Child Inclusive Mediation - taking a child-centred approach
Family law practitioners have long extolled the benefits of traditional mediation for parents facing difficult decisions or disputes. The process allows parents to work together – supported by a family mediator – to find solutions in a safe environment, often saving costs and preventing damage to relationships.
In traditional mediation, the process usually takes place without direct input from children. However, some family mediators in Scotland are now certified to offer Child-inclusive mediation (CIM). CIM is a specialised type of family mediation whereby children and young people are given the opportunity to take part in the mediation process, allowing them to express their views, thoughts and feelings about issues affecting them to a trained mediator. It enables children to have their voices heard, in a safe and confidential environment.
Central to the practise of CIM is that children and young people participate voluntarily, with the consent and support of both parents. All conversations between the children and young people are confidential, other than in specific excepted scenarios, including where there are safeguarding, or child protection concerns or where there is clear consent from children to provide specific messages to their parents. It is also central to the process that decision-making always remains with the parents, and this is communicated clearly to the child or young person at the outset of the process.
CIM will always begin with preparatory work with parents. Not all cases will be suitable for CIM and the CIM-certified mediator must assess situations carefully and establish what the parents hope to achieve by involving their children in the process. Parents must understand that CIM is a way to explore what children are thinking and feeling and not about having children make decisions. It is also fundamental to the process that parents accept and support that the child will be offered confidentiality in the process. Children should only be invited to speak with a mediator when a case is assessed as suitable, and parents are sufficiently prepared. The mediator should ensure that the child understands the voluntary nature of their involvement in the process and that he/she has control over what information is provided to his/her parents. The mediator will carefully identify with the child what information, if any, he/she wishes fed back. Feedback sessions can often be stressful and emotional for parents. The mediator will help and support the parents to explore how they can positively use the feedback in progressing with their mediation process.
There are many benefits to CIM for families, but especially for children. The way children are perceived by society and the way children participate in society, has changed dramatically over the years and children are now often actively involved in their family, contributing to the weekly food menu, the weekend activities, where they go on holiday and what they wear. No longer are children seen and not heard. Research into children of separated families has shown that the most commonly reported complaint post-separation for children was that they were given inadequate information and were not spoken to directly about their feelings. This led to them considering that their feelings were being ignored or were unimportant. The most important benefit of CIM is the opportunity for children to be involved in a process which is about them and to be heard and listened to. This often leads to children feeling valued by both parents and can improve communication for the future.
While the children’s participation is the focus here, there can be plenty of other benefits to involving children in mediation. Children can often provide some enlightenment to sticking points in their parents’ dispute, something perhaps not considered or thought of by their parents. Sometimes CIM will allow for clarification from children about something they have previously said to their parents, which otherwise may be picked up incorrectly. For example, it is not uncommon at all for a child to say something different to each of their parents: children struggle with loyalty conflicts and are “people pleasers” by nature. The most obvious example is a child who tells mum he/she wants to spend more time with mum and tells dad he/she wants to spend more time with dad. Parents often find it hard to accept that their child is saying something different to the other parent, which creates a conflict between the parents as they each believe one of them must be lying. Allowing a child to be involved in the mediation process could allow this type of conflict to be straightened out rather quickly.
At Harper Macleod, we have a team of five accredited family law mediators, Amanda Masson, Jenny Smith, Karen Gibbons, Linda Walker and Jane Blackwood. Two of our team, Karen Gibbons and Linda Walker, are certified in CIM. Our team are passionate about mediation and the benefits of this process to resolving family law disputes in a better way. We can discuss the process in more detail with you if you wish to know more so please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
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