Parenting Coordination Models Today
Author: Jared Norton, MSW, RSW, Acc.FM, FDRP PC
The use of Parenting Coordination (PC) as a dispute-resolution mechanism is growing in popularity. As a result, more and more professionals, both legal and mental health, are taking training and adding PC to their list of available services. Despite the best practice guidelines of FDRIO, the AFCC, and the APA, which to some extent chart out the scope of practice and role of the PC, there continues to be recognition that PC practice varies widely across jurisdictions, and across professionals within a jurisdiction.
Jurisdictional differences aside, one could argue variations in practice are a reflection of a practitioner’s initial training as either a lawyer or mental professional – the two professional backgrounds which are dominantly featured amongst PC practitioners. Another argument might be that there continues to be a significant misunderstanding or disagreement about what PC actually is amongst professionals. This is certainly the reality here in Ontario.
However, while those are likely real and concurring factors, one potentially overlooked reason for practice variations is that individual practice may flow from the qualities, personality, and temperament of the individual practitioner themselves – more specifically practice is often constructed through the lenses the PC wears which shapes not just process design, but how they will interact with a family and ultimately manage and support them. In self-reflexive practice speak, ‘we are the process and the process is us.’
As a PC we might ask ourselves, is my approach to PC work more philosophically aligned with a mediation-arbitration lens, or is my lens more that of an interventionist, perhaps combined with a family systems lens, where coaching, skills development, education, and transformative dialogue can potentially produce significant changes for families. Ideally thereby reducing the overreliance and dependency on the PC and the process.
Of course, placing these two approaches into oppositional silos is a bit of a gross generalization, and more often than not PC practice is a hybrid of these two camps. Very few PCs are simply all or nothing when it comes to their approach. At least I am optimistic that most PCs view their work as needs-based and tailor it to the specific contexts of their families. But still, in the professional community, there is a sense that these very different camps exist.
In any event, of key importance is aligning the right family with the right model of PC practice. Failure to do so is almost asking for early termination, or worse sets a PC up to fail in meeting the true needs of the family and can cause unintentional damage. The takeaway is that simply sending a family to PC without appreciating practice variation is irresponsible. The goodness of fit is essential.
I myself admit that I trend towards a PC model that is interventionist and changed based. In fact, I would suggest the obligation of the PC is to support and encourage change – much-needed change for that matter. Like any intervention, of which PC is certainly one, the process is built around goals and objectives. One could write at length about the importance of goal setting in a PC process, but in the most basic sense, a primary goal is to ‘reduce conflict.’ That of course can be done in a multitude of ways. But depending on how one applies interventions within the process, our efforts become either ‘preventative’ or ‘reactive and responsive.’ As PCs, we talk informally about putting out fires, but we should be more inclined to support our co-parents to put away their matches and accelerants, rather than just show up with a big bucket of water. We should actively seek and support dynamic change through intentional intervention.
Change is difficult. It is even more difficult when one is subjected to extreme conflict, pathological ex-spouses, intrapsychic stressors, and the day-to-day challenges of parenting in an unpredictable world. Coming from a clinical background I can attest that PC clients are often the most desiring of change, but are unfortunately some of the most uninclined to see it, do it, or believe it to be possible. That should not deter us, rather it should entice us to bring hope and encouragement, and guide clients on the obscured pathways toward a new way of existing as co-parents. As PCs, we should remember to never underestimate the power of lending hope to those who have none.
I can also attest that while change is often small and slow to arrive, it can happen even in the most challenging of PC files. And even small changes can have profound outcomes for co-parents and their children. But change seldom occurs without effort, hard work, and intrinsic motivation. Another reason why lending hope and supporting the cognitive restructuring that occurs through parent education and coaching is so crucial. Admittedly that requires a significant and skillful effort on the part of the PC. It requires attention and analysis and curiosity. To a degree, it requires trial and error and tenacity. Not every PC signs up for that. Not every PC client wants that. Absent those elements, reactively extinguishing conflicts, and applying a mediation-arbitration model are just fine, as long as everyone knows what process they are in and what the expectations and anticipated outcomes are. Either way, it should be encouraged that PCs market their model to the public and professional community in a way that informed decisions can be made, especially for those that are desperately seeking change.
Jared Norton is a private practice clinician with extensive experience working in the field of high conflict separation and divorce. He provides a number of services, including: Mediation, Parenting Coordination, Counselling, Voice of the Child Reports, Assessments and is a Collaborative Family Professional. He is also the Co-Chair of the FDRIO PC Section.