Supporting children’s wellbeing when working with separating parents

Content type
Event date

13 October 2021, 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm (AEST)


Emily Stevens, Roxanne Nathan, Felicity Kime, Chris Dolman




About this webinar

This webinar was held on Wednesday, 13 October 2021.  

Separation can cause high levels of stress for families and significantly impact children’s wellbeing. The extent of this impact is influenced by factors such as the quality of the parent–child relationship, the presence of family violence, and the level of parental conflict.

Engaging with distressed parents, navigating disagreements and working in situations of family violence are examples of challenges practitioners may experience in this context. However, using child-centred approaches can support parents to connect with and understand their child’s needs, strengthen the parent–child relationship and promote children’s social and emotional wellbeing.

This webinar explored:

  • The importance of understanding the impacts of separation on children when working with parents
  • How to work with separating parents in child-centred ways to promote the parent–child relationship and children’s wellbeing
  • How to work with distressed parents and navigate disagreements.

This webinar is of interest to professionals working in parenting and family support services and relationship services and other social and community services working with families.

This webinar is co-produced by CFCA and Emerging Minds in a series focusing on children’s mental health. They are working together as part of the Emerging Minds: National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health, which is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care under the National Support for Child and Youth Mental Health Program.

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Audio transcript (edited)

Chris Dolman 
Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to this webinar, supporting children's wellbeing when working with separating parents. My name's Chris Dolman and I work for Emerging Minds, National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health, and we're delighted to be co-presenting this webinar in partnership with CFCA. I'm really looking forward to our discussion this afternoon and the different fields of expertise that each of our panellists will be bringing to this topic. Thanks very much for setting aside the time. The focus of this webinar is really around exploring how child-centred approaches can support parents to have conversations with their children and understand their needs, and strengthen their relationship with their children during periods of separation, and also prioritise children's safety and social and emotional wellbeing.

Certainly, with the launch of the national children's health and wellbeing strategy yesterday and the prevalence of separation in families in this country, it's such a pertinent and important issue for us to be exploring. As we begin, I guess I want to map out for you what we will be covering this next hour. We will be exploring the importance of understanding the impacts of separation on children when working with parents, how to work with separating parents in child-centred ways to promoted a parent-child relationship and children's wellbeing, and how to respond to or to work with distressed parents and navigate through those disagreements.

Certainly, Emerging Minds and CFCA would like to recognise and pay respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the traditional owners of these lands, the lands where we work and play and walk on throughout this country. We acknowledge and respect their traditional connections to their land, waters, culture, spirituality, family and community for the wellbeing of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and their families. This webinar is part of a broader series offered by CFCA and Emerging Minds around infant and child mental health. We've got a couple of webinars upcoming in the coming months. One is understanding and supporting infant mental health and also using Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander concepts of mental health to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families in mainstream services.

This year already, we've looked at How to recognise and respond to complex trauma in infants and children and themes around Families around homelessness, and also What is social model of disability and why this is important for child mental health?. All of those are available on the Emerging Minds and CFCA websites, if you'd like to view those. It's now my pleasure to introduce you to our panellists the afternoon. Emily Stevens, Roxanne Nathan and Felicity Kime. You've all had an opportunity to read their bios, you've been distributed the material, so I won't go through those now. Instead, I'd like to ask each of you, I guess, what it is that has drawn you to this area of work and sustained you in this area of work. Yeah, Emily. Hi, welcome, could we begin with you? What is it that's drawn you to working in this area of families and separation?

Emily Stevens
Thanks, Chris. I've been working as a researcher for the past seven or eight years in the field of Family Sociology as a qualitative researcher. Particularly in the parenting space, focusing on fathers' experiences of taking parental leave and some of the factors that can facilitate that. Over the past few years, my focus has shifted to post-separation parenting, mediation and family law. I think it's such a critical time of change in the family law space at the moment and I've started a really exciting role with AIFS in the Family Law, Family Violence and Elder Abuse research team as well, so that's how I got here.

Chris Dolman
Terrific. Welcome. Looking forward to your presentation shortly. Thanks, Emily. Roxanne, welcome to you as well. You've been involved in this area for some time as well. How come? What is it that continues to draw you to this field of practice?

Roxanne Nathan 
Hi Chris, and I'm just really, continuously hungry for it. Every family that I see and every  new piece of research that comes out, I just get more and more excited about what can be done to help support families, and then when I get young people particularly that come back to me and they say, "You really understood me and were able to translate that to my parents in a way that understood." That's what keeps me here, that sort of thing.

Chris Dolman 
Right, that feedback from children really reinforces some of those things. Terrific. Thanks, Roxanne. Looking forward to hearing from you as well, in a little while, so welcome to you, and welcome, Felicity. Great to have you a part of this presentation as well. Felicity, you've been lending your voice and advocating for children and families for many different contexts, I guess. How come that's important to you, to bring that expertise to that area?

Felicity Kime 
Thanks, Chris, and I guess, for me, as a peer support worker in the children protection system supporting families around child removal, I'm also a parent with lived experience for many years now, drug and alcohol, child protection, disability, DV, and what I have found is that the parent's voice isn't heard enough. I really got this passion to come across these things and let the parents' voice be heard.

Chris Dolman 
Again, we're looking forward to hearing your contribution as well, so thanks for being a part of today. I reckon we should proceed, so why don't we move on and Emily, over to you. In terms of responding to this issue, so thanks very much Emily.

Emily Stevens 
Thanks Chris. Good afternoon, everyone, my name's Emily and I'm a research officer at AIFS working in the Family Law, Family Violence and Elder Abuse research team and I'll be speaking with today about the Institute's research on how to speak with separating parents about their children's wellbeing. I'd also like to acknowledge Dr Nicola Bavin and Nicole Patterson who conducted this research as well. Just before I get into the substantive talk, I wanted to make it clear that the insights that I'll be sharing with you today aren't intended to replace any professional training, but rather to help you think about the scope of your practice and how you can incorporate child-focused practice into your roles.

I also just want to flag that some resources will also be made available to you today, either in the chat or in the handout functions there and you can refer to that for more detailed information if you need it as I go through. Now, what I want to do is to split my talk into three key areas because they're all interconnected and equally important in supporting children's wellbeing. The first area is how we can support parents through separation, the second is how we can support children through the separation process, and finally, I'll talk a bit more about supporting families affected by family violence and the complexities around that, so you can follow along. Before that, I'd just like to introduce you to some key concepts, set a bit of a context and talk a bit a little bit about the research itself.

Firstly, I just wanted to introduce you to the concept of wellbeing, as this is really central to the conversation today. Wellbeing refers to social and emotional wellbeing which refers to mental health as well as social, behavioural and emotional development for children. Next, child-centred practice refers to keeping the child in focus throughout a given process and ensuring that their point of view is taken into account when making decisions. We know that separation is a highly challenging, stressful and emotional time for families and we know that children's wellbeing during separation is influenced by a variety of factors including the level of conflict between parents and the quality of the child-parent relationship.

Research indicates that negative impacts on children in relations of separation are not necessarily due to the separation itself, but due to the various things that happen around separation which may include things like parental conflict. But during this really difficult period parents are distressed and are experiencing grief and loss, and may not be as capable of picking up on cues of social wellbeing from their children. This is where practitioners come into the pictures. Practitioners are sometimes the first people that separating parents speak to during this really difficult time, so it's important that this is used as an opportunity to understand how parents and children can be supported appropriately.

Even though practitioners may not be specifically trained in family dispute resolution or counselling, it's important that in their roles, they ask parents about their children's wellbeing and refer to specialised services as required. How we frame these questions about children's wellbeing is really important and that's one of the key messages I want you to take home today. It's important to acknowledge that parental distress may also be shaped by broader structural issues like socioeconomic status and this is also why it's important for practitioners to frame questions in a compassionate and non-judgemental way. In this research, 24 professionals from a range health and community roles, four parents with lived experience of separation and three specialised professionals working in family dispute resolution were consulted and I'll reflect on some of their insights as I go through the talk today as well.

Now, I'll move on to focus on what practitioners can do to support parents. Some parents we spoke with reported that they didn't seek support from any practitioners during the period of separation due to fear of being judged, so it's really important to focus on discussing the parent's wellbeing before diving in and asking questions about the children. Be honest about what the scope of your role is and what you can and cannot do for parents as well. While you might not be able to give advice and solve specific problems, you can refer on to appropriate services, and I'll talk more about that as I go through. To start with, how do you go about starting a conversation? Allow parents the opportunity to self-reflect first by asking broad, open-ended questions.

So, things like: how are you going with everything, what are you noticing about yourself since you made the decision to separate. These questions are really useful because the way they're framed sends a signal to parents that their experiences are important as well and allowing parents to speak about themselves can provide them with a sense of ease and help them relax a little bit in this context. You can also promote and encourage self-care by checking in if parents are sleeping, eating well and exercising, connecting with others and seeking support for their mental health. It's also really useful to make it clear to parents that they're actually supporting their children by looking after their own health and wellbeing and engaging in self-care strategies.

You can also acknowledge what the parent is doing really well. For example, something along the lines of, "You're doing a really great job looking after the children on your own." You can also normalise feelings of pain, grief and loss and acknowledge that these feelings are a completely normal response to such a distressing experience such as separation. You can say something along the lines of, "It's important to understand that going through separation is a really significant process of grief and loss and it can make it harder to be the parent that we want to be, and that's completely normal." You can ask about the supports that parents currently have available to them.

You can ask, "Who is in your life that you can talk to about these things right now?" And, "Who supports you?" Next, focus on solutions without actually providing solutions outside the scope of your own practice. You can ask things like, "What do you think would be most helpful for you right now and how can you get more of this support?" You can also share resources on self-care, and that's available in the Emerging Minds resource that I'm speaking about today, and you can look at some really good strategies there and some resources you can share. With that, I'd like to talk a little bit more in depth about how we support children through separation. Once you've provided the opportunity for parents to speak a bit about how they're going and what they need, you can open up a bit more to what the children's needs are.

We know that many children experience complex emotions around separation, including sadness, anger, fear, confusion and guilt. However, parents told us that in their engagement with a range of practitioners, their children were very rarely asked about or even addressed if the child was present at the appointment. How do you promote child-led wellbeing in these conservations? You can start again, by asking very general open-ended questions like, "Can you tell me a little bit about your children and what makes each of them unique and special?" This is really useful because it helps to signal that you understand that the parent has expert knowledge of their own children and what their needs are.

Once parents have opened up a little bit, you can then ask more specifically about the children's experience of separation by asking things like, "What have the children told you about how they're feeling lately?" And, "What changes, if any, have you noticed in your children?" You can provide information to separating parents and their children. Providing resources on things like how they can support wellbeing, tips for how to manage conflict and we've included some links in that Emerging Minds resource that will be made available to you as well, so you can look through that. What's really important is providing referrals to specialist services for separating parents and their children. First, have a bit of a think about any connections that you might have with allied health and other services.

Could you make a phone call on the parent's behalf or could you help them with paperwork? Things like that. And the Australian government provides a range of services for separated parents including family dispute resolution, family counselling, educational programs around divorce and education, co-parenting programs and children's programs as well. These programs can typically be accessed at family relationship centres like Relationships Australia and Centre Care, where parents can be referred to for assistance with many aspects of their separation and co-parenting journeys. There are a range of services available, not just limited to family relationship centres and there are links as well, in that resource that you can refer to.

Now, I'd like to move on and talk a bit more about separation involving family violence because this is much more complex in nature. All practitioners should be familiar with mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect in their state or territory and making this limit to confidentiality in your discussions to parents is really important in making them feel more comfortable in those discussions. You can also look into that resource for more information on mandatory reporting. As I suggested, support and assistance for parents and children affected by family violence is really complex and it may include a range of different needs, including therapy for victims, finding housing, financial assistance, legal support, psychological support and family violence services as well.

A relationship counsellor that we consulted stated, and this is a quote, they stated, "There is absolutely no harm that if a GP or another practitioner is very worried about their client and they can see that they are not doing okay, that they ask about their safety. Women in domestic violence situations sometimes need someone to say, "I'm actually really worried about your safety and I have to do something, and I'm going to call this person and this person." Women affected by family violence are in such a survival mode that they often don't think, "How can I make the steps to move out of this situation?" It becomes, "I need to survive literally getting from the bed to the bathroom."" So, how do you start a conversation? What are some of the approaches that you can take?

Slowly building up to asking about family violence if you suspect it may be happening, by asking broad questions like, how is everyone in the family coping? Has anyone else expressed to you that they are really worried about you? And then bring the children into the focus by asking something like, how are your children coping? Do you think that they are feeling safe? There's also a full list of questions from Emerging Minds in that resource that's available to you as well to have a look at for some ideas. It's important to discuss help and support. As I suggested, parents affected by family violence need various kinds of support to cope with the situation. Try talking about what they might need to improve that situation by asking things like, what do you find helps you and how can you get more of this support?

The next really important step is making appropriate referrals. To do this, make enquiries about the types of services that the parents might need as these can range from, as I suggested, referrals to family violence services, to housing, to legal or financial support, and it may take a bit of extra effort, but see if you can make a call and provide brochures and phone numbers and things like that. Be sure to follow up with them at a later point to check in on them. With that, I'd just like to provide a bit of a summary and some final thoughts. Some of the key points that I'd like you to take home today is to always think about how you're framing your questions to and about parents and their children, making sure that the questions come from a place of enquiry and of course compassion.

On this note, I'd encourage you to check out a recent CFCA which delves into framing in quite a bit of depth and it's called Shifting Mindsets: How Communication Can Shape Early Childhood Outcomes. That's a really great resource to start thinking about how we frame our questions. Next, adopt a child-centred approach to practice and always bring children's wellbeing into focus, even if the conversation isn't directly about them. In cases where there is family violence, some additional effort may be required in providing referrals, arranging appointments, making calls and providing information. I wanted to emphasise as well that there's no one-size-fits-all approach. Every parent and child are different and experiencing different emotions, all of which are valid.

