In 2008 Statistics Canada estimated that 41% of Canadian marriages would end in divorce before the 30th year of marriage. Most agree that the divorce of parents has a profound impact on the emotional well-being of children. The legal system has recognized this issue and family justice services across the country offer parent education programs (sometimes on a mandatory basis, sometimes voluntary) to help families adjust (Inventory of Government-based Family Justice Services).
Beyond this, there are a variety of interesting online resources to help children and teens navigate this difficult passage in their lives. Note that because the issues addressed are general in scope and because divorce is governed by federal legislation, resources produced in one province can be useful in any part of the country except for sections listing support services, which tend to have a more local focus.
The Department of Justice Canada provides “What happens next? Information for kids about separation and divorce”. The text can be read as web pages while the downloadable PDF version is colourful with appealing illustrations. The booklet aims to help children between the ages of nine and twelve learn about family law, and realize that it is normal for them to have an emotional response to their parents’ separation.
From the Public Health Agency of Canada comes a guide for parents called “Because Life Goes On – Helping Children and Youth Live with Separation and Divorce”. Again, it is available in either a webpage version or as a PDF. Topics addressed include: strategies for co-operative parenting, tips for communicating effectively with children and specific suggestions for supporting children at various ages and stages of development. The resources section includes a list of books and videos for parents, children and youth.
Families Change is an attractive and colourful suite of websites developed by the Justice Education Society of B.C. in partnership with the British Columbia Ministry of the Attorney General. It is available in both English and French and is divided into four sections. The Kids’ Guide to Separation and Divorce is aimed at children aged five to twelve. Using clickable images, a cast of characters and simple text, it addresses the law, changes, feelings, tools for coping, and the question of why. The Teen Guide to Parental Separation and Divorce deals with similar issues using more advanced text and appropriate photographs. The Parent Guide to Separation and Divorce looks at these same issues from the perspective of the adults who are trying to cope with their own feelings while supporting and communicating with their children. It also provides a section to help parents make an agreement about child support without going to court. Finally, the Parenting After Separation section presents an online course in a choice of three languages: English, Mandarin and Punjabi.
For children ages six to twelve, the interactive website Changeville (also from the Justice Education Society of B.C.) offers an interesting way to explore the changes that divorce and separation can create in a family. The user creates an avatar who can visit the Park, Legal Street, Break Up Street and the Mall, gathering information and doing activities along the way.
“Family Law Handbook: Don’t Get Lost in the Shuffle” is a publication from the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre and the Children’s Legal and Educational Resource Centre. The question and answer format of this 33-page PDF allows young people to zero in on the issues that concern them the most.
Also using a question and answer format is a small booklet from the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General, “Where Do I Stand? A Child’s Legal Guide to Separation and Divorce”. Answers are short and to the point. Attractive pastel illustrations make the PDF version appealing.
The turmoil of divorce is a challenge for anyone. Children, and teens in particular, need information and support during this stressful time.