Outcomes of Child-Inclusive Mediation

Outcomes of Child-Inclusive Mediation

By Dr. Felicity Bell (University of Wollongong, NSW) Judy Cashmore, Patrick Parkinson, and Dr. Judi Single (Research Fellow)

Faculty of Law, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia

1 February 2013

ABSTRACT

This article presents the findings of a small qualitative study {emphasis added} of child-inclusive mediation concerning parenting arrangements after separation. Fourteen parents who had undertaken child-inclusive mediation, and a comparison group of 19 parents who had engaged in mediation without their children being involved, were asked about the outcomes of the mediation process. The parents had all undertaken mediation cashmoreOzzthrough Family Relationship Centres in communities with low to average incomes and levels of educational attainment.

Left: Judy Cashmore (no photo is available for Dr. Felicity Bell).

While participants in both groups reported positive benefits from the mediation process, child-inclusive mediation did not prove to be more ParkinOzzbeneficial in terms of improving the parental relationship or the likelihood of resolving the dispute. Only 5 parents out of 14 in the child-inclusive group felt that mediation had helped them to resolve some or all of the issues that they went with, compared with 13 out of 19 in the comparison group.

Above: Prof Parkinson

Only 4 of the 14 parents in the child-inclusive group, compared with 11 of 19 parents in the comparison group, thought that their relationship with their ex-partner had improved as a consequence of the mediation.

The best predictor of resolution overall was not the parents’ mediation group, but their levels of acrimony, conflict, and cooperation. Nonetheless, parents perceived that there were benefits from the involvement of children in the process other than achieving better outcomes in terms of dispute resolution, and the experience of having the children seen by a child consultant was generally positive. However, child-inclusive mediation could also lead to disappointment when raised expectations were not fulfilled.

Editor – NB somewhat obtusely the author concedes that Jenn McIntosh’s articles and papers against shared care at an early age, and which have caused such controversy in the profession, have not proved to be superior or all-conquering.

INTRODUCTION

Recently in Australia there has been a concerted effort to include the voices of children in mediation processes when arrangements are being decided for children after their parents have separated. The practice of   ‘child-inclusive mediation’, as it is known, has attracted considerable interest in Britain also, as one means of allowing children to have a greater level of participation in these parenting arrangements (Ministry of Justice and Department for Education, 2012).

In child-inclusive mediation, a specialist practitioner trained in this work talks to the children privately (McIntosh, 2007). He or she is known as a child consultant. This requires the consent of both parents, and at least one child should normally be of school age. The subject-matter of the discussions will vary from child to child and family to family, but the objective of child-inclusive mediation is not to ascertain the ‘wishes’ of the children. Rather it is to explore more widely their perspectives and experiences of the current living and visiting arrangements and the conflict between the parents, as well as their hopes for the future (McIntosh, 2007: 8).

The consultant discusses with the children what can be fed back to the parents from their conversation or activities. The child consultant then meets with the parents to give feedback from the children’s session, acting as a kind of ally to the children while helping the parents to reflect upon their children’s needs. Children’s ‘voices’ may be conveyed through drawings, or through statements about how they are feeling about the conflict between the parents. They might express particular needs. What may, for example, be fed back to the parents is that their children are deeply distressed by the ongoing conflict.

Child-inclusive mediation therefore does not need to involve the children in expressing a view on the choices as the adults see them, although that may be how parents perceive the purpose of the exercise.

Rather it provides children with an opportunity to give their perspectives on how they are feeling about the situation, which may in turn have benefits in terms of reaching a resolution of the parental dispute that accords with the needs and interests of the child. Child-inclusive mediation seeks to change hearts as well as minds.

McIntosh (2007: 5) identifies the key elements of child-inclusive mediation as follows:

  • . consulting with children in a supportive, developmentally appropriate manner about their experiences of the family separation and dispute;
  • . ensuring that the style of consultation avoids and removes any burden of decision-making from the child;
  • . understanding and formulating the child’s core experience within a developmental framework;
  • . validating children’s experiences and providing basic information that may assist their present and future coping;
  • . forming a strategic therapeutic loop back to the child’s parents by considering with them the essence of their child’s experience in a manner that supports them to hear and reflect upon their child’s needs; and
  • . ensuring that the ongoing mediation/litigation process and the agreements or decisions reached reflect at core the psycho-developmental needs of each child.

