An Evaluation of Family Camp

“Is OCB Camp successful?” 

If you ask the Camp Clinicians, there would be a resounding yes! Parents meet with Camp Clinicians together. They are face-to-face for what might be the first time in years.  The majority reach consensus on child related issues.  In fact, most coparents leave camp with coparenting agreements.  If you ask Camp Recreational Staff, again, the answer would be a resounding yes!  Camp Staff support and facilitate family, group, parent-parent and parent-child fun!  They have witnessed parents who have been rejected for years by their children reunite with smiles. Two moms who had not laid eyes on their children sat on the porch at camp watching them play.  One Dad played tennis with his two (2) daughters for over two hours at camp.  At the end of one camp a 12-year old child ran by Camp Staff smiling saying, “I guess I can talk to my mom now!”

These may seem like small accomplishments but in families where there is no communication and no contact these are big steps forward!

What does the research tell us?

Since 2013 Dr. Michael Saini, from the University of Toronto, has conducted an independent, long term evaluation of the effectiveness of the Overcoming Barriers programs.  In 2017 a follow up research survey was sent out to all program participants from 2008 to present and almost half of all participants responded to the survey.

Dr. Saini, and others have noted that, due to the complexity of strained parent-child relationships and the correspondingly high degree of animosity and distrust often experienced by the parents, such families are perhaps one of the most challenging populations to engage in therapy. Even so, data collected from Overcoming Barriers program attendees indicates that important shifts were made in how the individual parent view their former spouse.  Specifically, the former spouses actually began to see themselves as coparents.  Parents also increased their understanding of the impact of the conflict on their children.

In order to fully understand the information obtained from Overcoming Barriers’ Program attendees, Dr. Saini developed, tested and used a new research measure tool for this study to assess the changes in strained parent-child relationship post intervention. Using this, Dr. Saini reports that it is clear there is benefit in working with both parents.  In our experience, most favored parents do not wish to be involved in camp and many rejected parents think they have won when accepted to camp. Parents must leave the win/lose mentality behind. Everyone is part of the problem and needs to be part of the solution on behalf of the child(ren).

Improvements in the coparenting relationship were statistically related to children spending more time with both parents and better parent-child outcomes after attendance. This meshes with social science that has found connections between positive coparenting relationships and the quality of parent-child relationships post separation and divorce. At camp, coparenting sessions are used to help parents develop a healthy working relationship and communication style to better address concerns regarding parenting schedules, parenting time and the quality of these relationships.

The majority of the participants indicated that since attending OCB they improved: 1) their understanding of the impact of strained parent-child relationship; 2) their ability to take responsibility for their own contribution to the strained parent-child relationship problems; 3) their ability to emotionally regulate; 4) their understanding of effective coping strategies; and 4) their ability to protect the child from the conflict

Results also suggested overall positive improvements to family dynamics since attending camp which, in turn, supports the principle of working with the broader family system to address coping, functioning and coparenting rather than limiting services to repairing the child’s relationship with the rejected family.

The full article on the study was published in the April 23, 2019 issue of the Family Court Review.  You can find it here.

Strengthening Coparenting Relationships to Improve Strained Parent–Child Relationships: A Follow‐Up Study of Parents’ Experiences of Attending the Overcoming Barriers Program

First published: 23 April 2019


Several interventions have been developed to address children’s resistance and/or refusal to have contact with a parent following separation and divorce. There remains little agreement about how best to evaluate the success of these approaches. To explore the experiences of parents in the Overcoming Barriers Program (OCB), an online survey was distributed to all previous participants. Of the 40 parents who completed the survey at least six months after attending OCB, findings suggest mixed results. Benefits of OCB were more pronounced when changes were made to the coparenting relationships. Improvements in the coparenting relationship were specifically related to children’s spending more time with both parents and better parent–child outcomes postintervention. Findings suggest that both the quality of parent–child relationships and the time that the children spend with both parents are associated with reported improvements in the cooperative coparenting relationship as a result of attending OCB. Implications are discussed in terms of lessons learned for developing, delivering, and evaluating similar programs for strained parent–child relationships.

So now What?

 Dr. Saini’s work provides clear areas for improvement in the Family Camp process and those areas have been addressed in the fine-tuning of the Camp program for 2019.  For instance, Dr. Saini found that participants’ expectations of what Family Camp would accomplish were not met for many who responded to the survey.  OCB is implementing processes to inform participants and their professionals – neutrals and legal – about what camp can offer them, and, as important, what Camp cannot {does not} offer, so that families can be better prepared to make the experience most beneficial.[1]  Another area where participants expressed disappointment in the survey was the lack of aftercare follow up.  In 2019 a camp liaison will be assigned to facilitate the family accessing aftercare services.  In addition, the aftercare professional will need to be designated in the court order with a post camp appointment made.

What’s next?

There is little research or informed consensus on how best to help these families. The research that is being conducted is not consistent. The population and their dynamics are very complex and hard to evaluate. Particularly important is whether any “change” occurs and how to measure that change.

Overcoming Barriers is committed to further evaluating its services to ensure that we address the complexity of strained parent-child relationships and use results from ongoing evaluations to help us make necessary changes to the delivery of services so that we can best meet the needs of the families involved in our services. Dr. Saini’s study was an excellent step in that process and has provided data to inform Overcoming Barriers and other programs about what we are doing that is great and where our focus should be to make improvements in the future.

Overcoming Barriers, a non-profit organization, is composed of some of the most brilliant minds in the field of parent-child contact issues resulting from high conflict divorce. We continue to lead the way in seeking and developing innovative services to support these families caught in these intractable conflicts.

[1] You can find links here to documents on our website that answer many questions about camp and that try to clarify expectations for participants.


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