; redress and reparation through material benefit and symbolic representation; and legal remit through legal aid, extension of statute of limitations and criminal investigation.
  2. Support the parents and children living in poverty in one-parent families today: In order to break the historic and continuing mistreatment of unmarried parents and remove the ongoing stigma endured by ‘single mothers’. In particular, we recommend the full implementation of the recommendations of the Advisory Council of Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures in relation to child-poverty in one-parent families. We strongly recommend that Government implement all recommendations from its various research reports in order to address the poverty and educational/ employment exclusion endured by lone parents. We welcomed the 2017 pilot gender-proofing of Budgets and we recommend a mainstreamed equality proofing approach to budget development.
  3. Provide high level symbolic gestures to recognise diverse families: In the first instance, we call on Government to establish a National Family Day where the State publically celebrates diverse families in Ireland and explicitly builds on the positive contribution to society of all parents.

More substantively, we call for a referendum on Article 41.3 of the Constitution to expand the definition of the family in order to provide rights and protection for all families including unmarried families and in particular unmarried mothers and their children. This will provide a significant symbol of inclusiveness and reparation on behalf of the state and the Irish people.

We know from our work that part of the painful legacy of the Mother and Baby Home system is this continued erasure of unmarried mothers and their children. They are simply not recognised as a family in our Constitution and remain formally invisible. While the Children & Family Relationships Act 2017 made significant strides in working to provide protection and respect to a diverse range of families with children, we need a Constitution which recognises all families and acknowledges the changing demographics and family formations arising throughout Europe.

Article 8 of the ECHR indicates how a new definition of family in Ireland could be interpreted and provides a robust solution to a Constitutional amendment. One Family is happy to provide possible wording to address this referendum issue.

 

Ends

[1] “Single Issue”, Richards, M., Poolbeg Press, Ireland, 1998 and https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B009OJ8YGA/ref=rdr_kindle_ext_tmb

[2] THE GENDER IMPACT OF IRISH BUDGETARY POLICY , Doorley, K., et al. ESRI (2018)  https://www.esri.ie/pubs/bkmnext367.pdf

[3] Investigation confirming Human Remains on the Site of the former Tuam Mother and Baby home

https://www.dcya.gov.ie/docs/09.03.2017_Recovering_Truth_and_Justice_Remarks_by_Minister_/4155.htm

Sinéad Gibney, One Family Board Member

Congratulations to Sinéad Gibney on her recommendation for appointment as Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

The Board and staff of One Family wish to warmly congratulate our Chairperson, Sinéad Gibney, on her recommendation for appointment as Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC). Sinéad will bring a wealth of expertise, experience and personal warmth to her new role and we all wish her the very, very best.

Sinead’s appointment comes following an open and transparent competition by the Public Appointment Service (PAS).

 

To read the IHREC press release click here:

Sherie de Burgh Memorial Fund Launched

Fund launched for vital perinatal counselling services and to support vulnerable mothers and children.

Press Release: Sunday, 16 February 2020

A fund in memory of renowned Irish crisis pregnancy counsellor, Sherie de Burgh, was launched last night at an event in Trinity College Dublin. The event co-hosted by Trinity College’s School of Social Work and Social Policy featured speakers including former Senator. Mary Henry,  Dr. Catherine Conlon, Senator Ivana Bacik; former HSE director – Tony O’Brien; One Family CEO Karen Kiernan and Sinéad Gibney. The fund has been established to provide vital perinatal counselling services for mothers and to support vulnerable one-parent families.

Speaking at the event One Family CEO, Karen Kiernan said, “Sherie was a fearless advocate for the rights of women and their families in the decades when legislation on sexual health services presented barriers for so many. If Sherie was alive now she’d be delighted at the progress that has been made with the removal of the eighth amendment but she would be shocked that mothers and children continue to struggle for basic services and so many are homeless.”

Former Senator Mary Henry said, “Ireland in the 70s, 80s and 90s was a bleak place for those on the margins of society particularly unmarried women who were pregnant. Sherie de Burgh fought for women’s reproductive rights when it wasn’t fashionable to do so. As our society changes, it’s important to remember Sherie who quietly got on with ensuring hundreds of women and couples with crisis pregnancies were able to somehow access the services and supports they so desperately needed. This fund in Sherie’s honour will help meet some of the needs of the most vulnerable families in Ireland.”

