Co-parenting during coronavirus: London, Ont., groups expand decision-making service

LHSC Children's Hospital. Matthew Trevithick / Global News

The London Family Court Clinic (LFCC) and the Children’s Hospital at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) are working together to provide free shared decision-making coaching services to help co-parenting families in need amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Bonnie Wooten, project lead with the Children’s Hospital, says a shared decision-making project has been underway within the hospital community for a few years and the hospital had been looking to expand the program.

“We’re pretty excited and pleased to be recognized by the London Family Court Clinic to partner with us to provide this model of support to some of their community members,” Wooten told Global News.

Kimberly Harris, director of assessment services at LFCC, says decision-making can be very stressful for many families and the pandemic has exacerbated that.

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“We saw a lot of our families struggling with some decision-making and a lot of support services were not available. The courts were closed, in terms of helping families think some of these decisions,” Harris said.

“So we reached out to London Health Sciences who has this history of helping families work through medical decisions. And COVID involves, you know, a lot of medical, health-type decisions and so we thought it would be a really good fit.”

Harris says LFCC assists families post-separation and divorce with a range of issues — for example, helping to implement parenting plans or sorting out summer vacations and activities.

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“The pandemic just added an extra element of additional types of decisions that needed to be made and, you know, consideration of a variety of risks in two households.”

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Wooten says the new partnership with LFCC allows LHSC to do more with the unique program which offers a structured approach to decision-making from an unbiased individual.

“Our focus is on on the child. So when we’re working with families, they bring their stressors to the discussion,” Wooten said.

“However, as a decision coach, I really work very hard at bringing them to an understanding that this is about what’s in the best interests of the child.

“Certainly COVID has made it very complicated because the child may have an health issue, there may there may not be any health issues, but there’s a conflict there because COVID is a health issue and we have to work together to resolve the transition and provide the best support we can with the family and the child.”

So far, Wooten says she’s worked with two families since the partnership began. Harris says families interested in the program can call the LFCC.

“We would do a little bit of screening with them to make sure they’re suitable for the program,” said Harris.

“We then spent a little bit of time narrowing down some of the issues so that we’re sending Bonnie the COVID-specific issue or the medical-specific issue and not all of the family’s issues.”

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The program is currently free of charge, and will remain so until the end of March 2021, thanks to federal funding. The project received $25,000 in funding from the London Community Foundation (LCF) through the federal government’s Emergency Community Support Fund (ECSF).

Click to play video: 'Expert co-parenting advice during the COVID-19 pandemic'
Expert co-parenting advice during the COVID-19 pandemic

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