With that, I'll just leave you now with a quote from one of the parents we consulted, and she told us, "Have some compassion and empathy. Stop and think and put yourself in that person's shoes, and just question, how would this be for you, so you have a little understanding of what that parent is feeling in that moment that they're coming to you, that everything is not great and that things can be hard, and here they are, having to trust somebody. Giving that person some time, but also questioning, how can I help. Other than giving the standard little bit, how can go that little bit further?" Thank you. Now, I'd like to pass on to Roxanne.

Chris Dolman 
Thanks, Emily. That's really comprehensive information about how we can – I think what I appreciated was your real intent to ensure that compassionate, non-blaming, non-stigmatising approach when working with parents. Asking about their wellbeing first, and then scaffolding into an interest in their children's wellbeing, of course. Thanks very much for sharing your learnings around that. Over to you, Roxanne. Thanks very much.

Roxanne Nathan 
Thank you, Emily, because I think a lot of what you said, I'm hoping to expand on in my conversation today, my part of the webinar today and it was all really important to hear. I've got some slides that are going to be available as a handout as well, and there's a resource page at the end as well, so [unclear] 00:16:39. I'm the team leader for counselling services at Relationships Australia. I am a family dispute resolutions practitioner, a social worker, a child-inclusive practitioner, a counsellor, family therapist and conflict coach, and really what that means is I get this wonderful job of working with families around the time of separation and post-separation with the idea of supporting the parents their children.

I'm really lucky to work in an organisation where child-focus is at the core of what we do, and that we are, as Emily said, really collocated with so many other programs to support families at this really difficult time. The thing that I want to say is that complex family situations shouldn't be the job of one person to manage and it does take a village. Don't feel that it should be on your shoulders as a practitioner or as a GP or any one individual. The best advice I can give you is just to get supervision, slow it down, talk about the matter with other professionals, supervisors, colleagues, et cetera, everyone to have eyes on this particular complexity of the family. The impacts of separation on children, since 2005 there have been several research papers written on this topic and they all agree that it's not parental separation that hurts children and young people, it's the unresolved and ongoing conflict.

The type of unresolved and ongoing conflict eats away at the foundation of a child and affects their mental health along their lifespan. Where parents involve their children in their separate either emotionally, physically, as a decision-maker, this is toxic for children and young people to be part of. Parents are so often operating through a lens of grief and loss after separation, and there are times when they need to be supported to keep these feelings in place with other adults in their sphere of influence, or professionals, and to keep a clear, child-focused message with their children. Often the language in the family law system is about co-parenting. Co-parenting is only possible when parents share goodwill with each other and it's important to empower parents to understand there's more than one style of parenting that can be considered post-separation.

Particularly something such as parallel parenting. For anyone who might not have heard those terms before, co-parenting is a parenting style in which both parents continue to jointly participate in their children's upbringing and activities and it does involve a substantial amount of interaction between parents, both publicly and privately. In order for it to work, both parents need to really be committed to maintaining goodwill and setting aside any differences for the benefit of their children. Where there is a higher level of conflict between parents, parallel parenting is a parenting style which involves limited interaction between parents and an agreement that children will be safely parented with the parent that they're with at the allocated times with limited interaction from either parent.

This is to ultimately protect the children from the conflict. Larger issues are generally resolved within mediation or within family law and contact generally happens with email, or there's defined types of contact that will occur. This style of parenting works best because other areas of the separation have guidelines in place, such as who pays for extracurricular activities, school, et cetera, how school's being decided upon, for example. There is a booklet that I've attached as a resource at the end of the presentation and it's called Because It's For The Kids. It's written by Dr Jennifer McIntosh, who is a renowned researcher and practitioner in this sector. It's written for parents and explains the different considerations post-separation to keep children and young people free from conflict.

I've also included a link to a series of videos that are commissioned with Dr Jennifer Macintosh specifically about conflict. The videos are called the Let's Talk About It series. They're made for parents specifically, so they're quite free of jargon. They are very inclusive. We suggest often that families watch these videos before moving into FDR or even counselling, and the reason that I like these videos is actually – and that I recommend them, is because the language and the concepts are quite simple, and I think it helps parents with that a-ha moment when they see some of the acted-out situations that are in that series as well. Working with parents in child-centred ways, I think that the biggest thing I'd like you to take from this section is that kids don't reject parents, they reject a situation.

The beautiful thing is that kids really need their parents and their extended families, and any damage done by ongoing conflict, it can be repaired, but the parents need to be willing to do the work to repair it. A developmental apology is one of the biggest, strongest, wisest kind of things that a parent can do for their children if the separation has become coloured by conflict. When we talk about separation, it's important to let parents know that arguments that are resolved don't damage children, in fact they teach children how to negotiate different situations and to show that people won't always get along. It's the conflict that's unresolved and that keeps being unresolved that we're talking about today.

Professor Bruce Smyth from the Australian National University is one of the lead researchers in this field also and he found that children can be highly adaptable and resilient to living between two homes after separation as long as there's a really clear routine stability. As long as children know that every Monday Mum picks me up from school and that we have spaghetti for dinner and Dad takes me to basketball practice every Wednesday, and Thursdays I go to OSC and so on, it takes the guess-work out of being a separated child. This is really important information for parents because it simplifies their to-do list post-separation when so many things are changing around them. For young people aged between 14 to 16, so often need more flexibility than the younger children do.

They need to know that they can talk about the other parents and things that they enjoyed without feeling like they're hurting or letting down the other parent. They want to do things such as staying at Mums house on a weekend because a social event is closer to their home even if it may not be that parent's particular weekend. Helping parents to process and hold on to feelings for their return from the other parent is another key consideration to children as well, being kept emotionally safe in the separation. Helping parents to understand this through metaphor can help them to make sense of putting this into action. I really have two go-to metaphors that I will often use when it comes to talking to families about this. One is the idea of rocks in a backpack.

All of us have little backpacks on that we carry around with us and they're generally filled with things that might've happened to us or worries and right now, your child's backpack is really full and they're struggling to walk. As parents, and as your support people, what we want to do is try and take some of those rocks out so life gets a little bit easier. The other one is referring more to the attachment system of the child when moving between houses and situations. Children and young people, the one that I use for this situation. Children and young people are similar to an iPhone. When they leave their attachment figure, they're on full charge and if they go through the day and they go through situations, their battery runs low.

By the time they get to the attachment figure, they're often on one percent, and this is where they need to drop back in with you and recharge. And that happens through routine, and routine is something really simple like reading a book together or having a meal together when they get home, and they can top that battery up with you. I use this one because it's really easy and relatable, because we all live with our phones in our pockets. Working with parental distress, if the distress of a parent is due to family and domestic violence, cultural considerations or child safety, these require separate considerations and separate risk management. Your organisation may have a risk assessment tool.

