COVID year saw a surge in enquiries, clients and peer support

The 2020-21Annual Report from Shared Parenting Scotland shows an increase in our activity during the period when separated families were dealing with the pressures of the pandemic.

During the first year of COVID lockdown the charity was approached for help, advice and information by close to 1,000 individuals, our highest ever caseload and an increase of 12% on 2019-20 and 30% on 2018-19.

Enquiries in the first part of the year were often driven by confusion and lack of understanding that travel for children to continue shared parenting arrangements was an exception to general travel restrictions from Day 1 of lockdown.

The majority of our enquiries come from parents – mostly but not exclusively fathers – who haven’t been able to agree arrangements for meaningful parenting time with their children after divorce or separation.

Shared Parenting Scotland believes in most cases ‘shared parenting’ is beneficial for the wellbeing of children in the short and long term. Through our helpline, support group meetings, WhatsApp networking, training and ‘user guides’ we encourage enquirers to move on from the old grievances between parents to focus on resolution of difficulties through mediation and discussion.

Our annual user survey revealed encouraging improvements in the situation of those who responded such as improved contact with their children, better communication with children and with former partner, and less personal stress and anxiety.

In 2020 – 21 we established online training modules on Communication Skills, Stress Management and Debt (in collaboration with Govan Law Centre).

Shared Parenting Scotland National Manager, Ian Maxwell, says, “In common with most third sector organisations 2020-21 was challenging to ensure we could meet the needs of  everyone who got in contact with us, often at a time of stress and anxiety. We moved all our monthly group meetings online immediately and staff worked from home.

It was apparent that COVID encouraged some parents to set aside their previous entrenched positions in the interests of doing their best by their children. Unfortunately, many more reported in our user survey [see page 4 of attached Annual Report] that the pandemic was exploited by the other parent, sometimes wilfully and sometimes through unfounded belief that the government had told them travel for shared parenting shouldn’t happen.

It was also apparent equal parental involvement was one of the first casualties during the period of school closures. We continue to work with schools and school parental involvement officers to ensure that equal parenting is essential and not ‘an add-on’.

On our helpline and in support group meetings we always encourage distressed and grieving parents to focus on their children and to try every way possible to defuse conflict and step away from the personal history between them and the other parent. Unfortunately there are too many incentives in our family law system to attack and undermine the other parent and too few incentives to cooperate in the interests of their children.”