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Supporting children through parental conflict in Dorset

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Dorset was one of 12 ‘Local Family Offer’ areas working with Department for Work and Pensions to seek ways of reducing the negative impact of inter-parental conflict on children and young people. Staff surveys of County Council employees showed that practitioners at all levels lacked confidence in asking questions about personal relationships.

Dorset County Council and partners identified that Weymouth and Portland had the fourth highest divorce rate in the country, so we targeted these areas to provide support for relationship difficulties. There are many stressors that potentially stimulate inter-parental conflict and some of these are evidenced in the data profile of Weymouth and Portland.

Dorset County Council brought together health services, the voluntary sector, and an education partnership of schools in the area, as well as the parent carer forum who represent parents of children with additional needs, to develop ideas for how to reduce parental conflict in the local area. The conversation made clear that:

  • there was limited provision in Dorset directed towards reducing parental conflict
  • parents who would benefit most from support were often the least likely to exhibit help seeking behaviours
  • schools saw the impact of parental conflict on child attendance and self-esteem, so they were willing partners supporting Dorset’s new reducing parental conflict interventions.

Reducing parental conflict interventions – what worked?

Relationship navigator: The education partnership created a new position which we named a ‘Relationship Navigator’, to provide advice to teachers and other frontline workers supporting families experiencing parental conflict. The Relationship Navigator, who was both a teacher and a Relate relationship counsellor, also supported parents directly, either together or one to one.

Training: Dorset commissioned some ‘Brief Encounter’ training that was provided to a wide and varied group of people working with families in the locality.  This training helps workers recognise the signs of relationship distress at an early stage and to respond effectively to offer support using appropriate and effective techniques. Feedback was positive and confidence among practitioners started to grow. Dorset County Council are now able to deliver the training in house and move to spreading it Dorset-wide for multi-agency workers.

Workshops: A 'Blended Family' where a family is formed when a couple moves in together, bringing children from previous relationships into one home. We ran workshops with a group of these families and practitioners to provide workers with the knowledge and skills to support these families when  a range of issues arise. We developed additional workshops like 'Getting on with your ex'  which is about making for positive relationships between separated parents. These were felt to be really useful and helped us bring a particular emphasis on co-parenting by the non-resident parent.

Influencing national Reducing Parental Conflict Programme

Some of the lessons that Dorset learnt have been fed into the design of a national 'Reducing Parental Conflict programme'  being led by the Department for Work and Pensions.

This topic is of vital importance to improve family lives, and we can all look towards how we work together to innovate and collaborate to protect children’s outcomes.

The programme is supported by the Early Intervention Foundation which has a wealth of information relating to inter parental conflict which you can find here:

In addition the Local Family Offer sites were evaluated by the Innovation Unit and the report can be found here:

Please contact me if you have any queries or comment below.

Patrick Myers

Senior Ambassador, Reducing Parental Conflict Team
(Assistant Director, Children’s Services at Dorset County Council seconded to DWP)

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