For more information on Sherie’s Memorial fund and the launch click here:

The Sherie de Burgh Memorial Fund will help to support some of the most vulnerable children and families in the state. The fund will focus on two areas of Sherie’s work that she was particularly passionate about:

  • Perinatal therapy: Perinatal therapy provides specialist therapeutic supports for mothers and their babies immediately before and after birth. The therapy works to strengthen lifelong attachments and security between mother and child. This may be particularly beneficial for mothers who have experienced an unplanned or crisis pregnancy, domestic violence or who have practical challenges such as homelessness.
  • Financial support for vulnerable families:Sherie worked with some of the most vulnerable children and families in our society; families experiencing homelessness, direct provision, addiction and abuse. The Sherie fund will be used to continue Sherie’s work and to help to support vulnerable children and families when they most need it. Instances include the purchase of school uniforms, fees for education course or for baby equipment.

 

Editor’s Note:

Sherie de Burgh:

Sherie de Burgh was renowned as Ireland’s leading and longest serving counsellor on the contentious issues of crisis pregnancy, abortion services and parenting, she fearlessly advocated for the rights of women and their families in the decades when legislation on sexual health services presented barriers for so many.

Starting her counselling career with the IFPA before progressing to One Family, Sherie had a deep empathy for the women and men she worked with. She became expert in supporting people who had very complex needs working frequently with young migrant women and parents – helping them when they had nobody else.

Sherie died after a long illness on 15 February 2017 having retired from One Family. She is still missed, loved and thought about frequently – and her courage and tenacity still guides our work today as we frequently ask ourselves ‘What would Sherie do?’ To read Sherie’s obituary written by Shelia Wayman please click here:

 

One Family was founded in 1972 as Cherish and is Ireland’s national organisation for one-parent families and people sharing parenting or separating, offering support, information and services to all members of all one-parent families, to those sharing parenting, to those experiencing an unplanned pregnancy and to professionals working with one-parent families. Children are at the centre of One Family’s work and the organisation helps all the adults in their lives, including mums, dads, grandparents, step-parents, new partners and other siblings, offering a holistic model of specialist family support services. These services include the lo-call askonefamily national helpline on 1890 66 22 12, counselling, and provision of training courses for parents and for professionals. For further information, visit www.onefamily.ie. The askonefamily helpline can be contacted on lo-call 1890 66 22 12.

 

For further information visit: www.onefamily.ie

 

Available for Interview

Karen Kiernan, CEO | t: 01 662 9212 or 086 850 9191

 

Further Information/Scheduling

Noel Sweeney, Communications and Events Manager | t: 01 622 9212 or 085 7241294

One Family calls on parents to challenge GE candidates on child poverty, homelessness and family law reform.

One Family, Ireland’s national organisation for people parenting alone, sharing parenting and separating has called on parents to challenge General Election candidates with a series of questions on their plans to address homelessness, child poverty and reform of Ireland’s archaic family law system. The call comes following the launch of the organisation’s Election Manifesto and as the charity sets about mobilising the almost quarter of a million one-parent families in the state.

One Family CEO Karen Kiernan said, “Families living in makeshift accommodation and children going without a warm meal shouldn’t happen in Ireland. It’s not who we are. But every night thousands of children and families go without these basic needs, caught in a broken system that pulls them under. It doesn’t have to be this way. Poverty and homelessness are not inevitable. They are symptoms of a broken system.”

One-parent families now make up over a quarter of all families in Ireland. Yet many are struggling to stay afloat against a rising tide of poverty. These families represent a growing and restless force in every constituency in Ireland. They are disproportionately affected by child poverty, homelessness and a family law system that is decades behind our European neighbours. We are asking one-parent families to challenge, in a friendly yet firm manner, election candidates on their plans to address Child Poverty, Homelessness, Reform of Family Law and Constitutional change. Our four top priorities for General Election 2020 are:

  • End Child Poverty: Meet and expand on the current target to lift 70,000 children out of poverty by 2020. Develop another target and commit to a strong implementation system with high level political support. Ensure adequate income levels for all families and households through independent benchmarking of income supports.
  • End Homelessness: Ireland has a national crisis of homelessness which disproportionately affects one-parent families. Commit to prioritising the building of social housing for families and ensuring that children do not spend longer than six months in emergency accommodation.
  • Reform Family Law & Court Welfare Service: Build on family law reforms and commit to developing a comprehensive public Court Welfare Service including a statutory Child Maintenance Service. Ireland is decades behind our European neighbours and must ensure the safety of children and parents in family law proceedings.
  • Protect All Families in Ireland: Commit to a referendum to update Article 41.3 of the Constitution to extend rights and protection to all families.

Read our Election Manifesto here:

Ms Kiernan added, “We know the issues that are raised on the doors are fed back to party headquarters and are included in future Programmes for Government so we are asking parents to let their voice be heard. We have put together a list of questions that might help parents to start the conversation with the local candidates so they can make up their own minds on who to vote for.”

