Written by Laura Beech

Psychotherapist and Counsellor at Laura Beech MBACP

Laura is a Relate trained couples, individual and family counsellor practising since 2004. She works with people needed help with relationships, emotions, self esteem, mental health issues, communication difficulties, grief, loss and bereavement. She delivered the SPIP on behalf of relate for 5 years.

The Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP) was devised for Cafcass as part of an ongoing process to enable better co-parenting and to help parents understand separation from the child’s point of view. It is not a parenting course and will not teach you how to be a good parent – you already know how to do that. SPIP focusses on your emotions and practical aspects of parenting – it does not cover the legal or financial aspects of being a separated parent.

You should try to see SPIP as an ongoing process, to improve your communication skills and to realise that the effect of conflict is very damaging to your child’s development.

Parents are either ‘directed’ by the court to attend a SPIP or they can choose to attend the course themselves independently. If the court orders parents to attend, the course is free.

What happens at a SPIP?

Each parent will attend separately – you will not be expected to attend the same course as your ex. It is hoped that, by attending, you will become clearer about what your children need most from you as children of separated parents, and that you learn and understand the fundamental principles of good communication and how to manage conflict and difficulties between you and the other parent using positive behaviours.

You will be introduced to the ‘loss cycle’ theory and be asked to reflect on your own emotional journey and responses to the relationship breakup or situation and to realise that your children will also experience loss, even subconsciously, and how that might affect them.

The total length of the course is 4 hours and can be delivered in two, 2 hour sessions or one, 4 hour session with a break in the middle depending on your provider. It is important that you turn up on time or even early as there is a cut-off time which is generally 15 minutes or so from the start time. If you are in a small group of four people or fewer it will be delivered by one trainer; if the group is bigger it will be delivered by two trainers.

It is natural to feel anxious if you have been ordered to attend a SPIP as no one likes to be told what to do and this can make participants’ feel defensive or hostile to begin with.

Don’t feel alarmed if the course feels very dry to begin with – the trainer has a lot of information that they are required to give to you. It is important that the trainer does not stray from the script to ensure that every parent receives the same message wherever they take the course.

There are exercises throughout the day and 2 videos to watch. You will be expected to participate in the exercises and feedback sections of the course; however, if you are struggling with any part, especially if it has triggered strong feelings, you can ask to pass on those parts. If you continue to struggle with your emotions on the day, talk to one of the trainers as they may be able to help you. One of the things they may suggest is that you come on another day when you feel more able to cope.

You will be given a handbook to keep which has all the information covered on the course plus some other useful hints and tips. This handbook can be shared with your friends, family or whoever supports you with your parenting and anyone else who would also benefit from the material.

You are not expected to be experts at the end of the course. You should try to see SPIP as an ongoing process, to improve your communication skills and to realise that the effect of conflict is very damaging to your child’s development. It is not the separation that causes the most harm to the children but the level of conflict they experience as a child of separated parents. SPIP invites you to think from other peoples’ perspectives so that even if you disagree, you can appreciate someone else’s point of view and perhaps understand it.

After the SPIP

You will be given a certificate at the end as proof that you attended – some attendees are required to prove this to the court. Feedback forms will also be given during the session and it is important for your voice to be heard, so, if you have any changes to recommend or experiences you would like to share that you think will be useful, please make sure you do this. The feedback forms are taken seriously and help to modify future courses.

If you have been ordered by the court to attend the SPIP, the trainers will only report to Cafcass that you attended unless you have displayed disruptive behaviour or did not participate in any way. They will not report back on your responses.

Most attendees get something useful from the day. Some have said that they felt less alone once they attended the course as they met others in a similar situation. Others have said they can understand different points of view better, and they can identify their strengths as a parent that they already had but had forgotten. Other parents feel better just being able to talk to other separated parents. So, although it can feel daunting attending a SPIP course, go with an open mind and a positive attitude. As the day progresses most people find that they relax and may even enjoy the day!

Additional Reading/Resources

You may find our page on How To Tell Your Children You Are Divorcing – Recommended Books useful.

The Handover Book by Ashley Palmer is a unique and simple communication book for separated families. It will allow them both to always be aware of what is happening in their children’s busy lives as they go from one household to another. It’s a way of communicating the important things they both need to know about their children, while keeping your relationship as parents friendly and calm.

Charlotte Friedman has written Breaking Upwards – How To Manage The Emotional Impact Of Separation. Charlotte offers calm, therapeutic advice on everything from how to manage loneliness to letting go of grievance, and draws on illuminating case studies to answer questions such as:  How long before I get over this divorce? How do I tell the children?  How do I cope with the new partner in my ex’s life?


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