News Meeting Children as part of the Mediation Process / Child Inclusive Mediation

News Meeting Children as part of the Mediation Process / Child Inclusive Mediation

Below is a press release from the Family Mediators Association/FMA on the subject of meeting with children as part of the mediation process. the FMA press release is in response to a recent change in government policy.

I myself, am a member of the FMA and served for a short spell on their board of governors. I also a mediator who is trained to meet with children as part of the mediation process. The training that I undertook to be able to do this was through the family solicitors organisation Resolution, but was led by Lisa Parkinson, who was one of the founders of the FMA and who is a very well-known and respected mediator.

As a solicitor, I have been a member of the Law Society Children Panel or Law Society Child Law Panel, as it is more correctly known these days, since 1996. This means that I have represented both children and parents in complex court cases brought by social services and involving every permutation of child safety issue that you could possibly think of, over a very long period. I am also accredited by resolution as an expert on domestic abuse.

I agree with the idea that where appropriate it should be possible for the voices of older children to be sought as part of the mediation process between their parents. In fact legal aid already makes provision for this to be able to happen. I do meet with children, but not very often. Generally this is something that I try to avoid. I do not agree that child consultation with children as part of the mediation process should take place as a matter of course. Mediation is about adults/parents making informed and sensible decisions together. Involving children, can raise their expectations and can also involve them unnecessarily in parental dispute. In my experience what children most often say is that they want their parents to sort things out and to stop bickering, so that they (the children), know where they stand.

In my opinion meeting with children by the mediator, whilst a valuable option is something that should only happen occasionally.

I also worry about the child protection side of things. Mediators come from all different backgrounds. Many are not lawyers, and few will have had the experience of child protection/child safety/child abuse and domestic violence/domestic abuse that I have had over the years.

I can recall an occasion when I attended a course which was run for experienced mediators who were the supervisors of other mediators. A segment of the course was looking at when a mediator should make a report of possible abuse to a safeguarding agency. I recall being shocked by the lack of awareness of safety issues ( in my view) of some of those present.

In my view, the government would be better served prioritising better funding mediation more generally, in order to make it more accessible than it currently years.

The mediation organisations are all involved in a process through the Family Mediation Council, where they are working together to enhance mediation practice and standards and in my view this process should be allowed to run its course before these additional pressures/risks are placed upon the profession of mediators.

Here is the press release:

FMA NEWS RELEASE

25 July 2014

NEW GOVERNMENT POLICY ON CHILD-INCLUSIVE MEDIATIONS MUST BE MANAGED PROPERLY TO MAKE SURE CHILDREN ARE KEPT SAFE, SAYS FMA

In response to Minister for Justice Simon Hughes’ announcement that all children aged 10 and over whose parents are separating should have access to mediators, Family Mediators Association (FMA) chair Beverley Sayers says:
 
“We look forward to opening a dialogue with Simon Hughes and government in this vitally important area of family justice. In our experience, child inclusive mediation can be extremely beneficial, both for the separating parents and their children, provided the following important conditions are met:
Beverley Sayers, who co-authored ‘Enhancing the participation of children and young people in family proceedings’ in 2010, adds: “The FMA has been encouraging government to involve children in the family justice system for many years. Research shows that parents are often reluctant to keep children fully informed about separation and divorce, or to consult them about future arrangements.  Often this is because of parents’ understandable desire to protect their children, but in fact it can leave the children feeling isolated and bewildered at a time of crisis.
 
“Involving children in the mediation process can help provide clarity and resolve confusion for the whole family, as well as providing reassurance and reducing the anxiety and burden children may be feeling. It acknowledges their importance to their parents, and also lets children know that their concerns are being taken seriously.  Our members often find that children want to be heard and very often contribute good ideas and important information that can help parents plan the family’s future more effectively.  Involving children in the process can help ensure future arrangements work more smoothly, for everyone.
 
“It can also influence the decisions parents make by clarifying the issues and helping them refocus on their children and their future; reducing the need for court proceedings and encouraging better communication.
 
“Research suggests that is not always appropriate to consult with children – for example where there may be child protection issues, where parents are too much in conflict, or where the child has seen a great many professionals already – and we would like to hear more from the government about how they propose to manage these more difficult cases – but in many cases consulting directly with children can be incredibly beneficial.”
 
The Family Mediators Association represents over 400 family mediators in the UK; 40% of FMA members are specially trained and authorised to consult directly with children.
 
-ENDS-
 
To speak to Beverley Sayers, or other FMA members with experience of seeing children separately within the mediation process, contact Karen Tinkler or Anneliese Marshall at The Partners Group on 01904 610077 or email karen@partners-group.co.uk.
 
Notes to editors:
 
About the Family Mediators Association (FMA)
 
The Family Mediators Association is a membership organisation for family mediators. Formed in 1988 from a pioneering pilot project, ‘Solicitors in Mediation’, it currently represents almost 400 trained family mediators in England and Wales. Its members are professional family mediators trained to a high standard from a wide range of different backgrounds, including family counsellors, lawyers, financial specialists and experts in child development.
 
The FMA is a member of the Family Mediation Council, and exists to provide sensitive and professional assistance to families in dispute; to raise the profile of mediation as an alternative to litigation; to shape the future of mediation by actively engaging in the policy making process; and to maintain and develop professional standards within mediation. www.thefma.co.uk
 
About family mediation
 
Family mediation is a process that enables separating couples to negotiate face-to-face about the arrangements for their future with the help of a qualified, skilled and experienced third party.
 
Family mediation is confidential, voluntary and impartial. All of the decisions made during family mediation are made by the couple themselves. It provides families with a structured and safe way of resolving their differences at their own pace, with guidance from a trained professional and encourages them to focus on the needs of children and to take into account everything that individual family members believe to be important.
 
Family mediation can be used effectively by separating couples and families of all types, including cohabiting or same-sex couples.
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