As an experienced psychotherapist, FMC family mediator and accredited Child Inclusive Mediator I am frequently contacted by family lawyers to assist in working with parents or caregivers in contentious or entrenched situations regarding disagreements concerning arrangements for children. In these situations I always suggest I meet with the children in Child Inclusive Mediation (CIM).
Child Inclusive Mediation has been encouraged in the UK since 2020 and is a powerful and effective way of hearing the voice of the child living through their caregivers’ or parents’ separation and divorce. It is an excellent system, but one which many family solicitors have yet to embrace in their practices. CIM can break through many weeks or years of impasse, child confusion and distress, and assist in avoiding all the disadvantages (to adults and children) of seeking the courts’ decision regarding arrangements for children.
Child Inclusive Mediation is a confidential meeting between a specially trained mediator and children to ascertain their wishes and feelings. Such meetings are now encouraged as a result of a Ministry of Justice initiative seeking to support and give a voice to the wishes and feelings of children caught up their parents’ or caregivers’ separation or divorce. There is a growing awareness of the child’s right to be heard as part of the recognition of children’s human rights.
The purpose of CIM is for children to be offered an opportunity to have a voice in any future arrangements parents or caregivers are making for them and to express any suggestions, feelings, concerns or wishes that they may have about these arrangements and their future lives. Any future decisions remain with their parents or caregivers. The children will not be asked to make choices or decisions.
Although the children may not want to say anything in particular, research shows there is a definite benefit in them feeling included in the separation process and knowing that their feelings can be heard and taken into account.
My CIM meetings with children are confidential subject to the usual exceptions in relation to keeping children safe from harm and in respect of any over-riding legal obligation or order of the Court. The CIM process is fully explained to parents or caregivers in advance in a Parents’ and Caregiver’s Information Meeting, and they are asked to co-sign a CIM permission form.
Following my meeting with the children, I arrange a Feedback Meeting for parents or caregivers when I feedback only the material for which the children have given me permission. It is made clear to the parents or caregivers that I will seek the children’s agreement to share with them anything that they say to me, the only exception being if my meeting with them gives rise to any concerns about safety and/or child protection issues, in which case I am obliged to refer any such matters to the relevant authority. In this event, I would normally, as far as practicable and appropriate, seek to discuss what will happen with both parents or caregivers before taking any action to contact the appropriate authority/ies in line with the Mediation Code(s) of Practice under which I work and in order to ensure the safety and protection from harm of children and vulnerable adults.
In my experience children attending the CIM are open and friendly. They very much appreciate being given a voice and having the opportunity to be involved in their arrangements. The meetings are very informal, If the meetings are face-to-face, I set out orange juice and biscuits and we have an open chat. I also put out paper and crayons, Lego and other small toys to play with depending on the ages of the children. I am flexible about age groups and whether I see siblings together or apart. This is usually guided by their parents’ views. I have also been seeing children for online meetings after ensuring that they are somewhere private and cannot be overheard.
I very much hope that more solicitors will reach out for Child Inclusive Mediation in cases where the child would profit from being given a voice.
Jacky Lewis, FMC Mediator, CIM Accredited, UKCP Psychotherapist and Clinical Supervisor
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