First the coalition government, lots of children’s/young people’s groups and now the proposed new Family Mediation Council code of practice for child inclusive mediation believe that children over 10 should be able to talk to a neutral person when their parents are splitting up. I entirely agree with them all. However when I looked at the proposed new code to see whether I was inspired to contribute to the consultation, I felt no uprush of enthusiasm at the proposed requirement that all clients with children over 10 are to be told about the opportunity of a mediator talking to their children.
I think it’s right that there is that requirement but I can’t see it making the slightest impact on the tiny number of cases where children actually do get to speak to a mediator. I know all too well from my own experience that most parents are very resistant to the idea. For some it is above all cost. There are many people who struggle to pay the costs of mediation involving just the adults. They certainly can’t then afford to add an extra layer of cost even if they think it’s a good idea. We live in a world where people are generally struggling financially, let alone the additional burdens when you are going through a divorce. Mediators reasonably expect to be paid for their work including meeting and talking to children. We run businesses, not charities.
Even where cost isn’t a fundamental stumbling block, most parents resist the very idea of a stranger talking to their children. Even if one of them embraces the concept with enthusiasm, the other generally doesn’t. This isn’t just down to how you explain the idea to them. You can extol the virtues till you are blue in the face. Parents are fairly resolutely wedded to the idea that their children speak to them and through them. They usually remain unshaken in that view even when each parent has an entirely different version of their child’s voice. Is it the same child? Or, rather, doesn’t hat highlight why that child needs his or her own neutral outlet?
In some cases, particularly with older children, I make my speaking to the children involved a requirement but that can I think ethically only be done in those cases where it is absolutely essential in the mediator’s opinion.
So, yes, I will tell all potential client parents of the possibility. I won’t bet anything though on it meaning that I start seeing many more children. Now, if I got to ask them in the first place, that might be a whole different story!