Interview with Karen and Nick Woodall authors of Putting Children First (September 2007)

Q: You are married, work together at the Centre for Separated Families and have written Putting Children First, together. That’s fairly unusual!

Karen: Yes, I suppose it is. I’ve worked at the Centre for 17 years, now. Nick was a volunteer before joining the team as a paid member just last year.

Nick: I first got involved with CSF in 2000 when I gave a talk at the AGM on being a ‘non resident’ parent. I’d known Karen socially for about four years then and I was really interested in the work they were doing at the Centre.

Karen: We actually only got married last year!

Q: And you’re both separated parents yourselves?

Karen: Yes, my daughter is now studying at drama school and Nick’s two are both at school – one doing A levels and the other GCSEs.

Q: How did the book come about?

Karen: We’d been interested in getting our ideas out to the widest possible audience for a number of years. We had this idea – that came from the work we were doing with separated parents – that it really was possible to make a difference. I don’t think that we’ve ever met anyone who didn’t want to do the very best for their children after a divorce or separation but, at the same time, so many parents were so embroiled in the hurt and anger that they were struggling to provide their children with the continuity and security that is needed.What we were doing, and continue to do, at the Centre for Separated Families is help parents to understand the process that they’re going through, what their children are likely to be experiencing and then offering tools and strategies to move on from the pain of separation and begin to build cooperative parenting relationships that are built around the needs of children.When Piatkus came to us and asked us whether we felt we could capture our ideas in a book, we were absolutely delighted.

Q: Putting Children First is described as a ‘handbook’. What do you want parents to take from it?

Nick: I think the main thing that we want parents to take away is a feeling that they have some control over what their children’s experience is going to be after separation. All the evidence shows that children benefit from an ongoing relationship with both of their parents after separation, where that is positive and conflict free. The book is designed to equip parents with the understanding and tools to help them achieve that.

Q: Isn’t there a danger that you can make it all sound a bit too easy?

Nick: Not at all! I think the book is recognition that it is a very difficult process and that parents very often do need help along the way.

Karen: All of the tools and strategies that are in the book are things that we have tried and tested with parents at the Centre for Separated Families. It’s never going to be easy but it is possible to really help parents to make positive choices around their children’s needs.

Q: You’ve talked about changing, forever, the way support is offered to separated families.

Karen: Well, at the moment, all the support – both practical and financial – is delivered to one parent which creates the artificial divide of one parent as ‘carer’ and one parent as ‘provider’. Increasingly, children are spending time with both parents. If children are not to be disadvantaged, then both parents need to be supported after separation.

Q: So you are advocating 50:50 shared care arrangements.

Nick: Absolutely not. What we are saying is that both parents should be expected and supported to care and provide for their children after separation – which is how most people arrange their lives before separation! But parenting time needs to be agreed around what children need and feel comfortable with, not what parents may demand.

Karen: I think that’s point. So much of the debate around family separation, in this country, is centred on parental rights. Our way of working is to look at what children need and then work out how the important adults in their lives can provide it. Our approach is very much child-focused.

Q: What message would you want to give to parents who are in the middle of a messy divorce or separation?

Karen: I would say, try to separate in your minds forever the ending of your marriage or partnership from your ongoing responsibilities as parents. Your children need you to be able to deal with your pain or hurt away from them. Parents need to remain as adults and manage the changes for children; don’t forget that they will be confused and hurt, too. And, never forget that, to your children, you are still ‘mum’ and ‘dad’ and, whatever you think about the other parent, you have a responsibility to respect that.

Putting Children First is available from all good bookshops, priced £9.99
Karen Woodall

* This article, including extracts, may be reproduced freely.

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