Kids in the Middle is a new national charity being set up in collaboration between young people and family lawyers and mediators, with one purpose: to provide online support and help for children caught in the fallout of separation and divorce.
By the time they are 16 nearly half of all children will be affected by their parents separating. Sadly, over the last two years three on-line supports for such children have closed down leaving ‘kids in the middle’ vulnerable and often with nowhere to turn for help.
The vision of Kids in the Middle is to become a household name and an online platform where children and young people affected by family separation and divorce can go to share their stories and hear the experiences of others. The website will carry three immediate messages – it’s not your fault, you are not alone, and it’s OK to get help – and will signpost to other organisations offering support and help, both on-line and in local communities across the UK.
‘Kids in the Middle’, kickstarted by a group of 20 students in two schools, Hereford Cathedral School and Crickhowell High School, also want parents to use the website to help them to understand separation and divorce from a child’s perspective. In particular, they will urge parents to use low-conflict ways of resolving matters relating to children.
Hayley Cervi, a LLB law student at the University of Leeds has a particular interest in family and child law, and is a ‘kid in the middle’. Now a mother herself, Hayley tells her story and why she is helping to promote this vibrant new charity.
“I became a ‘kid in the middle’ in September 1996 – a date that has huge significance for me because it set in motion a chain of events that created the person I am today.
The experience of parents’ separating will be different for every child, but I am yet to meet anyone who has been unaffected. Circumstances and a child’s ability to cope and adapt differ – and many parents are guilty of underestimating their child’s ability to read between the lines.
Most children will be given the generic ‘go-to’ reassurances: “we are not to blame” and that “our parents may not love each other anymore, but they still love us very much”. Many parents fail to appreciate that this isn’t what we want to hear. I know that I certainly didn’t, although I felt compelled, even at seven years old, to hide my emotions and say that I was “ok” and that the situation was “for the best”. These were my parents’ words, of course, and I reeled them out parrot fashion for weeks.
On the whole I managed to hold it together, until my first weekend with my dad after the split. I think this was the point that I realised that everything had changed and he wasn’t coming home. The last two hours of our special time that weekend were spent in my grandmother’s lounge crying together.
Pastoral care at my primary was virtually non-existent and I didn’t feel I could talk to anyone within the family. I remember feeling isolated and alone.
I know that some people believe that arguments may contribute to a relationship breakdown. This would be logical if the arguments ceased – however I found that my parents argued more.
Even in a happy marriage parents often differ in their approach to bringing up their children and have disagreements. Separation and divorce can exacerbate disagreements regarding their children. I found it more and more difficult to talk to one parent about the other. Eventually, I stopped trying when I saw what I said became ammunition for my parents to fire at each other.
It is commonplace for children to witness the breakdown of their parents’ relationship. Sometimes it is simply unavoidable, leaving children in the most horrible position; caught between the two people they love the most. Often this happens at a time when children are most impressionable, needing impartial support that neither parent is capable of offering. I would have welcomed a service like Kids in the Middle with open arms.
Seventeen years after my parents split up, and despite the fact that I am now a 24 year old woman, I will always be a ‘kid in the middle’. I’d like to say it’s a role I ‘got over’. Instead, I can say only this: I learned to live with it.”
Family lawyers, barristers and mediators all over the UK are backing ‘Kids in the Middle’ and forming partnerships with local young people and family law students to raise money to design and support the new service which will be launched in 2014.