Teachers supporting young children experiencing parental separation and divorce: A strengths approach

Year: 2019

Author: Mahony, Linda

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Separation and divorce has become a common phenomenon in Australia and affects a substantial proportion of children. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) (2017) reported 42% of marriages ended in divorce in 2016. The ABS estimates that over one million Australian children have one biological parent living elsewhere. While some children readily adjust to their parents’ separation and divorce, other children exhibit difficulty adjusting emotionally, socially, and demonstrate poorer academic outcomes. The impact of parental separation and divorce can affect children over an extended period, continuing into adolescence and adulthood. While there is much research about the effects of separation and divorce and diverse family composition, there is a paucity of research focusing on the nexus with education and how teachers work with these children and their families. Teachers see these children for a greater proportion of time each day than any other adult other than children’s parents. Therefore, teachers and schools are in a strategic position to promote wellbeing and learning in children experiencing parental separation and divorce.

Twenty-one teachers of young children were interviewed in a face-to-face semi-structured interview. Teachers were asked toshare their stories about their pedagogical practices with children experiencing parental separation and divorce.In this paper a Strengths Approach is used as a theoretical framework for viewing the practices of teachers when working with children experiencing parental separation and divorce.The Strengths Approach focuses on solutions to complex issues faced by teachers in their day-to-day work with these young children and their families.In the Strengths Approach the focus is on empowering the child to build on their own resources and connect with available resources to find solutions and alternate possibilities. It does not discount the problems children may experience in their life resulting from their parents’ separation and divorce, rather a Strengths Approach enables children to find solutions and take action to transform situations.The actions of teachers focused on building on the strengths of the situation and the child to support them to build resilience.

The findings of this project add to the body of knowledge regarding teachers’ pedagogical practices when working with children experiencing parental separation and divorce to build young children’s resilience and skills and to promote their wellbeing and learning. This project adds to scholarship regarding the application of strengths approaches in the nexus between education and children and families with complex needs.