Before a family attends the Overcoming Barriers Family Camp (Family Camp) they have many questions and a lot of expectations. The court, attorneys and mental health professionals also have ideas about what the Family Camp program is.
The Overcoming Barriers Clinical and non Clinical Team have hope…hope that a family can come with open hearts and minds to learn how to work together to create important connections with both parents that are in the best interest of their child(ren). We have seen families work on their relationship issues together, eat together, play together and leave our program with a renewed sense of creating a structure that will support the family members to move forward.
Why do we do this work? For the children. The evidence is overwhelming that children who experience and are in the middle of their parents’ conflict and who are resisting/or not seeing a parent have poorer long term health and mental health issues as well as their own relationship struggles later in life. We know that parents involved in conflict over their children care deeply about what is best for them. The research indicates that it is vital to the overall well being of child(ren) to have healthy relationships with both parents.
Why Families Come
Most of the families that come to Family Camp have been involved in the court system and litigation for months and sometimes years. Judges who order families to our program are seeking a family focused approach to helping families caught in intractable conflict. Similarly, many attorneys appreciate that litigating may not be the best route for these families any longer. It becomes especially apparent when a child begins resisting or refusing contact with a parent absent findings of chronic maltreatment. While these are the families we serve, we encourage professionals to reach out for our services sooner. Families less entrenched in the conflict will have a greater chance of “success” with the intervention.
The issues surrounding parent-child contact problems are extremely complex with many factors influencing the situation, such as poor parenting, ineffective coparenting, and unhelpful involvement of extended family, step parents and other professionals.
Characteristics of Successful Participation
Overcoming Barriers provides an innovative approach to working with the entire family in an intensive, residential program. The most important aspects of participation are that:
- Both parents agree about the importance of the child(ren) having a healthy relationship with each parent.
- Both parents acknowledge the willingness and ability to shift their perspectives about the other parent and the children’s needs.
- Both parents acknowledge that they have contributed, in part, to the creation of the problem and they have an important role in contributing to the resolution of the problem, regardless of how they perceive the cause of the parent-child contact problem.
- Both parents are willing to work together to find a solution to help their children.
Even with a court order, if one parent cannot agree that these aspects are important, it is unlikely that the family will be able to make use of the program to begin to make the changes necessary to achieve the programs goals including the child’s overall well being and steps towards achieving a healthy relationships with both parents.
Charting a Path Forward
Family Camp provides the beginning of a new approach to conflict within the family.
Wherever the family falls on the spectrum of conflict, the goal is a reduction in the conflict and more effective coparenting to support their child being able to have a good relationship with both parents. In order to attain this crack in the door, both parents need to participate and the professionals – attorneys, judges, mental health professionals working with them – need to agree and support the program goals. Aftercare is vital to the continued growth in the family’s efforts to take what they learn at camp and implement the tools to continue to make progress.
Children at Camp
While at Family Camp children are given their voice, they are never “forced” to connect with a rejected parent. Almost every child has some interaction (with considerable support) with the resisted parent. The expectation is that the preferred parent will explicitly encourage and support steps toward connections. The parents are asked to make decisions together so that their child is removed from the middle. Children see the rejected parent at camp activities and almost always agree participate in therapy meetings with this parent. Children are also taught specific tools to cope with parental conflict, to take multiple perspectives and to explore choices about moving forward with a focus of taking care of their own needs and staying out of the middle of their parents’ arguments.
Overcoming Barriers, in addition to running programs for families, is working with a well known researcher to evaluate our program to help us determine what components work best for these families. From the 2014 Child Surveys that are given at the end of camp you can see that the children learned a lot. When asked about
Things I plan on doing differently after I leave Camp, children responded:
- Focus on myself more and what makes me happy.
- I plan to concentrate on my life and do things that will benefit my future.
- Communicate more and be more open-minded.
- Explaining my worries more.
- Restore some sort of relationship with my parent.
For more information on the evaluation process at camp and to see the child responses visit our Evaluation Page.
We also have a blog dedicated to kids’ participation at Family Camp, which are staff contribute to after each Camp (Camp Memories Blog). We hope this resource helps children know more about what to expect at camp, and allows them to stay connected to their experience in a positive way.
Family Camp is Challenging and Rewarding
There are no quick fixes, silver bullets or guarantees. Families and staff work hard, day and night, to get the most out of the unique opportunity of Family Camp.
Overcoming Barriers staff, with the depth of knowledge of the psychological and legal professionals involved, is seeking workable solutions for each family’s unique situation.
Why We Do This Work
Our past President, a former Family Law Judge, notes that this is the best answer she has seen. The OCB Clinical Team, including the program Evaluator, are at the forefront of helping families involved in High-Conflict Divorce. The Board is comprised of Judges and attorneys who understand the issues and have worked with these families in crisis. The financial compensation is low or pro bono, the hours long and the commitment to helping families tremendous. We are willing to try if you are!
Submitting the Application is the First Step
Applying to camp is simple and inexpensive. A family who has a court order should apply immediately. A family without a court order will need to speak to an administrative staff member prior to applying. There are limited spots available and Family Camp has found that a court order or stipulations are needed to encourage everyone to attend.