At Relationships Australia, we use what's called the Family Law Doors and I have included a link to that if you'd like more information, on the resource page. You can also use something really simple like the Family Safety Framework which is available via your police website in your state. It just has a list of questions that can really clearly go through those risks. If the risks are being dealt with and the parent that you're talking to is coming from a place – the distress is coming from another place, hear that person out. Just let them tell their story without judgement. Help them to focus in on the things that are most worrying for them. It might be how to navigate living together for a little while longer because they might need to be separated under the same roof financially for a little while.

It could be the emotions of the children. It could be where to go for information. If you do have capacity, as Emily said earlier, to offer a warm referral to a partner agency or if you have capacity to check in on how a referral went and if that referral did help. There are times where parents may need that ongoing support to navigate the separation and this is best supported through multiple things; through counselling, through case management support, through the support of various organisations or various practitioners within one organisation as well, and counselling can help them to provide a space to talk about their distress and talk about their worries as well. This is just the resource slide which I spoke about during the presentation. That has all the bits and pieces that I spoke about and they're all freely available for you to look at. Thank you. I'm handing over to Felicity now.

Chris Dolman 
Thanks Roxanne. Thanks very much for that. I love this phrase about taking the guesswork out of separation for children and how that can invite parents to be thinking really carefully about establishing those routines and those really resonant, everyday metaphors and I think are really some helpful practices as well, so thanks very much for sharing your experience with us. Felicity, over to you. "What's important from your perspective and from what you've learnt? You're talking with many parents going through separation. What is it that you think practitioners should be really clear about?

Felicity Kime 
Thanks, Chris. I work in an organisation where I'm the president and I do key support work, so I interact with families all the time that don't have children in their care due to child protection and all I keep hearing when they're distressed is that, "I love my child and I just want my child home." And same thing I hear from children. Children want their parents in their life one way or another, even if that is living at one house, mum's house or dad's house and then going to see the other parent. I guess, working with parents in distress, my biggest tip is when meeting a parent, meet them for the first time. Don't come in with a judgement of what the parent looks like, if that is from documents or from the other parent. Come in being non-judgemental.

Remembering these guys are human they're going through one of the biggest lots of emotions they ever will. Sometimes, meeting a parent that's anger, we can quite often say we can't work with this parent due to them being angry, but we need to stop and think, why is this parent angry? They don't have their child in their life. It might be mum that's had their child every day for multiple years, then all of a sudden, the child's not living with mum. We need to remember that parents are going to go through different emotions. They're going to go through grief and loss, and maybe when you first start talking to them, they might not be ready to have a conversation. They might not be confident to open up, but that doesn't mean give up on that parent either.

The other side of it is also, parents talking badly of each other. If the same service is going to help mum and dad, keeping an open mind and trying not to take what mum has said about dad and judging that. I know, for me, my son's father had full custody of my son and I would have to go to the day-care to pick him up on the days that I was allowed to have him, and I'd feel really uncomfortable and there was days that I didn't want to do that stuff, because I felt like when I walked in that I was judged because I wasn't the parent that had full care of my son. I didn't know what was discussed by the father to the educators, so I felt really, really uncomfortable until one day I had a conversation with them and after that everything changed.

I felt like I was treated with respect and I got treated just like dad, and there's many stories I can sit here and talk about the same type of thing; child protection, when a child's removed parents feel like they have no say anymore over their children. They're judged. They get looked at like they don't love their children. They get looked at like they're angry parents and we can't work with them, and what these parents say is, "We love our children." I guess, for me, that's a huge one, what we've got to remember. Love is shown all different ways. There's not just one way that a parent shows they love their children. Working with distressed parents or anybody, they're human beings and taking the time to listen to what they've got to say. Not just sitting there telling people what they need or may need, but just sitting there and having an honest conversation.

Being really straight up and straight forward in a loving, caring, compassionate way would really, really work and I believe coming across with an attitude, with empathy and compassion, that you would get a lot further with parents. I heard mandatory reporting used earlier on. Having those conversations with family, when that's going to happen and sit down with family where possible and doing that together and raising what concerns there is. If mum or dad – if there is any concerns, because sometimes parents aren't aware what their behaviours and actions – like I said at the beginning, I have many different types of lived experiences throughout the field and I know myself, sometimes I'm not aware of things until other people point it out, and once people point it out, I'm quite willing to look at that stuff and I really want to know how to change certain defects, but the issue is I don't know where to go.

What I try to do with other parents is be there to be able to help them navigate different services, because sometimes while we're trying to keep our emotions in check and deal with our emotions, we don't – we're not able to do everything else that is needed, so sometimes we need a support person that can go, "You know what? I know this service that can help. You know what, Felicity? Go to Relationships Australia to get some parenting groups. Get some counselling." Be that kind human. Parents don't need to face another challenge. They're already going through the biggest challenge of their life and I guess, when working with parents, ask yourself: am I going to hinder this parent?

Am I going to be able to offer the best I can to this parent? And if you're not going to be able to give your all and be a positive influence in this parent's life to help them, hand that stuff off to somebody else that can. If we can help the parents be the best version of themselves, it's then the children gets the best parent. Helping parents helps children. I look at it – if I can get mum and dad to the best version of themselves, and if that's just being a listening post or being there to support or being a voice when needed, that's the stuff I will do. And it's all through different fields. Parents can face all different challenges; disability, education, child protection, family law, all sorts of things, and all throughout that, the biggest thing a parent needs is somebody backing them in their corner, someone helping them have these discussions.

If I want to leave you guys with anything it really is that parents are human beings and they're trying their hardest in the moment with what they know. And if you just stop and think for a moment, the way you come across to a parent and you're there for a parent, would you like somebody else treating your family like that or your loved one? And if it's yes, then keep going, and if it's no, check in on what can I do, what aren't I doing. I heard it today already. Not always giving people the answers. Asking the parent: what do you need, how are you, how is your day, what are you going to do to look after yourself today, that self-care stuff. Sometimes it's not – we don't just need the answers. We just really need somebody to listen to and to help navigate. So, thank you very much and I'll hand it back to you, Chris.

Chris Dolman 
Thanks very much, Felicity. Some really significant reflections and learnings that you're sharing with us, so thank you for that. That story about attending that service and just feeling judged just by rocking up which made it hard for you to even want to go sometimes, I think was pretty significant in terms of what is it that services and practitioners can do to make even turning up just a fraction easier for parents. I think that can be significant for us to be thinking about. Even when you spoke about helping parents be the best version of themselves, so then they can in turn be the best parent, so the children's wellbeing can be attended to, they're really important. Thanks so much for those insights. Also, thank you to all of you who are submitting questions as well for our panel.

There's a number of them coming through and quite a few – and as well as some others. Thank you to those that submitted questions prior to the webinar. We're going to seek to respond to some of those now. I'd like to invite Emily and Roxanne again to join us. In fact, Roxanne, there's a question that's come through. When you were speaking about how it's unresolved conflicts that can have negative implications for kids. Someone's just asked could you say a little bit more about some of those, about the types of unresolved conflicts and the affects that that does have on children. I guess, these are important things for us to be alert to. It helps us notice this more.

