In all your considerations as to how and when you convey the message to your children, family and friends, it is certainly also advisable to consider how you will inform the children’s school.
School will be a very important place for the children in the coming period. Grief will invariably be experienced there, but it will also be an environment that will have the least changes for them. All the more reason to keep the school carefully informed as to the many changes at home.
The first individuals to inform are, of course, the teachers of your children’s class. Ideally, an appointment should be made with both parents so that all teachers involved are informed in one sitting as to what is going to happen and how future arrangements are likely to be made.
Sometimes the school has a teacher who has been trained in this area and perhaps can be present in such a conversation or can inform you separately as to how the school will deal with your situation. The school counselor or the school social worker can also play a defined role in your relationship with the school. It is up to you to determine whether the meeting at school comes before or after you have spoken to the children. It is important for the children to know when you will speak to their teachers. Let them know that they can speak about their situation at school and make an arrangement with them as to how and when their classmates will be informed.
For children in high school, it is just as important that you inform the school at the right time and in the right manner. Usually the child’s mentor would be the person to inform. If it is not possible to meet at the school together, then come to an agreement as to who will be attending. Perhaps it is only possible to announce the impending divorce by letter or email, but this is still preferable to a quick conversation at 8.30 am at the school door.
Depending on your specific relationship with the school and teachers, there are a number of issues that the school will need to know. Firstly, the school must know whether the children are informed of the situation and to what extent. Are they aware of all the details of the coming period and what can or cannot be discussed between the teacher and the children. It is also very important that the teacher is informed as to how the children have responded to the news if they have been told. If they have not yet been told, then let the school know when this will occur and how the children will then experience their next school day. The school will need to know the details of how the short term future of the children will be arranged. What is the home situation? Who will the children stay with and on what days? What are the arrangements on the changeover days? Are specific arrangements needed, for example, with before or after school care.
It goes without saying that you need to pass on any changes in the arrangements to the school in good time. In due course, the school may ask for insight into the parental plan or may use a special form to make an inventory of the home situation of children in a divorce situation.
The school will need to know where you can both be reached and in which way you want to be informed by the school on school matters. In all cases, the school should stand alongside the parents as well as the children as an invested party. It’s great when the school communicates what they expect from you and what you can expect from the school.
Unfortunately, not all schools in the Netherlands have developed a clear vision as to how to deal with children whose parents are divorcing or are already divorced. As a parent you can expect that the school is familiar with the effects on children of the disintegration of the core family and the possibility of new family groups forming. At each age there are different signs that may indicate a child is struggling with the situation. It is important that the school recognizes these signs, shares them with you appropriately and either handles or advises you in a professional way. There are various interventions that the school can either implement or guide you towards. Many schools also have connections to assistance within their own community or district or will be able to draw your attention to a good social worker or children’s coach. There are various programs that a school can implement, KIES, perhaps being one of the best known.
A school with a vision, and perhaps even a policy in this area, will be able to identifysignals from the children, but also actively follow your child and document in the appropriate way. Every child in school has a file in which, in addition to cognitive development, also behavioral characteristics and information from home and the class situation are recorded. This is of particular importance for the transfer of your child to a subsequent school year. It is also important that you as parents fully inform the new teacher(s) at the beginning of the new school year and report any interim changes. The school in turn will have to
guarantee that it will deal appropriately with your situation in the best interests of your children. Ask at the school about their policy on divorce. Sometimes the Parent Association can also play a meaningful role when a school still has to develop in this particular area. The most recent developments in the Netherlands require teachers to be skilled in handling children and divorce. In this way, every school will have one or more experts in-house that will create a safe school environment for children dealing with this situation.
At the Divorce Challenge in 2016, issued by the Justice Department, a plan by a Breda expertise center to train (primary) schools in this subject was chosen as a winner by both a jury of experts and a youth panel.
If your school wants to develop further in this area, they can contact this expertise center KIND-SCHOOL-SCHEIDING in Breda. The most recent developments can be found at www.kind-school-scheiding.nl. Telephonic contact can also be made with Mr. Pieter Stoop on +31 (0)85-3001077.
Research by the University of Utrecht into the wishes and ideas of children in divorce situations revealed three significant points: children really want to
meet fellow sufferers and exchange experiences with them, they would prefer it during lesson time at their own school, but not under the guidance of their own teachers.
Consider then how finer and safer it is for children when the school really wants to know how it is going with them and they are not just dependent on the casual involvement of an individual teacher.
As you continue coming to school in your role as parent, it is invaluable that the children experience you continuing to come and talk about them and not about each other.
This text is also available in Dutch: Bijdrage boek Anne Buiskool, Hoe vertellen we het de kinderen