Creating safe spaces for children in mediation: The Child Consultant’s approach in child inclusive mediation

Child drawing
As a Child Consultant and Social Worker deeply invested in the field of child-inclusive mediation, I’ve experienced firsthand the crucial role that creating a safe and comfortable environment plays in effectively engaging children in the mediation process. It is only when children feel secure, valued, and respected that they can freely express their thoughts and feelings. The very nature of mediation – discussing and resolving potentially contentious family issues – can be daunting for children. But research continually underscores the importance of children’s participation in matters that affect their lives (Cashmore & Parkinson, 2008; McIntosh, Wells, Smyth & Long, 2008). To facilitate this, we must prioritise fostering an environment where children feel safe to share their perspectives. To create such an environment, it’s crucial to communicate with children in an age-appropriate and non-threatening manner. While each child is unique, there are several key strategies universally applicable.
  1. Explain the Process: I always start by explaining my role and the purpose of our meeting in simple, understandable terms. It is essential that the child understands that this is their time, their space, and their opportunity to share.
  2. Build Rapport: I engage with the child in a friendly, non-judgmental manner, often starting with neutral topics such as school or hobbies to build a connection.
  3. Listen Actively: When the child begins to share, I listen intently and validate their feelings. Active listening creates trust and makes children feel valued (Moore, 2013).
  4. Reassure Confidentiality: I reassure the child that their privacy will be respected and clearly outline what will and won’t be shared with their parents. This encourages more candid communication.
  5. Maintain Neutrality: Throughout the process, I ensure I remain neutral. Children need to know that this space is free from parental conflict.

When these conditions are met, the child’s voice can truly be heard. Research indicates that this not only aids in successful mediation but also benefits the child’s emotional wellbeing (McIntosh, 2007).

While creating a safe space isn’t the sole solution to the complexities of child-inclusive mediation, it forms a significant cornerstone of the approach. It is through this space that children’s voices become a pivotal part of shaping their future family arrangements – a principle at the heart of child-inclusive mediation.

Leanne Bamford

Child Consultant

Bachelor of Social Work

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