Roxanne Nathan 
Absolutely. Unresolved conflict is the conflict that – what's the most anecdotal way I can describe it? I guess it's the dislike – often what I see as a practitioner, it's the dislike of the other parent. A parent is grieving because of whatever has happened prior to separation and it's the, "If your mum didn't do this, then this thing would happen." "If your dad didn't do this, then this thing would be happening." Or it's the conversation about money. "You can't go to basketball because Mum's taken all my money in child support." That is so often the thing that I hear. That's the ongoing conflict that really erodes that young person's identity and is so toxic for young people to be part of because those are adult things that can get sorted out with other professionals, with other people in your family, et cetera, when you're feeling that way about that situation.

But when you give that for your child to hold, what happens to that little person is they start to go, "Well, what does that mean about me? If Mum doesn't like Dad anymore, or Dad doesn't like Mum anymore, well, I'm part of both of them, so am I still liked? Am I –" That's what starts to happen. It starts to get bigger and bigger. That's what I been by the toxic, ongoing – it can get a million times worse than that of course, but that's something quite anecdotal that I think most people will understand from their interactions that they're having with families as well.

Chris Dolman 
Just to follow up to that, and I'd like to ask the others as well about that, but I was thinking, how is it possible to help parents see some of the effects of those ways of talking on children's wellbeing?

Roxanne Nathan 
Really simply, when we let a parent tell their story, it might be asking them a simple question like, "Why do you think your child needed to hear that piece of information?" or, "Can they actually affect whether or not their basketball fees get paid for?" And sometimes it's just those simple things that the parent goes, "Oh, you're right. That didn't need to come out for that thing or in that conversation." And then it would be going into that parent to say, "That's really sticking with you. Can we talk about that? Can I be the person that talks to you about that particular thing? Let's get it off your chest."

Chris Dolman 
Thank you. Felicity, do you have something to add to that in terms of how – what it is that can perhaps help parents realise they're not being the best version of themselves and therefore the impacts that's having on their children.

Felicity Kime 
I guess, as I was saying earlier is that being straight up and being very honest with the parent. I find parents love honesty, as much as it may hurt sometimes, but making them totally aware; asking them the questions, do you understand this is what's going on and this is how it's affecting your children? Just being really straight up, but also at the same time is – it's the way your tone, the language you use, making sure they're understanding what you're saying, because there's been times people have had conversations with me and I've walked away going, "I don't know what I've just agreed to. I don't know what they've just said to me. Hopefully I agreed to something good."

Just really unpacking that with the parents about what type of defects they are because as I said, some things can be so ingrained in us that we think it's the right way, but everybody else can clearly see that it's not the right way and it's not the best for the children, but we believe that. Really unpacking that stuff with the parent, getting them to a point that they actually understand.

Chris Dolman 
Thank you. Thank you to both of you. There's another question around – maybe, Emily, how can we best support children with separating parents who are also involved in the court system? And again, Roxanne and Felicity, you might have something to say about that as well, but Emily, for you, what comes to mind for you about that?

Emily Stevens
Thanks, Chris. It's really important that children have access to their own targeted support, so this could mean from school counsellors, psychologists, and the children and young people in separated families study undertaken by found that children didn't really feel listened to as much by family law professionals. So, this means that practitioners play a really vital role in supporting young people. Young people also reported not feeling heard, and they wanted their parents to listen more to their views on living arranges. The support from practitioners was really important in helping them through that difficult period, so having that really targeted support is really important. I'm not sure if Felicity or Roxanne want to speak more to that.

Felicity Kime
Yeah, this is part of my work, is supporting people at a court house through child protection, and the idea of doing this was – the biggest idea was so the parent knew they weren't alone, they had somebody, just as a child as well, because any of us can walk into a courtroom and be very overwhelmed, very fearful, not knowing what's going to happen. Basically, the first principle was, so these people weren't alone, that you could sit there, and you could listen, and you could ask them questions, simply, how are you feeling today? Is there anything you want to chat about? Because the more we isolate people, the more damage that gets done. If we can support as much as we can, brings out that isolation, it has somebody in their corner.

So, for me, it is that big understanding and as Emily said, kids feel like they're not being heard, they're not being listened to. Very same with the parents. Exactly the same thing is – I get quotes, I've travelled around Australia asking these types of questions and it is simply they say, "I'm not being heard. I'm not being understood. I'm not being worked with. No one's listening to me. I don't have a voice."

Roxanne Nathan 
I completely agree with what you've both said and I think one of the things that I often – if I'm sitting in my role as a mediator, what I'll normally say to families is, "Mediation is that tool where you can come in and you can talk about how to make a plan that's going to suit your family, and your family, how it looks right now." If you go to the court, the court are going to deliver something to you that's going to – the court's there for a really, critically important reason, but the court's going to give you something that's going to be potentially not what anyone really wants, but it's going to be the thing that they think is best for you and your children at this point in time. It won't necessarily be something that you as a family feel is the best for you right now.

And I think that's where, also, the child's voice can come in in a very different way, because we can do that child-inclusive practice and we can even potentially refer clients on to family therapy or other situations where they might have more ability to discuss what's actually happening for them as a family, as a separated family.

Chris Dolman 
Yeah, thank you, all of you for that. There's been a question around working with Indigenous families in the context of separation. Actually, Roxanne, I was wondering if you could say something about your organisation's approach to that and – yeah, given the complexity of us responding to that question, is there something you could say about your organisation's approach to that?

Roxanne Nathan 
I think that really importantly, everything that's need said today, whether you are culturally diverse, gender diverse, all of these principles are the same. It's principles of inquiry, of compassion, of meeting the client where they are and wanting to help them as an individual human in the world rather than it being anything to do with – clients are the expert on their culture, so one of the first questions that's on Family Law Doors for example, is, "Tell me, is there anything important about your culture or religion that you need me to know?" That's a really easy starting question as well. In working particularly with Indigenous families, there's obviously so much complexity around privilege, trauma, colonisation and the effect of ongoing colonisation on the Indigenous population of the country.

So, there's lots of different programs that can help, programs that are run through Nunkawarrin Yunti programs that are run through – for example, we have what's called Ngartuitya, which is the program that we have around family group conferencing. A lot of these programs are also tied in with child protection as well, but the idea is let's sit everyone in to discuss – everyone who's important to this child, let's get them all in to discuss how we can ongoingly support this child, support this family, empower families to make better, safer choices for their children. It depends on where you're seeing this family, within what system you're seeing this family; family law system or child protection system, et cetera.

But lean on the other practitioners that you might have, and if you don't have any practitioners in your particular workplace, by all means, call Relationships Australia. We have people that can help have those discussions with you. Call Ngartuitya, they'll have people that you can have these discussions with to help support the family that you're working with.

Chris Dolman 
Great. Thank you, Roxanne, for that. There's some other questions in relation to highlighting children's needs and experiences in relation to working with parents. A question in relation to this notion of "How do you strike a balance between repair and respecting the voice of the child, particularly when a child is not wanting to see another parent, has taken a position around not wanting to see another parent". Do you have some ways to navigate through that? Felicity, are there ways that come to mind for you for that? Emily, Roxanne?

