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SAIF seeing more splits, kids caught in the middle

A second wave of separations and divorces are expected by counsellors at SAIF, and that means more kids are going to be caught in the middle of dissolving relationships.
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Statistics Canada data shows the level of concern Canadians have about domestic violence.


SAIF offers a free youth counselling program for those 12- to 17-year-olds dealing with abusive situations. Please call 780-460-2195 ext. 301 to learn more or book a phone consult. Visit for more information.

What can you do if your parents are 'triangulating' you? If you feel you can talk to your parents, let them know how you feel. Your feelings are important! Try starting a conversation with your parents by using 'I' statements instead of 'You' statements. You can say things like:

  • 'I love you both and I don't want to be put in the middle.'
  • 'I feel angry or hurt when I hear bad things said about my (mom/dad).'
  • 'I feel powerless when I'm expected to support your feelings against my (mom/dad).'
  • 'I want to feel safe in both households.'
  • 'I don't feel like I can talk about my problems because there are so many problems with my (mom/dad) and there's no room for mine.'

2. If you don't feel safe saying these things to either of your parents, go to an adult you trust and ask them to help you advocate for yourself with your parents, such as a family member, a teacher or coach or family friend.

3. If you don't feel you can go to anyone you trust to help you in this situation, you can call or text the Kids Help Phone – Text: 686868 or Phone: 1-800-668-6868 for support.

4. Remind yourself that it's ok to feel the emotions you are feeling as a result of your parents' conflicts or fighting. Instead of bottling up, think about healthier ways to cope, such as:

  • doing some things that make you feel good in positive ways like going for a walk, reading a book, hanging out with friends, journaling (writing down your feelings), listening to music, etc.
  • when your parents are fighting, walk away or leave the room if you can. You don't have to be a part of their arguments.
  • talk to a teacher or school counsellor to see if there are resources available to you to help you deal with this situation such as books, podcasts, online videos and groups on healthy relationships.

We know this is a difficult situation to be in and you don't have to feel alone or deal with this all by yourself. Asking for help is ok and we hope you feel you can.

Source: August’s Ask an Expert blog at

As the pandemic has thrown the world into chaos and stress, St. Albert Stop Abuse in Families has seen a corresponding rise in phone calls from people in relationships that have gone past the brink.

SAIF director Areni Kelleppan said the typical (pre-COVID) volume of inquiries runs at 50-50 for people who are still trying to make it work with their partners and those who are ready to separate, in the middle of a split, or have already done so.

Nowadays, the scale has tipped, she explains, calling it a case of ‘skyrocketing’.

“That has been significant. I'd say that started really May/June, is where we really saw that spike in the change of our clientele. When we talk about families, it's been 80 per cent or higher: they’re trying to split or splitting or separating or divorcing,” she began.

“That's unusual just because of the nature of what we normally get, which is that 50-50 on an ongoing basis of people choosing to stay and trying to figure out a way to stay safe and de-escalate and build safety plans. In this case, we're seeing a lot more people. They don't have their coping mechanisms. They've realized this is not a good situation for them. They cannot cope in it and they need to leave or split or separate.”

The pandemic can’t take the blame for all this. She suggested this was just the first wave of the problem and that many of these calls were bound to come in anyway. Just like COVID cases, SAIF is expecting a second wave where the more resilient couples will be finding themselves in the same rocky boat.

The causes of all these separations are complex, she elaborated.

“One of the biggest pieces that COVID has shined a light on is people have many coping mechanisms to stay within unhealthy relationships. When you don't have any of those, and you're stuck 24-7, and you have financial concerns on top of that, and you're faced with a pandemic, and you're faced with your kids being at home and trying to teach them, all of these stressors exacerbate an existing issue within the relationship. Now how do you cope?”

Whatever the causes, the results also mean more and more kids are getting caught in the middle of messy separations and divorces. There’s a spectrum, for sure, between amicable and contentious splits. Alberta’s collaborative divorce process ensures there are a number of mechanisms in place to encourage each party to be as amicable as you can be.

Unfortunately, SAIF’s clients are the small percentage of overall divorces that are high conflict, very un-amicable, and highly contentious. Abusive partners, male or female, are about control, Kelleppan continued.

If you're divorcing, the abuser will fight to not lose the person that they have groomed to be controlled. They will use aspects of the collaborative divorce process to control the other partner, she said.

SAIF sees that controlling behaviours will continue even when couples live separately. This frequently involves delaying tactics with the courts, although of course the Family Law Courts have postponed all the court dates due to the pandemic as well, she noted. There are other tactics as well.

When children become pawns of such continued controlling behaviours, it’s called triangulation. Dayna Kwasney, a family lawyer with Quantz Law who also serves on SAIF’s board, called the COVID age a “pressure cooker” that has accelerated separations and compounded the problems for partners of abusers.

“I have seen in some cases, especially around parenting issues where it is more high conflict seeing the parents use COVID ... as a way of not doing a handoff of the kids or that sort of thing, preventing the other parent from parenting time,” she stated.

“Obviously this is not the case in all circumstances, but it may have been taken advantage of in a little bit of a way to just basically not having the other parent see the child, so withholding the child. I think the isolation piece has really, really increased the family violence at home.”

While isolation has increased family violence, she added, reporting it has been inversely affected. People are unable to make phone calls if their abusers are right there with them. While distancing measures have kept people from physically being with their families and friends, being isolated with an abuser has kept them from being able to even communicate with them too.

“Probably the hardest thing in my job is seeing that. The children are the collateral damage of everything that's happening. I think they oftentimes are used just as a pawn in negotiating ... where it doesn't need to be that way. I think there's a good way to do separation and divorce that can be more collaborative and that. Oftentimes, I don't think the children's needs are put in the number one priority as they should be.”

Fundraiser with a big engine

SAIF is hosting a fundraiser Car Rally that is planned to be part scavenger hunt, part Amazing Race, and all fun. Participants will undertake challenges with prizes at stake, and it's all to help financially support St. Albert Stop Abuse in Families' counselling programs for seniors, adults, youth, children and families dealing with the impacts of family abuse and violence.

The action takes place on Saturday, Sept. 26, from 1 to 5 p.m. This event will replace the Red Shoe Gala, which can't take place this year due to the pandemic.  Registration forms can be found at

Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Ecology and Environment Reporter at the Fitzhugh Newspaper since July 2022 under Local Journalism Initiative funding provided by News Media Canada.
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