The Separated Parents Information Programme – putting children first.

The Separated Parent’s Information Programme (SPIP) is a course that seeks to provide parents undergoing a breakup with the skills and techniques required to allow them to put their child(ren) first during the turbulent times of a split.   

The disintegration of a relationship will likely be fraught with negative and highly charged emotions. Such emotions are often representative of the inalienable consequences of the human condition. Feelings like anger, sadness or even apathy during times of uncertainty are normal reactions – after all, “to err is [to be] human”? 

The intention of the SPIP programme is to provide parents with the skills needed to avoid letting these emotions seep into the lives of their children. The programme seeks to use mechanisms to help parents prevent negative emotional discharge and mitigate the risk of their own negative views becoming that of their child’s. In this way, the programme attempts to ensure that parents always put the wellbeing of any child very much at the forefront of their minds.  


How to attend the Programme? 

Parents can be inducted into the programme in several different ways. Firstly, the Court can order parents to attend the programme. When such an order is made, parents must attend the Course. Secondly, CAFCASS can make a referral of the parents and finally, individuals can refer themselves. If you are ordered by Court or referred by CAFCASS, then there is usually no fee for attending the programme.  

When parents choose to attend the programme out of their own volition, this may carry with it a small fee for those involved. However, given the expense and negative connotations that Court proceedings can bring, it might make sense for parents at a level of the separation process to attempt the programme before formal proceedings are initiated. 


What is it and how can it help? 

The Course itself is run with groups of mixed parents through either one four-hour session or two sessions each lasting two hours. These courses are run up and down the county in partnership with CAFCASS and have been able to provide online programmes in the aftermath of the pandemic. The timing of the course differs depending on which center is running it, however, the majority of these offer flexible timings between 8PM-6PM to allow individuals to attend outside of their wider commitments.  

One needn’t worry about attending the same session as their (ex)partner as sessions are always held separately. As such, both parents are able to attend the sessions at different times, or a sole parent may also participate in the course by themselves. The sessions often include activities such as: listening to talks, writing tasks, group workshops or interactive videos.  

The programme itself is focused on the introduction and subsequent teaching of parents in three main topical areas. The first of these is concerned with the children themselves and seeks to highlight how the way in which parent’s actions can affect their children. This includes factors such as how they talk each other and how they present the breakup to the children can have both immediate and long-lasting effects on that child’s welling. On a deeper level, this section attempts to provide the specific viewpoint of the breakup through the eyes of the children. From this stance, the course attempts to give parents with the empathetic foundations of how the breakup can impact the children’s wellbeing.  

On the back of this, the course then attempts to teach parents how to employ positive models of communication concerning a breakup to their children. This helps to mitigate any impact if the breakup on the welfare of the children. This includes techniques regarding how to inform the children about the current situation, how to raise concerns about your ex with your child and the logistics surrounding who will live where and where and when contact will take place. As such the programme provides parents with the linguistic foundations needed to present these topics to the children in as neutral a way as possible.  

The final area which the course tackles is how the emotional impact of a parent’s breakup can be transposed onto their child. This area does not seek to deny the relevance of a parent’s emotions during such a breakup. However, it does attempt to show parents the value of accepting their emotions and positive non-toxic ways of dealing with them. In this fashion, the course provides parents with the means to safeguard their own mental wellbeing whilst also holding a mirror up to the negative effects emotional outbursts can have on their children. It is important to note that this area of the course also signposts participants to the value of using support networks such as grandparents and friends to alleviate the emotional fallout which the children can find themselves part of. Parents are also shown how external support such as counselling and mediation can also help ease some of the problems which they are facing and, therefore, be in the interest of the children.   

Understandably, many parents will be hesitant to partake in a course that they may believe connotes to a lack of insight into their children’s lives. However, this viewpoint is counter- intuitive to the very mission of the course. The point is not what the parents think is best for themselves, but what is best for their children. The SPIP course provides parents of all backgrounds with the skills needed to help them manage their child’s perception of the parental breakup in a way which is as child focused as possible and as such, is a course which the courts not only endorse but actively recommend.  

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