Felicity Kime 
Yeah, I really like this question. Like I said, I'm a parent with lived experience and very briefly I lost my children 10 years ago to the child protection system. I was unable to parent my children due to drug and alcohol and all different – I was a child of the child protection system, et cetera. Five years ago, I got two of my children back home and one remained in long-term care. Just today, I had a guardianship conversation with the courts and it was around exactly this. How do we work with my son without forcing him to do something that he does not want to do? And as a parent, don't get me wrong, my first emotion is, my son needs to come and see me when I want, because I love him and I need my emotional cup filled. Reality is that's not the case.

Reality is, I will listen to what that little boy wants. I will not push him into doing something he doesn't want and I will try and work with his psychologist on how do we actually do this stuff at his pace, when he's ready. How do I work with him around this stuff? I'll call in my support people from my work and ask, how do I do this stuff? Do you have any advice? And I'll just keep calling in people, but I will not push him through this stuff. And there might be a big – people's opinion might be that parents just want what's best for them, but at the end of the day, us parents can put our emotion aside and really give what the child actually needs. Sometimes that's time and space and it's bearing with them.

Chris Dolman 
Thank you, Felicity. Yeah, Roxanne, do you have any other encouragements to practitioners in those circumstances, responding to those circumstances?

Roxanne Nathan 
I think they're two separate things as well, Chris. Repair and hearing the voice and holding the voice of the child as sacred, are actually two separate things, and it's a bit like – the thing that's popping into my mind is the idea that First Nations people and reconciliation. First Nations people have nothing to reconcile, I kind of think of it in the same kind of context. The children are not responsible for the repair, the adults are responsible for the repair. Holding the voice of the children and helping a parent, empowering a parent to understand, this is how your little person through their eight-, 10-, 14-year-old lens of the world sees what happened. How can you come in and say, "I tried the best that I could in that situation, and you're right, maybe I didn't get it right, but how can we bridge that gap?"

Chris Dolman 
Right. It's really inviting the parents to be thinking about some possibilities for the action they can take in relation to – rather than what the kid can be doing differently, so to speak.

Felicity Kime
And Chris, can I just add on that, around what a child wants – I have teenage girls at home. I have a 17-year-old, just a young an adult, and I have a 16-year-old daughter, so sometimes I've got to weigh up exactly what they want to how much of a decision I make, and how much I be forceful in that decision. The everyday-life, "I don't want to go to school." "Well, you're going to school." Really looking at what is it the child wants to how much I'm actually there doing the parental, "This is what needs to happen and we're going to do it like this." To, "Okay, I'm hearing this stuff and I'm going to do this and follow your lead as well." It's weighing that stuff up as well.

Chris Dolman 
Great. Yes. Thank you, Felicity. I'm mindful of the time. We've got a couple more minutes left, folks. There's been some questions come in about fathers actually. Emily, that's something that's come through for you in the research you've been a part of and involved with as well, as Felicity and Roxanne – around how to better support dads that are in distress during these times. Emily, I'm guessing much of what you spoke about can also be applied to fathers facing these tough times as well. Are there any distinctions to draw there or –

Emily Stevens 
Thanks, Chris. I think what Felicity mentioned in her talk that really stuck with me was parents can be angry, present as angry, dads can present as angry and it's understanding that that is not personal. Of course, they're angry if things are going on behind the scenes and we don't know, and it's working through those layers and trying to keep asking questions, I think as Felicity mentioned. Keep asking questions until you get the right ones to help them open up a bit. Again, in my talk, suggesting how we frame things, I think, is really important, especially for men who – it's harder to open up for a lot of men. Being really non-judgemental in how we speak and asking about them first and how they're going, signalling that they're important as well.

Chris Dolman 
I guess, they might come with some preconceived ideas that they might down the pecking order of importance for services, the way services are frequently portrayed, seeking to counter some of those ideas, from what you're saying. Great. Thanks. Was there anything else you'd like to add, Roxanne or Felicity to what Emily's commented on?

Roxanne Nathan 
The only two things – because I know that we're running out of time. The only two things that I'd like to add to that are if anyone's looking for information about how to support dads, anything by David Mendel or The Supporting Fathers Victoria Relationships Australia website are both really good places to start. And the biggest thing I would say is protective factors for dad. Are they connected in other ways to the world? Do they have a friendship group? Do they place tennis regularly? Something like that, a protective factor that would mean that this time, when things are really tough and they might be feeling judged or shamed or something like that, that they are connected with something else as well.

Felicity Kime 
Yeah, and I'll just quickly add is as Emily was saying, keeping chatting to dad until you find the right question to ask, but also, sometimes you're not the person to speak to that dad. Maybe it is somebody else. A service like mine, we run morning teas for parents. I know it's around child protection, but we run a morning tea for parents, by parents. We run workshops for parents, written by parents. Sometimes it is we hand it over to someone with the similar lived experience, where they can then connect and they're on a different ground. Sometimes it is handing it over to a peer support worker or putting them to groups ran by other parents.

Chris Dolman 
Okay, there's some other questions we're going to seek to respond to now. There's been a number that have actually come through in relation to how to deal with, how to respond to separated parents who are talking badly about the other parent to you, as a practitioner. I guess this can be a difficult spot to be in at times.

Roxanne Nathan 
Yeah, certainly, I've had that experience many, many times where two people are using either denigrating language about the other party or they're using really quite up-front language that's potentially inappropriate, about the other person. Kind of depending on the context, I might just talk to – and depending on the context of my role with that family as well, but again using those questions of enquiry. "I can see that that's really upsetting you. Tell me a bit more about that." Or, "I can see that's an area of real pain for you, do you have a counsellor or somebody that you can actually talk a bit more about that issue with?"

Felicity Kime 
Just to add to that, I'd probably also just ask the parent, "What part of this is affecting you? What part of this person's behaviour or what they're saying is actually affecting you and to why?" Or, "What part do you have in this?" If there's a part that they have in this. Just keep bringing it back to them, "Why is this affecting you?" And trying to work on that instead of getting too involved in the whole he-said she-said stuff. Also, just remembering, if I'm going to speak to the other party, if I can't be neutral, to get somebody else to speak to the other party, not jump in there just hoping that I'm there, going to fix everything and I can work this all out. Making sure that I do call upon somebody when I'm not capable.

Emily Stevens 
Yeah, I completely agree Felicity and Roxanne. I think bringing it back to that parent that you're speaking with, asking about them and, "Who supports you? What is really helpful for you right now?" I think just bring it back to that parent is really important.

Chris Dolman 
Great. Thank you. What about – there's some questions in relation to when parents use a child to be vengeful towards another parent. I guess this could become apparent to you in your conversations with parents, how that's happening, or even with the child, but say in working with a parent. When that's going on what are some ways of responding, making sense of that and responding to that?

Roxanne Nathan 
I actually had this exact conversation with a client the other day where – it's a situation where I'm only dealing with one parent and the children. I'm not dealing with the other separated parent because of how they've come into our organisation. One parent is sending messages to the children and the children are coming home and saying, "Well, Dad said that's your fault." Or, "Mum said that's because you're not doing such and such." It's quite targeted attacks. I think my role has been to really help that parent understand that, if this particular parent wants to justify her actions and how they are different to the other parent that is equally not helpful for the children to actually make sense of all of that.

