By Catherine Green, Executive Director FDR Centre
Since early 2015, the FDR Centre has been offering child inclusive FDR Mediation, where children have the opportunity to share their views with a Child Inclusion Specialist, who attends the mediation in the children’s shoes.
This process – also known as Voice of the Child – was developed to allow children to talk about what is happening to/in their family, to hear their perspectives, and to provide parents with feedback as to how their children are coping with their separation to help the parents make better decisions that are in their children’s best interests.
The FDR Centre’s Voice of the Child process also recognises the rights of children, enshrined in Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989:
1. States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.
2. For this purpose, the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a representative or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law.
In line with this internationally recognised mandate, the FDR Centre recognises the importance of promoting a child focussed, child inclusive mediation practice to ensure that children’s and young people’s voices are heard as an accepted part of the FDR Mediation process, if the child wishes to be included.
While there are other strategies that mediators can employ to meet their responsibilities under the legislation, the use of an independent professional ensures that the mediator’s role is not blurred or compromised, and that the children genuinely feel they are heard and listened to in the process. This can be crucial to empowering those children within their family and to better enable all members of the family to communicate effectively, building stronger relationships among all family members. After all, the parents of the children are not the only stakeholders affected by relationship breakups and conflict arising from care and custody issues; children and their interests should always remain paramount.
Why is it so important?
There is a general consensus that decisions affecting children should be made with a focus on those children’s best interests. But how can this be effected in practice?
Qualitative research undertaken in New Zealand resulted in consistently positive results, with respondents indicating that “conflict was lowered and conciliation greatly enhanced” when child inclusive mediation was engaged. The results also reported that children involved in a child inclusive process “were more relaxed and had adapted significantly better to the situation after having been given the opportunity to have a ‘voice’ and having been listened to by their parents.” 
Studies also show that children place importance on having their voices heard as care and contact issues affect the entire family group and not just the “decision-maker” parents. 
Where children are consulted and empowered in the process in a meaningful and safe way, this can only have a positive impact on the overall intra-family relationships, communication, and levels of conflict.
How does the FDR Centre’s Voice of the Child process work in practice?
The child inclusive mediation process involves the appointment of a professional who is specifically trained and experienced in child inclusive practice (Child Inclusion Specialist). That specialist works with the children on their own, allowing the children to tell their story in their own way during the FDR Mediation.
Whilst the process is infinitely flexible to best meet the needs of the particular case, in most cases child inclusive FDR Mediation involves the Child Inclusion Specialist:
- meeting with both parents and with the child separately;
- providing feedback to the parents;
- attending the FDR Mediation to speak on behalf of the child; and
- providing feedback to the child after the FDR Mediation on the outcomes agreed by the parents to ensure the child understands the agreements reached in the mediation and to offer support.
Before proceeding to engage in the Voice of the Child process, both parents are asked to give their written consent and the process will not proceed without that consent. In our experience, most parents are keen to engage in the process and to make use of the skill and experience of our child inclusion specialists to create better and more enduring solutions for their families.
The point is perhaps made best by a 17 year old Youth Force Member from the Bronx, New York who is quoted as saying:
“If you had a problem in the Black community, and you brought in a group of White people to discuss how to solve it, almost nobody would take that panel seriously. In fact, there’d probably be a public outcry. It would be the same for women’s issues or gay issues. But every day, in local arenas all the way to the White House, adults sit around and decide what problems youth have and what youth need, without ever consulting us.”Jason, 17, Youth Force Member, Bronx, NY
It is insufficient to give lip service to the rights of the child which we as a society advocate strenuously for. We must rather look to ensure that in practice we adopt and support processes which give real world recognition to such rights. The Voice of the Child process is a good place to start.
 Jill Goldson “Hello, I’m a Voice, Let Me Talk: Child-inclusive Mediation in Family Separation ” (Innovative Practice Report No. 1/06, Wellington: Families Commission, 2006).
 The Voice of the Child in Parenting Coordination: Views of Children, Parents, and Parenting Coordinators” in Journal of Divorce & Remarriage (2018) 59 (6), 501-527.“
 UNICEF and Save the Children “Every Child’s Right to be heard: a resource guide on the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child general comment no.12” (London, 2011) at 5.
Children have a legal right to be heard in the decision-making process of matters that will substantially affect their lives.
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