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Dr Shelagh Wright - Systemic and Family Psychotherapist and Family Mediator

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DIRECT CONSULTATION WITH CHILDREN IN THE MEDIATION PROCESS OR CHILD FOCUSSED MEDIATION

Direct consultation with children involves a family mediator who is trained as a child consultant talking with a child or children as a part of a mediation in which arrangements are being made for children. The government has suggested that children aged 10 and above should generally have access to a mediator when questions about their future are being resolved in mediation.

Parents sometimes suggest that the child or children are involved in the mediation process. Sometimes the child makes the suggestion. It is important that parents understand the views, needs and desires of their children and involving them in the mediation process may be a good way to do this. Children like to be informed and they appreciate having their views and options heard, although they need to understand that they are not responsible for the overall decision.

Involving children in mediation can be very complex and a great deal of preparation is needed before a mediator will speak to a child. Different considerations apply depending on the age and maturity of the child. The child and both the parents have to agree to the consultation. It is the mediator's decision whether child consultation is appropriate.

Many of FMA's members offer direct consultation with children. These mediators have attended specialist courses to equip them with the necessary skills to consider whether direct consultation with a child is appropriate and to carry out that consultation if it is.

Direct consultation with a child means the child talking face to face with the mediator separately on the basis that what they say is completely confidential from anyone else including their parents. Very often the child does have something that they want the mediator to tell their parents, and that they would like the parents to take into consideration when making their decision. Strictly with the child's permission, the mediator will then bring the child's voice into the mediation.

The child can either meet with the mediator who is already working with the parents or, with a different mediator. Consultations with a child usually last approximately 45 minutes. Siblings will be seen separately or together depending on what the children themselves prefer.

Research consistently shows that, when parents use mediation to try to resolve their difficulties, there are definite positive outcomes for children when children are directly consulted within the mediation. Most children appreciate the opportunity to be heard directly.

Parents are assured that:

When are children involved?

Children can be invited to meet with the mediator

The stage that parents are at in negotiating their future arrangements is likely to be a key factor in deciding when to involve children. With highly conflicted couples, or couples at very different stages in accepting the end of the marriage, early consultation with children is unlikely. The mediator's discussion with the parents about the purpose and process of involving children will guide decisions on timing.

Confidentiality

Children and parents are told that this can be an opportunity for children to talk privately with the mediator. Parents will only be told what children wish them to hear (with the important exception to confidentiality in relation to risk of harm).

Practicalities

The lower age limit for children being involved depends on their parents' view of their capacity to use and understand the opportunity, but age 5 is a reasonable guideline.

The mediator working with the couple may meet with the children alone, or may involve a co-worker. Arrangements for when the children come; who brings them; where people wait; how feedback will be communicated to parents; etc. will all be addressed with parents as part of the preparation process Children are invited to attend but may choose not to.

This is a limited exercise, it may help children and parents. It will not solve problems, but may assist communication at a difficult time.

Mediators are trained specifically to include children in this way and a major element of the core training focuses on bringing the children in to the process to ensure their needs are considered as paramount.

You can use family mediation to ensure your children's voices are heard. Once you have entered into mediation and the mediator feels it is appropriate to consult the children, the mediator can arrange to meet them. They will be offered a confidential session and told that the mediator does not report everything back to the parents unless the child agrees to this. This allows children to get things off their chest, ask questions they might not otherwise feel okay about asking and generally be reassured that things will get better. Children can say no to meeting the mediator and no pressure should be placed upon them to do so. Once the child has agreed to feeding certain information back to their parents, the mediator will meet up with parents and incorporate this into the mediation, enabling the children's views to be taken into account before final decisions are made.

There are several websites with material designed to help children understand more about their feelings when parents separate – here are some that you might find useful.

Family Mediation Audio