Lisa Parkinson, Family mediation trainer, co-founder and a Vice-President of the Family Mediators Association
The family law community needs to respond to the urgent call for change from the Private Law Working Group and Family Solutions Group (Report, November 2020), prioritising the safety and well-being of the child as the guiding principle in a radical reform of the ineffective and misnamed MIAM system. Instead of a tick-box exercise before going to court, information meetings should be provided at an early stage to give separated parents information about services available (not only mediation) and more support. Innovative techniques should be used to engage both parents, not only the potential court applicant. When both parents consider possible ways forward, the take-up of mediation increases greatly. Professionals, as well as parents, need to be better informed about the harmful consequences for children's wellbeing and development when parental conflict is prolonged. Further training for mediators in child-inclusive mediation is showing benefits, with positive feedback particularly from teenagers who often feel ignored in the family justice system. Children need to be protected from an abusive family member, who may be an older sibling, and informed of their right to have a voice and be heard. There is scope for change, if we work together and if government ministers prioritise children's welfare over the best interests of their own department.