What is parental conflict?
Parental conflict is defined as a situation when arguments and disagreements between parents are frequent and poorly resolved, however there is not an imbalance of power or fear.
Disagreements in relationships are normal – all parents disagree from time to time and this is not usually problematic when both people feel able to handle and resolve disagreements.
But when parents, whether together or separated, are entrenched in conflict that is frequent, intense and poorly resolved it is likely to have a negative impact on the whole family. The impact on children can be varied and long-lasting including negative effects on mental health and development.
Conflict can range from a lack of warmth and emotional distance, right through to swearing and shouting. The relationship might be classed as “difficult” but it is not abusive.
Families are most at risk of parental conflict during key transitions in life such as separation, bereavement, new babies, children starting school etc. Families living in poverty or under economic pressure are more at risk of parental conflict.
Parental conflict may require help and/or interventions, but many parents work through their differences either by staying together or separating amicably, which can result in an atmosphere of mutual love, consideration, and forgiveness.
How does parental conflict differ from domestic abuse?
Sometimes conflict in a relationship is domestic abuse. Domestic abuse typically presents an imbalance of power and one parent may feel fearful of the other. Since September 2012, the definition of domestic abuse is:
Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. This can encompass but is not limited to the following types of abuse: psychological, physical, sexual, financial and emotional.
Where an imbalance of power is not present, this is likely to be parental conflict rather than domestic abuse.
Reducing Parental Conflict Training is available for ALL practitioners working with families. This is a full day’s training split over 2 half days currently ran virtually on TEAMS. Staff Briefing Sessions are also available however these are most appropriate for supervisors/managers to help raise awareness of the RPC agenda. For course content and how to book please go to Stronger Families Training.
Support for Durham Families (Relationships Matter aka Reducing Parental Conflict)
Durham’s partnership Reducing Parental Conflict Working Group are in the process of reviewing the support available to parents whether together or separated who are struggling with their relationship. Please signpost parents who you are working with to the ‘Relationships Matter’ public facing website. Practitioners can support parent/carers, children and young people to access this. Ideally a practitioner should talk through the content of the website with them and then parent/carers, children and young people can access the support available independently. There are a range of self-help tools, information, advice and guidance, virtual chat room and links to more specific support. The website also hosts One Plus One’s evidence based Digital Tools which allow parents to complete on-line courses in their own time – this could be an agreed action/intervention in their Child and Family Plan! There are two ways in which you can access the online course content:
If a practitioner registers and signs in to access the ‘Practitioner Guides’ they will also be able to see the content of the online courses.
Parenting When Separated – Specialist Intervention
We have trained One Point Practitioners in the specialist intervention, Parenting When Separated. We are working towards delivery of this group-based, peer support programme before the Summer (2022) and will update you on further details on this website and also through the Family Centre Programme.
In the interim, should you be working with parents who are separated and who are in relationship distress, we would ask practitioners to continue to complete the Referral Stage Questionnaire (RSQ).
The Referral Stage Questionnaire (RSQ) is not just a form, it is a tool for practitioners to facilitate a discussion with both parents about their relationship. The RSQ has been described by parents as the first time that they have been asked about their relationship. The RSQ has been rigorously tested and researched, every question is there for a reason. We require an RSQ for each parent and practitioners are to complete these separately with each parent. This will help in understanding the aspects of their relationship which are causing conflict and help identify the focus of work.
If Parenting When Separated support is deemed appropriate, as an interim measure, we would ask you contact the Early Help Triage Worker Team on 03000 267 979 (Option 4).
The Early Help Triage Worker will identify a trained One Point practitioner to complete some short-term direct support to parents (if deemed appropriate) prior to the roll out of the group-based interventions. The completion of the above RSQ by both parents will be required. NB identified practitioners can work into a Team Around the Family (TAF) arrangement that you are leading and their work can form part of the Child and Family Plan.
Involving both parents
The Relationships Matter programme is aiming to achieve a culture change across services working with families. We want to ensure that both parents are listened to and heard. Research suggests if only one parent is engaged, the other parent feels less involved and the intervention will be less effective.
Unstable relationships are not domestic abuse
The Relationships Matter Programme does not work with those in abusive relationships. The programme is for parents who are together or separated where there is not an imbalance of power, neither parent is fearful of the other and there are no specialist domestic abuse services working with the family. Workers should be clear about how to access local domestic abuse services and when to seek management oversight of this decision.
- Relationships Matter – How to start the conversation with parents about their relationship
- Parental conflict: the impact on children from Innovation Unit on Vimeo.
- Visit the Early Intervention Foundation’s RPC Hub for research, resources and toolkits
- EIF presentation on relationship conflict [15.39MB]
- Tavistock relationships – a short guide to working with co-parents
- Couple Connection
- One Plus One
- Marriage Care
- National Mediation
- Citizens Advice – family