One of the best things parents can do in the situation is to say, "You know what? Mummy and Daddy do think differently about a lot of things. That's one of the reasons why we're not together. I think that's just something where we think differently, and then just trying to move on." Because that's something that kids can make sense of and it doesn't drag the other person in to what they're trying to do.

Chris Dolman 
Thank you. There's some other questions in relation to how to help parents untangle their issues with their ex from their children's relationship with the other parent. One that might be a similar vein to the question I just asked, but how to help parents untangle those different issues, what becomes important in doing that, do you think?

Felicity Kime 
I think for me, working with parents is getting them to identify, is there a part for them to help detangle this or is it just actually the other party? Sometimes us parents can take on more than what we should be owning ourselves, and we believe there's a lot more that we've done or haven't done. Sometimes the onus isn't actually on that one parent. Making sure that I'm fixing my side of the fence as best as possible and I'm still being available there to help where I can, but not getting involved in something that I'm not involved in. If my ex is a perpetrator, it's not my responsibility to untangle that and it's actually my safety to stay away from that and not retraumatise myself or my family. So, making sure that I don't take the responsibility of other people and making sure that other people take the responsibility for their own stuff.

Chris Dolman 
Yeah, a practitioner having conversations with parents that helps make that clearer, where the responsibility lies, perhaps, to be doing the untangling..

Felicity Kime 
Definitely. Yeah, especially if that practitioner has the skills to actually do that. And again, if we're not skilled to do that, put this to somebody else, ask somebody else to take this away because what we've got to remember is that these are very important lives we're playing with. When we're working with a family, we're working with mum, dad, child. These are very important people and big decisions that will change children for life and will change the parents for life. Really just being really careful that we're there doing the best we can and we're not hindering them.

Chris Dolman 
There's a question in relation to different sets of rules between, say, mum's place and dad's place that children have to navigate through, so it can be seen as – the person uses the term ‘good cop, bad cop' kind of a situation. What's important to be letting parents know about who might be concerned about their children having to find ways through the different rules?

Roxanne Nathan 
This is really – this goes back to what I was talking about, parallel parenting, and there's some really good articles that I included in the resource section, particularly from Bruce Smyth because he's done a lot of research into this. The anecdote that we use a lot is what we call the ice cream story. At one parent's house, a child can have any ice cream flavour, any day of the week, any time of the day, it doesn't matter, ice cream on tap. And at the other house, there's no ice cream. And what we try to help parents understand is as long as that child knows that when they're there, they can have as much ice cream as they want, at this house there's no ice cream, and you as a parent, it's your job to say, "That's great that you get to have all this ice cream at Dad's house. What a wonderful opportunity. Because when you're here, we have a no-ice cream house, so I know you're not getting ice cream all the time, it's a special thing that you do with your dad." And that's how we try and frame that idea. It's actually quite okay for parents to have one rule at dad's house and one rule at mum's house. It's the job of the parents to not undermine the rule that's in the other house.

Felicity Kime 
Just adding to that also, when it is mum and dad, the same thing can play out if the child is in a foster care placement as well. Mum or dad can work with the foster carer to make things quite even in both households and that both carers, parents understand what they're looking for together, so there's no difference from a family law court to child protection either.

Roxanne Nathan 
The only preface I'll say, and Felicity will have something to say about this because of her lived experience, is when a child has a disability and it's actually about their safety or it's about anything to do with their disability and their comfort in living with their disability, then that has to be something that is held between the two homes, and that might be harder to navigate, and you might need mediation or you might need a medical professional to come in and talk about that or something along those lines.

Felicity Kime 
Definitely I think it was Roxanne that talked about that earlier, that routine and that structure really needs to be there and sometimes it's not being guided by the parents, sometimes a therapist might need to guide the parent and I know in my case with my son and his disability, I need to be guided by therapists and other people that actually know a lot more than what I do. Finding the right people to guide the situation.

Chris Dolman 
Okay. I think we'll have time for a couple more questions. The first one is "How do you motivate parents to facilitate parent-child contact?"

Roxanne Nathan
I go to – there's a series of questions called the Caregiving Questions and I've completely lost you there. I want to say it's Solomon and someone, who did these caregiving questions. If you have a parent who is really struggling to see the importance of the relationship between a child and a parent, and keeping in mind that different people have a different idea of what that relationship needs to look like. We know that it's not actually about quantity of time, it's about the quality of time. If a parent sees a child once a month for a couple of hours and it's really good quality of time, that means more to that child's ongoing than seeing that child 50% of the time and that parent not being able to manage that for any particular reason, their mental health or things that are going on for them.

That would mean that 50% parentings not the best thing for them as a parent, giving back to their child. Using some of those caregiving questions to say, "What kind of parent do you want to be? What sort of parent do you see the other parent as being to your child? What do you think your child needs from the two of you?" Even things like John Gottman for parents that have maybe got less conflict as well, his book Raising the Emotionally Intelligent Child has got a lot of stuff in there about the importance of dad and the importance of relationships with mum and how they are developmentally meant to be different as well, and what they provide to the child long-term. Sometimes I give chapters of books to clients to read in the hopes that it's going to open up their perspective a little bit.

Emily Stevens 
I think that can be really empowering as well, on that note, providing parents with information, as I suggested in the talk, just so they can go through it in their own time, digest it and come back and ask questions or whatever they need, I think that's really important.

Felicity Kime 
I guess, for me, exactly what you ladies have said. Looking, is it safe for mum to do this with dad? I do see, especially in child protection, once PR goes back to mum or dad, in this case say mum, and dad's the DV perpetrator, mum then has to facilitate that visit, so mum's then reliving her trauma, having to deal with her perpetrator. As a service, how can we help mum? Can we guide her to a service that can deal with this so mum doesn't have to do that stuff as well? Or dad. Making sure that parents are safe doing this stuff and able to do this stuff.

Chris Dolman 
Terrific and just as we finish, Emily, I'm wondering if we could just step back a bit and broader view, thinking a bit from your perspective, how is it that we can be supporting children's overall mental health and social and emotional wellbeing during this period of separation?

Emily Stevens 
Yeah, absolutely, that's a really important question. That's the focus of our discussion today, how are we supporting children through this really difficult time. As I suggested, research shows that it's important that children have access to services targeted at them, to support them through the separation period and beyond that. AIFS research has found that having access to trusted third party practitioners is really important, so people like teachers and counsellors and psychologists and support groups, and as I suggested before, providing information to families that they can digest in their own time, so brochures, even phone numbers, links to websites, things like that on topics like general information about separation and children's wellbeing at that time, tips on how to support and enhance wellbeing through separation, tips on how to manage conflict, things like that, and the CFCA resource on how to speak with separating parents about children's wellbeing is really useful in providing a lot of links and information if you need more information with that.

Chris Dolman 
Thank you Emily and thanks Felicity, thanks Roxanne for your responses to these very interesting questions and for your time today. Thank you very much.

