Role play by two girls at a NZ kindergarten This article gives information on:

  1. How to minimise any negative impacts of parent separation or divorce on a young child
  2. Reviewing childcare arrangements
  3. Should parents tell the ECE service they separated?
  4. Updating your childcare service to improve support it offers your child
  5. The support an ECE service can provide
  6. The role of ECE services as advocates for children
  7. Parents sorting out disagreements - Contact the other parent or family court not the ECE service
  8. Information the ECE service needs on custody and protection orders
  9. Parents rights to information from the ECE service 

 

1. Minimising negative impacts on a young child

If parents, family, friends and childcare services consider things from a child’s perspective and communicate well together then a child may not just cope but grow their resilience following their parents' divorce or separation.

Adults often overestimate children’s adaptability to get through change and difficult times. Children don’t grow resilience from adversity itself. Ongoing unconditional love and support from adults before, during and after adversity enables a child to grow resilience.

During parental separation love and support can be in the form of carefully considering changes from the child’s perspective and thinking what could be done to prevent change from becoming overwhelming, for example:

Negative changes such as…       Can be minimised by…
Parents negative mood and demeanour caused by stress, anger, grief, depression, anxiety.     Parents controlling/ switching off negative emotions and always keeping parent-child interactions upbeat, positive, loving and fun.
Parents’ even busier due to having to make extra arrangements caused by separation, e.g. finding place to live, new bank accounts, etc.   Prioritising a child’s need for extra attention, reassurances, love and cuddles.
New homes and surroundings   A parent remaining in the previous house while other parent’s new accommodation is in same suburb or near as possible.
Frequent changing of home and surroundings  

Not changing house or neighbourhood too frequently.
Continuing going to the same familiar places, e.g. supermarket, playground, doctor, kindergarten/ childcare, café, library, etc.

New and unfamiliar faces, e.g. flatmates, boarders, exchange students, new partners, etc.   Ensuring a child knows each parent’s house is also the child’s house.  Display toys, photos, give freedom to roam and play, make the house child-friendly.
Getting used to switching between mum and dad’s houses, routines, etc.   Giving a child more time and support, e.g. making it fun to find where things are.
Parents are no longer together  

Talking nicely about the other parent, e.g. “It is nice to have fun with mum”.
Telling a child the people who love him/her, e.g. mum, dad, grandma, etc.
Parents occasionally doing something together with their child, e.g. standing together watching child play soccer, lunch at a café.

 

2. Reviewing childcare arrangements

A familiar childcare service can be a sanctuary for a child coping with so much change caused by separating parents. Kindergarten, Playcentre, Community Crèches, Playgroups and such can offer a child familiar routines, environments and friends.

However, parents should consider the impact on everyone if both parents work full-time. Parents and children could get overwhelmed when faced with stresses such as:

  • Morning rush to take a child to childcare before work
  • Picking up from childcare on time after work
  • Taking days off work when child is sick
  • Rushing to make dinner, bath, put child to bed.
  • The usual stresses from work.

Add to these stresses the grieving process as well as having to make new arrangements such as finding a place to live, new bank accounts, etc., and things can boil over with negative outcomes for everyone. A young child needs their parents’ time, presence, attention, hugs and play as well as to see them calm, happy and reassuring. It might be in everyone’s best interests for a parent to put work on hold for a while.

 

3. Should parents tell the early childhood education service they separated?

If adults at an ECE service know about the separation they can adjust how they support the child. However, whether to tell about the separation perhaps depends on the type of care arrangement. A parent involved in the childcare service (e.g. Playcentre) and who knows their child well might decide it is better not to tell or perhaps only tell a couple of adults.

Parents working full-time with their child in full-time childcare should definitely discuss and make plans with the childcare centre. Adults working at the ECE service can observe any changes in behaviour and work with parents to plan how they can best support a child to cope with the changes.

