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Parenting programme to reduce separation stress

Hon Phil Goff Minister of Justice

Hon Rick Barker Minister for Courts

18 May 2005

Budget 2005

Parenting programme to reduce separation stress

A nationwide programme to help parents prevent stress and trauma for children facing parental conflict and separation is being funded in this year's Budget, Justice Minister Phil Goff and Courts Minister Rick Barker announced today.

Budget 2005 provides $6.2 million over the next four years to run programmes through the Family Court to help separating parents reduce conflict and the stress that separation can cause for their children.

"Separation is a difficult time for parents but can have even worse consequences for the children involved. Parental conflict is associated with stress and behavioural problems on the part of children. This is exacerbated when parents seek to use their children against each other," Mr Goff said.

"Parent education for separating parents will help them get through this period, minimising conflict and protecting their children against the adverse affects that conflict causes.

"Such programmes have run successfully overseas in the United States and United Kingdom.

"A pilot programme called 'Children in the Middle' run by the Auckland Family Courts Association last year showed an increase in parent knowledge about the impact of separation on children, a reduction in parent conflict, an improvement in children's behaviour and well-being, and a very high level of satisfaction by participants.

"We have every reason to believe that these very positive results can be replicated across the country, with major human and social benefits as a result," Mr Goff said.

Mr Barker said the parenting programme consisted of two two-hour sessions, held a week apart, presented by a psychologist or counsellor and a family lawyer. Children do not attend, and couples attend separate sessions.

"The programme will help parents understand how separation affects their children, and how best to communicate with their children during such a stressful time.

"It will also cover how to deal with former partners and to manage conflict, and provides information on family law, Family Court processes, and networks for on-going support.

"The aim is to minimise the potential for separation to have a negative impact on children, and to help them maintain a positive relationship with both parents, and their wider families, after a separation has occurred.

"As many as 8000 couples a year could be referred to the programme by the Family Court, even if they have not applied for separation, or by solicitors or community groups.

"Participation will be voluntary, to avoid resistance from some attendees, which would work against the messages of cooperation and consideration at the heart of the programme.

"Compulsory attendance might also be unduly prescriptive for the large number of people who only seek a consent order from the Court after reaching an agreed outcome. It would cut across judicial independence to direct cases and parties; create unnecessary additional costs, and require legislative amendments," Mr Barker said.


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