Child inclusion as a principle and as evidence-based practice: Applications to family law services and related sectors
The growth of child-inclusive family law dispute resolution in Australia represents a response to empirical and clinical evidence about its efficacy in the treatment of post-separation parental conflict. At the level of social justice, the approach represents a strategic extension of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, giving children the right to present their wishes in family law proceedings about them, and to have those experiences thoughtfully considered by their parents and the dispute resolution practitioners involved. The child-inclusive genre embraces the psychology of family transition and the paramount need to assist warring parents to refocus on and plan for the needs of their children post-separation. The work combines developmental consultation within a therapeutic mediation process, occurring either within court or community-based services. It is a process that ultimately seeks to refocus on the best interests of the child beyond legislative mantra, through higher levels of engagement of their parents' capacity to think and plan more cooperatively about them.
An evidence base is growing around the potential benefits to many separated parents of engaging in a focused dispute resolution forum that assists them to hear and consider their children's experiences and needs within a brief, therapeutic mediation process. Two successful applications of the child-inclusive model are outlined in this paper, with their data confirming the potential of "children's voices" to realign parental states of mind and elicit higher levels of cooperation and shared decision-making than were previously practised. Importantly, McIntosh and Long (2006) have found evidence that improvement in mutual regard of the parties for each other as parents and an increased emotional availability of parents to their children often resulted from the child inclusive intervention, with important flow-on effects for the emotional wellbeing of their children up to one year after intervention.
Implications for the wider application of this work are discussed.
Dr Jennifer McIntosh is a clinical child psychologist and research consultant. She is the director of Family Transitions, a clinic devoted to children and parents experiencing family separation or trauma, and the support of professionals working with them. Dr McIntosh holds adjunct positions of Associate Professor at La Trobe University and Senior Lecturer at Melbourne University.
The author thanks Andrew Bickerdike and Lynne Cossar for their suggestions and feedback on this paper.