Northumberland: Working with separated parents


Family hubs offer universal and targeted support for all children and families, including those where parents have separated or are separating. 

Family Solutions Group highlighted that in 2021 there were 2.3 million separated families in the UK, affecting 3.6 million children. The report What about me? A child’s right to matter recommends that family hubs “recognise children whose parents separate as a discrete target group in need of support and direct services through the national family hub programmes.”

Support for separated parents

Using Reducing Parental Conflict (RPC) funding, Northumberland, Gateshead, Newcastle and South Tyneside commissioned the Parenting when Separated programme from Parents Plus in 2019. Parenting when Separated is an evidence-based programme for parents who are preparing for, going through, or have gone through separation or divorce, delivered in face-to-face group settings. It helps parents:

  • develop co-parenting skills
  • hear and focus on the needs of their children
  • help their children cope and thrive
  • cope with separation themselves.

Following changes to RPC funding, the local authorities developed a regional online programme to support families with separated parents. Two groups ran concurrently for six weeks between September and October 2023, and another group began in January 2024 due to demand.

Each local authority managed their own referrals and completed eligibility and safeguarding checks. They received referrals from:

  • family hub practitioners
  • social workers
  • Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service
  • health visitors
  • midwives
  • schools.

Conducting the programme regionally allowed a range of parents from different locations to attend, including a father from Scotland. Working regionally also facilitated sharing the workforce – each local authority provided one trained facilitator to work on the programme.

The regional programme leader led debrief sessions for programme facilitators of the two groups to explore any issues. This was especially important because it ensured separated parents from the same family attended different groups.


Northumberland County Council received positive feedback about the programme. One parent reported struggling to speak with his ex-partner during handovers. After one session, he realised he didn’t have to like or agree with his ex-partner, but being polite and calm could significantly reduce stress and anger around handovers.

One parent said participating in the group helped her accept her ex-partner’s views after eight years of separation. She realised how important communication was to their son, so started to communicate more with the other parent. This seemed to encourage him to see his son more, which positively impacted their son’s wellbeing.

Another parent found the sessions challenging because she was unable to see one of her children. However, attending the group helped her feel less alone and see positivity in her future relationship with her child. She left feeling more confident that she could get through this difficult patch.

A parent reported that despite his circumstances remaining the same, the sessions helped him feel more confident in taking steps to communicate with his ex-wife and teenage children. He learned to deal with his anger and understand his children’s perspective, which he had not done before attending the course.

Another group member reported how bonding with other parents in the same position made her feel less alone. She felt empowered to move forward rather than worry about what she could not control. The takeaway theme was “it’s a bad day, not a bad life”.


Parents found the programme beneficial, even if their circumstances were difficult and had not changed over time. Their general wellbeing and mental health improved, and they felt more confident about the future. Many committed to make positive changes, no matter how small. Some reported improvements in their co-parent relationships and noticed their children were happier and felt less worried when talking about the other parent.

The pilot of the regional Parenting when Separated course has demonstrated a need for moderate-to-high intensity support for separated parents. It has also shown that without a regional offer, the support for separated, separating and divorced parents could be entirely dependent on location, leaving some families without support.

Next steps

Feedback from attendees highlights a gap in support for step-parents, blended families and parents whose ex-partner is in a new relationship. This is because step-parents are not able to attend the programme, presenting an access barrier for blended families. Local authorities are considering developing an intervention to meet this need.

While online sessions have offered flexibility and expanded geographic reach, parents expressed a preference for face-to-face meetings. Participants felt discussing difficult topics would be easier in-person. Northumberland is looking at options to meet this demand.

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