/Ends/

Editor’s Note:

One Family was founded in 1972 as Cherish and is Ireland’s national organisation for one-parent families and people sharing parenting or separating, offering support, information and services to all members of all one-parent families, to those sharing parenting, to those experiencing an unplanned pregnancy and to professionals working with one-parent families. Children are at the centre of One Family’s work and the organisation helps all the adults in their lives, including mums, dads, grandparents, step-parents, new partners and other siblings, offering a holistic model of specialist family support services. These services include the lo-call askonefamily national helpline on 1890 66 22 12, counselling, and provision of training courses for parents and for professionals. The askonefamily helpline can be contacted on lo-call 1890 66 22 12.

For further information visit: www.onefamily.ie

 

Available for Interview

Karen Kiernan, CEO | t: 01 662 9212 or 086 850 9191

 

Further Information/Scheduling

Noel Sweeney, Communications and Events Manager | t: 01 622 9212 or 085 7241294

Telling your child – We are Separating

For a parent the thought of telling your children that you and their other parent are separating is incredibly hard to imagine not alone do.  It is however crucially important that parents talk with their children as soon as possible once a decision to separate has been made. Very young children from two years of age need parents to sit with them and help them to understand that the family form is about to change.  They need support and to be told how much they are loved. and will try to ensure moving forward that they will remain central to every decision their parents make.

Telling children 2-4 years old

If you have decided to separate and you are still in the same home but living separately or one parent is about to move out it is time to tell your child. Children are very observant and as much as you might think they do not notice that things have changed, they do. Children will be the first to notice and feel that something is different and they need your support to understand what this change is so they are not left feeling worried, anxious, scared and upset trying to figure out a feeling or a sense they have that is beyond their capacity to understand in so many ways.

Here are some helpful tips:

  1. Sit with them as you play dolls or imaginative play and create two houses, two tents to play in. Introduce the concept of Mummy in one house and Daddy in the other house and then play a game of the child coming to spend time in each house. Help them to build the tent, what it looks like, what they would have in each tent to make it nice and safe, and a place they would like to be. What would Mummy need in her tent and Daddy in his tent? When the tents are built, talk with your child about what it would be like if there really were two tents, like two houses and that one parent was going to live in a new house, just like the tent and it would be safe and secure and the child would be part of that new house/tent. Hear what your child has to say. Gently explore what they come up with.
  2. Children will have many practical concerns at this age about living in two homes around toys, belongings etc. Remember children at this age are still very egocentric and life is all about them and their needs. Talk with them gently about how you might be able to meet those concerns for them.
  3. Allow the conversation to continue by using story books and art work. Draw images of family and home as you know it now and then again introduce two homes and what would they look like.
  4. Tell your child clearly that Mummy and Daddy are going to live in two separate houses and build on this depending on how much capacity your child has to understand. Start with the truth and go from there.

Helping your child have the space to explore the practical change that separation would bring is key at this age. The conversation will need to go on after it is initiated and the children encouraged to play the game over and over so they can process how this might all work for them. Playing this game with your young child will help you as a parent to understand what their needs are, what they are worried about and what you as their parent need to do in order to support them through this major family life change.

Telling your children aged 5- 9 years old

Children of this age are a little wiser to the world. They are in school and they understand more clearly that children all have parents or carers. They will at this stage have a long enough history of living with both of their parents to really value what that offers to them. Children of this age notice everything and are sensitive to change. In their own lives they are managing so much in school as they engage with the community there, with extracurricular activities and the larger community. Introducing a family change can be very hard for them as they feel it emotionally more so than their younger counter parts as they are starting to understand emotions and how they feel and they can in many ways express it more clearly to us as parents.

 

Some helpful tips:

