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How Practitioners Can Help

Birmingham Safeguarding Children Partnership

Practitioners can support parents to understand that they have a choice to be more constructive when they are expressing their views.

Parental Conflict is where there is a communication breakdown between parents and the communication has become more frequent and destructive (harmful behaviour) than constructive (helpful behaviour). The dynamics in the relationship may have changed for various reasons such as divorce, separation, loss of job, financial pressures, or a new baby in the home. Either partner may feel they are not being heard, supported, or reassured and the connection they once shared may feel like it has disappeared. It can sometimes feel like the other partner is not emotionally connected or that they do not care for the other partner’s feelings.

At different times in families’ lives, parents can experience key life events including:

  • bereavement
  • new baby
  • new school
  • separation or divorce

Parents may also experience financial difficulties, drug and alcohol issues, and mental health problems, which can all contribute to relationship distress. Many of these stress factors have been heightened during the COVID-19 crisis.

As Practitioners, we want parents to feel listened to, supported and to help them to have healthier communication. We would like parents to not feel judged and to understand that our role is not to ‘fix’ their relationship. Our role is to sensitively support them using the tools we have to work with them and to try to find ways that may help them break that cycle of unresolved disagreements.

Use the Family Stress Adaptation model to ask parents about what stresses they are experiencing and provide bespoke referrals or support on those issues.

Constructive vs Deconstructive Conflict

Constructive Conflict (helpful behaviours)

Constructive conflict (helpful behaviours) enables couples to calmly disagree, acknowledge differences and find a solution. Couples will be able to focus on the topic of disagreement and not blame one another, show respect to each other, and reach a compromise. This approach is healthy and benefits the children by role modelling how to resolve disagreements.

Deconstructive Conflict (harmful behaviours)

Destructive conflict (harmful behaviours) is usually depicted by partners swearing or shouting at each other, being unable to resolve issues, trying to win, not listening to the other, spending periods sulking, ignoring each other, or walking off, slamming doors, and creating an atmosphere at home which is uncomfortable for all. The lack of resolution can mean that disagreements may start off as one thing, but then other past events or comments arise. Partners may make hurtful and insensitive comments towards each other which the children hear. Sometimes parents may think the child is unaware as disagreements take place away from the child e.g., the child may have been in another room or ‘asleep’, but children are aware of the conflict and may feel the tension in the home.

Reducing Parental Conflict in Birmingham

Relationship Matters is the name for Reducing Parental Conflict used by Birmingham Children’s Trust.

The Trust have developed a multi-agency “Relationship Matters” champion role to develop our Reducing Parental Conflict work in Birmingham. The below document outlines the role of the champion. If you are interested in being a champion please contact Ravinder Kaur.

RPC Champions Role Description

The Communities of Practice meetings are where we bring our Relationship Matters Champions together to provide a forum for them to discuss, reflect and develop their skills to take back and promote within their own agencies. It provides an opportunity for you to be updated about Parental Conflict interventions and to help us learn about what is working well for you and what the barriers are for you implementing the learning from training into practice.

Through discussions our Relationships Matters Champions felt that a tipsheet/practitioners pack would help practitioners. The Champions are currently working on making this idea a reality, a resource that we can all use when completed. It is our aim to have Relationship Matters Champions from all organisations so we can work together to embed this approach and make a difference to the families we support.

Managers and practitioners from various organisations attend meetings every other month. The aim is to embed Reducing Parental Conflict in Birmingham and strategically plan our work ahead and how we evidence impact and outcomes for children.