What about me? Reframing Support for Families following Parental Separation – The Family Solutions Group (FSG) Report - One year on

30 November 2021

This month marks the one year anniversary of the publication of the FSG’s report ‘What about Me’. The FSG (of which I am fortunate to be a member), was set up in early 2020 (as a multi-disciplinary sub-group of the Private Law Working Group, chaired by Mr Justice Cobb) to produce recommendations to improve the experiences of, and opportunities for, separating families away from the Family Court. The report, supported by the President of the Family Division, was widely publicised and launched via a webinar attended by over 400 family professionals.  

The report included the following key recommendations:-

  1. Children come first –a framework of support services is needed, one that all children can access which respects their rights and needs, hears their voice and promotes and protects their long-term development and wellbeing.
  2. Early information and assessment – Families should have information and support at an early stage, to access the pathway best suited to their family’s needs before issues escalate.  Families who are at risk of harm or abuse or have particular challenges need the family court; most other families need high quality, holistic and affordable support away from court.  Such holistic support (to include legal services, mediation, parenting specialists and counselling) should be recognised as best practice, to help parents resolve issues together, rather than work against each other.
  3. Positive parenting relationships following separation.  Most parents going through separation need support to manage their emotions and understand how the quality of their continuing parenting relationship will impact their child. The FSG seeks resources to be made available to support separated parents to have better relationships for the sake of their children, wherever this is in children’s best interests and not compromising their or their parents’ safety.
  4. Public education and language –The FSG seeks the promotion of a relational understanding of family breakdown, centred round safety for all and the long-term wellbeing of any children in the family.  Judges, lawyers, mediators and all those who support separated families must also be mindful of the language they use. To assist, our recommendations included training for all legal professionals on the emotional journey for separating parents, the risk of harm to children of parental conflict and the impact on their client’s ability to make child focussed decisions;
  5. Political oversight – To realise the changes sought, the FSG seek a coordinated, joined-up approach across government departments to tackle the financial and human cost of family breakdown.

The original remit of the FSG, chaired brilliantly by Helen Adam, was to produce the report and then leave others to take up the baton to consider and implement our recommendations for change. But, following the encouraging response to the report (within and outside the family profession) and, with the President’s and Mr Justice’s Cobb’s support, the FSG has continued to meet.  Importantly, we want to continue the conversations and connections that we have made with individuals and organisations from across the family arena, ranging from the judiciary, charities, legal and mediation organisations, training groups and MPs and government departments, to build on these relationships with a view to pressing for real change and not allowing the needs of the separating family to continue to be overlooked.

The introduction of ‘no fault’ divorce via the implementation of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 in April 2022, is a key opportunity to raise public awareness on the urgent need for a change of approach to parental separation and to refocus on the needs and rights of children. Crucially, there is strong support to our recommendations by the President of the Family Division. In his presentation in October 2021 he stated:-

"What About Me? is, to my mind, absolutely spot on in identifying the gaps that currently exist in the provision that is available to support and guide separating parents and in spelling out in considerable detail how those gaps should now be filled… . My aim is to use the FSG report ‘What About Me?’ as the blueprint for radical change and to do all that I can to press for its recommendations to be implemented… The FSG report looks to the future. What I have said so far in describing my support for the proposals of the Family Solutions Group has, therefore, been aspirational. It is what I will be pushing to try to achieve over the next one or two years"

While the FSG are encouraged by the support we have received, we are acutely aware that change to the legal and societal approach following parental separation is a momentous task and not one which can easily be done within the three remaining years of MacFarlane LJ's presidency to which he aspires.

The FSG have already made great strides in pushing for change and Part 2 of my article will set out some of the work we’ve done over the last year and highlight our future plans. For the President’s aspirations to be met we need support from those dealing with separated families and anyone  who wishes to assist feel free to get in touch with any member of the FSG.

This is part one of the blog, part two will follow shortly.

FURTHER INFORMATION

If you have any questions about the issues raised in this, please contact a member of our family and divorce team.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Charlotte Bradley is head of the family and divorce team at Kingsley Napley, where she has been a partner since 2001. Charlotte specialises in all aspects of family law, particularly international issues, both in relation to finance and children. She has a reputation for cross border jurisdiction issues, particularly European and Relocation cases, and for acting for unmarried parents in Schedule 1 (financial provision) cases. 

 

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