Direct Mediation Services

Planning Together for Children

Do you think you might be entitled for Legal AID?

Planning Together for Children is a new name that parents might come across if they are going to court to sort out child arrangements. It is a programme that aims to help parents who are separating or living apart as they adjust to their new parenting circumstances. It will help them work out how best to keep their children’s interests at the heart of the decisions they make going forward.

The programme was introduced in April 2023 to replace and improve on its predecessor, the Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP) programme.

This article will give a brief overview of the previous SPIP programme and outline the new replacement Planning Together for Children programme.

What does Planning Together for Children replace?

The Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP) was a programme aimed at helping parents who live apart or are separating or divorcing, and who find it difficult to focus on the needs of their children through this challenging time.

The SPIP was run together with CAFCASS. Couples could either refer themselves to the programme, or they could have been ordered to participate by the family court as part of court proceedings for a Child Arrangement Order, or similar.

It is recognised that conflict between parents often makes it difficult or impossible for them to remain objective and focused when trying to negotiate how both parents will continue to have a sufficient level of contact with their children as they move on beyond their marriage or relationship. Hostility between parents can easily get in the way of communicating effectively about their children, who after all are what parents will always have in common irrespective of their personal relationship.

The SPIP was a 4-hour programme which looked into the divorce/separation process and encouraged parents to think about how to find solutions, keeping the focus on the needs of their children rather than their own feelings towards each other. The programme gave suggestions to divorcing or separating parents about strategies to help them communicate more effectively. It focused particularly on understanding the effect that divorce and separation has on people’s emotions – including the children of the separating parents – and how that affects the way they behave and react to circumstances.

The programme was delivered to mixed groups of parents – some mothers, some fathers in the same group – but never with both of the separating couple in the same group.

What’s changing with the new Planning Together for Children?

The main aims and principles of the SPIP still apply. However, Planning Together for Children is more child focussed. The way the programme is delivered has also changed. There is now a combination of face-to-face learning and online content for parents to work on individually.

There is also some follow-up after the end of the workshop.

How does Planning Together for Children work?

The main aim of Planning Together for Children is to help give parents the skills they need to communicate and work together, despite their personal differences, to agree parenting arrangements between themselves without having to apply to the court to make decisions.

There are three stages:

Firstly, parents complete an e-learning course online, independently and in their own time. This part should take up to two hours. This e-learning phase focuses on things like what happens when parents go through the court process, understanding and managing emotions, how children are emotionally affected by separation, and looking at the situation from the child’s point of view.

The second stage is a two-and-a-half-hour workshop where parents will discuss topics like understanding how conflict has an impact on children, how children are affected by the separation of their parents, and how the parents can communicate with each other in a positive way. Parents will discuss these issues with other parents – both mothers and fathers – but their ex will not be in the same group.

The third, and final stage, is an interactive online parenting plan. The plan encourages separating parents to make constructive agreements about how they will share the care and support of their children moving forward. Parents are encouraged to share the plan with their children in a way that they can understand how the arrangements will work for them in the future and to reassure them that both parents care about them and are doing their best for them.

Some parents might also receive a follow-up phone call from one of the trainers a few weeks after the workshop to see how things are working out for them.

How can I get on to Planning Together for Children?

As part of family court proceedings, parents may be ordered or directed to complete Planning Together for Children by a Family Court. A Family Court Adviser may also refer parents to complete Planning Together for Children before the first hearing in court, or afterwards.

The parents will be sent an email asking them to create an account in ‘Parent Hub’, the Planning Together for Children e-learning portal. Action For Children, who run the programme, will also contact the parents to welcome them to the course and help them book onto a group workshop.

There is also a link in the ‘Parent Hub’ to the parenting plan, which parents can start using whenever they are ready.

Can I get on to Planning Together for Children without going through court?

No, parents or other intermediaries cannot self-refer to the Planning Together for Children programme.

Going to court and asking them to decide about how you should share care for your children should always be a last resort. The best way to come to an agreement with your ex is often through mediation. Our experienced mediators are very skilled at helping parents manage their way through these difficult discussions and focus on what is in the best interests of their children. Mediation around child arrangements has exactly the same focus as Planning Together for Children, but concentrates on your exact situation and will be able to help you with personal strategies for how to communicate effectively and objectively with your ex-parent when it comes to matters concerning your children.

If you or ex do not agree parenting arrangements through mediation, the only option left might be to apply to the court for Child Arrangements Order. In this case, the court might order you both to take part, or a Family Court Adviser may also refer parents to complete Planning Together for Children before the first hearing in court, or afterwards.

How much does Planning Together for Children cost?

There is no cost to parents when the court directs them to complete Planning Together for Children.

What happens if I don’t complete the Planning Together for Children programme?

Your progress through the Planning Together for Children programme is tracked through the Parenting Hub. If you do not complete the programme for any reason, this fact might be reported back to the court because the court has ordered you to take part.

Conclusion

Planning Together for Children aims to help those parents who are going through separation or divorce focus constructively on the needs and interests of their children. Conflict and arguments between the parents as they go through the breakdown of their relationship often make it very difficult for them to negotiate practical agreements about their children which are in the children’s best interests and allows them to maintain a good relationship with both parents beyond the separation and divorce.

Talk to one of our friendly and experienced team to find out how Direct Mediation Services can help you and your ex agree on child arrangements without the stress, time and expense of going to court.

By completing this form you consent to Direct Mediation Services holding the information you provide us about you in accordance with our Privacy notice. By submitting your email address and telephone number to us you consent to us contacting you in order to enable us to deal with your query. Calls may be recorded for training and monitoring purposes.