Voice and Support: Programs for Children Experiencing Parental Separation and Divorce

APPENDIX C: AMERICAN PROGRAMS TO SUPPORT CHILDREN EXPERIENCING THEIR PARENTS' SEPARATION OR DIVORCE

Program

Program Description and Evaluation

Children in the Middle

Center for Divorce Education, Athens, Ohio

Program Description

  • Comprehensive education program for children experiencing their parents' separation or divorce, often used in conjunction with parent education program using parent version of the program (http://www.divorce-education.com).
  • Materials include videos and booklets for parents and children, materials for service providers, and materials for judges.
  • The video-based children's component of the program aims to teach children how to respond effectively when caught in the middle of disputes between separated/divorced parents. The children's program also includes sections on why parents divorce, children's feelings and fears, myths and truths, and coping skills (how to get out of the middle, asking for help, using self talk, changing thoughts, etc., and getting on with their lives (Arbuthnot and Gordon 1996).
  • Children's program designed to reinforce and be reinforced by parents' version (Arbuthnot and Gordon 1996).
  • Children's program had been used by over 500 service providers North America by 1995 (Arbuthnot and Gordon 1996).
  • Program example: Children in the Middle, Tidewater, Virginia.
    • Children's program run in conjunction with parent education program by family service agency.
    • Children's program consists in one-hour age-based group sessions run weekly for four weeks. Groups share experiences and work on feelings using video, activities and discussion.

Program Evaluation

  • In a four-week follow-up with 33 fourth, fifth, and sixth graders, children reported the frequency and stress of situation in which they felt caught in the middle. Children in the program reported experiencing significantly less stress than a control group who watched the non-skills oriented divorce video When Mom and Dad Break Up.
  • Improvements were clinically significant for 50percent of the children (Kearnes et al. 1991).

Program

Program Description and Evaluation

Families in Transition Program

Louisville, Kentucky

Program Description

  • Court-connected program for children with divorcing or separating parents. Mandatory children's program run parallel to mandatory parent education program [Brown et al., 1994; http://www.louisville.edu/kent/community/fit).
  • Children's program goals (based on Wallerstein 1983's six tasks for children at separation and divorce [see Chapter1]):
    • help children identify and understand their feelings;
    • reduce feelings of isolation and misconceptions about divorce;
    • increase children's awareness of how divorce affects their parents; and
    • increase appropriate ways to respond to anger.
  • Parent's program goal: to develop parental competence by teaching skills to handle children's divorce-related concerns, co-parental relationships, and parent-child relationships.
  • Mandatory attendance for parents and children in all families with children ages eight to 16 who petition for divorce with Jefferson County Family Court.
  • Two three-hour or 2.5-hour small-group sessions over two or three weeks. Optional additional classes and counselling. Children's group led by trained facilitators, and largely activity-based.
  • Group facilitators receive five hours training to deliver the program.
  • One parent and child attend separate parallel sessions with other parent attending separately. Curriculum-based program.
  • Available in easy-to-reach, safe community settings where ongoing clinical services available. Fees by sliding scale.

Program Evaluation

  • High client satisfaction found: ninety-sevenpercent of participants providing feedback on the program said they found it very or somewhat helpful. Almost two-thirds were interested in follow-up sessions (Brown et al. 1994).
  • Preliminary assessment of parents and children—using pre- and post-test Divorce Adjustment Inventory (one measure for parents, one for children)—found "those who have completed the FIT program are adjusting satisfactorily to the divorce." No control group.
  • Less than 10percent of families completing the program return to court with child-related issues (Administrative Office of the Courts, cited in Di Bias 1996).

