Dr. Donald A. Gordon and graduate students in Clinical Psychology at Ohio University.
Kearnes, V., Gordon, D.A., & Arbuthnot, J. (1991). Children in the Middle: Reducing the stress of divorce through videotape modeling. American Association of Applied and Preventive Psychology, Washington, D.C., June, 1991.
A video-based intervention (Children in the Middle, first edition) taught children how to respond effectively when caught in the middle of disputes between their divorced or separated parents. Participants were 33 fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-grade students. After the treatment groups had viewed Children in the Middle , they rated the frequency and stressfulness of situation in which they felt caught in the middle between their parents. Half also received a copy of a workbook (Children in the Middle: Parent and Children's Guide) which promotes goal-setting and skill practice. In a four-week follow-up, children in the treatment groups reported experiencing significantly less stress in these situations (in comparison to a control group which viewed a non-skills oriented divorce video, When Mom Dad Break Up). This change was clinically significant for 50% of the children.
Children from divorced families are caught in the middle of parental conflicts significantly more often and experience more stress than children from intact homes. In this study, we used a brief educational intervention to assess whether or not parents would change their behaviors if given information about how often children feel caught up in parental conflicts (such as loyalty conflicts, carrying messages, hearing put-downs of the other parent, etc.). We asked 45 high school students to rate both the frequency and stressfulness of 32 situations. We then mailed a brief summary of the findings and an explanatory letter to parents in the intervention group. A one-month follow-up showed that students in the intervention group (compared to those in a randomly assigned control group) reported being caught in such situations significantly less often. This study provides clear evidence of the ability of parents to change behaviors when given direct feedback about what they are doing and how it may be harmful to their children.
A group of 26 courts using all or a portion of the Children in the Middle video for at least two years was interviewed regarding their practices and impressions. Programs typically had 1-3 sessions lasting 1-4 hours each. Half used ancillary materials (such as What About the Children: A Guide for Divorced and Divorcing Parents). The vast majority did not charge fees for the program. Judges viewed the program positively and found it to be extremely helpful for parents. Half of the judges believed the program had noticeably reduced relitigation rates. Other outcomes perceived by judges included more positive parental attitudes, greater parental sensitivity to children's needs, reductions in tension between attorneys and mental health professionals, and increases in human (vs. legal) issues in judicial decisions.
Over 100 parents in a medium-sized city filing court actions for divorce or post-divorce issues involving children were court-ordered to attend a 2-hour parent education class built around the video, Children in the Middle (first edition). A 2-year follow-up showed that relitigation rates for parents in the treatment group was only 12.5% if they attended the class within three weeks of their original court filing date. For parents attending more than three weeks after filing, the relitigation rate was 60%; for a control group with contemporaneous filing dates but not attending the class, the relitigation rate was 59%. There was also evidence to suggest that parents who attended the class had fewer contacts with attorneys, spent less money on the divorce, were more encouraging for their children to love their other parent, and exposed their children to less conflict.
These results suggest the importance of mandating parents into classes very early in the divorce process before conflict and litigiousness can interfere with their willingness to communicate and cooperate.
This chapter reviews the need for and common assumptions underlying educational interventions for both parents and children in families of divorce. It also reviews the outcomes of evaluation studies conducted to date. The chapter concludes that although most efforts are currently sponsored by courts or social service agencies, there is considerable room for the use of divorce education programs and materials by private practitioners as they work with parents and children alike to facilitate the smoothest possible transition to post-divorce family life. Includes 96 references, plus additional resources.
A nationwide survey of practitioner-level mediators (n = 253) was conducted in order to ascertain their views of the effectiveness of divorce education programs for parents on both the process and outcome of divorce mediation. Over three-quarters of the respondents (77%) reported that divorce education programs were available in their communities, most typically run by the local court (27%) or an independent, nonprofit organization (25%), and over half (53%) being mandatory. Over half of mediators report that they do formal divorce education with clients at least sometimes (28.5% regularly, 24.5% sometimes).
Significant impacts on the mediation process and outcome included: greater child focus, more cooperation and better communication skills demonstrated by the parents; fewer sole custody parenting plans (with a tendency for more shared parenting plans) negotiated; and a trend for less time required to reach agreement. Model responses indicated that mediators generally believe divorce education would be appropriate for highly conflicted and power-imbalanced couples, but less so for couples involved in substance or spousal abuse. Just over two-thirds (68.9%) believe divorce education should be mandatory for all divorcing couples with children.
This study compared the effectiveness of an information-based divorce education program (based on the Families First model) with the skills-oriented Children in the Middle intervention (which included some portions of the information-based program). Both were three-hour court-mandated classes conducted at the same clinic on an alternating basis. A follow-up was conducted three months after the class. A control group received no intervention.
Neither program had either a favorable or unfavorable impact on incidence of domestic violence during the follow-up period. All three groups showed a general decline. Thus, there appears to be little basis for the concerns of some that the emphasis of divorce education programs on cooperation and communication might lead to exposing women to greater danger.
