Giving your child a voice in the mediation process
As a family mediator, our role is to facilitate discussions between parents concerning arrangements for their children. Our focus is on helping parents make decisions about their family’s future following their separation. Whilst it is accepted that it is the parents’ responsibility to make decisions in respect of their children, it is becoming increasingly recognised that children should have a voice about the upcoming changes in their lives. This is known as Child Inclusive Mediation (CIM).
The focus on children
There are common fears that often both parents and children face upon separation. At this point there are a lot of unknowns as to the future and often a child gets caught in the crossfire. Mediation is an aid for parents to assist them at that difficult and confusing time and re-direct their focus on the children. This can be achieved by:
- Reinforcing the parenting relationship which remains the basis for plans being made
- Keeping the parents centred on the children’s needs and feelings
- Helping put arrangements in place as soon as possible to enable the children to spend time with both parents without delay
- Encouraging parents not to allow conflict between them to involve the children
Being Responsible Parents Remains a Joint Task Even Though You Live Apart!
Some of the most important points research shows that children appreciate are:
- Being kept informed by both parents about what is happening
- Being reassured that it is “not their fault” that mum/dad has left the home
- Being treated as an individual – not being under the umbrella of “the children”
- Being able to talk on the phone in private to both parents when they wish
- Not having to make too many changes all at once
- Not having to choose between their parents
- Having someone to talk to outside of their immediate family
What is Child Inclusive Mediation (CIM)?
CIM is an opportunity for children to have their voice heard through the process of mediation. This opportunity helps them feel listened to, valued and respected. This is the opportunity to get their thoughts and feelings heard and assist their parents understand them and take their opinions into consideration before finalising arrangements.
“All children and young people aged 10 and above should be offered the opportunity to have their voices heard directly during the Mediation, if they wish.” (FMC Code of Practice, s. 5.7.2).
Direct child consultation gives the chance for the child to talk to an independent person without having to filter their response as they would to each parent because they don’t want to upset them.
The process is highly confidential and informal. No pressure is put on the child and whatever is discussed in direct child consultation can only be discussed with the parents with the child’s permission giving them the extra security that without their consent their parents will not be fed back anything they have discussed in the room. The child is not asked to make a decision. The sole purpose of CIM is to provide the child with a safe environment to air their worries, concerns, feelings and thoughts they might have on the proposals their parents are making.
Before the process of CIM is started, the express consent of both parents is needed. Once the permission is sought, a specialised accredited mediator will write to the child(ren) offering them the chance to meet and take part in the process. The process and purpose of CIM will be explained to the child allowing them the freedom to choose whether they wish to take part.
An example of a letter to a child inviting them to CIM:
My name is Laura. I am a family mediator and my job is to help families talk about important decisions when parents live in different homes. I am currently helping your mum and dad make decisions which they believe are best for you and your sister Shona.
Your mum and dad have asked me to write to you becuase they would like you to have the choice to speak to me as well, if that is something you would like to do. I am here to listen to how you feel about the time you spend with your mum and your dad and any ideas you have for the future. We would then agree together what of the things you have told me, you would like me to tell your mum and dad. Anything you don’t want me to share with your mum and dad I won’t, as long as I don’t feel you are being hurt.
If you would like to come and talk to me, please let your mum know and she will arrange a day and time for us to meet.
I am really looking forward to meeting you.
The keys messages for a child who may be considering child inclusive mediation are:
- A meeting can be arranged for you
- You can ask your mum and dad about it
- Sometimes you just want to talk – it is your chance to talk in confidence about what you think
- Sometimes you want your parents to know what you think – sometimes you don’t
- You decide with the mediator what you want to say to your parents and what, if anything you want the mediator to say to them
- Your parents will still make the decisions