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

2004-FCY-2E

APPENDIX A
CANADIAN PROGRAMS FOR THE CHILDREN OF SEPARATING AND DIVORCING PARENTS

Table A.0 Canada-Wide

Type of Program

Program Description and Evaluation

Rainbows

Program Description

  • Peer support program operating, or licensed to operate, at 1,070 sites in all Canadian provinces except Saskatchewan. Not available in the Territories (see AppendixC for full program description and evaluation of some U.S. sites). Number of sites offering regular programming is unknown. In 2000, the Canadian program served an estimated 9,000 children, with grades four through six the largest age group served. An estimated 85percent of participants were children of divorce or separation (Bertram, pers. comm.).
  • Offered primarily by schools and religious organizations. Availability varies greatly by region—there are two sites in PEI and none in Toronto, for example, but 95percent of schools in Durham Region northeast of Toronto have programs. Organizations approach program offices for licensing, training and materials. Knowledge of the program is largely by word of mouth.
  • About one-half of participating Canadian children receive the religious version of the program, and one-half the secular version.
  • There are long waiting lists to participate in the four Barrie, Ont., program sites (which serve a total of of 20 children at a time), but it is not known whether waiting lists exist elsewhere too.

Table A.1 British Columbia

Type of Program

Program Description and Evaluation

Court-connected Programs

No program is currently offered. However, officials are considering whether to add a children's program, either as a component to the existing Parenting After Separation parent education program, or as a program especially for children (Morgan, pers. comm.).

Community Programs

Peer Support Group for Children, ARK Child Services Society

A sprinkling of programs available.

Program Description

  • Therapeutic program for children and parents experiencing separation and divorce, funded by the Province and linked to the Burnaby-New Westminster Family Justice Centre. Provides group and individual counselling (Morgan, pers. comm.).
  • Program goals are to:
    • provide parents and children a (separate) opportunity to meet and share with peers;
    • provide an atmosphere of belonging, love and security in which children can share their feelings;
    • help the children express and understand their feelings;
    • discuss various topics such as grief, anger and trust; and
    • support parents through the divorce/separation process and discuss topics of the parents' choosing.
  • Open to all families, but preference is given to families referred by the Burnaby/New Westminster Family Justice Counsellor (only children so referred receive the additional individual counselling).
  • Intensive intake of up to 12 hours per family, followed by six group sessions of 2.5 hours each for parents, and 2.5 hours each for children. There is a maximum of seven children per session.
  • Up to five individual therapy sessions for each child, up to 40 hours total service.
  • Agency staff provide information and liaison to Burnaby-New Westminster Family Justice Centre staff and other government agencies.

Connections

ARK Child Services Society

Program Description

  • Peer support group curriculum for children experiencing crises, traumas, or upheavals due to their parents' separation or divorce.
  • Purpose:
    • To be used by professionals (school counsellors, therapists, social workers, pastors, etc.) trained in listening skills, to help youth discuss their feelings and experiences of divorce or separation. Can be used with a minimum of preparation.
    • Premised on the assumption that children are more likely to turn to sympathetic adults or trained counsellors to talk about their experiences than to their parents, extended family or classmates.
    • Designed for groups of four to seven children, led by one or two adults.
    • The curriculum is flexible for different age groups. It can incorporate drama, puppets and other activities for younger children.

Kids' Turn Vancouver

Program Description

Circle of Friends

Boys and Girls Clubs of BC

Program Description

  • Support group for young people aged 8 to 20 suffering loss, including family deconstruction (information on this BC program is available on this Saskatchewan Justice website: http://www.saskjustice.gov.sk.ca).
  • Professionally led weekly meetings in schools or community agencies.
  • Potential participants meet for a one-hour orientation with a trained facilitator, where confidentiality is also taught and stressed.

Other

Counselling

Individual and family counselling available privately and through community agencies.


Table A.2 Alberta

Type of Program

Program Description and Evaluation

Court-connected Programs

The Province's mandatory parent education program currently includes no children's component. However, there are suggestions to add a children's program (Delanghe, pers. comm.).

Community Programs

There is little available through social service agencies, although Rainbows is fairly widely available (see Table A.0 ).

Children of Divorce Program
Calgary Counselling
Centre

Program Description

Program to help children and parents adjust to life changes resulting from separation and divorce (http://www.inform.calgary.org).

  • Groups are therapist-led.
  • Open to all families in which parents have been separated at least six months.
  • Fees are charged on a sliding scale up to $90 per counselling hour.