Both divorce education programs reduced child exposure to parental conflict. Neither program had effects on actual parental conflict over child issues, or child behavior problems.
The Children in the Middle program had a significantly greater impact on parents' communications skills. In addition, improved parent communication skills were associated not only with decreased domestic violence, but also with decreased parental conflict and increased keeping children out of conflict. Finally, increased parent knowledge was associated with decreased parental conflict, increased keeping children out of conflict, and decreased child behavior problems on the Eyberg intensity measure (of child behavior problems).
The results are discussed in terms of the need for training and practice in specific communication and parenting skills in divorce education programs.
Two groups of parents were tracked for two years following their divorce: a group of 89 who attended a mandatory divorce education class and a comparison group of 23 parents who did not. The two groups did not differ in any assessed demographic or family characteristics. At the follow-up assessment, the parents who attended the class had relitigated (over all issues) less than half as often than those who had not attended the class (1.61 vs. 3.74). Moreover, rate of relitigation was related to mastery of skills learned in the class--the more mastery of skills, the lower the relitigation rate. The results are discussed in terms of the needs for outcome evaluation and design of education programs for divorcing parents, as well as the need for divorce education to go beyond merely sensitizing parents to children's needs. Programs need to include instruction and practice in new communication and parenting skills.
Department of Psychology, Ohio University. Under review. Also presented as Current research outcomes in parent education for divorcing families. Annual Conference of Family Mediation Canada, Winnipeg, Manitoba, October 24, 1996.
Participants in the study were 72 children (aged 5-17 years, evenly distributed across genders) in outpatient therapy in the Detroit metropolitan area, and their divorced or separated parents. The children's therapists assigned parent-child pairs to one of three experimental conditions: the skills-oriented group (n = 24), the affect/information-oriented group (n = 24), and a wait-list control group (n = 24). Participation was voluntary. Parents in the skills group viewed the Children in the Middle: Parents' Version video (Arbuthnot & Gordon, 1994) and received the accompanying guidebook (Gordon & Arbuthnot, 1994). Parents in the affect/information group viewed the Paramount Pictures video When Mom and Dad Break-Up (Fox, Kantor, & Hauser, 1989) and received its accompanying guidebook (LeShan, 1989). Parents in the wait-list control group received no materials at the time of the study. The groups did not differ on gender of children or of primary residential parent, children's ages, or on type of outpatient site. Therapists were blind as to the hypotheses of the study.
Follow-up surveys of both parents and children were conducted 4-6 weeks subsequent to the intervention. Parents in the skills group demonstrated greater learning of effective skills for keeping their children out of parental conflict situations (vs. the affect/information and control groups, which did not differ). Parents in the skills group reported significantly less involvement of their children in stressful parental conflict situations than did parents in the affect/information or control groups (which did not differ). Children of parents in the skills group felt caught in the middle of parental conflicts less often than children in the affect/information or control groups (which did not differ), and reported significantly less stress regardless of frequency of being caught in the middle. Furthermore, children of parents in the skills group reported greater improvement in some aspects of parent-child relationships than did children of parents in the affect/information and control groups (which did not differ).
In a court-mandated, child-focused class for divorcing parents (based on the video, Children in the Middle, first edition), parental mastery of skills taught were evaluated both immediately after the class and 6 months later. Parents perceived the class content to be realistic and useful. Skills were effectively learned and were maintained over the evaluation period. Parents reported that they were less angry at their ex-spouse, and were successful in dramatically lowering exposure of their children to parental conflict. Relative to a comparison group of parents divorcing the year before the classes were initiated, parents completing the class were better able to work through how they would handle difficult child-related situations with their ex-spouses, and were willing to let their children spend more time with the other parent. Children of parents in the treatment group had fewer school absences, and made fewer visits to physicians. Among parents, few gender differences were observed--mothers perceived the class to be more realistic; fathers showed greater improvement on some skills. Similarly, interest level in further training was not predictive of class benefits, suggesting that enthusiasm for parenting training is probably not essential in order for benefits to be obtained.
A 32-page educational booklet (What About the Children: A Guide for Divorced and Divorcing Parents) was mailed to half of all parents filing for divorce in a large urban domestic relations court over a 12-week period. A total of 358 primarily lower-middle social class intervention and wait-list control parents were interviewed by telephone approximately three months later. Mothers in the treatment group reported greater reduction of loyalty conflict behaviors and increased encouragement of child-father involvement. Children exhibiting greater internalizing and externalizing behaviors on the child behavior checklist (parents) had mothers who reported experiencing greater interpersonal conflict and personal distress, and more often spoke of their difficulties to their children. A one-year follow-up revealed that intervention parents were more likely to communicate positively with their children about their other parent, and that non-residential parents had greater access to their children.
A one-year follow-up revealed that intervention parents were more likely to communicate positively with their children about their other parent, and that non-residential parents had greater access to their children.
