What does this require from the therapists?
• To be able to conduct this therapeutic groupwork, therapists must have received preparatory training in systemic therapy and been trained in recognizing and treating trauma and stress reactions in children and adirlts. Then, they must participate in the three-day training of No Kids in the Middle and, together with their team, conduct their first group programme, which will be supervised.
- • The programme requires therapists who like to work together in a team and enjoy working on these problems with families in groups.
- • It requires the personal strength and presence of the therapists. They must be able to deal with intense conflicts and emotional reactions without going under themselves.
- • Therapists of No Kids in the Middle care a lot about children and like to work with them. At the same time, they are not condemning towards parents. They actively look for the good in the parent and also recognize the “wounded child” in the parent. They can take the side of the parents to help the children and do not walk into the trap of being the “better parent” themselves. They can protect childr en and, at the same time, recognize and strengthen their resilience.
• Teams working together with this target group must maintain their attention on safety. Therapists may feel vulnerable or become moved when working with these families. Then, a safe cooperative team is the best context to stay strong. Therapists do not need to be able to do all this from the start. It is precisely in a safe team where people usually leant a lot and learn fast. Room for intervision is essential here, though.
Exchange of knowledge and experience
• To stay motivated and abreast of developments, a “working community” of therapists working with the group programme who are committed and continue to participate in intervision, attend followup days and refresher courses is needed. New developments and ideas can be shared in the working community which can serve as fuel for further development of the No Kids in the Middle methodology.
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Support by the management
• The organization that incorporates No Kids in the Middle as a form of treatment in their treatment package must support this group treatment and the therapists working with it. They must also provide time for intervision and consultation. Managers are advised to attend a training session of No Kids in the Middle once.
The groups, general organization
Preliminary and subsequent discussions and break
The therapists of the parent and children’s group meet at least half an hour before the group session. During this half hour, the rooms are prepared for the work. In the parent group, 14 chairs are placed in a circle, preferably leaving an open space in the middle. There is always a flipchart or a whiteboard available in the room. There are also sheets of paper and felt-tip pens for exercises, if any. At some distance, there is a desk and a chair for the student writing the reports and operating the video camera.
In the room where the children’s group gathers, there are mats and/ or cushions on the floor and there may also be some chairs. In addition, there is material to work with, such as paper and felt-tip pens, paint, coloured chalks, a video/photo camera, dress-up clothes and other things to play with. There is also a comer where children can drill out and watch, for instance, a film. This often proves to be necessary, because a two-hour session is quite long for the younger children, especially since the sessions take place after school. There is also a seat for a student to operate the camera and to make notes. In the children’s group, the student also frequently works with the children him/herself.
If possible, the rooms for the children’s and the parent gr oup are close to each other. We have noticed that it works well for parents if the children can be heard now and then, like their footsteps or laughter. Obviously, the children should not be able to hear what is said in the parent group. Preferably, a separate waiting and break room is available for the six families: the family room. The therapists prepare this room and make sure that there is something to drink (tea, coffee, water, lemonade) and that there is fruit available. Preferably no cookies or candy, as it often makes children very active.
After all these preparations, there are usually ten to 15 minutes left to get together and briefly go through the schedule or share important information about, for instance, a parent or a child not being able to attend, a school that has called out of concern, a parent who has sent a concerned or angry' email, and so on.
After arrival, parents and children go to the family room. If there is no separate family room, they wait together in the waiting room. Usually, one of the parents arrives with the childr en and the other parent arrives alone. The parents arriving with the children usually feel more protected. The parents arriving alone feel less safe. Tension is often electric in the waiting room, but the mix of six families makes the tension bearable. The therapists of the parent group and of the children's group invite the parents and children to the room where the wanning up takes place.
Halfway through the session, both groups have a break. Both the parents and the children need a break. And it is time in which parents and children can be together without therapists or a programme. The therapists need the break to coordinate things between the groups. The pace in the parent gr oup determines the exact moment of the break. One of the parent therapists will go to the children’s grottp to announce the break. In this way, childr en never have to wait for the parents in the break room and they cannot listen to and hear what is said in the parent room.
Especially in the beginning, children appear to be very concerned about what happens in the parent room. When a therapist came to announce the break, seven-year-old Kevin immediately asked the therapist if his parents had already been arguing downstairs. “Not at all”, the therapist replied truthfully. “Well, yott just wait and see”, Kevin responded.
We ask the parents to watch over then- children and to make sure that other people in the building will not be disturbed dming the break. Parents and children stay in the family room or, if there is no such room, in a waiting room. The parents and children are there without therapists. A lot will happen in this room.
Children who haven't seen a parent for a long time will now see the parent. And many children will see their parents together in one room again, something they have not witnessed for a long time. Since the six
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families are there together, there is enough motion and space to ensure that the atmosphere does not become too tense. Sometimes children stay in the corridor or in a comer to avoid a parent, or parents go through a lot of trouble avoiding the other parent. But after a number of sessions, there will usually be a more relaxed atmosphere and less avoidance behaviour.
