Often described in mediation as ‘finding the child’s voice in the absence of the child’, in Family Dispute Resolution (FDR), child informed mediation is a specific type of mediation informed by the input of the child or children involved, through working with a specialist child consultant.
Child informed FDR involves the input of the child in mediation. While not physically present during the mediation, the child’s experience of the separation and relationship with each party is raised by the child consultant, who is present in the mediation. A professional and highly skilled expert with extensive experience working with children, a child consultant will meet with the child or children (individually) in a neutral, safe space with a focus on understanding the emotional and developmental needs of the child and what support they may require during and after separation.
It’s important to reiterate that children do not attend the mediation in person but are represented by the child consultant. They are not asked specific questions such as who they want to live with, and they are not asked to make decisions. In circumstances where there are safety issues, or existing therapeutic consultation, child informed mediation may not be appropriate.
What does a child consultant bring to child informed mediation?
According to globally renown Australian pioneer in the field, Professor Jennifer McIntosh, many parents see child informed mediation as ‘a detox for their co-parenting relationship’, insomuch that it explores the toll the ongoing conflict is having on the child or children. The process of child informed (also known as child inclusive) mediation enables parents to form a very clear focus on their children during the FDR mediation process. Child informed consultants are skilled at engaging in developmental consultation with children and teenagers and engage in feedback conversations with parents as part of the mediation process. Their goal is to assist parents create a co -parenting relationship better focused on the needs of their child. Particularly in situations of very high conflict, the child consultant expressing the perspective of the child in a way that is sensitive and respectful to parents, helps them refocus on becoming the best parents they can be to meet the needs of their kids, despite their challenging circumstances.
In what type of family separation mediations would child informed mediation be appropriate?
Child informed family mediation can be appropriate for children aged five and over – as children younger than five may not be able to participate in the session with the child consultant in a meaningful way. Both parents must consent to this form of mediation and be genuinely interested and concerned in having insight into their child’s experience of the separation. While children will be free to seek confidentiality with the child consultant about some things they wish to discuss and not have those things raised in the mediation, parents must be genuinely committed to listen to the child consultant and hear and act on the child’s needs. And most importantly, parents must also enable the child’s voice to be heard without the fear of retribution or further interrogation.
What happens in the session with the child? (The child’s session)
The primary purpose of the child’s session is to ensure the child is being heard and understood. Some children feel relieved they can talk to a neutral party about their feelings, while other children are better able to process their experience of the separation by talking about it. Importantly, the child has an opportunity to safely tell their story of what it’s like for them to be the kid when the parents are going through separation and conflict is high. From the child consultant’s perspective, the session enables them to assess the effect of the separation and conflict around it, is having on the child and evaluate the needs of the child using specific tools and strategies centred around the different developmental phases of children going through separation.
Sometimes the child will want to tell their parents something – or send a message to both their parents – and will do that through the child consultant, however, it is not a forensic process to find out what the children want. It’s about understanding where the children are at in the separation process and discovering their immediate and future needs. Most children leave the session feeling heard and validated.
What happens in the feedback session with the parents?
The feedback session during mediation (in the presence of both parents and the mediator) presents a critical opportunity to remodel parents’ behaviour including attitudes about themselves and each other. This can lead to a reconsideration of the mediation agenda and goals based on a deeper understanding of the impact the conflict is having on their child. Skilled child consultants present feedback in a sensitive and compassionate context that both parents can understand, with the goal of helping each parent create a base for parenting that meets the needs of the child within the reality and practicalities of theirs and the child’s circumstances. The child consultant will present their information to both parties in a way that captures the essence of the child, with a lens on how the child is coping. Constructive discussion will focus on how the parents can better help the child in the present and future. It’s also important to note the child consultant will have separate, confidential intake sessions with each parent, prior to the session with the child.
What are some of the things discussed with parents in child informed mediation?
The child consultant will present the negative impacts of the conflict on the child as well as developmental forecasting, which details the child’s coping skills, social development, future relationship patterns and phycological wellbeing if the current conflict is ongoing. Much of the discussion focuses on the co-parenting relationship, and the importance of working together to meet the immediate and future needs of the children.
Child informed mediation gives validation to what the kids are thinking
Children often don’t understand why they aren’t listened to during the separation process. Child informed mediation enables children to be seen and heard. Through the opportunity to be understood, kids get a chance to unbottle feelings they have been internalising or acting out. Once parents get a deeper understanding of the impact their conflict is having on the child, they turn their inward focus outward to find common ground, focusing on the wellbeing of the child. This also enables better informed co-parenting decisions to take place, aimed at improving the relationship and addressing feelings of vulnerability their children may carry because of conflict around separation.
While not the appropriate fit for all children involved in the family separation, child informed mediation can shine a spotlight on what’s most important during and after separation process, and into a future focused co-parenting relationship. Kids have a voice in all this, and they need it to be heard.
To help you prepare for mediation, we have created a library of helpful information including checklists, tips and added detail around the process of mediation. For useful and relevant information you can download for free, we encourage you to visit our resources page.
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