Program Evaluation

Published pre-test results of an evaluation begun in 2000 show 60percent of children from divorced homes in the program showed signs of clinical depression, compared to 20percent of children in intact families in a control group. Dominant signs were low self-esteem and high irritability. Three-quarters of divorced parents were experiencing clinical levels of stress related to life-situational factors and two-thirds were experiencing stress related to parenting the children. One third were experiencing extreme crisis placing them at risk of abusive behaviour, compared to none of the parents in intact families (Wolfe 2001, cited in Bacon and McKenzie 2001).

Other

Counselling

Individual and family counselling available privately and through community agencies.


Table A.3 Saskatchewan

Type of Program

Program Description and Evaluation

Court-connected Programs

A curriculum was developed two years ago for a program for children experiencing parental separation or divorce, but no program was implemented because of lack of resources (Behr, pers. comm.).

  • Proposed education-oriented course involves three to four weeks of two-hour sessions for children only.
  • Court officials are considering how community agencies might deliver the course (Behr, pers. comm.).

Community Programs

A sprinkling of programs is available around the province, provided by various agencies (Digout, pers. comm.). Individual and family counselling are also available in provincial centres.

Other

Counselling

Individual and family counselling are available privately and through community agencies.


Table A.4 Manitoba

Type of Program

Program Description and Evaluation

Court-connected Programs

Caught in the Middle

Program Description

  • Voluntary, court-provided support and education program for children 8-10 or 11-12 years old whose parents are in conflict over separation and divorce issues (http://www.gov.mb.ca/fs/programs/brochures).
  • Small groups of six to eight children in either of the two age groups are given an opportunity to work through their questions, concerns and anxieties with children their own age on issues of self-esteem, family restructuring, loss, anger and grief, stepfamilies, blended families, dealing with family conflict, loyalty issues, feelings and legal concerns. No parents' program link.
  • Therapeutically oriented, experiential sessions led by professional counsellors.
  • Ten weekly 90-minute sessions, offered twice a year in Winnipeg, serving about 14 to 18 children a year.
  • Children are screened with parents before entry to ensure that their ages are appropriate and that the program is likely to benefit the children. Parents and children may meet with the facilitator again at the end of the program.
  • Free to all Manitoba children, including children whose parents divorced several years earlier. Parents typically bring their children because they feel a problem exists or they want their children to be informed about the process (Bewski, pers. comm.).
  • This program was developed a decade ago by Manitoba court staff, based on contemporary research. Court officials are considering shortening the program, offering it more often and reviewing the content (Bewski, pers. comm.).

Program Evaluation

No recent evaluation is available.

Community Programs

Giving Children Hope

The Family Centre of Winnipeg


Program Description

  • A program for parents and children in high-conflict families experiencing separation or divorce, aimed to help parents refocus on their children's developmental needs (Rauh, pers. comm.).
  • Parents involved in litigation required to suspend it during the program.
  • Consists of therapeutically/oriented parallel sessions for small separate groups of about six parents and children. The parents attend six weekly therapeutic sessions separately, followed by another six weeks of joint mediation to develop shared parenting plans. The children's sessions begin two or three weeks before the adult sessions. The children's sessions are activity- and age-based.
  • One adult and two children's therapists lead the sessions.
  • Extensive intake assessment involving four meetings, one each with individual parents, and one with each parent and child.
  • The sessions are based on a manual developed by Janet Johnston (Johnston and Roseby 1997); includes some modifications depending on families.

Program Evaluation

The evaluation is nearly finished, involving qualitative research with 10 families, and quantitative analysis using parent conflict scale and parent-rated child behaviour scale. Quantitative data are positive, showing families cease litigation and are able to sustain parenting plans reached during mediation. Families in this evaluation completed the program up to two years ago.

Other

Counselling

Family counselling provided for parents and children experiencing divorce and separation at Family Centre.

Counselling is also available in some other agencies in Winnipeg and in other centres.


Table A.5 Ontario

Type of Program

Program Description and Evaluation

Court-connected Programs

  • None (Dwyer-Hunte, pers. comm.).
  • Family Court clinics connected to courts in various provincial centres may provide programs for children. Since 1999, each unified family court in the province contracts for four services, including parent education programs. It is not known if any of these programs include children's program components.
  • Until recently, Toronto's Family Court Clinic partnered with the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry to provide For Kids' Sake, an intensive therapy-based program for children in distress as a result of their parents' high conflict separation and divorce.