Parents also see how other parents get along with their children. Sometimes, they can appreciate the other parent again when they see how nice the other parent can be with other people. Or a mother sees how her little daughter crawls on her father’s lap, where she assumed that her daughter was afraid of her dad. Things will change during the break and the therapists don’t witness it, but it will become evident during the sessions.
The therapists sit together for 15 minutes and can briefly share how things are progressing and how they experience the process in then- group.
After each session, the therapists first tidy up the children's room, the parent room and the family room. Then, they look back on the session. In these 30 to 60 minutes they share then experiences, frustrations, grief and joy about the developments in the groups. The children’s group is discussed fust. Often, the therapists also briefly talk about the parents. Then, tasks will be divided, such as: asking parents for approval to get in touch with school, sending an email to a parent, talking to grandparents, and so on. Sometimes, an extra session is scheduled.
Important incidents are briefly mentioned. Often, some action needs to be taken after a session. A GP, guardian, school or child may need to be called or an email may need to be written. And there is always attention towards the parallel process between the parent group, the children's group and the team of therapists (see section 9.3.1). During the review, the student makes a to-do list for the next two weeks. All therapists will receive this list by email and the preliminary discussions are used to go over this list again. If there are worrying signs, an extra appointment may be scheduled with the therapists involved.
Each session starts with a warm-up, preferably in the room where the parents work. This makes for a light-hearted, relaxing start for the parents, children and therapists. The warm-ups are tailored to the theme in the children’s group. Chapter 9, which is about the children's group, describes the various warm-up exercises.
We write a final report for each family taking part in the programme. The final report describes the main parts of the parent and children’s group (see Appendix 5). Some parents want us to rewrite the final report because they do not recognize themselves or the other parent enough in it. Usually, these are the parents who, by the end of the treatment, still want the other parent to change. We always talk about the part dealing with the children in general terms with the children themselves, and we ask them if they agree with what we have written about them. We let the parents read the entire report. If the parents do not agree with the report, we invite them to add their reflections in the form of an appendix. See Appendices 6 and 7 for two example reports.
No Kids in the Middle as a first course, main course or dessert
Some of the families that come to see us have already received a lot of care. This care may be provided for just one or a few children, as is the case when they are placed in custody. In other families, there has been therapy in the form of, for instance, relational therapy for the parents, parent counselling, a post-divorce parenting course, trauma therapy for one or both parents or for the children, mediation or forensic mediation, and sometimes a combination of multiple interventions.
The No Kids in the Middle programme may serve as a dessert that can build on all previous interventions. Sometimes, everything falls into place and parents can take a different path. They often start by saying: “This is our last straw. We have done so much already”. Parents, their networks and especially the children may need a life with fewer fights so badly. They can be so fed up with the life energy and money that the battle has cost in all these years. Like a father said, with great emotion, after he had radically changed his behaviour in a session:
It is only now that I realise how much life energy these eight years of battle have cost me. It has made me ill. I have lost a lot of money, I have lost a lot of friends. It has dominated my life, and why really?
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It didn’t help anyone. On the contrary! It is terrible to realise only now, but it also helps me to start living again.
Sometimes, the programme is a mam course. In that case, there has been little help or care before, or each type of therapy has been stopped or has been used as part of the battle. Then, No Kids in the Middle can help parents and their networks to take a different path, getting kids out of the middle.
For another group of families, No Kids in the Middle is a first course. These families take steps during the programme, but at the end of the eight sessions they have not found a new form where the kids are no longer in the middle. We offer these families follow-up care tailored to then needs. Preferably, the therapists of this group are tasked with the follow-up.
Some parents want further therapy, sometimes including a new partner or with another family member attending. Some parents are willing to consider trauma therapy or another individual therapy after No Kids in the Middle. Some families have additional meetings with the network. The therapists take responsibility by thinking along with the parents and, if needed, also finding good follow-up care. Preferably, the therapists engage in the (brief) follow-up themselves, which allows them to build on what has already been achieved. A parent therapist may continue to have talks with the parents, often with network members attending, too. Sometimes, a child or one of the parents needs some form of individual therapy after the programme. Sometimes, family talks with parents and children are a good continuation of the programme.
If a family is supervised and/or if other care is being provided, it is important to have contact with the relevant social and youth protection workers. We try to secure the increased activity and responsibility of the parents by adequately involving social workers and youth protection workers, and by informing them about what parents have learned.
We express our confidence in the potential of the parents themselves. If therapists still worry about a certain situation, they will mention this during the evaluation and discuss with the parents what is needed.
Some parents have put their legal proceedings on hold and have to go back to the lawyers to agree, for instance, on the covenant and the parenting plan or parental access. We hope that the lawyers will pick up the positive tone and support them. Sometimes, a telephone call helps to steer the lawyers in that direction.
Since we can provide this type of follow-up ourselves, we can build on what has already been covered and achieved in the group. Continuity of care is of utmost importance.