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Getting Child-Inclusive Family Mediation Right

Getting Child-Inclusive Family Mediation Right

If approached with the necessary precautions and respect for their views, the inclusion of a child in relevant family mediation matters can bring a highly valuable perspective to the process. What benefits do the participants stand to gain from child-inclusive mediation, and how can the child’s rights be safeguarded throughout? Mediation specialist Caroline Bowden explores the subject in depth in this article. 

What are the primary objectives of child-inclusive mediation, and how does it differ from traditional family mediation? 

Traditional child-related mediation involves the primary caregivers – normally the parents – discussing the arrangements for their child or children with the mediator as their active facilitator. I can put forward various options to the participants, but they will decide the outcomes. The discussions go wider and deeper than any court case. Judges only decide on how much time is spent by a child with their parents and perhaps some of the practical arrangements to make that happen. In mediation, parents can discuss their communication with each other and how to improve what will be a life-long relationship as co-parents, so that their children can flourish. 

Child-inclusive mediation builds on the same objective, but layers onto it the direct consultation between the mediator and the child.  

What are the potential benefits of child-inclusive mediation? 

Child-inclusive mediation will only benefit the child if they enter the process freely. They must have a genuine choice and they need their parents’ consent to be offered that choice in the first place. Some children may decline; they may feel like talking to a third-party stranger is not for them. However, just being offered the choice may be empowering. 

Other children may feel that their views have been ignored thus far and would welcome the opportunity to be heard. Perhaps they resent their parents speaking for them or feel that one parent is pressuring them into an arrangement that upsets them. Others may accept simply because they are curious!  

The benefits, if they do attend, have been set out in the mediators’ go-to textbook: ‘Family Mediation’ by Lisa Parkinson1. Lisa has done more than anyone to develop and promote the practice of child-inclusive mediation. I have summarised her key takeaways: 

 Offering a child the opportunity to talk shows respect for them as individuals and recognises their legal right to be consulted if they wish. Art.12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which the UK has been a part since 1991, states that every child has the right to express their views and wishes in all matters affecting them and to have their views considered and taken seriously. 

  A child may need reassurances that a parent has been unable to give them. This can be a two-way process, as the mediator can share the parents’ messages with the child. The mediator can reassure children that their feelings about their parents’ separation are normal and that the problems they are experiencing are not their fault. 

  Sharing messages from a child, at the child’s request, helps parents to take their needs into account and make arrangements that are more likely to work in practice.  

  The conversation with the child may dispel misunderstandings, for example, that a child does not want to see a parent, when the child does – but in a different way.  

  The process enables a child to express concerns about the family, such as the practicalities of having their parents in two different homes, or more significant risks which will need careful exploration and possibly a referral for safeguarding. 

  A child may find it easier to talk with an empathetic third party who helps them to talk freely without fear of upsetting a parent. 

  Some children want to explain their wishes to their parents themselves and some parents want to explain their decisions to their children. A mediator can host a family meeting for this mutual feedback, obviously needing to do this with great care and sensitivity.  

Read the complete article here.

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