Community Programs

Specialized Programs for Changing Families

Program Description

  • Families in Transition (FIT) offers therapeutic programs for children and their parents, solution-focused individual and family counselling, educational group programs and closed mediation of parenting plans in which children may be involved.
  • The programs (including support-groups for lone parents and a program for stepfamilies) serve about 1,500 parents and children annually, with 80 to 100 families being served in the core program.

Families in Transition, Family Services Association of Metropolitan Toronto

Core Program

  • Therapeutically-based parallel sessions for children and parents (each parent in separate group) aimed to:
    • reduce parental conflict;
    • create functional co-parental relationships;
    • support children's grieving; and
    • strengthen parent-child relationships.
  • No curriculum. Includes some basic information about the divorce/separation process and skill building. Children's groups may include videos, letters to parents, as well as facilitated discussion. Led by qualified counsellors.
  • Children's groups age-based, serving children aged 4-14, and all run on Saturday mornings.
  • Open to all families. On applying to enter the program, families—including those referred by courts, lawyers and other professionals—are given an in-depth assessment to identify treatment needs and set specific goals.
  • Each family receives a case manager who follows up with parents and children at the end of the course to identify goals met and new needs. Some families may proceed into mediation, or to preparing or revising parenting plans (or they may already have had mediation).
  • Program serves high and low conflict families, but families are increasingly high conflict (Freeman, pers. comm.). FITresearchers are currently developing ways to adapt their services for diverse ethno-racial and cultural families.

Counselling

  • Following the initial assessment (or the core program), family members may be referred to therapeutic counselling.
  • Families are directed to different services depending on their ability to tolerate group sessions, rather than on the level of family conflict or other problems facing the family.

One Family, Two Homes

Jewish Child and Family Service

Program Description

  • A program for parents and children experiencing divorce and separation that provides information to parents and a venue for children to express their feelings and discuss coping strategies (Gertner, pers. comm.).
  • A three-week workshop for parents provides information about their children's needs and the impact of their behaviours on their children, as well as legal information about divorce and separation (fourth week for parents with adolescents). Loosely structured parallel group for children allows children to talk about their feelings and discuss coping strategies. May include the video Children in the Middle with activities.
  • Children's group for children five and older only.
  • The program was originally developed two years ago because of long waiting lists for the more intensive Picking Up the Pieces and now runs several times a year. Some parents proceed to the more intensive program, or other services, after completing One Family, Two Homes, while others appear to have gotten what they needed.

Program Evaluation

No evaluation. High satisfaction ratings.

Picking Up the Pieces

Jewish Child and Family Service

Program Description

  • A therapy-oriented program for parents and children experiencing divorce and separation, aimed primarily to improve communication among parents and children. Not intended for high conflict parents who cannot examine their own behaviour, or families where violence is involved (Gertner, pers. comm.).
  • Parallel group sessions for parents (separated parents attend different groups) and children (run after school).
  • Children's groups are age-based (ranges depend on ages of children in the program at the time).
  • Six weekly sessions, wrap-up meeting with family at the end of six weeks, plus a seventh follow-up six weeks later for parents individually.
  • Intensive intake assessment (two to three hours) involving interviews with family together, where possible, to see the family dynamic, and individual interviews.
  • Children's sessions are activity-based. Children are facilitated to express feelings and articulate their needs and interests to parents. Small parents' sessions (seven to ten parents) involve group therapy to help parents grasp how their children are feeling and experiencing events and to leave their own needs aside to focus on their children's.
  • Counsellors facilitating parent's and children's groups meet regularly to ensure issues raised by children are addressed in parents' groups, and other cross-fertilizations.
  • Wrap-up meeting consolidates learning. Follow-up appraises the changes parents have been able to make, reinforces goals and behaviours, and helps parents identify further needs, including further services.

Program Evaluation

High satisfaction ratings. No formal evaluation because of difficulty finding suitable instruments, but internal evaluation to begin shortly.

Counselling

Parents and children in the program can be linked with individual and family counselling as needed.

Other Children's Programs

A sprinkling of other children's programs appears to exist in Toronto and other provincial centres.

Other

Counselling

  • Other group programs believed to be sprinkled around the province and in Toronto and other metropolitan centres.
  • Family and individual counselling available in family service agencies and other agencies around the province.
  • Private therapists and family counsellors available in most parts of the province.

Table A.6 Quebec

Type of Program

Program Description and Evaluation

Court-connected Programs

Province considering reconfiguring the information session on the province-wide mediation services that courts currently provide to separating and divorcing parents. Plan under consideration is to expand the information session to two sessions totalling two to threehours and turn it into more of a parent education session (Tanguay, pers. comm.). It is possible that the reconfigured sessions would include something for children.