Program

Program Description and Evaluation

Kids First (1998+)

(They're Still Our Children 1988-1998)

Hawaii (First, second, third, and fifth circuit courts)

Program Description

  • A court-based educational program for divorcing parents and their children aged six or older. Mandatory children's and parents' program for families within six weeks of filing a divorce complaint, and for families litigating custody and access disputes.
  • Children's program aimed to:
    • demystify the court process,
    • let children know divorce is not their fault, and that being angry, scared, and wanting the family back are common feelings;
    • get children to talk about their feelings; and
    • reassure children that they still have both parents, and a family.
  • One 2.5 hour session. Curriculum-based program. Children and parents initially meet together in a courtroom to learn about the legal process and watch the video Divorce and Other Monsters. Separate children's group—led by a judge, children's coordinator, and community volunteers—tours the courtroom first. Children then role-play divorce cases, are encouraged to explore their feelings about the divorce, and draft letters to their parents singly and together. Parents and children reunite to hear children's group letter read to parents (Di Bias 1996).
  • The name of the program was changed from They're Still Our Children to Kids First in 1998, when the programs run in various circuits were merged administratively (McNish, pers. comm.). The program format does not appear to have changed.

Program Evaluation

Exit evaluations show more than 95percent of participants are glad they attended and felt that program worthwhile (Anaya, pers. comm.).

Program

Program Description and Evaluation

Focus on Children In Separation (FOCIS)

Jackson County, Missouri (16th Circuit Court)

Program Description

  • Mandatory court-connected program for parents and children aged 5-17 in separating or divorcing families, or families in custody and access disputes. Parents' program run parallel to children's programs (Glenn 1998; http://www.family-court.org/focis.htm).
  • Education and awareness program. Children's (age-based) program goals to help children:
    • deal with grief reactions to divorce (age-appropriate levels);
    • not blame themselves for the divorce;
    • identify and express their own reactions to the events;
    • talk to parents about their concerns (providing children with techniques); and
    • understand basic legal terms.
  • Children and adolescent groups include some lecturing, videos, discussion, and the children's class creates a newsletter for parents. Parents' activities include lecture, discussion, videos and take-home materials. Parents' and children's groups meet separately.
  • Two two-hour classes.
  • $30 fee per parent per class, with low-income subsidy.

Program Evaluation

  • Initial evaluation of 400 (adult) participants in 1996 indicated need to expand initial program from two to four hours, and to create a separate class for people applying to modify an existing decree. Overall positive response (Glenn 1998).
  • Attempt to provide programs in a wide number of locations blamed for initial poor attendance and high level of class cancellations.

Program

Program Description and Evaluation

Rainbows

Program Description

  • Grief recovery program to provide a bridge to emotional healing for children, adolescents, and adults confronting death, divorce and other painful family transitions. Weaves grief education with format and objectives of self-help groups to strengthen the children's:
    • coping skills;
    • self-esteem; and
    • family and personal adjustment.
    • ability to communicate feelings and ideas about divorce and parental loss (Kramer and Laumann 2000).
  • Lay-led peer-support sessions for children, led by trained and compassionate adults—sometimes guidance counsellors in schools, sometimes social workers, teachers and parent volunteers (http://www.rainbows.org).
  • Small groups of 3-5 same-aged children. Older children receive empathetic listening and practice it with each other, use games, journal keeping and other activities to accept their feelings of loss as normal.
  • Age-based programs (4-5, 7-8, 9-11 and 12-14 years old). Also Spectrum (adolescents), Kaleidoscope (college age), and Sunbeams (age 3-4) in development. Curriculum-based program with both secular and religious versions.
  • Twelve-week program of weekly meetings plus two special multi-group days (3 to 4 hours) after sixth and final sessions.
  • Open to all children, including children whose parents divorced or separated several years before. Sponsored by faith and community agencies and typically run in schools, and sometimes in churches or agencies. May be offered by schools as part of school-based social services. Volunteer managed and /or financed by sponsoring organization.
  • No fees.

