“Mom and dad should say hello to each other again”: Bern sends highly quarreling parents to mandatory advice
They argue endlessly about visitation rights or custody issues: when separated parents are hopelessly at odds, the children suffer. A pilot project is now starting in the canton of Bern. The goal: Thanks to professional advice, parents can find a viable solution in the interests of the child’s well-being.
The handover is a burden for the six-year-old boy. His mother lets him wait alone on the playground until his father takes over. The father also consistently avoids the mother. The example that the Bernese Chief Justice Anastasia Falkner explained during a press conference on the pilot project “Center for Separation in Families” comes from her everyday work. During the child survey, the boy expressed his greatest wish: “Mom and dad should say hello to each other again.”
In Switzerland, almost 30,000 children are affected by the separation of their parents every year. In hundreds of cases, the child and adult protection authority (Kesb) and the courts have to intervene because the parents are at odds – for example, because the father and mother absolutely cannot agree on custody or visitation rights, torpedo mediation proposals from the guardians, turn on lawyers and all Pull levers to get the authorities on their side.
“Many of those affected are in free fall and have lost control of themselves. A means of hurting the other parent is the child,” says Kescha President Guido Fluri. The Kescha is a contact point for people who are dissatisfied with official decisions. Fluri, known throughout Switzerland for his commitment to contract children, says: “The largest group looking for support are mothers and fathers who are constantly at odds, but who blame the Kesb and the courts for this.” With this tunnel vision, the well-being of the child falls by the wayside. Many children long for their parents to stop fighting each other.
According to Fluri, the kesha manages to bring about a solution in two out of three cases. Now he hopes that his contact point will soon be replaced by an institutional solution. To this end, a pilot project limited to two years is currently running in the city of Bern. If Fluri has its way, it will later be rolled out throughout Switzerland and will make the Kescha superfluous – if the project is successful.
What is it about? The association has a broad sponsorship around the Guido Fluri Foundation and numerous child protection experts Center for families in separation (Zfit) founded. The association has received a special permit from the Federal Office of Justice, enjoys the support of the Canton of Bern and is already operational. The goal is to defuse the conflicts of highly estranged parents before the Kesb has to issue an injunction or a court has to make a decision.
Parents should pull themselves together
In other words: Even if they no longer function as a couple, fathers and mothers should pull themselves together and find a viable solution for the benefit of their children. To this end, the authorities can order mandatory counseling, to which parents must show up for six joint sessions within four months. The children are included in the counseling according to their age. The counseling team consists of social workers from the Office for Adult and Child Protection of the City of Bern and psychological specialists from the University Clinic for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychotherapy in Bern. If the ordered consultation misses its mark, the ball goes back to the Kesb or the court.
The Berne Justice Director Evi Allemann (SP) was confident that the new center would make a contribution to improving the situation of separated families. The University of Freiburg will scientifically monitor and evaluate the process. According to Guido Fluri, the cantons of Zug and St. Gallen have already expressed an interest in the Bern model. By the way: There are no additional costs for the public sector. They are supported by the Guido Fluri Foundation.
Only: Why is a new institution needed when the Kesb and the courts are already struggling with deeply troubled parents? «Judges are not psychologists. Getting a family back on track in half a day is difficult,” says judge Falkner. Although the Kesb has the necessary specialists, it is not an advice center and does not have enough time and staff for this, says Charlotte Christener, President of the Stadtberner Kesb.
An amicable solution between the parents is central to the well-being of the child. The Bernese child psychiatrist Katrin Klein said: “Long-lasting arguments in families are considered a risk factor for mood, health and child development.”