LISTENING TO CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE IN MEDIATION
Making decisions for the family during and following separation
Separating parents are faced with very important decisions concerning their children. When parents are no longer living together in the family home, they have to decide where their children will mainly live and how they will divide their time between their parents in a way that meets everybody’s needs as far as possible. Mediators encourage parents to focus on their children’s needs and well-being and to co-operate with each other as parents, despite the ending of their couple relationship. This can be very hard for many parents.
Many children and young people say they would like to talk with someone they can trust, who is not on either side and who is not a social worker who will write a report about them. When a child is caught in a conflict of loyalty, they may tell each parent what they think that parent wants or needs to hear from them. This can be very confusing for parents, who tend to blame each other for coaching the child.
‘Child-inclusive mediation provides opportunities for children and young people to have their voices heard directly during the process of mediation, to help them feel respected and listened to and, at their request, to assist parents or carers to receive, understand and take account of the child’s messages and/or suggestions regarding decisions and arrangements for the child.’ (Family Mediation Council Code of Practice for Mediators 2018).
Parents know their children better than outsiders, but sometimes children can have divided loyalties and find it express their mixed views and feelings. They may worry that a parent’s feelings could be hurt, or be anxious about appearing to choose between their parents. At the same time, children need to know that their perspective matters and that their parents willing to listen. They often have useful ideas about things that closely concern them and want their views taken into account on the amount of time they spend with each parent, and possibly also on school or health matters, other activities, house rules or communications.
Children talking with the mediator
When, after talking it through with the mediator, both parents agree that their children should be offered this opportunity, the child or young person is invited to come and talk with the mediator about how their parents’ separation is affecting them and their family life and offer suggestions, if they wish, about arrangements that involve them. The mediator can reassure them that feeling angry or upset about their situation is understandable and can show them books and websites they may find helpful. The child or young person can put forward suggestions, messages or requests that they ask the mediator to share with their parents, for their parents to take into account in making arrangements for them.
Including children and young people in mediation shows them that they matter and that their parents are willing to understand their feelings and concerns. Children and young people are not given advice or counselling by the mediator and they are not asked for choices or decisions. The mediator only shares with parents the messages or suggestions that the child asks the mediator to give. Children say that they find it a relief to talk freely, without worrying that the mediator will tell parents everything they say.
Children are very sensitive to their parents’ feelings and very caring. They want to help without taking responsibility for decisions: making the decisions is their parents’ responsibility. Through taking part in child-inclusive mediation, children and young people can contribute in a safe and neutral place to their parents’ discussions so that arrangements will work as well as possible for the whole family.
Research studies show that the quality of the child’s or young person’s time and relationship with each parent is more important to them than the amount of time they spend with either parent.
What do children say about talking with the mediator?
‘I think I can explain it to my mum myself now, but please would you explain it too’
‘Just tell my parents that I know they’re doing their best’
‘If we stay at Dad’s on Wednesday nights we’ll be late for school on Thursday and I don’t want to miss the maths class. I’m top in maths’
‘Talking about my worries helped to take away the pain in my tummy’
‘I feel clearer about things now’
‘I’d like us all to meet as a family before next Christmas to work out what we’re doing’
‘It’s my life too’
‘I think there should be some kind of agreement between the children and the parents as to what should happen. I think the people who are involved should get to decide, not by themselves, but by helping each other to reach some kind of agreement as to what would be best’ Jake, aged 11.
If you would like to know more about how this kind of help could assist you and your children, please talk to your mediator or contact the MiD Office.
If you would like to find out more please click on to this link to find CIM Research findings