In the summer of last year the Government commissioned an external dispute resolution advisory group to look into the issue of involving children in out of court dispute resolution processes, including family mediation. The project was entitled "voice of the children". The final report was published this month by the advisory group and yesterday The Right Hon Simon Hughes wrote a letter to family dispute resolution professionals setting out the Governments response to the final report.
The report which runs to 95 pages publishes 34 recommendations for child inclusive practice, the majority of which have been endorsed in the government's response.
What does this mean?
The main principle which is being endorsed and promoted is that all children and young people aged 10 and above should be offered the opportunity to have their voices heard during dispute resolution processes, including family mediation, if they wish.
How can this take place within the process of family mediation?
Specially trained and accredited family mediators who have trained and obtained the additional qualification as Direct Child Consultants can speak to children as part of the mediation process. The benefit this can bring can be powerful and not only enable the child to feel part of the process and to have a voice but also the mediator can assist by feeding back, with the consent of the child involved, what they really think and feel and this may be the first time the parents actually hear from an impartial third person their child's voice. It is and has been a tool for a number of years used by specialist family mediators.
It is good news that the Government have now formally endorsed and recommended this as a process which should be given recognition and used more widely. The report and the Government's response goes into detail about when and how children should be involved and the difference in approaches for children who are assessed to be "Gillick" competent and not. The report goes as far to state that for children who are assessed to be so, they should have the opportunity for their voices to be heard irrespective of parental consent. How this would work in practice within the mediation session which is a voluntary process and operates upon the willingness of both parties to engage in the process, is an interesting one and one which will undoubtedly be a subject of further debate.
The proposals are however to be welcomed as further commitment of bringing children to the centre of a process which is in essence all about them.
Sally Clark is a qualified Direct Child Consultant and an experienced accredited family mediator. For further information about child consultation and how that may assist you if you are looking at engaging in the family mediation process contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org or 0113 357 1315.