  1. At this age group it is best for both parents to sit the children down together and tell them, for example, ‘Mummy and Daddy no longer want to live in the same house. You may have noticed we fight more than we should and we don’t think this is the best way for our family to be. We have decided that we are going to have two homes and live separately where you will live with us.’ It is really important to be clear with the children, do not leave them confused in the message you give to them.
  2. Be very clear and direct with this age group, do not tell them false truths and do not blame one parent for the separation. Children love parents equally regardless of what either of you might do, they are loyal to both parents, so do not ask them to take sides, as in the long run you will create emotional turmoil for them. The issues of why the separation happened are for you as parents to figure out; it is your intimate relationship. What is necessary is that you accept that you are both parents of your young children and you are both going to move forward allowing each other to take a very active role in parenting and continuing to parent your child.
  3. Allow your child to ask you questions. They may be shocked, as much as you might think they noticed something was changing, they will still be saddened to hear you say the change is going to actually happen.
  4. Talk with your child about how two homes is going to happen. Do not allow them to witness a situation where one parent packs and says goodbye, this is heartbreaking for children to see a parent walk out the door, the sense of abandonment and hurt can be felt for many years.
  5. Plan with your child, as much as you may not want to, around the next steps. Allow them be involved in making the changes as this will support them to understand it more clearly. By understanding what is happening they will develop the language to talk about it with you and with others.
  6. Support children to know the separation is not a secret. They can tell their close friends if they wish to  and talk to relatives about it. As parents it is really important to tell the school. Schools will notice a change in your child and they need to understand the background. This will also allow the school to be more sensitive to the issue in class work and activities.
  7. Create plenty of opportunity for your child to talk about what is happening. Do not try to justify the changes or fix them. Just listen and tell your children you are happy they can talk about what worries them with you. As two parents separating you need to take this on board when arranging a shared parenting agreement, keeping your child central to the decisions you make going forward.
  8. On the day you share this news with your child, try to ensure both parents can be around for them for the remainder of the day. Do something nurturing with them, reading a story, bath time, art work. Allow them time to go away and play and to find you again for more questions or a cuddle. Children will need a lot of reassurance that both parents still love them and will be there for them.

Children aged 10- 14 years

Children of this age can be very mature and portray an image that they can cope with a lot more than their age would suggest. However when it comes to matters of the heart, they are still children and will need a lot of support to understand and cope with family separation. At this age children are at a critical stage of change in their own development so adding a family change can bring great turmoil for them. This age group are very concerned with what others think and know about them. They will fear bullying, whispering and others talking about their family.

Children of this age could be acutely aware that the parental relationship was not working well, that there was conflict or unhappiness; however they may also have no other experience of family life so accept this is family life. They may be relieved that the conflict will end with the separation if the parents can manage to agree how to share parenting and move forward, unfortunately many parents do not stop the conflict at separation. Children can become very confused as to the benefit of the separation for anyone.

Some helpful tips:

  1. Both parents sit down with your children and tell them very clearly that you have decided to separate and will no longer continue to live in the same home. Children may walk away when you tell them this, overwhelmed with emotion and unable to talk or ask questions. It is important for parents to be available to them for the remainder of the day.
  2. Allow your children to ask questions, many will be about their own needs and just hear this. Children will worry about change and who will notice the change. They will usually be well connected into the greater community at this age so will worry about getting to activities and the costs involved. They will worry about where everyone will live and how big the changes are going to be.
  3. At this stage it is important as two parents to reassure your children you are going to work with each other to find the best solutions to all of these worries as you both love your children and want the best for them. Try not to make promises at this time until you have both talked and agreed what the plan will be.
  4. Children of this age will want to have a clear voice in what happens after separation and it is vitally important to listen to this. If a partner is not a good partner they may be the best parent and remember your child only has two parents and loves you both equally.  They do not need to know what happened or be involved in the intimacy of what happened in the relationship. The relationship they have with you as their parent is very separate to the one you have with their other parent. Children will however want to know their can be agreements reached and harmony.
  5. Plan with your children how the two homes will be created and how and when one parent will leave. Children will remember this event for life so try to ensure you are not adding to the grief they will feel by the way you carry this out. As much as you may resent the other parent, remember if you have decided to separate it is now about the business of sharing parenting and putting the children first.

For all parents regardless of child’s age:

  • Always be honest with children in an age appropriate way. Build on the truth.
  • Children are only interested in your relationship with them and how the separation will impact that.
  • Do not tell children one parent is to blame for the separation. Two people form a relationship and at the time of separation a lot of support may be required by both parents to help them explore and  understand what went wrong in their relationship. Children cannot be caught in the middle of this.
  • Stop the conflict. If conflict formed a serious part of life leading up to the separation you need to seek professional support around how to learn to communicate more effectively with each other. Children do not suffer negatively because of family separation but they do with prolonged chronic parental conflict.
  • Ensure there is no gap in your child seeing the other parent, the parent who leaves the family home. Children need constant reassurance at this stage that both parents are there for them and they need to see each parent to know they are okay.
  • Look after yourself as you will need a vast amount of energy moving forward to build a positive parenting relationship with the other parent that will support your children moving forward positively.
  • Be open to creating a shared parenting plan that works for your children. Try not to listen to what others have done or what you think the norm is. Every family is unique and  therefore the shared parenting plan should be unique to your family, ensuring your child’s needs are met within it. All plans will need to be adjusted over time as children grow and life changes and this should be expected and supported.

The article was writing by our Director of Parenting Services Geraldine Kelly. If you need support on separation,  parenting through separation and sharing parenting contact One Family parenting supports at 01-662 9212 or email: info@onefamily.ie  For confidential information and listening support call the askonefamily helpline on lo-call: 1890 662 212