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Henry from BBC Radio 4's The Archers was 10 when his parents separated in a high conflict and complex divorce. We were struck by how Henry and his many needs were being talked about but not necessarily addressed and how the system around Henry would've benefited enormously from the rich research findings available.  Inspired by the Archers young Henry we chose to call our course for legal and allied professionals What about Henry? bearing him in mind and the many millions like him who experience a parental separation every year. We have created a backstory for Henry and his sister, Aruna's, experience based on combined hundreds of hours of working with separating families. 

Henry’s story

Henry is 10. His mum, Sangita, and dad, Keith, haven’t been getting on for the last 3 years. They argue a lot, and in between the arguments they can be quiet and sulky with one another. His parents occasionally seem to get on, but most of the time they live quite separate lives with no family outings or holidays. Henry’s parents think that he can’t hear their arguments as he is usually in bed when they happen, but he lies there listening. The last, and worst, argument involved mum screaming, crying and swearing then dad pushing her, and she stumbled and fell into the glass kitchen door. Henry’s mum needed to get to hospital, so his dad took Henry and his sister with him as no one else was around to look after them. Henry and his sister felt scared and confused but didn’t say a word as they were worried they would make things worse. Henry has no idea why his parents keep arguing. He keeps thinking back to the time when he was little and everything seemed to be ok. He decided that the best thing to do would be to stay quiet at home, not ask for too much and just hope that all of the problems will pass and things can return to how they were before.

 

But the problems didn’t just pass, and now Henry’s Mum and Dad have separated, are living apart and going for a divorce. Dad moved out with one suitcase, saying he would be back soon enough, but Henry hasn’t had any contact with his dad since he moved out three months ago. Mum starts to cry whenever Henry asks about dad, then she says she doesn’t want to talk about it. Henry looks out for his Dad whenever he is walking to school or going to football. There are lots of men who have the same kind of coat as his Dad so he often thinks he has seen him. But it never is him. Henry doesn’t want to watch the football on TV any more as he used to do it with Dad, and he feels sick inside when he sists on the sofa and Dad isn’t there. A few weeks ago, Henry thought he heard mum talking to Dad on the phone. By the time he got to the kitchen, mum had put the phone down just after saying that Henry couldn’t talk with Dad as he was at a friend’s house. Henry was furious with mum, because she had lied and she was stopping him talking to Dad. He shouted “I hate you” and ran upstairs where he stayed for the rest of the evening.

Henry is in Year 5 at the local primary school. His teacher Miss Roberts is becoming increasingly concerned about him. He has become withdrawn and quiet and can fly into a rage at the slightest thing. He used to get on with his work quite happily, but now he can be disruptive in class, trying to distract others. Henry’s best friend was George, but he has started fighting with George and refusing to play with him. Henry’s mum was called into school to discuss his behaviour, and now she is cross and annoyed with Henry. She tells him it’s his Dad’s fault and that he is better off now he’s gone. Henry feels very differently. He is reluctant to go to his usual rugby training sessions and is refusing to go to swimming lessons. His Mum hasn’t got the energy to argue, so Henry now spends most of his after-school time playing online games. Henry and his mum argue about screen time a lot. 

 

Henry’s younger sister Aruna (6) seems to be unaware of what is happening. She annoys Henry by saying that Dad will return from his “holiday” soon. Aruna stays up late most nights to watch TV with mum and insists on sleeping with the family dog every night. Aruna is in Year 1 at school - she gets on with her school work and takes a lot of pleasure from being helpful in the classroom. Aruna misses Dad a bit but is really happy that she gets to spend so much time with Mum, telling everyone that her and mum are “best friends”. Aruna makes excuses when her friends ask her over for a play date now. She knows Mum will feel lonely without her and she prefers being with Mum over her friends anyway. Since Dad went on holiday, Mum has been worried about money. Aruna thought it would be useful to say she doesn’t really want to continue with ballet and football, so that they can save money. It was a good idea as Mum looked relieved when Aruna suggested it. Aruna sometimes gets really bad tummy aches, which stop her from going out to play at lunchtime. But she doesn’t mind as it means she can help with clearing up the classroom. Sometimes at night her tummy still hurts but she cuddles her teddies and talks to herself to make it better. Aruna has decided that when she grows up she will never get married because it make everyone sad. She will live with her Mum and dog forever instead.

 

Sangita and Keith have very little contact. She doesn’t know where he is living or how he is. Keith is staying away to let the dust settle before getting back in touch with the kids. He doesn’t want to cause them any more stress. Keith’s friends have advised him to sort things out through Mediation, as it worked for one of them. Sangita is worried about finances and everything to do with the future. She has had to take on more work to pay the bills and feels cross and hurt. She doesn’t want to think about divorce just yet as it makes her feel so stressed. She tells her family that her and Keith are working through some things, but the reality is she doesn’t know where to start.

Bringing Science To Separation

So Children Can Flourish

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