 

4. Update the childcare service to improve the support offered to the child

A child’s disruptive behaviour can sometimes be a way of communicating they aren't receiving sufficient support, love or attention. For example, a child throwing a tantrum because they don’t want to put their shoes on might usually be left alone to wallow until they realise they can’t play outside until they do it themselves. However, if adults at the ECE service know the parents have separated they might help the child who may be overwhelmed and needing a valuable care moment with hugs and attention.

Keeping the childcare service informed about the changes that are happening will help them plan their approach in caring for the child.

 

5. Support an ECE service can provide

Separating parents need realistic expectations of childcare services because fewer adults caring for more children and limited resources mean a child may not be given sufficient time and attention. Also the adults involved in an ECE service may be a mix of experience, abilities and attitudes which will affect the support a parent and their child gets. Even the highest quality all-day childcare centre could struggle to provide the support and attention a child needs during such big changes.

At the least parents should be offered regular opportunities to discuss how their child is coping including sharing behavioural observations and planning to best support the child.

 

6. The role of ECE services as advocates for children

ECE services are concerned with matters regarding the child’s learning and wellbeing whilst the child is at the service. Parents are responsible for everything before and after. However, as advocates for children a childcare service is also responsible to contact other services such as CYPFs and/ or Police if they suspect the child’s wellbeing is at risk, e.g. child abuse, neglect or domestic violence.

 

7. Contact the other parent or family court to sort out disagreements, not the ECE service

An ECE service doesn't have time or resources to be caught between separating parents as it will take them away from their job of caring and planning for the children.

Separated parents must communicate with each other or ask the family court for counselling or help, for example, if a parent is unhappy about:

  • The other parent unexpectedly picking up the child.
  • The parent’s new partner dropping the child off.

 

8. Information the ECE service needs on custody and protection orders

If the ECE service has no copies of custody or protection orders then the other parent retains all legal rights.

If custody and protection orders exist and the childcare service has copies then they will call the legal parent/ guardian or the Police if the other parent breaches the conditions of the order, e.g., attempts to get information or to pick the child up. The ECE service will refuse the parent access to the child or to information as per the conditions of the custody and protection orders.

When providing copies of custody and protection orders to the ECE service the legal parent/ guardian should also update emergency contact details and specify people authorised to drop off or collect the child and access information about the child.

 

9. Parents rights to information from the ECE service 

A parent or legal guardian can pick their child up from the ECE service. An ECE service may call a parent if the other parent picks up their child unexpectedly but both parents do have the same rights to drop off, collection and information.

A new partner cannot pick up a child from the ECE service unless both parents have agreed in writing or as stated in a custody order, protection order or other official document.

Any custody or protection orders must be shown to the ECE service otherwise it will continue to be assumed both parents remain legally responsible for their child. This means either parent can pick up, drop off, call if a child will be absent or access information regarding a child.

If the only name on a protection order is a parent then the other parent still retains all legal rights.

Information shared with both parents   Information not shared with the other parent
Parent/ teacher meetings

       

Any information about the other parent, e.g.
• If a new partner dropped off the child
• A drawing of parent’s new partner or family

Learning stories, portfolio, other assessments      
Matters affecting a child negatively  

 

Both parents can ask or be invited to parent/teacher evenings, be given copies of learning stories, have access to the child’s portfolio, etc. Even if a custody order exists both parents are entitled to the same information about the child including on the days the other parent is responsible for the child.

It is possible some information could be withheld to respect the other parent’s privacy, e.g. a drawing showing mum with her new partner. If a parent asks about the other parent the ECE service should instruct to ask the other parent directly.

An ECE service must respect both parent’s privacy thus will not regularly keep a parent informed about the other parent, for example, if a new partner has dropped off the child.

Any matters affecting a child negatively will always be discussed with both parents.

Lawyers of the parents have no rights to access information from an ECE service unless evidence is shown they are the child’s lawyer appointed by the court.