During divorce or separation, children can very easily find themselves stuck in the middle of warring parents. And all too often teachers and other school staff can find themselves drawn in too. But how far should a school go to help children whose families are going through a divorce? In this article, we take a look at how schools can help.
Should schools maintain a relationship with both parents?
These days, both parents tend to hold parental responsibility for their children, but problems can occur when one parent is the main carer and the other is eager to erase the other parent from the children’s lives. This very often leads to conflict, which draws in the school, especially when the non-resident parent wants to collect the children from school, which the main carer has told teachers they won’t allow. One parent asking for school reports or letters when the main parent has asked the school not to release them also puts the school in an uncomfortable and difficult position.
Unless the school believes the children are at risk, or there is a court order prohibiting contact, then a school should do its best not take sides. It is important, and in the best interests of the children, for a school to maintain a positive relationship with both parents.
Should a school get involved in court cases involving children?
Schools are often contacted by one parent asking them to write a letter or make a statement to court in support of their child arrangements application. Generally speaking, the school should avoid taking sides and getting involved. That said, each case is different, so if in doubt, legal advice should be sought.
Should the school allow a parent to change their child’s surname?
Name changes can be a particularly thorny issue. People often change their names following divorce and tell the school they would like their child to be “known as” their new surname. Very often, this new name is different to the child’s legal name. In this case, the school may decide to resist the change, and some schools have specific policies stating that if parents wish to change their child’s surname, then they need to obtain written authorisation from everyone with parental responsibility. Although if a school has set a precedent by allowing other children to be called by their “known as” name, this can be difficult to argue against.
Top tips for teachers for helping children through divorce
Teachers will always want to support their pupils social and emotional wellbeing. Here are some effective actions teachers can take when supporting a student during their parent’s divorce:
- Having one-on-one conversations with children, asking if they are OK, being a good listener, letting children talk and providing reassurance
- Being available for parents and children to speak to
- Creating a safe, friendly environment where children feel able to talk
- Communicating equally with both parents about how their child is doing emotionally, academically, and socially whilst at school
- Referring children to the school’s welfare support coordinator or school counsellor for additional support
- Being consistent with school routines, expectations, and rules
- Making sure the child is included in supportive friendship groups, whether that is in the classroom or playground
- Having flexible expectations with the child’s school work
- Providing encouragement for children to make good decisions and to manage their own behaviour.
Schools also have a responsibility to ensure a child’s emotional wellbeing as well as promoting their education. Teachers and schools can buffer the stress of divorce and help children adjust to their changing family arrangements and routine.
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