Emily Stevens 
Thank you.

Felicity Kime 



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Slide outline

1. Supporting children’s wellbeing when working with separating parents

Emily Stevens, Roxanne Nathan and Felicity Kime 
CFCA Emerging Minds Webinar 13 October 2021

2. Supporting children’s wellbeing when working with separating parents

Emily Stevens, Roxanne Nathan and Felicity Kime

3. Learning outcomes

This webinar will explore:

  • The importance of understanding the impacts of separation on children when working with parents.
  • How to work with separating parents in child-centred ways to promote the parent-child relationship and children’s wellbeing.
  • How to work with distressed parents and navigate disagreements.

4. Acknowledgements

We recognise and pay respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners of the Lands we work, play, and walk on throughout this Country. We acknowledge and respect their Traditional connections to their Land and Waters, culture, spirituality, family, and community for the wellbeing of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and their families.

5. Webinar series

CFCA and Emerging Minds webinar series: Focus on infant and child mental health

Upcoming webinars include:

  • Understanding and supporting infant mental health.
  • Using Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander concepts of mental health to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and their families in mainstream services.

Previous webinars in 2021:

  • How to recognise complex trauma in infants and children to promote wellbeing.
  • Families and homelessness: Supporting parents and improving outcomes for children.
  • What is the social model of disability and why is it important in child mental health? 

6. Housekeeping

  • Send through your questions via the question box at any time during the webinar.
  • All our webinars are recorded.
  • The slides are available in the handout section on the webinar platform.
  • The video, audio, transcript and presenters’ responses to additional questions will be posted on our website and YouTube channel in the coming week.

7. Presenters

  • Emily Stevens, Research Officer, Family Law, Family Violence and Elder Abuse Research Team, Australian Institute of Family Studies. (VIC)
  • Roxanne Nathan, Team Leader Counselling Services, Relationships Australia SA
  • Felicity Kime, President of Family Inclusion Strategies in the Hunter (NSW)
  • Chris Dolman, (Facilitator), Senior Workforce Development Officer, Emerging Minds (SA)

8. Supporting Children's Wellbeing when Working with Separating Parents

Roxanne Nathan

Emerging Minds Wednesday 13 October 2021

9. Team Leader of Counselling Services 

  • Family Dispute Resolution practitioner
  • Child Inclusive Practitioner
  • Counsellor
  • Family therapist
  • Conflict Coach
  • I work with families around the time of separation and post-separation to support the best outcomes possible for the children

10. Impacts of Separation on Children

What is the take away from my part of the session today that I want you to remember?

  • Separation is challenging and unresolved conflict hurts children
  • Different developmental age groups have different needs in separation
  • Co-Parenting Vs Parallel Parenting
  • Let's Talk about Series

11. Working with Parent's in Child-Centred Ways

  • A secure base for children and young people
  • Bigger, Stronger, Wiser and Kind
  • The use of metaphor
  • Routine and stability
  • Flexibility for young people

12. Working with Parental Distress

  • Distress is not binary it can be caused by many things which all stem from the internal system of the individual
  • Be the secure base as a professional
  • Don’t dismiss the distress, support integration
  • Get other services involved
  • Form collaborative relationship's with other service providers particularly the community services and family relationship Centres

13. Resources

14. Q & A Discussion

15. Feedback survey

Thanks for joining us.

A short feedback survey will pop up as you leave the webinar. If you could spare 5 mins to answer it, we would greatly appreciate it.

We will continue answering your questions offline and post this extra content online with the recording of the webinar.

Related resources

Related resources

Webinar questions and answers

Questions answered during presenter Q&A

To view the presenter Q&A, go to 38:30 in the recording

  • What are the types of unresolved conflicts and the affects that does have on children?
  • How can we best support children with separating parents who are also involved in the court system?
  • What is your organisation’s approach to working with Indigenous families in the context of separation?
  • How do you strike a balance between repair and respecting the voice of the child, particularly when a child is not wanting to see another parent, has taken a position around not wanting to see another parent?
  • How do you deal with and respond to separated parents who are talking badly about the other parent to you, as a practitioner?
  • There are some questions in relation to when parents use a child to be vengeful to another parent. What are some ways of making sense of that and responding to it?
  • How to help parents untangle their issues with their ex from their children's relationship with the other parent?
  • What is important to be letting parents know, who may be concerned that their children are having to navigate different rules?
  • How do you motivate parents to facilitate parent-child contact?
  • How is it that we can be supporting children's overall mental health and social and emotional wellbeing during this period of separation?


Emily Stevens is in the final stages of completing her PhD in sociology at the University of Queensland. She has published her research in the Journal of Family Studies and the Journal of Family Policy and has taught family sociology and social research methods at the university level. As a family sociologist, Emily’s expertise on the complexities and nuances of a range of family dynamics and relationships informs her work on family law, family violence and post-separation parenting. Before joining AIFS, Emily worked as a Research Officer at Relationships Australia Queensland, where she contributed to a national qualitative study into the needs of family dispute resolution clients.

Roxanne Nathan has worked with Relationships Australia South Australia for over 13 years; currently as the Team Leader for Counselling Services, and for 8 years as the Coordinator of the Children’s Contact Services. Prior to this she worked in the youth justice system at the Adelaide Youth Court. Roxanne describes her role as 'helping families to make sense of tough things'. She has specialised in supporting families post-separation and supporting families to understand the impacts of high-conflict separation on the mental health of their children. Roxanne practices with a trauma-informed and strengths-based lens: 'My focus is to lean into the strength of the family and support repair'. She is an accredited social worker with the AASW, registered family dispute resolution practitioner, child consultant, counsellor and family therapist. Recently, she was a consultant on the book, Separate Ways: Surviving Post-Separation Grief, the Stress of Divorce or Separation, and the Family Law Process by Shaya Lewis Dermody. Roxanne provides support for complex cases of entrenched family conflict or family and domestic violence across the organisation.

Felicity Kime is President of FISH and also a peer support worker with FISH, supporting parents and families to navigate child protection and out-of-home care systems. She is a mother to four children who all have different needs and interests. This is quite demanding and meeting the needs of her son who is living with autism adds some interesting challenges to her life. Her son is 7 years old and has just started school. Felicity now knows first-hand many of the difficulties in navigating systems and programs. She is committed to making sure her son’s needs are met and that he is included in social activities.


Chris Dolman, Senior Practice Development Officer, Emerging Minds

Senior Practice Development Officer, Emerging Minds

Chris Dolman is a social worker who has been working for the past 15 years with individuals, couples and families facing a broad range of concerns in their lives and relationships. Chris currently works with Emerging Minds and the National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health, as well as a narrative therapist with Country Health SA, providing consultations via video link to people living in rural and remote South Australia. Previously Chris has worked as a counsellor, supervisor and manager in a family and relationships counselling service with Uniting Communities with a particular focus around responding to family violence and the effects of childhood sexual abuse. He holds a Master of Narrative Therapy and Community Work and is a member of the Dulwich Centre Teaching Faculty.