At OnePlusOne, we believe in relational capability for all. In this guest post, Eleni Bloy from the Race Equality Foundation introduces their new Reducing Parental Conflict toolkit. We were invited to review this resource and are confident it will be a great asset to people working with parents and families.
The Race Equality Foundation has taken a unique, culturally-informed approach to the topic of parental conflict. With growing evidence showing that toxic ‘frequent, intense and poorly resolved’ conflict can be harmful, the Foundation has produced a toolkit designed for use by public health nurses (midwives, health visitors, school nurses and GP practice nurses), and other professionals working with families, to improve children’s wellbeing and to reduce the health inequalities to children and young people caused by nonviolent parental conflict.
The toolkit was produced with funding from Public Health England, in partnership with Men’s Health Forum and The Association of Mental Health Providers. The design of this toolkit was led by the frontline practitioners for whom it is intended, together with consultation with adults and children with lived experience, fathers, Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic groups, and members of the LGBTQ+ and Traveller communities. The tool identifies nine main topic areas to assist frontline practitioners with practical examples for easier understanding, printable resources to help parents work through their issues, and an up-to-date nationwide directory for further specialist support. The tool helps practitioners:
- To define and recognise the nature of harmful conflict where parents are together and apart (with practical examples).
- To understand the short and long term developmental, physical, mental, and emotional harm to children from the womb to teenage years.
- To explain the pathways through which children are harmed.
- To access the tools to explore the core issues for the conflict with parents with cultural sensitivity.
- To have a greater understanding of the issues for new parents (with printable resources).
- To understand verbal and nonverbal communication.
- To learn conflict resolution techniques.
- To talk sensitively to parents and children (with printable resources).
- To better engage with dads.
Throughout the toolkit, practitioners are reminded to consider how ethnicity, culture, discrimination, the layering of other adversities (such as poverty), stereotyping, and preconceptions can impact families and the professionals working with them.
In the UK, 87% of all babies are born to parents who are married, in a civil partnership, or living together. However, for many parents, their relationship with one another is less defined. They may be together but living apart, they may be separated, or they may simply be uncertain as to whether they are in a committed relationship, so that mothers consider themselves lone parents. Pregnancy may have been unplanned during a time before the relationship is established, which may lead to confusion for parents about their status as co-parents. Fathers may feel ignored and marginalised by their partners and by the maternity and family support ‘system’.
For same-sex couple families, there may be a donor or surrogate who is considered a co-parent or issues when one mother is the birth mother and the other mother has not had this experience. Similarly, one father may be the biological father, and the other may not. The terms ‘mother’ and ‘father’ are binary and may be offensive to some parents in and of themselves. With families who have been involved in the care system (fostering, adoption, and special guardianship), there may be additional stresses associated with this status.
With 10% of children living in blended families, there will be dynamics to consider with former partners, new partners, and children having more than two co-parents. Parents themselves may be living with a disability or raising children with disabilities. Children may live in homes which include extended family. This happens for economic or cultural reasons and is seen in many Asian and newly arrived migrant families. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and wider family can be part of the day-to-day care of children and decision-making, and thus have the ability to influence or be part of the conflict between co-parents. Traveller parents may be facing additional issues around basic living arrangements, parked at the side of the road without running water. Many families face discrimination daily.
There is a need to explore a ‘full family history’, to encourage parental self-reflection, understanding, goal-setting, self-empowerment, and problem-solving to improve toxic relationships where arguments, including court proceedings and ‘the silent treatment’ are repeated.
Practitioners are encouraged to reflect on their own experiences of parental conflict, as a child or adult parent. Can they differentiate between harmful verbal and nonverbal conflict and domestic abuse including coercive control? Are there strongly held beliefs around ‘family’ and how conflict should be managed or resolved? The tool encourages an inquisitive and holistic approach when working with adults and children based on a real understanding of cultural values.