Emeritus Professor of Family Policy, Institute of Health and Society, Newcastle University:
Over 20 years ago the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child assured children and young people that they would have opportunities to be heard in judicial and administrative proceedings affecting their lives, yet hearing children's voices is still a controversial issue. Children's direct participation is low and many children feel alienated, confused, marginalised and powerless when they are unable to contribute to decisions that will have a fundamental impact on their well-being. The Family Justice Review endorsed the importance of child-inclusive approaches, including in mediation, and the current reforms provide a critical opportunity to ensure that children experiencing separation and divorce are not silent bystanders.
This article reviews the expectations enshrined in the UNCRC and highlights consistent messages from children that they do not want to be kept in the dark and want to have their views listened to and respected. Children's direct participation in mediation has demonstrated significant beneficial outcomes, including higher levels of parental co-operation and lower anxiety, fewer fears and fewer depressive symptoms for children. The time is right to review mediation practice, uphold children's rights and promote a culture change that will ensure than children are given opportunities to participate and be heard.
The full version of this article appears in the February 2013 issue of Family Law.