Treading on Sacred Ground
Treading on Sacred Ground
By Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
Some parents who are undergoing separation or divorce involve their child’s
daycare or school in their conflict. During the contentious period of resolving
custody and access matters the school or daycare may be the battlefield for who
picks up the kids and the place where parents vent their emotional distress.
Further, some parents seek to enlist the support of teachers and childcare
providers in the pursuit of winning their case thus placing teachers and early
childhood educators in positions of conflict between mother and father.
Just as parents seek respite from the turmoil and upset of the custody and
access battle, children also seek respite from their parents’ conflict.
Children’s “safe place” is usually their school or daycare. It is therefore
important for parents to recognize that in the heat of a custody and access
dispute, the child’s school or daycare may be their last bastion of peace. As
such, parents are advised to tread lightly on their children’s sacred ground. If
parents do not tread lightly, the school or daycare can become tainted by their
intrusions however well intentioned. Parents who fail to head this warning can
undermine their child’s willingness to return to the daycare or school. If the
child feels their daycare or school is a prime battlefield, experienced as a
source of contention or conflict between the parents, the child may seek to
avoid attending or may demonstrate increased emotional difficulty when in
Parents are also cautioned against requesting or demanding reports of their
children’s behavior linking it to the behaviour of either parent. This
intensifies the position of conflict for the educator and asks them to perform a
task beyond their role and training. In the context of a custody and access
dispute, such reports are suspect. Assessors view them as “one-sided” and it is
easy to determine that persons whose expertise is not in custody and access
matters and the dynamics therein have provided them. As such, these reports do
not necessarily help a parent’s case and worse, may hurt the child’s sense of
security and safety from parental conflict while at daycare or school.
Rather, when in the heat of a disputed custody and access matter, the parents
can ease their child’s distress by quickly agreeing on who and on what
conditions each parent can relate or communicate with the school or daycare. The
parents should then provide the daycare or school with a letter detailing the
agreement, signed by both parents. Parents should access as many resources as
possible to settle these matters amicably. In the event the parents still cannot
agree, they are then advised to obtain an interim court order specifying mutual
conditions and restrictions as quickly as possible and provide a copy of the
order to the daycare or school.
Furthermore, parents need to exercise their good judgment and boundaries and
resist bringing the school or daycare into their dispute. If information is
absolutely required, parents are advised to restrict their request to factual
data such as attendance, developmental or academic performance or behavior. It
is inappropriate to ask the educator to link the data to the behavior of either
parent as this is outside of their professional role.
In the run up to court, parents often seek to enlist allies to support their
case. However, parents are cautioned against tainting the school or daycare,
undermining the sense of safety and security the setting may provide their
children. Parents in distress are advised to speak with their lawyer, consider
counseling, mediation, collaborative law, and if matters are still in dispute,
an assessment to provide recommendations for settling the matters. But above
all, leave the children’s school or daycare as a safe place, free from
intrusions and leave the staff free to concentrate on supporting your children’s
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