Published on January 3, 2023

When you separate there may be so many things to think about that it can feel very overwhelming. As a parent, it is not unusual to be worried or concerned about how your children may be coping. Parents never want to cause their children hurt or upset and you may be concerned about how best to help them. Your family life will go on, but it will be arranged differently – sorting out how it is going to work best for you all is something that you can discuss together and arrange in mediation. So how does child mediation work?

Your mediator will be concerned to get a sense of each of your children, what you think is important in any decisions you will make for them and to talk with you about what you think is important for each of the children.

Who undertakes child mediation?

Mediators are trained and qualified to help you focus on how to help your children through the changes that are happening and to plan for the future. Your mediator will be concerned to get a sense of each of your children, what you think is important in any decisions you will make for them and to talk with you about what you think is important for each of the children. Depending on their age and understanding, each of your children will have different needs and your mediator will help you to think through what those needs and priorities might be.

Mediators understand that it can often be difficult for you to be sure of your children’s views or perspectives and that you may be worried about what you should say to them, how you can best talk with them and what they need to know about what has been happening and will happen in the future, especially before you have had the chance to think through the practical things to be sorted out.

Your mediator can help you to talk together about what is helpful for children, go through some of the things that can be damaging for children and discuss how best to start laying foundations to ensure your children’s future security and well-being. Children often have questions to ask but can feel uncomfortable or be concerned about asking you, especially if they are aware that you are upset. So planning together how best to talk with them, to provide simple explanations and to encourage your children to ask any questions can be a very good way to help your children.

Child mediation. Talking directly with children

If you are concerned that your child or children may need additional help or support, your mediator can also help you think about who may be best to contact. An increasing number of mediators are trained and qualified to talk directly with children and young people whose parents have chosen to mediate. Sometimes this can be a helpful way for parents to get a sense of how their children view things and what is important to them for their parents to know.

If you think this might be helpful for your children, there are some things that are important to know and understand. First of all, both parents (and anyone who has parental responsibility for each child) must agree that their child or children can be offered an opportunity to meet with a mediator. Usually, mediators invite children who are 10 or over and it is the child’s choice as to whether they decide to come and talk with them. Some mediators prefer to arrange for a colleague co-mediator to invite and to talk with children. Where this is the case, your mediator will explain how they arrange this, including a meeting with you and their colleague to discuss and agree arrangements.

Parents

As their parents, you will be asked to sign an agreement about the arrangements for your child to be invited and to talk with a mediator. The agreement will ask you to consent to the practical arrangements and understand that in the same way as your meetings with your mediator are confidential, so would any meeting a mediator has with your child. Children can choose what, if any, information or messages they would like you to receive.

It is important that you also agree together that you won’t try to influence what your child says or try to find out from them what they have said to the mediator in their meeting, and very importantly that you accept that any view and is respected. Any mediator who talks with children will explain all of these arrangements carefully to them in a way that they can understand and will check that they have fully understood things. Mediators also have a responsibility to ensure that a child knows that if they tell the mediator about any harm that has happened to them or the mediator has a concern about harm being caused to them that they would need to speak to a professional whose role it is to protect children and families from harm.

They will also explain that their parents are talking together with the help of their mediator to try and decide what is going to work best for everyone in the future and have agreed together that it would be helpful for them to know what is important for their children, whether there are things that their children would really like them to know and understand and what the children think might be working well, or is or would be difficult for them in their everyday life.

Hearing your child

Your mediator will also talk with you at some length so that you can consider all of the things that are important about hearing what your child might choose to share, the effect that might have on you and how best to talk with your children afterwards, especially once you have reached some decisions together about the future.

It is unlikely to be helpful for your children to be offered the opportunity to talk with a mediator if there is a lot of conflict between you, especially if you have very fixed ideas about It is unlikely to be helpful for your children to be offered the opportunity to talk with a mediator if there is a lot of conflict between you, especially if you have very fixed ideas about who you children should live with. A child is not coming to talk with a mediator to be asked who they want to live with, to give an opinion on either of their parents or to feel that they are being asked to make decisions. If your child is already being helped or supported by another professional, or if they already have been seen by a Cafcass officer, your mediator will want to discuss whether it is appropriate for them to be invited to talk to a mediator.

Is child inclusive mediation appropriate?

Your mediator will want to make sure that if your child is going to talk with a mediator, it will be helpful and reassuring for them and not make things worse or cause confusion or inappropriate upset for your children or for you. It may also be the case that having talked with you about your child or children and the situation for you all, there may be other reasons why your mediator might feel mediation is inappropriate. If this is the case, the mediator will discuss with you the range of ways in which you might get a sense of what is important for your child/ren.

It is also important to know that mediators are not child counsellors or therapists and they do not and cannot provide any kind of report about their meeting with a child – just as in any mediation with parents, discussions are confidential. Their role in talking with children is to provide the child with a private space to talk about what is important to them, what they would like their parents to know and understand and to answer any general questions they may have about what is happening for their family.

Angela Lake Carroll contributed to ‘Separating With Children 101′, 3rd edition, (Bath Publishing 2023).

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The Impact On Children

It is so easy to be told that you need to put your children first when we are separating, but what does it actually mean? When your life is turmoil and emotions are running high this can feel daunting when there are so many things to think about. If you have a child with someone, then regardless of whatever you think of them or whatever they might have done, they will still have an important role to play in the life of your child. Exceptions to this are rare. Possessive language that excludes or minimises the role of the other parent can negatively impact the relationship between that parent and the child and can increase conflict and make it more difficult to co-parent. We know that conflict and/or parental absence in particular has a negative impact on children.

Parents need to create the right conditions for children to thrive.

For children, whilst separation will bring inevitable feelings of loss and change, they can still thrive if their parents work in partnership to create the right conditions. We know that children are more likely to adapt with fewer problems, and less emotional distress, when parents are able to part with compassion and continue to work together in partnership even when they are not together. On this hub you will find lots of article and tips on how to minimise the impact on children. For example; how do you set up two homes? How do you co-parent well? What does it mean to put your children first? How do you tell your child you are separating? What do I tell the school? What about holidays? And much more...

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