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October 24, 2012

DUNKER: ‘New Beginnings’ for difficult endings

FLOYD COUNTY — For anyone who has experienced a marital (or even nonmarital) separation or divorce, it is an extremely difficult and traumatic event for all concerned. If you throw in a few ongoing or unresolved conflicts or custody issues, the pain can last for many years.

For children who are still forming through their life experiences, this trauma can change who they are and alter their perceptions about themselves, relationships and life. Many children blame themselves for the breakup, experience anxiety and depression often out of a fear of abandonment, act out with negative behaviors, perform poorly in school, abuse substances and often become parents in their teenage years. About 25 percent to 35 percent of children of divorce experience clinically significant problems after the divorce (for instance, anxiety, depression or substance abuse disorders), which can extend into adulthood. They often remember the pain of the divorce for many years, which can affect their future adult relationships.

In the U.S., more than 1 million children experience parental separation or divorce each year and more than 7 million children live with a divorced parent. In fact, it is projected that 35 percent of our children will experience parental separation or divorce before the age of 16. Obviously, divorce is becoming a more normal experience for many children in the U.S., but that doesn’t mean the effects of divorce are any less difficult for these children.

In fact, several issues for children arise consistently in many divorces: parents who differ on the need and types of discipline, either feeling abandoned by one parent or feeling that they must choose one parent over the other, and being exposed to the divorcing parents’ unpleasant exchanges or arguments.

In Floyd County, the divorce rate is extremely high in both state and national rankings. In light of these findings, Our Place Drug and Alcohol Education Services Inc. applied for and has received a pilot grant from the Indiana Division of Mental Health and Addiction to offer the New Beginnings Parenting Program for mothers and fathers whose families are going through or have been through this difficult time. The Our Place facilitators were recently trained by clinicians-researchers Dr. Irwin Sandler and Dr. Sharlene Wolchik from Arizona State University’s Prevention Research Center to offer the New Beginnings program to Southern Indiana separated, divorcing or divorced parents. This is the first time the creators have allowed an agency outside of Arizona to be trained in and to offer this program, which is a distinct honor.

Through many years of research, Drs. Sandler and Wolchik have developed a curriculum that has shown 15 years of positive and sustainable results for children. These results include fewer adjustment problems for the children, such as mental health disorders and substance abuse disorders, more positive romantic relationships, along with higher grades. After up to 15 years, these former children of participants from years’ past are now parenting their own children, based upon what they learned from their parents who participated in the program.

Because of the intense stress and turmoil, mothers and fathers may parent out of guilt, depression, frustration, anger or other difficult feelings that occur during this period of change. The New Beginnings program is designed to help children adjust to the ending of the marital relationship, yet build stronger and healthier relationships with their parents. The program is skill-based, focuses on the positive aspects of parenting, and is delivered in an encouraging environment. The goal of the program is to teach effective parenting skills to help children adapt to the changes that often occur during parental divorce or separation. These skills include: improving parent-child relationship quality and effectiveness of discipline, reducing exposure to inter-parental conflict, and decreasing barriers to nonresidential parent-child contact.

New Beginnings classes are being offered at Our Place. In order to accommodate both parents, mothers will meet separately from fathers on different evenings, from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. To participate, parents must have a child or children between the ages of 2 and 17, and the classes are offered for custodial as well as noncustodial parents. Free childcare is available, and the one-time fee of $15 helps Our Place pay for the parent workbooks.

For more information or to schedule an appointment to register for these classes, call Our Place at 812-945-3400 and ask for Wendey Waggoner or Susan Dunker, program facilitators.

— Susan M. Dunker, M.Ed., CPP, is a program director at Our Place.

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