Kids In The Middle is a brand new website offering online support to children whose parents are divorcing or separating. In this special feature co-founder Duncan Fisher remembers how it all began
The idea for Kids in the Middle first came to me seven years ago, when I witnessed the impact of a divorce on my daughter’s best friend. I saw that the child was not getting the support she needed and I could also see that the adults around her (including me) were very nervous about getting mixed up in a situation of heated conflict. Something was missing in the care of this child. She needed somewhere she could easily go to help her deal with the situation. And I needed a place that I could recommend to her.
Roll on a good many years to 2012, and three on-line services for children in separating families closed down in the UK, while two new ones were created in the US. Someone needed to get a handle on this and do something – to create something that was both useful and affordable.
But it quickly became obvious that doing so was going to be a challenge, because nobody appeared interested in funding a start-up. With a new charity established solely for the purpose of creating a support site for children in separating families, we approached all the major children’s charities but they did not reply. We wrote to about 20 celebrities but they all said no too. We made 20 funding applications and raised only about £3000! If we were going to rise to this challenge, then clearly the only way forward was a grass roots approach.
First we approached two local schools: Hereford Cathedral School and Crickhowell High School. The head teachers agreed to fundraising campaigns and, during 2013, 20 young people raised £15,000. This was a great start – not enough to launch, but it did mean we had to succeed! During these campaigns, one local law firm got in contact to express interest in joining the campaign. That gave us an idea and a year later no less than 40 law firms wanted to raise money, some in partnership with local schools. We reached £40,000 over the whole period, enough to launch the website and cover all the costs of the fundraising campaign itself.
KidsintheMiddle.org.uk aims to be very visible to children and young people in separating families, through careful search engine optimisation and vigorous promotion to all those working with separating families. On arrival, the aim is for young people to find something that is instantly attractive, with great design. The site is unique in that it provides the perspective of young people themselves, primarily through video – it is peer driven. The site delivers three essential messages: it’s not your fault, you are not alone and it’s okay to get help. It then introduces good services – peer mentoring, counselling, advice lines, etc. – not just through links, but video interviews by young people with the users and providers of these services.
We are also planning to build a section for parents, where young people can address them directly. We will ask these young people to explore what options there are for parents to get support, such as collaborative law and mediation, and then organise for them to interview providers and users of these services.
Apart from launching a site, the other key achievement before the launch in September was making Kids In The Middle financially viable. The site is extremely cheap to run and can easily be expanded through popular fund-raising appeals.
We have proved that young people like raising money for the site, and that fundraising is an effective way for family law and mediation firms to grow their profile with their target markets. We raised £41,000 for the site in these ways. We have built tools to help firms with this, such as a brochure for local schools that is co-branded by the firm. These tools are available through a membership scheme for family lawyers and mediators. We have spent as much time on building viability as on building the site itself.
We achieved low operating costs through collaboration, in particular with the BeatBullying Group, the charity behind mindfull.org. They have built a whole online infrastructure support for young people – at huge cost – that can plug into on-line support services like KidsintheMiddle.org.uk, without these services having to pay any of the investment costs. We are developing a training course for peer mentors that focuses on family separation, and these peer mentors will operate on mindfull.org.
Over the coming months we will appeal to all family law and mediation firms to become members of Kids in the Middle. We have designed membership to bring some specific benefits for those who join. We hope they help cover the small on-going operating costs, while fundraising campaigns and grants fund new developments, for example the section for parents, or new sections for younger children and children in the family courts.
Duncan Fisher is a social entrepeneur in the family and children’s sector. He specialises in starting up new programmes and organisations and nurturing them over the most difficult first stages. Kids in the Middle is one of three new programmes he is currently building. In the past Duncan founded the Fatherhood Institute and Dad.Info, and wrote the book Baby’s Here! Who Does What? He was awareded an OBE “for services to children” in 2008. He lives with his family in the Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales.