Thanks to Janet Langjahr for her post on this interesting article:
In the small town of Twin Falls, Idaho, two public elementary schools have a “divorce” counselor for their students. … And appointments with the “divorce” counselor are eagerly sought out by the kids.
The “divorce” counselors serve two purposes. First, they help the kids cope with their parents’ divorce. Second, they send home to the parents tips on how to make the divorce easier on their kids.
In this small town, children vicariously going through divorce are acting out in response to the situation and their parents’ behavior. Behavior such as disparaging the other parent to the children.
This although this small town already has mandatory parenting classes, nine hours’ worth, in fact. (Florida’s is only four hours.) And the children are required to attend a divorce class too.
Yet there is still a need for “divorce” counselors at school. Food for parental thought… The text of the Twin Falls article appears below.
Jealousy is a difficult thing to hide when you are in grade school and you see the other kids spending their lunch time with Mrs. Jensen.
The shelves in her classroom are filled with games, and she never assigns homework. But best of all, you get to talk about anything you want.
"I have kids who ask me how they can spend lunch with Mrs. Jensen," said Anne Jensen, the school counselor at Harrison Elementary School. "But it’s hard to explain to them why other kids get to have lunch with me."
That’s because the kids who meet with Jensen during lunch are not playing games. They’re learning to cope with their parents’ divorce.
During the past month, two newsletters from two different schools in Twin Falls were sent home with messages for parents about divorce.
One message from Griselda Escobedo, the counselor at Bickel Elementary School, asked parents to be careful about how they speak of their former spouse in front of their children. Less than a month later, Jensen included a message in a school newsletter that discussed how parents could help their children cope with divorce.
School counselors say they are dealing with more discipline problems associated with divorce, and they say it’s putting schools in an increasingly difficult position.
The number of people filing for divorce is on the rise again in Twin Falls County.
In 1997, Twin Falls County approved more than 500 divorces, and many of them were contested cases involving fierce legal battles.
The growing number of lengthy divorces proceedings became so alarming that the courts decided to get involved.
In 1999, the 5th Judicial District, which presides over the Magic Valley and Wood River area, was the first district in Idaho to mandate a class for all parents filing for divorce. The class, known as Parenting Apart, was designed to reduce the number of contested cases by teaching parents how to understand divorce from their children’s point of view.
Almost immediately after the class began, the number of divorces began to decline.
By 2002 – almost three years after the class began – the number of finalized divorces in Twin Falls County fell to less than 400.
"The courts decided that everyone filing for divorce had to go through the class, and they (courts) would not finalize a divorce without it," said Linda Wright, trial court administrator for the 5th Judicial District. "After that, we didn’t see too much of an increase in divorces in Twin Falls County."
But the trend didn’t last for long.
In the past four years the number of divorces filed in Twin Falls County has been steadily increasing â€" about 500 couples filed for divorce last year.
"We have been seeing really big classes," said Linda Arrossa, who teaches Parenting Apart. "We are having fewer contested cases, but, yes, the classes are getting bigger."
Teaching a touchy subject
On Mondays and Wednesdays, parents who are seeking a divorce spend nine hours in a classroom with Arrossa and a bailiff.
"Some of the parents are boiling-mad at the beginning of the first class, and there have been times when I’ve had to take someone out of the room to talk to them," Arrossa said. "But usually by the end of the class things are different. It’s really quite a transformation."
Families must attend three nine-hour classes regardless of their situation â€" children also attend the class in separate classrooms.
"You could say that we’re trying to help parents learn how to divorce," Arrossa said. "We help them understand how it (divorce) will affect them and their children, and we try to teach parents how to help their children cope with the divorce."
But some children have a difficult time dealing with their parents’ separation, and sometimes school counselors are the first to identify the problem.
But they say their role in helping children of divorced parents is a fine line between school policy and the parental rights.
"We don’t provide treatment for the students," said Amy Rothweiler, the student drop-out specialist at Twin Falls High School. "More than anything, we provide a listening ear."
Jensen said many children from divorced families blame themselves for their parents’ separation, and often act out in ways they wouldn’t otherwise. She said sometimes parents also act in ways that contribute to the effects of divorce.
"One complaint that I get a lot from students is that their parents say bad things about the other parent," Jensen said. "This crushes them because they love both of their parents."
But even counselors admit that it can be a very difficult subject to discuss with parents who are recently divorced. And, unfortunately, it’s not something that can resolved by playing games