Social Workers Help Families Move Forward After Divorce

Karen Oheme Research Associate Florida State University, College of Social Work
Karen Oheme Research Associate Florida State University, College of Social Work

By Karen Oheme
Research Associate Florida State University, College of Social Work

Nearly half of all marriages end in divorce, and many of those couples have children. Social workers can help parents heal after divorce, build new coping skills, and help parents focus on keeping their children out of post-divorce conflict. The “gold standard” of successful co-parenting after divorce is low conflict and high cooperation between parents. Social workers can encourage these positive outcomes by helping parents understand the impact of divorce on children, learn new communication skills, and adjust to family transitions like blended families and step-sibling relationships.

The FSU College of Social Work (CSW) is home to an exciting project that helps parents achieve these goals. Called Successful Co-Parenting After Divorce, the online interactive training project educates parents as well as mental health professionals on strengthening co-parenting skills. The virtual training and resource site was created by a team of social workers, students, and family law attorneys at the Institute for Family Violence Studies at the CSW and funded by The Vandermark Foundation. It is a service project that also includes a research component: parents who take the training are offered an opportunity to take voluntary research surveys about their attitudes and behaviors toward co-parenting, the obstacles they identify to co-parenting, and a variety of mental health related issues, including depression, anxiety, and trauma. This data is analyzed with the goal of adding to the scholarly knowledge base about co-parenting.

The Florida Department of Children and Families approved the training as a Florida Divorce and Family Stabilization Course; parents can satisfy the legal requirement of taking a four-hour course upon divorce. In addition, social workers, other mental health professionals, and lawyers can take the course to earn continuing education credit for their professional licensure.

Because the issue of divorce involves both emotional and legal issues, the CSW Successful Co-Parenting After Divorce project, launched in early 2016, relies on the multidisciplinary group of FSU students from the College of Social Work, the Department of Family and Child Sciences, and the College of Law to serve as researchers on it. The cross-disciplinary collaboration of the project team encourages students to think about how social and legal issues intersect. Social work students learn more about the legal issues surrounding divorce and parenting, and law students learn more about the emotional and family system issues involved in divorce. It is a synergistic process in which students, parents, children, and the community all benefit from this service and research project based at Florida State University.

In 2017, the project is expanding to include a Spanish language version of the training to benefit the Latino community. Many researchers have noted that there is a dearth of resources for Spanish speaking families in the U.S. Bilingual social workers serve an important function for these families, and the new “Crianza Compartida Exitosa Después del Divorcio” will be a resource for them as well. A recent graduate of the CSW is the project director on the Spanish language version of the training.

All prospective students are invited to view the training, too. It’s a good introduction to the issues of divorce and co-parenting, and it may inspire in you an interest in working with families in transition. One of the most fulfilling aspects of social work is helping people identify their strengths and improving their capacity and motivation for positive change. Whether you are interested in the clinical or social leadership paths of social work, the Successful Co-Parenting After Divorce project may inspire you to think more about your future role helping parents and children who have experienced divorce.

If you are interested in viewing the training videos, they are available on YouTube, or on the training site itself.