The subject of child inclusion in the mediation process is contradictory.We will discuss if the child’s inclusion in the mediation process is important and could be of help solving the case.
Among the professionals we can identify two opposite positions which are:
- to include child “hearings” in mediation or
- to exclude any child “participation” in the mediation process.
There are supporters of both views. We are not going to give any preferences to any direction. However, we will state some pros and cons in both options which every mediator should have in mind when taking a decision whether “to hear” the voice of the child in the mediation.
Why to support the “child hearings” in the mediation:
- often the parents have no good communicationwith the children for a long time and are not familiar with their true needs, interests, wishes;
- the children had never been heard before neither by parents, nor by any other third party and need to express their views;
- the children can give valuable informationand detailsto the mediator,which were not mentioned by any of parents or were intentionally “skipped”;
- the children love both parents and could be more or less “impartial”;
- the children are very sensitive, good observers, feel the problems from “inside”;
- the parents could change for good their behavior, thoughts, even positions if hear the words of children directly;
- sometimes the participation of children is the “crucial” point in mediation – could “break” blockages.
The supporters of “exclusion” of children’s hearings could respond to any of the above arguments:
- the participation of the children in hearings and in any procedure is harmful, stressful and shocking for them;
- the children could be manipulated by one of the parents;
- the children could change very often their “preferences”;
- the children like to “fantasize” – sometimes they could tell stories that never happened - how much we can rely on their information – that rises the question to what extent we can rely on their information;
- the children could want to “please” both parents and give controversial information;
- the children have not enough capacity to verbalize and explain their feelings, needs, fears.
Of course, the mediator shall take into consideration the fundamental rules and principles of mediation when deciding on child participation in the respective mediation case. The mediators shall apply strictly to the principles of confidentiality, neutrality and equality of the parties.
In any case the participation of children in the mediation process shall beimplementedonly under “special” rulesand paying attention onthe following:
- Qualification: The mediators shall have special qualification (preferably psychology) or additional trainings on working with children;soft nonverbal communication skills need advanced training;
- Empathy: The mediators shall take into consideration what are the children’s concerns, fears;
- Different countries deal differently with children in the process of mediation: The mediators shall have in mind the local rules, tradition and multicultural aspects;
- Preparation: There should be a proper preparation of the child by the parents for the hearings;
- Maturity: usually the minimum age is discussed analogue to the “court” hearings and it varies in different countries (for example: in Germany family courts hear children even 3-4 years old; in Francefrom 10-12years; in Bulgaria above 10 years)
- Variety of national laws on child “hearings”: The law and regulations on hearing of the child in court can be respectively applied to mediation (for example: in Germany the judge contacts the Youth Welfare Office; in Bulgaria social workers are involved)
- Placeof child “hearings”: Usually the interrogation of a child is taken in a “specially” prepared room, where toys, children drawings or etc. could be placed to make the environment more “child-friendly”;
- Questions: The mediators shall prepare more open questions and “soften” the queries; questions shall not be offensive, not direct;
- The language: the mediators have to use a simple understandable language and for infants it could be even “childish”, could use characters from fairy-tales, some stories, etc.
- Participation of social workers: Social workers can help/assist the mediators;
- Choice of form: The mediators shall decide if to pass questions to the children in the joint meeting with the parents or separately without any of the parents. If it is in the joint meeting, both parents shall be present; the mediator can record a child’s hearing by text, audio or videoor let the child draw the answers and show it later to parents. Even if the child is not heard, the mediators can put a photograph of the child or an empty chair with its toy next to the parents in the mediation room.
It is difficult to put as a general rule that child hearings should be mandatory but they can be very important in order to provide substantial information and support soft negotiations. We could suggest for mediators to decide on case-to-case bases if the child hearing is needed, reasonable and can ease the process of mediation or it should be avoided.
The following picture has been a result of the workshop “children in mediation” on the conference.
The interview with the workshop facilitator Dagmar Lägler (BAFM e.V.) explains the elements of the graphic.