Confidences

Centres jeunesse de Montréal

Program Description

  • Children's program for children whose parents are in voluntary mediation, or receiving a psychosocial evaluation (custody assessment). Not linked to the parent education program that is provided. However, is linked where possible with the mediation and custody assessment process (Filion, pers. comm.) and two-thirds of referrals come from mediators (Vallant 1999)
  • Program aims to:
    • provide a safe space for children to share with other children and express their feelings;
    • help children tell parents how they feel;
    • help children explore solutions to their difficulties; and
    • increase parents' awareness of children's needs and wishes.
  • Children enter the voluntary program only with their parents' permission. The counsellor running the sessions meets with both parents to make clear she will not appear as an expert witness in court, and will include mediators and custody evaluators in final follow-up meeting where possible.
  • Four sessions for six to ten or eleven year olds. Small groups of five to eightchildren. Currently offered only in French. Serves about 55 children a year (seven groups).
  • Open to all children except those with serious behavioural problems.
  • Following the children's sessions, the counsellor/facilitator talks to both parents together, where possible, about their children's needs and how they can best take their children's needs into account. Mediators or experts preparing psychosocial evaluations are present at these meetings. The children are sometimes present.
  • A high demand exists for program, and for a similar program for adolescents. However, resources do not permit more.
  • A ball-park estimate is that 25percent of children of mediating parents at Montreal centre use the program.

Program Evaluation

  • A survey of 160 parents and 112 children in the program (Vallant 1999) found about one third of the parents felt their children's sense of security had been increased by seeing other children in the same situation, and nearly as many thought the program helped their children express themselves more easily about the separation. One quarter of the Parents reported their children were calmer, and one-fifth felt their children expressed themselves more readily about the separation.
  • Sixty-threepercent of parents felt the final meeting between parents, child and counsellor helped them understand their children's needs and feelings better, and 13percent saw it as an occasion to show their love to their child.
  • Almost one-half the parents reported their children were enthusiastic at the prospect of participating in the program, while one eighth were apprehensive about the first meeting.
  • Sixty-eightpercent of the children reported being very happy participating in the program, and less than fivepercent responded negatively. Their most frequent reasons for enjoying it were that it gave them a chance to talk about the separation (12percent), and to meet other children in the same situation (11percent). Another 13percent said they found talking about the separation boring. The activity preferred by 65percent of the children was to discuss their feelings using dog photos.
  • Eighty percent of the children felt the program activities (puppet theatre, drawing, talking, watching a video, final meeting with parents) had helped them, with 36percent saying it had helped them talk about the separation, and 15percent saying that it had helped them understand the separation.
  • Over 90percent of children told their parents very little or nothing of what went on in the group.
  • Parents most often saw the program as a place where their children could express their feelings (28percent), and could comprehend the separation (26percent).

Community Programs

A sprinkling of children's programs exist, provided by organizations such as Montreal Catholic Counselling and Mediation Centre.

Other

Counselling

Individual counselling for children experiencing their parents' separation or divorce in some centres.


Table A.7 Nova Scotia

Type of Program

Program Description and Evaluation

Court-connected Programs

  • No court programs. A mandatory parent education program exists for parents (Hebert, pers. comm.).
  • A complementary voluntary program for children has been developed and may be in place in 2001-2002 (Nichols, pers. comm.). The program will be four to six hours long and education-oriented. Goals include helping children understand that their parents will not reconcile and that they are not to blame.

Community Programs

Few to no programs for children adjusting to divorce or separation. Informal or intermittent supports may be offered at some family resource centres (Blanchard, Wenzel, pers. comm.) and have been offered in schools at various points (Nichols, pers. comm.).

Other

Counselling

Individual counselling for children experiencing their parents' separation or divorce in some centres.


Table A.8 New Brunswick

Type of Program

Program Description and Evaluation

Court-connected programs

No court programs. Parent education program recently introduced (Guravich, pers. comm.).

Community Programs

  • Few, if any, regular group programs for children experiencing their parents' separation or divorce (Smith, pers. comm.). Some ad hoc groups for children receiving individual counselling and therapy at Family Services of Fredericton Inc.
  • Discussions begun about introducing intensive therapy-based program modeled on the former For Kids' Sake program provided until recently by the former Clarke Institute for Psychiatry in Toronto (see Table A.5 ).

Other

Counselling

Family and child counselling for children experiencing their parents' separation or divorce in Fredericton and possibly other centres.


