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What to do when parents have little/no contact with their children?

What to do when parents have little/no contact with their children?

Facilitator Best Practice Question:

“I just had a query in relation to parental participation on the Children’s Programme. The next parenting programme we are rolling out is due to begin soon and we have a had a number of parents interested in taking part who have little/ no contact at present with their children due to ongoing custody hearings but have been court-ordered to complete a parenting programme. My question is, do you feel it is appropriate for parents in this situation to take part in the programme?”

Answer: “It is not ideal for a parent to attend a Parents Plus Programme when they have little/ no contact with their children. As the Parents Plus Programmes are practical courses, they are designed for parents who see their children on a daily or at least a weekly basis. Each week, parents are given ‘homework tips’ and strategies that they can try out at home with their children and then report on progress to the group the following week – this is how the Parents Plus model works. Progress would be curtailed greatly if the parents cannot see their children and try out the ideas. Indeed, they may become demoralised in the group if other parents are reporting changes and successes when they have no possibility of doing this. The Parenting when Separated course is somewhat an exception as a lot of the course content is about the parents own personal development and coping, so occasionally some parents with little contact with their children can still attend and benefit (though the ideal is still that they are in contact with their children during the course). This is often the case for fathers applying through the court for contact or guardianship When parents are referred to attend when they have little contact with their children, it is important to explore fruitful ways that they can attend. Sometimes there is an opportunity to use the referral as a chance to set up better contact for the parent. For example, in many situations Parents Plus facilitators have negotiated with the referring social worker for the parent to have increased access to the children during the course, so they can benefit more. Indeed, this can fit with a practical child protection plan that is focused on ensuring the parent has more constructive involvement in the child’s life or when there is desire to test out if the child can be returned to their care. With court referrals there can still be opportunities to negotiate an increased level of contact during the attendance at the group, and many judges will recommend this if it they are informed of this option. The options above do require a high level of negotiation with the statutory services. However, there are also incidences where the parent cannot achieve increased or even some with contact their children and still wants to attend the course. In those instances you can still allow them to attend once you have talked through the issues with them such as how they might feel doing the course, and what they might disclose about their situation in the group. An alternative might be to delay attendance until the next group and to use the intervening time to support them to resolve the issues of contact. For example, you might do a number of individual sessions with them and advocate on their behalf with the services with the aim of starting a group in the near future”.

John Sharry, CEO, Parents Plus