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Hope for kids of divorce

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Divorce Programs

Irwin Sandler speaks to local attorneys at the Coconino County Courthouse about the implementation of programs that help newly divorced parents with raising their kids. (Josh Biggs/Arizona Daily Sun)

Children of divorcing or separating parents can face a difficult road.

Sometimes that road can lead to mental health problems, drug and alcohol abuse and run-ins with the law.

In an effort to improve the chances for children of divorcing and separating parents to navigate the pitfalls and difficulties that arise, Coconino County has been selected to participate in a new program.

Called New Beginnings, the program is the result of a research project started at Arizona State University.

"We know what these separations do to the kids," said ASU Professor Irwin Sandler, Ph.D., during a presentation to about 20 judges, attorneys and care providers Tuesday in Flagstaff.

"This is prevention."

A goal: Keep children from entering mental health and criminal justice arenas and saving those dollars by providing education to parents up front.

New Beginnings starts with a central idea, Sandler said, "The kids have the most powerful resource -- the parents themselves and the quality of parenting they can provide after divorce."


The program is the culmination of two multi-year studies of children conducted by ASU, Sandler said. Two hundred forty children, ages 9-12, were followed after one or both of their divorcing or separating parents went through the program.

The children were given a follow-up assessment when they were 15-18, and the study concluded:

-- 37 percent lower rates of diagnosed mental disorder, lower levels of mental health problems and less use of alcohol, marijuana and other drugs.

-- 35 percent more of the teens had improved grade-point averages in school

The children had higher self esteem and lower criminal justice system involvement.

"The research supports that children benefit from parents having gone through this program," said Judge Elaine Fridlund-Horne of Coconino County Superior Court. She is the judge who presides over the Integrated Family Court for the county. "We're just thrilled to have it."

New Beginnings helps parents build stronger relationships with their children, communicate better, form discipline strategies and more during two-week or 10-week sessions. The two-week sessions are abbreviated versions of the 10-week class. Meetings are two hours and free child care is provided.

Sandler said that the overall reach statewide is anticipated to be about 1,000 participants, with 160 coming from Coconino County during the two year period. The program will be largely voluntary, but judges might require participation. Attorneys may recommend the program to clients, and parents undergoing divorce won't be going through the program together. Only one parent can participate as well.


The current program, which works also as a pilot study to determine its value as a community resource, is made possible through a five-year, $6 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Sandler said.

The program is being offered in Coconino, Pima, Yuma and Maricopa counties. In Coconino County, Arizona Behavioral Health Associates will be the provider offering the training.

The grant covers the development and application of the program and analysis of the results after the two-year program period, he added.

Parents who qualify for the free service must also agree to be a part of the study. They must take part in either a two- or 10-week group where the same skills are taught in differing formats. And they must take part in three phone interviews, for which they will be paid.

The purpose: To develop a community resource that can sustain itself through local funding and participation, Sandler said.

Fridlund-Horne said the courts are already doing the research on identifying grants available to assist with funding New Beginnings after the two-year study period is complete.

"If we can show that Coconino County wants this program, it'll help us apply for grants," Fridlund-Horne said.

Fridlund-Horne said, "For parents wanting to compensate for the difficulty of divorce to their children, this is something they can do."

The program has eligibility requirements and does not serve people who are remarried

The program's first installation is scheduled to begin in Coconino County on March 11. The program will be offered twice a year for the next two years, spring and fall sessions. Qualifying parents who would like to enroll in the program may do so by calling 1-855-531-0851, or visit

Larry Hendricks can be reached at 556-2262 or


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