Program Evaluation

  • High client satisfaction found: 80percent of 97 fourth to sixth graders in the secular Level III program at 28 school sites in central Illinois and greater Chicago reported being happy with the program and felt it offered a safe place, helped them understand their feelings, and taught them new ways to solve problems. About 60percent reported feeling less alone after the program, and 72percent felt more cared for. Three quarters or more of parents felt children were blaming themselves less, were asking for help more, were more communicative and talked about feelings more, had a better understanding of divorce, and were more accepting of divorce and more optimistic (Kramer and Laumann 2000).
  • Applying standard pre and post-test measures to program participants and to children with divorced parents in a control group (parent, facilitator and child reports) found:
    • no improvement for children's perceptions of their well-being, although parents of control group children in high conflict families perceived decline during course of the program (well-being measures included anxiety, peer social skills, rule compliance and acting out, and school interest);
    • no change in children's perceptions of their adjustment;
    • no change in children's perceptions of their warm or hostile relationships with the parent they spend most time with; and
    • no change in children's perceptions of their coping skills, except Positive Reappraisal—looking on the brighter side—where children in high conflict families improved; other coping skills tested were seeking support from peers, avoiding strategies that reflect hopeless or blaming attitudes, and seeking support from other adults (Kramer and Laumann 2000).
  • Many of the children in the program had experienced their parents' divorce or separation up to five years earlier. The pre- and post-tests were conducted at the beginning and end of the program. Attrition during the study was 50percent.

Program

Program Description and Evaluation

Divorce Support Groups for Children and Adolescents

The Kids First Center

Portland, Maine

Program Description

  • Discussion-centred support groups for children and adolescents experiencing separation and divorce (http://www.kidsfirstcenter.org).
  • Separate age-based groups for children 6-18, focussing on the developmental, emotional, and relational needs faced by children of divorce or separation.
  • Six weekly sessions of just over an hour (6-8 and 9-11 year olds) or 90 minutes (12-14 and 15-18 year olds).
  • Groups explore feelings of those whose parents divorce or separate, identify coping strategies for those feeling abandoned or conflicted, and stress that children can cope with the change of divorce.
  • Fees: $60.00.

Program Evaluation

None found.

Program

Program Description and Evaluation

Children of Divorce Intervention Program (CODIP)

Children's Institute Inc.

Formerly Primary Mental Health Project Inc. (PMHP), Rochester, New York

Program Description

  • Established preventive mental health program for school-age children aged 5 to 12 (kindergarten to eighth grade), carried out in about 50schools in the Rochester, N.Y., area. Pilot programs included two parent components: mother and child, and mother alone.
  • Program goals to help children cope with divorce by:
    • providing a supportive group environment for children to share common feelings;
    • encouraging children to express divorce-related feelings;
    • clarifying misconceptions about divorce;
    • improving children's coping skills, such as controlling anger, reducing blaming, getting along with other children; and
    • improving self-esteem and feelings of competence.
  • Initial pilot (1985) for 9-12 year olds focused in equal measure on expressing feelings, solving personal problems—such as learning how to express feelings and distinguish the problems they could not solve, and did not cause—and dealing with anger (Pedro-Carroll et al. 1985). A second pilot for this group expanded the self-esteem component (Pedro-Carroll et al. 1986), and later modifications expanded the program to other age groups and developed a program for low income, urban 9-12 year olds (Alpert-Gillis et al. 1989). The program was adapted again for trial with fourth-to sixth graders in a low income, urban setting (Pedro-Carroll et al. 1992, cited in program description (http://www.childrensinstitute.net). Procedures manuals currently available for children up to 7th and 8th grade.
  • Groups led—in pilot studies at least—by one mental health professional or graduate trainee and one experienced paraprofessional, working in twos.

