ST. GEORGE — An eight-year study found that children are negatively impacted more from divorce than the death of a parent, something state court officials hope to address with a new program designed to arm children with the coping skills needed to deal with the loss and to know that divorce is not their fault.
Divorce Education for Children is a voluntary program for children 9-12 years old whose parents are either separated, in the process of divorcing or already divorced. The program is designed to provide a safe educational environment to help these children as they go through the process.
The classes are offered free of charge on the second Wednesday of each month from 6-8 pm. at the 5th District Courthouse at 206 W. Tabernacle in St. George.
Each two-hour class involves mental health professionals as well as input from state court judges and commissioners. In Washington County, the classes are facilitated by Adam Cheney, who is a licensed clinical social worker.
The program was developed to teach children coping skills, communication skills they can use to express their feelings to parents and the ability to let go of problems that are beyond their control – sending a strong message to children that “divorce is not their fault.” It also helps the child understand their emotions and what is causing them to feel stressed, which can make it easier to express their needs during a divorce.
Being aware of their feelings can also empower them to be assertive during a time of ongoing change through a series of activities that take place in a courtroom.
Spending time in a courtroom and speaking with a judge or commissioner helps children understand that while their parents have many feelings about going to court, the child does not need to feel afraid.
The classroom experience also lets children know there are others going through the same thing and they are not alone in their struggles.
The program was developed by the Divorce Education for Children Subcommittee and was designed to work hand-in hand with Divorce Education for Adults, a program that helps adults as they go through the process and also aids them in recognizing the signs that their children are in distress.
As part of their work, the Utah Divorce Education for Children Subcommittee referred to the Longevity Project, an eight-year study into various factors that determine how long someone will live.
Researchers found that children are impacted more negatively by divorce than the death of a parent. The study found that the younger the child, the more traumatic the divorce, and when it came to life expectancy, parental divorce during childhood “emerged as the single strongest predictor of early death in adulthood.” Grown children of divorced parents died almost five years earlier on average than children from intact families.
Information from the Utah State Courts further states that while a divorce may be finalized with a judges signature, many of the children involved report painful feelings that can continue for years.
Some children engage in risky behaviors, receive poor grades in school and struggle with peer relationships during divorce, which are all signs that children need help adjusting. Even children that appear to be adjusting well following a divorce tend to have trouble with relationships, trust and intimacy later in life.
The next Divorce Education for Children class will be held Feb. 12. Preregistration is required and can be completed online by clicking here.
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