You may need to interact with other professionals and agencies during your divorce including your child's school and social services. Here is a quick guide to your rights and when you should involve them.
Whenever something significant happens to unsettle your child's home life, it is essential to keep your child's school informed. Your child's form teacher should be the first point of contact and if necessary you should also contact other professionals who are closely involved in the individual education of your child such as the school's special needs co-ordinator. Informing the school will make sure that they are particularly sensitive to your child's needs and can inform you if it begins to affect their schoolwork. Ring and make an appointment to see them and use the following checklist to discuss issues of concern:
- In secondary education ask the form teacher to inform other members of staff who may come into contact with your child at school
- Ask the teacher to note any behaviour that is out of character e.g. fighting, rudeness to staff, bullying, excessive crying, and to keep you informed
- If behavioural disturbances continue beyond a short period of time, ask for your child to be referred to the school counsellor
- In the case of forthcoming tests or exams ask for information on concessions, particularly where public examinations are concerned
- Inform the office of any changes to personal details, address, telephone number, work details etc.
- Let the school know if there are any court orders concerning your child such as non-contact with the other parent. However, be aware that they will only take note of actual court orders and will not get involved in your disputes
Even though you no longer live with your child you should make every effort to remain actively involved in your child's schooling. As long as you have parental responsibility you still have the right to have a say in your child's education. (If you do not have parental responsibility and are known to the school you may still find them willing to keep you informed about your child's progress, unless the other parent objects.)
There are many ways that you can remain involved in your child's education. Contact the school directly and let them know your new address, asking them to duplicate any school reports or information to forward on to you. If you are on amicable terms with your ex, discuss parent's evenings with them and whether you will attend together or make separate appointments. If you are not then it may be an idea to ring the school and make an appointment after school. Most schools will be happy to see you at an arranged time if you cannot make a parent's evening or you feel that it would be awkward for you to attend.
Find out what you can do to help your child with homework and ask what extra curricular activities they are involved in. Find out about school events such as plays and sporting matches and how you can attend. If you have spare time, you can always offer your assistance for such events, but let your child know that you will be there.
If you are involved in legal action do not breech any court orders concerning direct contact and never expect the school to get involved in your disputes. They will not get involved in any contact or residency issues unless your child's physical health is considered at risk and then they will follow a set of procedures which will involve contacting your ex partner first. If they do express concern about your child's welfare, do not quote them in any court reports as they will be unlikely to back you up. Ask the Cafcass Officer to contact them directly without briefing him or her first; if you suggest that the school have concerns and they do not express these to the Cafcass Officer it will look like you are trying to involve the school in your disputes and could backfire in court.
DfES Guidelines on Reporting to Parents
Sometimes, where there is a dispute over contact, non-resident parents may have problems getting reports from their child's school. If you have parental responsibility (unless actually removed by a specific court order) you have the right to receive reports and have a say in your child's education.
If the school refuses to comply with the law you should write the the school governors in the first instance. Ring the school office for the name of the Chair of School Governors and ask for a copy of the school complaints procedure to be sent to you. If the governors then refuse you have the right to appeal to the Local Education Authority.
If you are involved in the court process and have concerns about your children's welfare your first port of call should be your Cafcass Officer. If you have immediate concerns and the Cafcass Officer is not contactable then speak to the officer in charge. They should then speak to other parent to assess the situation and may inform Social Services if necessary.
In extreme cases you may decide that Social Services is your only option. However this should be a last resort. Social Services will probably refer you back to your Cafcass Officer and if they do get involved will invite the other parent for an interview. Unless there is clear evidence of physical or sexual abuse your ex could use this against you in court claiming that you are simply an embittered parent. Unfortunately these agencies do not recognise Parental Alienation Syndrome and will rarely take allegations of emotional abuse seriously, particularly from a non-resident parent.
Consider your options carefully and ensure that whatever action you take it is in the best interests of your children and not to suit your purposes in court as this will undoubtedly backfire.