When making the best decisions for children and young people, it can be enormously helpful for them to have the opportunity to express their wishes and feelings directly to the mediator. Family mediators have a positive obligation, under our code of practice, to help clients to consider children's wishes and feelings. Arranging for a child/ children to meet with the mediator can be an effective and helpful means of facilitating this.
Robert Emery describes mediators as:
"The professional who get in the middle to get kids out of the middle... so that divorced parents can simply be parents and children of divorce can simply be kids.. using the middle role of the mediator to understand the child's position."
Clearly children and young people need to be heard without fear of repercussions. In mediation, therefore, children are not asked to make difficult decisions and their discussions with the mediator are treated as confidential. The goal is to enable children and young people to have helpful and supportive conversations. Children are only consulted directly following full discussion with both parents and with their written agreement.
An NSPCC survey (2007) of children in private law cases found that they frequently felt dis-empowered but that having a say made a difference to this outcome.
A survey by CAFCASS (2011) found that where children and young people were not happy with the outcome of their parents' separation it was mainly because they felt they had little input into the process or their views were not taken into account.
'Don't keep us in the dark' - children want:
1. To be told what is happening
2. To be given clear, age-appropriate information
3. To have a voice
4. To be listened to and heard
The connecting thread across research with children and young people (aged 8-18) is that they want opportunities to be heard; 'it's my life too'. They feel powerless in times of family change. They find themselves with arrangements which they are forced to accept. They feel marginalised, frustrated, angry, alienated and confused and often mistrust adults.
Your children's perspectives may well be different to your own but it is worth considering it. Children can often provide creative solutions to disputes about how much time they might spend with each of you. Obviously this is a sensitive area and there always has to be careful discussion between the mediator and both parents before involving children in mediation. It may not always be appropriate, particularly where there is very entrenched, high conflict cases.
'Parenting Apart - How Separated and divorced parents Can Raise Happy and Secure Kids' by Christina McGhee. Published by Vermillion. Highly recommended!
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