Table A.9 Prince Edward Island

Type of Program

Program Description and Evaluation

Court-connected Programs

  • No court programs. Parent education recently introduced for parents (Bulger, pers. comm.).
  • No programs for children. Need felt for program (Lightwood, pers. comm.).

Community Programs

Few ongoing programs for children currently (McCann-Beranger, pers. comm.).

Other

Counselling

Individual and group counselling programs for families and children at P.E.I.'s three family service centres in Charlottetown and Summerside (Lightwood, McCann-Beranger, pers. comm.).


Table A.10 Newfoundland and Labrador

Type of Program

Program Description and Evaluation

Court-connected Programs

Children's Program
St. John's,
Family Court

Program Description

  • Program offered about twice yearly for children experiencing their parents' separation or divorce, aiming to:
    • normalize the experience;
    • provide an opportunity for children to express their feelings;
    • help children develop coping strategies; and
    • familiarize children with the terms around divorce and separation.
  • Eight weekly sessions of 90 minutes, led by court counsellors with intern support. No parents' program link.
  • Education and activities for age-based groups of children, including game playing, watching videos (including Children in the Middle and Children: The Experts on Divorce), writing letters to parents about how they feel and identifying their needs.
  • Open to all families, including those in other court-connected programs.
  • Program has run off and on—depending on resources—for about 10 years. Does not meet demand (Foster, pers. comm.).

Program Evaluation

No evaluation.

Community Programs

It's Still O.K.

Health Care Corporation
of St.John's

Few or no programs, especially outside St. John's.

Program Description

  • Program for children experiencing their parents' separation or divorce aimed to help children identify and deal with their feelings, get a sense of support around, and normalcy of, the experience, understand the experience, bolster the children's self-esteem and ability to cope, and help them understand the court process and role in divorce and separation (Sinclair, pers. comm.). Therapeutically oriented, activity-based small groups of 9 to 12year olds, led by trained counsellors. Includes sessions with parents before and after the children's course. More activity-based groups for younger children, depending on resources.
  • Open to all families (often referred by the court). Children tend to be more distressed than average. Children in program may also be in individual therapy at the centre.
  • Program operating for about four years.

Program Evaluation

No systematic evaluation. Parents are asked to assess changes after course. Most likely to indicate child is less irritable or aggressive, cries less and can articulate feelings better. Sometimes children become more agitated, as feelings surface.

Focus Consultations

Health Care Corporation
of St.John's

Program Description

  • Intensive short-term counselling
  • Intensive family therapy for parents and children experiencing their parents' separation or divorce. Narrative therapy involving two therapists in hourly weekly sessions over six weeks. Solution focussed. Serves 70 to 80families annually.

Program Evaluation

No long-term evaluation but 91percent of parents completing course judged to need no further interventions.

Other

Counselling

Family and individual counselling available in some centres.


Table A.11 Yukon

Type of Program

Program Description and Evaluation

Court-connected and Community Programs

  • No court-connected program (McLeod, pers. comm.).
  • No established community programs. However, a proposal is under discussion for local community services and counselling agencies to provide an education-based program for 6 to 12 year olds in elementary schools, and involve school counsellors (McLeod, pers. comm.).

Other

Counselling

Some family and individual counselling available.


Table A.12 Northwest Territories

Type of Program

Program Description and Evaluation

Court-connected and Community Programs

  • No court-connected programs for children experiencing their parents' separation or divorce (Laycock, pers. comm.).
  • No group-based community programs for children experiencing parental separation or divorce who are not in overt distress (Bentley, pers. comm.).

Other

Counselling

  • Most of the children needing intensive supports in the N.W.T. are not receiving them (Bentley, pers. comm.).
  • Yellowknife Health and Social Services Board, part of the territorial government, provides group and individual therapy to children experiencing difficulties in adjusting to changes in family structure:
    • for children up to age 19 typically experiencing significant behaviour problems, who also may be in child protection;
    • walk-in clinic, but also referred by child protection services, doctors;
    • typically solution-focussed, short-term therapy of less than 6-8 sessions. Provided by 2.5 therapists, including psychologists and mental health professional;
    • more than 300 children served annually; and
    • no evaluation since provincial government took over this responsibility in 2000.
  • Private therapists in Yellowknife.

Table A.13 Nunavut

Type of Program

Program Description and Evaluation

Court-connected and Community Programs

No programs available (Berzins, pers. comm.).

Other

Counselling

Government social workers posted in communities provide some family and individual counselling.


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