A recent national survey (Geasler & Blaisure, 1999) has shown that nearly half of all counties in the U.S. now provide some form of education program for divorcing parents. This represents a near tripling in number of programs over the 1994 survey, and indicates a rapidly growing interest in providing a promising intervention for families in crisis. By the same token, however, these data indicate that just over half of all counties in the U.S. do not provide such a program. This manuscript (a) presents the results of a national survey of counties not providing programs to assess the reasons why no program is provided, (b) compares results within this sample of recent adopters and continuing nonadopters, (c) frames the results of this study in terms of the larger literature on adoption of new technologies, and (d) explores strategies for increasing adoption rates in nonadopting jurisdictions.
Overall, it appears that population characteristics and case load variables have little to do with adoption of innovations. Resources (often related to population, most likely due to court budgets and revenues) may be a more important factor. Innovation-adopting courts generally provide more other services for divorcing families. Although there were no differences in use of family counseling or guardians ad litem , innovators were considerably more likely to also offer custody evaluations, mediation, individual counseling, supervised visitation, settlement conferences, and family service specialists. These differences speak to a generally more proactive stance of the court. It probably also speaks to greater success in locating funding to start up and maintain such programs. In this sense, innovative courts may be located in communities with a generally more proactive philosophy concerning the role of the courts in family crises.
A three to nine month follow-up evaluation was conducted with a random sample of participants in a four-hour mandated parent education program for divorcing parents in a Southern state. The 345 respondents reported a reduction in nine of ten behaviors associated with putting children in the middle of their parents’ conflicts but reported increased levels of conflict between parents from pre-class levels. Post-class evaluations by 9,876 participants revealed high levels of satisfaction with the program and a reduction in levels of resentment at being required to attend the class. The author makes recommendations for enhancing the effectiveness of classes based on this and other research.
The Journal of Extension reviewed Children in the Middle and found it meets all their evaluation criteria for an evidence and research-based program. They conclude: "Cooperative Extension agents may want to consider advocating for Children in the Middle as the program of choice where divorcing couples are mandated to divorce education."
Parent education for separating parents with children is conducted widely internationally but not currently available in New Zealand. This project, initiated by the Auckland Family Courts Association, involved the development and evaluation of a pilot education programme entitled 'Children in the Middle' at Auckland's North Shore. Children in the Middle is based on those run overseas and consists of two, two-hour sessions over two consecutive weeks. The format includes a combination of didactic presentation, video clips illustrating legal issues, provision of written information, group participation via questions and answers, and discussion. Group size is limited to 15, with one presenter being a psychologist and the other a lawyer. Separating couples attend separate sessions.
Evaluation of the programme included the first 6 months of programme implementation, involving nine groups. Data was available for 76 participants. Pre- post- programme measures showed an increase in parent knowledge about the impact of separation on children and an improvement in children's behaviour and well being, as assessed by the Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire. Child behaviour change was maintained at 3-4 month follow-up. Time alone did not cause difference as indicated by the lack of change in a wait-list control group. A reduction in parental acrimony was also evident by the 3-4 month follow-up assessment. Participants reported a very high level of satisfaction with Children in the Middle as measured on a consumer satisfaction measure. Analysis of semi-structured interviews with 20 participants and seven stakeholders 3 months after the programme provided confirmation of the positive outcomes shown in the quantitative data, including high levels of satisfaction with the programme, and evidence of improved parent communication, particularly in respect of conflict management, and improved child behaviour. This interview data also provided suggestions for future programme development.
Children in the Middle is designed as a preventative intervention aimed at decreasing the risks for children arising from their parent's separation. The present study provides support for the wider implementation of parent education of this type.
Dr. Don Gordon and his Ohio University colleague Jack Arbuthnot created a commercially available standardized program called After the Storm (AtS), after the West Virginia Supreme Court asked them to develop a course for high conflict divorcing/divorced couples. Their goal was to educate separated parents on the causes of anger and conflict, help them recognize when they engaged in harmful conflict, and give them some strategies for controlling their conflict and communicating more effectively with the other parent.
This chapter will focus in detail on the After the Storm (AtS) program. It has not been evaluated on its own to date, but it has been evaluated as part of an educational program that includes Children In The Middle (CIM), a program for divorcing and separating parents with low to moderate levels of conflict. This creative combination of an evidence-based program (CIM) with the AtS program allows for addressing the needs of parents with varying levels of conflict.
Children in Between is an educational program based upon several theories. The content and instructional design was designed according to social cognitive theory, family systems theory, and Amato's divorce-stress-adjustment theory. The program is heavily skills-focused and it is based on risk and protective factors for child adjustment following divorce or separation of their parents.
In the vast majority of courts across the United States there exists some form of policy for mandating a parent education course for parents who wish to dissolve their marriage and even for those never- married parents who wish to separate, yet remain involved and co-parent their child(ren). One common theme, found among all of these policies, is the agreement that educating parents about the harmful effects that divorce and separation have on children is an important step as parents make these decisions. Providing something that parents can use as a resource to improve their own behavior is also a goal, but one that more often than not falls short. The reason? The most prevalent approach employed for disseminating the numerous topics mandated for such classes is inadequate for actually changing the behavior of these adults who are in the midst of family transition and often in conflict.
*Included in SAMHSA's National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices
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