Rebecca (OnlyMums) and I have been trying to progress the “Odd Socks” project ever since a young person turned to us (in our office) with the statement “you are all about the parents – what about the kids?”
It is hard to get across to you the “force” of that statement and the effect it had (still has) on us! It did however make us stop what we were doing and think!
A week or so later, we got together a group of young people – gave them an office for a morning – and a few sheets of architect’s paper and some marker pens. All of them had first-hand experience of their parents going through or having been through, divorce and separation. We invited them to pull their thoughts together for a website that would help them and other young people in their position.
At this stage – they quite literally had a blank-sheet of paper.
Not more than 20 minutes later – our own office door burst open. “…we know what it’s going to be called, they yelled…
They explained their further thinking later that morning – their idea of a website organised and run by children, for children really got us excited. So many of the conversations we have with parents, focus in on the needs and aspirations of children. Many of us know that our own “Odd Socks” say one thing to one parent and quite another thing to the other. We also know, some can get so muddled, they end up in silence. Alone with their thoughts. And worries.
Rebecca and I pulled this concept paper together. We shared it with a number of professionals, individuals, schools, and organisations. All seemed to think it a superb idea and worthy of further exploration.
To develop (probably in partnership) a web-based support and advice service for young people with parents in conflict – Odd Socks (OS).
OS will be a website where young people interact with young people in a safe and supervised environment.
This not-for-profit service (structure to be agreed) would be governed and guided by a management committee made up of experienced professionals and others to comply fully with the legal structure agreed upon. OS would, under such a management board, continue to be driven and designed by young people of separating parents.
Essentially it will be a service for young people given by young people.
The project will focus on providing appropriate services for four age groups; 7-11, 11-14, 14-16 and 16+.
At the core of the project is the belief in the recognition, acknowledgement and practice of basic human rights for all children.
Goals and Objectives
To give young people of separating and divorced parents a voice and an opportunity for them to tell other young people how it is or was for them – Peer Mentoring; so they can learn from each other and support each other.
To develop a service that is completely safe to use, genuinely youth friendly and accessible to young people nationwide.
To encourage and empower young people to have their voice heard in the future development of the family justice system in the UK.
To provide a comprehensive signposting service for young people presenting with a wide range of issues.
Adult over-sight should be an essential feature of this area of the OS project supported by strict policy and guidelines developed for dealing with the most vulnerable.
At the heart of this project is the belief that OS will offer (especially potentially vulnerable) young people a place of on-line safety and refuge.
Our initial consultations reinforced the facts that current social networking media accessed by young people (Facebook, MSN etc) are completely un-regulated from a child safety perspective – with real names, and pictures being used all the time.
By introducing simple and effective measures into the structure of the OS website, child protection issues can be enhanced markedly.
- The use of alias names
- No photographs
- Software that prevents the transfer of addresses and telephone numbers.
- Adults skilled in child protection having oversight of posts appearing on the website with a brief to signpost on to specialist support when any specific post gives cause for concern.
- Producing and keeping up to date a comprehensive database of organisations’ contact details and weblinks that offer support to young people on a full range of issues.
To offer support and guidance for young people whose families are in conflict.
OS, by retaining and analyising data, could become a recognised body for providing up-to-date and regular information on what key issues young people are facing in their lives, therefore making a positive contribution to future policy on how services for separating families are shaped in the future.
If the concept of “on-line – child-led – potentially vulnerable young people” all in one sentence – sounds too risky, I would share with you the words of a police officer who has a role in ensuring children are safe on-line…
…”you will probably be told not to do this project because of risks from paedophiles. I say, you should do this project exactly for that reason. On-line predators choose the vulnerable – and this project would give them by far the safest site to use.”
A Personal Reflection
Those young people we engaged with, did not tell us they wanted more “listening ladies” in schools, or leaflets, or booklets, or short films about parents breaking-up. Rather, they asked for a facility to talk amongst themselves and share their problems. As one boy from the group put it “you don’t talk to your mates about this stuff, do you!”
Because of the security implications, we really can’t launch something that is half-baked. It has to be all or nothing! As with so much in life, you do need some resources to even get to the point of launching a thorough scoping study.
Readers of this blog are some of the most caring and insightful people. Where do we go next with this concept is your question….?
And we will welcome and appreciate all your answers.
Bob Greig and Rebecca Giraud