A strengths approach to supporting young children experiencing parental separation and divorce

Linda Mahony, Charles Sturt University, Australia (
Angela Fenton, Charles Sturt University, Australia (

Background: Separation and divorce has become a common phenomenon in Australia and affects a substantial proportion of children. While some children readily adjust to their parents’ separation and divorce, other children exhibit difficulty adjusting emotionally, socially, and demonstrate poorer academic outcomes. While there is much research about the social, emotional and academic effects of separation and divorce and diverse family composition, there is a paucity of research focusing on the nexus with education and how teachers work with these children and their families to facilitate adjustment to their changed family circumstances.

Aim: To explore the practices of early years teachers when working with young children and families experiencing separation and divorce.

Method: In this qualitative research project, twenty-one teachers of young children were interviewed in a face-to-face semi-structured interview. Teachers were asked to share their stories about their pedagogical practices with children experiencing parental separation and divorce.  A Strengths Approach was used as a theoretical framework and data analysis tool for viewing the practices of teachers when working with these children and their families.

Results: The Strengths Approach focuses on solutions to complex issues faced by teachers in their day-to-day work with these young children and their families to promote wellbeing. The actions of teachers focused on building on the strengths of the situation and the child to support them to make adjustment.

Conclusions: The findings of this project add to the body of knowledge regarding teachers’ pedagogical practices when working with children experiencing parental separation and divorce to build young children’s and family’s resilience and skills and to promote wellbeing.

Implications for children: Teachers understand that it can be hard when there is divorce or separation of adults in their family. Teachers can help by listening and by understanding that what is happening at home can affect them at school.

Implications for families: Teachers understand that divorce and separation can be very stressful for families and sometimes has emotional, social and educational impacts on children. Teachers can provide support to children and in partnership with parents can help with strategies to assist children to succeed emotionally, socially and academically.

Implications for practitioners: Teachers engaging strengths-based strategies can assist young children experiencing separation and divorce in their family to make positive adjustment.

Key words: divorce and separation, strengths approach, well-being, qualitative methods

This presentation relates to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: