Child Inclusive Mediation

For a start, can I stress that I find the title something of a misnomer as it perpetuates the idea which even some courts seem to have that a mediator plonks a child down in the actual mediation. It is in fact the new name for what was “direct consultation with children”. As a description of what actually happens, I feel that old name works better although I can see that the new title conveys the idea that mediation should in some sense always include children.

The Family Mediation Council code of practice now says that all children over the age of 10 should be given the opportunity to be heard. That means that, with parental consent and the agreement of the child him or herself, that child gets to talk direct to a CIM trained mediator. That conversation, except for the usual exceptions such as over protection issues, is confidential between the mediator and the child save for anything the child agrees can be fed back to the parents. In my experience there is generally feedback although that often  represents only a small part of what I’ve actually discussed with a child. It’s also my experience that children are very respectful of the process, get what it’s about and welcome the opportunity to talk to a neutral third party. You can take it therefore that I think the process is an excellent one which should be used more widely.

All that being said, none of this gets around the reluctance that many parents feel at the notion of their child talking to a mediator although I have sensed a greater willingness to consider the idea now it’s prefaced by it’s being a requirement that the mediator talks to them about CIM.

The reality is that many trained mediators struggle with the idea that they must always raise the CIM issue, even when it’s clear there are no child arrangement issues between the parents. The greater reality is that couples are often both paying for mediation, perhaps also for lawyers and that the cost of a mediator meeting with their children simply means the idea won’t come to fruition even when both parents are on board.

Whether the new code requirement will effect a shift in CIM take up is therefore to be seen. I can’t believe that it will in practice. I guess it lends more force to a mediator in those cases where parents are very entrenched and I would anyway always say that I can’t take things forward unless I speak to the children.

If all else fails, there is a way of introducing children’s voices into mediation even when the actual children at issue aren’t going to be involved. Just hand parents the Family Justice Young People’s Board excellent Top Tips for parents who are separated which can be downloaded from the Cafcass website. I can tell from my clients’ reactions that there are some powerful and thought challenging ideas in the list.

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