Written by Charlotte Gosden
The word ‘programme’ has instant connotations of teaching, lessons or training but this is exactly not what the Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP) is, or is trying to be.
Whether you have been ordered by the court or have volunteered to take part, the SPIP can be vital in guiding you and your child(ren) through your separation or divorce. Its aim is not to teach parents how to be ‘better’ parents, but rather to provide support and useful knowledge that will help you achieve your goal of putting your child(ren)’s needs first through this difficult time. Skills and information on how to navigate through conflict with your partner are particularly emphasised in order to create a positive parental relationship.
What is it and how is it helpful?
In terms of how the programme runs, as stated you may be ordered by the court to attend one of these sessions or you may feel you would like to voluntarily take part. These sessions are 4 hours long and run all around the country on behalf of CAFCASS and in many cases do not come with a fee, particularly if attendance is ordered by the court. Don’t worry, you will not be asked to attend the same session as your ex-partner as not only does this avoid conflict, it also means that you can work on your own growth and understanding rather than focussing on someone else. The programme involves a mixture of activities including: listening to talks, written tasks, watching a DVD, and group discussions (although this is completely voluntary and you will not be asked to discuss your situation if you do not want to).
The SPIP focusses on guidance on four main areas with the first being how to keep the best interest of your child(ren) in mind. It is easy to believe you are doing what’s best for your child(ren) without truly understanding the consequences of your actions. For example, you may believe you are protecting them from your ex-partner by telling them the ‘bad’ things they have done. However this exposure to negative opinions can often lead to your child(ren) having their own personal struggle, unsure of who to believe or who to be angry at. This can have extremely negative effects on their relationships in the long term. Therefore, the guidance given by this programme on how to truly keep the best interests of your child(ren) in mind is invaluable.
The SPIP also aims to reveal the emotional impact of separation on your child(ren). Divorce or separation can be a chaotic time with much focus on the conflict that may arise between you and your ex-partner as well as the emotions that you are experiencing. But this often leaves the feelings of your child(ren) forgotten. Young child(ren) in particular can find it hard to identify their own complex emotions so by shedding light on these you can begin to understand the impact of your separation or divorce.
As well as this, guidance is given about what child(ren) need and what to do after identifying negative emotions in your child(ren), using a DVD made by young people that follows a family over a 6 month period. This can be used as a real-life guide on how to support your child(ren). The real-life element is particularly important as it can also remind and reassure you that you are not alone and there are plenty of other couples and child(ren) going through exactly the same struggles. Often, just by seeing this, stress and worry can lessen.
The last element of this programme focusses on how to communicate as parents, using prepared scenarios from different viewpoints and being taught a variety of practical ways to reduce stress. This is extremely valuable in that although you are not asked to take the perspective of your own ex-partner, you are guided on how you can do this and reminded of the importance of stepping into someone else’s shoes when going through conflict. By doing this, you can begin to understand the views of your ex-partner and therefore communicate more positively with them.
Finally, it is worth pointing out that it is not only the activities and tasks that are valuable in this programme but also just mere attendance. Being with others who are going through similar things can bring comfort and remind you that you are not alone, no matter how much you feel it. You also may be more likely to express emotions to these individuals that you would perhaps not like to or feel awkward expressing to someone who is not going through the same. Expressing these emotions can do a world of good for your psychological wellbeing and consequently have a positive impact on the situation with your ex-partner and child(ren).
Still not convinced?
It is not uncommon to be reluctant to attend the SPIP but most find that after they do, they have no regrets and are in no doubt that this programme can harvest positive outcomes. This is illustrated by statistics and testimonials, to which a few have been provided below.
· ‘the delivery of the course was excellent and I would recommend it to any parent going though separation regardless of whether they get along or not, as it would certainly prevent any issues that may arise’(1)
· Of 100 parents who attended across Manchester and South Yorkshire 88% strongly agreed with the statement: ‘I have learnt things on the SPIP group that I will be able to use to make things better for my children’(2)
· ‘Extremely useful, I didn’t attend two years ago at the start of everything. Nevertheless this has been a timely reminder for me, thank you!’(1)
The Family Law specialists at Antony Clapp Solicitors can help with your divorce, separation and child arrangement requirements. Contact the team to arrange an initial appointment.
(1) CAFCASSs - Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. (2019). Separated Parents Information Programme - CAFCASS - Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. [online] Available at: https://www.cafcass.gov.uk/grown-ups/parents-and-carers/divorce-and-separation/separated-parents-information-programme/ [Accessed 22 Aug. 2019].
(2) Family Action. (2019). Separated Parents Information Programme - Family Action. [online] Available at: https://www.family-action.org.uk/what-we-do/children-families/spips/ [Accessed 22 Aug. 2019].