Program Evaluation

  • Pedro-Carroll and Cowen, 1985: Pre- and post-test study of 75 mostly white middle-class children two weeks after program ended found mostly positive outcomes for children, compared to another group of children of divorce not in the program.
    • Parents, teachers and program leaders reported children to be:
      • less shy or anxious at school, with fewer learning problems;
      • more competent, with less frustration, more sociable, more compliant with rules, more adaptive assertiveness;
      • less self-blaming; and
      • less anxious overall.
    • Children reported:
      • no difference on perceived competence and self-esteem; and
      • less anxiety (and less anxiety than control children), less negative self-attitudes and perceptions about the divorce.
    • While adult reports may have been influenced by common positive expectancies, the children's reports indicated their responses were not.
    • Children's parents had been separated an average two years.
  • Pedro-Carroll et al., 1986: Replication pre- and post-test study of 54 mostly white middle-class children also found positive outcomes, compared to another group of children in intact families.
    • Children in program scored as less well adjusted than the children in other group during pre-test, except in the children's perception of control.
    • Parents, teachers and program leaders again reported children less anxious, more competent, less self-blaming and with fewer problems learning.
    • Children again overwhelmingly reported less anxiety.
    • Children in the program caught up to control group children on many measures.
    • Children's parents had been separated an average of four years.
    • The researchers state that little is known of the psychometric properties of some of the study's key measures. (Pedro-Carroll and Cowen 1985). No behavioural measures were used.
  • Pedro-Carroll et al., 1999: A follow-up two years later of CODIP participants in an earlier evaluation found CODIP children still had significantly greater gains in adjustment than divorced children in the control group.
    • Children in the control group had higher anxiety than either CODIP children or children in non-divorced families.
    • Parents of CODIP children reported increases in their children's coping skills and ability to handle effectively divorce-related concerns. Divorce control children had higher rates of school tardiness and more frequent visits to the school nurse.
    • Parents also reported their children had experienced multiple or other benefits including increased ability to talk about their feelings, less anxiety, self-blame and somatic symptoms, and increased self-confidence, problem-solving abilities and coping skills.
    • Children were measured using the Teacher Child Rating Scale, Parent Evaluation Form, Children's Family Adjustment Scale, the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory for Children, and a telephone interview of custodial parents.

Program

Program Description and Evaluation

Rollercoasters

Families First

Atlanta, Georgia

Program Description

  • Program of Families First of Atlanta to help children facing parents' separation, divorce, remarriage or death to:
    • understand their up-and-down feelings;
    • resolve self-blame and other myths;
    • manage anger;
    • develop new coping strategies; and
    • learn to avoid being put in the middle of parent conflicts.

    (Based on Wallerstein and Kelly, 1980's six divorce-related coping tasks (Fischer, 1997)).

  • Groups of 6-8 children led by experienced counselling professionals (largely school counsellors) in which children raise questions, and the group process allows them to talk about their feelings and understand them. Activities-based (Fischer, 1997; http://www.familiesfirst.org). A total of 51 children participated.
  • Primary group for children ages 5-8, intermediate group for ages 9 to 12.
  • Curriculum-based.

Eight weekly meetings of nearly an hour each.

Located primarily in schools (counsellor's office) during school day.

Program Evaluation

  • Parents' pre- and post-program surveys show few parents felt prior to the program that their children were experiencing difficulty communicating about the divorce, though more felt the children were acting out, had low self-esteem, or were unwilling to express their feelings. About 45percent of parents reported improvements in acting out and communication after the program, and two-thirds felt the child's willingness to express feelings had improved. Overall, 85percent of parents reported improvement on some measure (Fischer 1997). Non-respondents to the post-program survey (30percent) were mostly fathers.
  • Children who were reported more communicative before the program were most likely to improve on that score by the end of the program. Children who expressed feelings less, had lower self-esteem or acted out more than other children before the program improved the most on these dimensions following the program.
  • Most parents said they would recommend the course.
  • Children's teachers' pre- and post-program assessment (using Behaviour Problems Index) showed relatively few children had behavioural problems at school before the program (about 20percent) and children showed a non-significant improvement after the course (Fischer 1997).
  • A low sample size and wide variation among sites and children at the sites.

Program

Program Description and Evaluation

Kids' Turn

San Francisco, California

Program Description

  • Community program for children with separating or divorcing parents, linked with concurrent parents' program, run on schools and community agencies. Families may be referred to, or self-refer to, the program. (Bolen 1993; http://www.kidsturn.org).
  • Children's programs aim to:
    • demystify and de-stigmatize the separation process;
    • provide a safe place for children and parents to discuss their thoughts and feelings about their experience;
    • provide information to parents and children about other services in the community; and
    • provide children and parents with communication and problem-solving skills to help them through the separation process (Bolen 1993; Di Bias 1996; Schepard 1998).
  • Parents program aims to teach parents not to put children in the middle, to improve communication and family structure, to build children's self-esteem, and to deal with the other parent.
  • Parents and children attend separate concurrent groups (two parent groups run to allow both parents to attend separately). Parents and children join in potluck supper at end of the course.
  • Children's small age-based groups led by pairs of qualified teachers and mental health professionals. Parents' groups led by mental health professionals.
  • Children's groups activities-based, and include watching Divorce and Other Monsters video, drawing, puppets, visits by family court judge, writing newsletter to parents, role-play. Six weekly 90-minute sessions.
  • Small fees, waived on request. Plans to franchise program beyond San Francisco area (Bolen 1993).

Program Evaluation

  • Parents and older children participating were overwhelmingly positive in exit evaluations. Graduates most likely to cite support, increased understanding of separation/divorce process, greater optimism, and better parent-child and parent-parent communication as program benefits (Bolen 1993).
  • Program seems most effective when both parents participate (Bolen 1993).

Program

Program Description and Evaluation

Kids Koping with Divorce

Good News Community, Grand Rapids, Michigan

Program Description

  • Expressive program to help children discuss feelings about the divorce, to understand divorce, and to learn better ways to cope with it (http://www.goodnewscommunity.org/index.pl/; Blaisure and Geasler, 2000). Linked with parents' program.
  • Children and parents meet in concurrent groups (two parent groups run to allow both parents to attend separately). Parents, staff, and children share a meal together at the outset of the eight week, eight meeting program.
  • Children's groups run by trained facilitator under supervision of a professional family and children's therapist. Adults confer with a social worker.
  • Children's group activities based, including video lessons, playing games, discussing feelings, using puppets, drawings and role-play.

Program Evaluation

None found.


Program

Program Description and Evaluation

Children's Support Program

Marriage Council of Philadelphia

Program Description

  • Program to help children discuss feelings about the divorce, understand divorce, and express their feelings, especially to parents (citation in Davis et al. 1997).
  • Parent and children's groups meet in concurrent support groups. Parents attend at least one children's group session as a participant. All the children in the family participate in the children's programs.
  • Group leaders may also contact other mental health professionals, lawyers, teachers and clergy, etc., who may be helping the family, if parents agree.
  • Sessions run for up to four months. Children can attend more than one group series and can thus be followed for as long as a year.

Program Evaluation

  • Parents report more frequent open discussions about the divorce with their children than before the program, as well as fewer angry and exchanges with their children over household matters, with exchanges less intense (citation in Davis et al. 1997).
  • Parents also report their children are more willing to talk about the divorce with peers and significant adults outside the family.
  • Non-custodial parents report increased comfort and greater candor from their children about past and present dissatisfactions and fears of abandonment.

Program

Program Description and Evaluation

Group Mediation Model of Family Court Service

Alameda County, California

Program Description

  • Court-based program for parents and children in custody and access disputes, to provide therapeutic emotional help children caught in the middle, and encourage parents to comply with existing court orders and reduce ongoing conflict (Schepard 1998).
  • Eligible participants must have failed twice at mediation, and children must appear to be suffering. Screened by court employees, and about one-half attending by court order.
  • Eight 90-minute weekly sessions.
  • Separate parents' and children's sessions for first half of course, with fifth session a joint one with parents, children and counsellors. Parents' sessions include therapeutic emotional help, which later segue into mediation.
  • Joint sessions led by mixed-gender group counsellors

Program Evaluation

Nine-month follow-up showed men and women in the program were substantially more cooperative, expressed less disagreement with each other, and were more likely to resolve the disputed custody issues with their ex-partner than a control group of similarly litigious parents. Domestic violence diminished to negligible levels (Johnston 1997, cited in Schepard, 1998).

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