Mina has a love for science, animals, and baking. Not necessarily in that order.
GlobalARRK is the only charity in the world specialising in supporting 'stuck' parents. Stuck parents are those parents who have moved abroad and are unable to return to live in their home country with their children due to a child residence dispute. Our vision is of a world where few families go through an international custody crisis but when it does happen, they have all the support they need. We provide a free helpline, information guides and signpost to legal specialists and local organisations that support stuck families around the world. We also raise awareness, support research and advocate on behalf of stuck parents.
Mina: Today, I'm speaking with Roz Osborne. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today. Could you please tell me a little bit about what GlobalARRK is and how it began?
Roz: Sure. GlobalARRK is a global charity supporting parents all around the world who are struggling with international custody disputes. These are usually parents who've moved abroad to a foreign country, had a relationship breakdown, and have then disagreed about where the children should live. This can cause huge complications and difficulties for families, including what's known as child abduction. Most people think of childhood abduction as when somebody unknown takes a child to a foreign country. But actually, most child abductions occur when there's a disagreement, such as when one parent wants to go home with the child to their home country, and a lot of the time unwittingly takes the child and is then accused of child abduction. So there are enormous implications for the whole family. At GlobalARRK, we help parents in this situation and offer them all the support that we can possibly give to help them resolve their problems without too many difficulties and complications. I actually started the charity myself when I was a stuck parent back in 2012. I didn't mean to start a charity. It was entirely accidental.
Join the Waitlist
I started a Facebook page to find out whether there were any other mums in the same situation I was in, stuck in a foreign country after a relationship breakdown. I couldn't come back to the UK because that would be against the law, as I could be charged with child abduction. But I didn't realise that when I'd initially moved; most families won't know that if they move abroad.
You don't think, 'I need to be aware of The Hague Convention on Child Abduction if I'm moving abroad,' that wouldn't occur to most people. I found myself in this situation and then wanted to know if anybody else was in the same situation. To my surprise, hundreds of parents got in contact within the first year. Over the last ten years, over 1,000 parents have been in contact; 99% of them are mums.
Around 90% of them have suffered domestic abuse as well; this is a very common theme among the parents who get in contact with us. They've moved abroad, they've suffered domestic abuse. They want to go back to their home country and live with their parents or, you know, be near their family and somewhere that they can work, somewhere they know is home. Sadly, they can't. They're stuck in this foreign country because the other parent needs to have contact with their child. It seems like it's a really reasonable thing, but many of the parents, the moms who are stuck, are all primary carers of the children. And a lot of the time, the fathers have very little contact with the children, perhaps because of domestic abuse or something else, so they're not taking much care of the children anyway. Therefore, childcare is left to the stuck parent. It can be extremely tough to live in a foreign country and take care of children if you don't have a job, don't have a visa, or maybe don't have a family support network. So being a stuck parent is really, really tough.
Mina: I can only imagine. It's very useful to have somewhere where there is more information and a lifeline to find out more about what you are or aren't allowed to do and navigate that process. It sounds like it's very, very complicated. How do you usually begin helping people when you are contacted? How does that usually work?
Roz: We ask parents to fill out a short contact form, then after that, our helpline and parent support worker gives them a free phone call to assess their needs and find out how we can help more. She will usually talk to them for about half an hour on their mobile or home phone number and find out what they need. They might need contacts with local charities to, for example, help them with finding refuge if they're experiencing domestic abuse. She can also put them in touch with expert specialist law firms worldwide, and they can basically give some pro bono support and expert legal advice. We also have help sheets, or information guides, that we can pass on. They cover subjects like The Hague Convention or relocation back home, how they get to do that legally, as well as things like how to survive as a stuck parent. We offer this signposting phone call, but we have plans for the future. We've just received funding today, actually, for a new project.
Roz: I'm really excited! In the new project, we will have peer support mentoring. Parents who have been a stuck parent, but are now on the slow road to recovery from that can then support other parents through telephone mentoring. This would be a more regular phone call to check in on them because these sorts of cases can go on for years, and they're incredibly complicated. Stuck parents can have quite complex needs with mental health issues, as well as recovering from trauma and domestic abuse. I expect this will be a really good project because it will help the volunteers get back on the road to recovery from the situation and support hundreds of other stuck parents with a regular phone call.
Mina: It sounds amazing. In terms of location, you've mentioned The Hague Convention several times. Do you cover a specific area more than others? Is it mainly Europe that you're concentrated on, or is it truly global?
Roz: We do have a lot of parents in the UK. They are from other countries, mainly Europe, but not all. There are some from Latin America, Australia and New Zealand. But any parent around the world can reach out, and we will give them a ring and provide whatever support we can.
Mina: What did you feel was the very first thing that you could grasp and say, yes, we're making a change in the landscape and lives of these people who are genuinely struggling in a highly complex situation?
Roz: I think if you don't have access to any legal support, you can make terrible decisions. I think having our law firms around the world, who work with us and give that free initial consultation, is just fantastic for the parents because they have access to correct and specialist legal advice, which they wouldn't have had before. I actually haven't mentioned this yet, but we have a peer support group on Facebook. There, stuck parents really support each other. I think that is empowering and special for those parents. Without that mutual support, I don't believe all of them would have gotten through their situation. That, coupled with just attending events and raising awareness of the issue, has made a really big difference. But there's so much work to be done, like sharing information about things like the Hague convention.
Mina: Yes, if you find yourself in that position, unless you're a lawyer or have particular expertise, you would be kind of adrift. It's probably very useful to have a touchpoint where you can say, "if I reach out to this particular organisation, they will guide me and help me." The peer support group, where you can also have more personal contact if you need it, is fantastic. If someone reading this wanted to be involved in contributing, how would you advise them to focus their efforts?
Roz: I think raising awareness is the most important thing that we need to do because then we can prevent other families from getting into this situation. If readers are on Facebook, please like the page and share the posts. That will help to raise awareness and hopefully prevent other families from being affected by this. I think that's the most powerful thing everyday people can do. Donations are always gratefully received—we're an extremely small charity, and we rely on the donations in this pool that we get from, you know, the lottery and other places. Every penny goes towards supporting stuck parents. Finally, get in contact if anybody would like to volunteer. We always have lots of things that people can do to help.
Mina: That's fantastic. If you were going to pass on one piece of advice to somebody who wanted to reach out, somebody who found themselves as a stuck parent and was trying to navigate that process, what would that be?
Roz: First, I'd hope that more people start reaching out before they become a stuck parent. The thing I would say to those people is to know before you go.
It's so important to know the law before you decide to move abroad with your family. You might choose not to move overseas with your family, or if you decide to go abroad, maybe think about making some agreement with your partner about what might happen if things go wrong overseas; if things don't work out. All those what-if's, they're essential to consider before you move.
Mina: So you're advocating for a preventative approach?
Roz: Exactly. The preventative approach is always best. But if you then do find yourself as a stuck parent, I think it's so important to get legal advice from a professional specialist. You want to go to what's called an international family lawyer. A lot of lawyers don't know about The Hague Convention, and they're not relocation specialists. So, finding a specialist is the key. If you go to your family lawyer, the one that you've always been to, they may well give you incorrect advice. People come to us all the time saying, 'my local lawyer has told me such and such,' and we have to respond, "No, it's just not correct." They can find some international family lawyers on our website, and I believe that's the most important thing they need to do. They're more than welcome to reach out to us for help and advice, and support along the way.
Mina: Thank you for all of the information and for taking the time to speak about GlobalARRK. I hope that it all goes well with the new project that you're embarking on.
Roz: Thank you.