In an extensive pilot study, McIntosh and Long (2006) reviewed the outcomes of cases from the programme of child-inclusive mediation that McIntosh developed (McIntosh, 1998, 2000). McIntosh provided the training for the mediators in this pilot study. The evaluation compared a group of parents who had experienced child-inclusive mediation with those who had participated in ‘child-focused’ mediation. In child-focused mediation, children are not involved and their voices are not heard, but the mediator’s focus is on ‘building sensitive, shared parental attunement, at times actively advocating for the interests of the children’ (McIntosh et al., 2007: 10). The comparison was therefore between two kinds of mediation both designed to resolve disputes about children, and in a way that promotes the children’s best interests. [1]

The findings were reported after one year’s follow-up (McIntosh and Long, 2006) and then after 4 years (McIntosh et al., 2009).

The evaluation indicated that child-inclusive mediation had much greater benefits for parents and children than child-focused mediation in which the children’s voices were not heard (McIntosh and Long, 2006; McIntosh et al., 2007, 2008, 2009). Both mothers and fathers in the child-inclusive mediation group reported significantly greater satisfaction with their children’s living and contact arrangements one year after the mediation. There was also greater stability in the lives of the children in the child-inclusive mediation group, and the children in this group were reportedly significantly more content and less inclined to want a different arrangement than those in the child-focused mediation group.

A 4 year follow-up of these parents indicated continuing advantages flowing from child-inclusive mediation over the longer term (McIntosh et al., 2009). The impacts of child-inclusive mediation were reported to be most marked for the fathers involved. These reported outcomes were encouraging, and stimulated more widespread use of child inclusive mediation in Australia. [2]

To date, there has been limited empirical research on child-inclusive mediation apart from McIntosh et al.’s evaluation. Furthermore, the context in which child-inclusive mediation currently occurs is somewhat different to that in the McIntosh programme. That programme was conducted at a time when family dispute resolution was not required before filing a parenting application. These were therefore voluntary clients utilizing mediation as an option. As a result of amendments to the [NB Australian] Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) in 2006, it has become mandatory for parents to attempt family dispute resolution prior to filing an application for parenting orders, unless a parent is exempt under the legislation (for example, in cases where there is a history of violence), or a family dispute resolution practitioner deems the case to be unsuitable for mediation. [3]

To support the demand for dispute resolution services prior to filing, the government established a network of Family Relationship Centres (FRCs) across the country, initially providing free mediation. [4]   The present research offered an opportunity to examine the benefits of child-inclusive mediation, compared with child-focused mediation, in the context of the work of an experienced relationship counselling and mediation organisation, UnitingCare Unifam, based in New South Wales, and in the new environment of mandatory mediation prior to filing a court application (unless screened out or exempted). This article reports on parents’ perspectives on the outcomes of both kinds of mediation. The attitudes of parents to the participation of their children in child-inclusive mediation are explored elsewhere (Bell et al., 2012).

METHOD

Participants were recruited from parents attending three FRCs run by UnitingCare Unifam, in or near Sydney, Australia. Fairfield is a highly multicultural area in metropolitan Sydney in which the majority of residents speak a language other than English at home. Its median household income is significantly below the national median. Campbelltown, another area in metropolitan Sydney, has a median household income a little higher than the national level. [5] Wollongong is a regional city south of Sydney with a median household income also below the national level.

UnitingCare Unifam provides a range of services for families, including counselling, and programmes for children whose parents are separating, as well as mediation. Parents typically have a separate intake session at which suitability for dispute resolution is assessed. Prior to attempting mediation, they are normally required to attend an educational seminar about parenting after separation. This gives them information and advice about the developmental needs of the children and how parenting after separation can be managed in such a way as to minimize the harm to children.

The use of child-inclusive mediation depends, first, upon the suggestion of the mediator, and secondly on the consent of both parents. The decision to offer child-inclusive mediation is not made until there has been at least one joint mediation session. Unifam does not only use child-inclusive mediation as a methodology for dispute resolution. It also uses the child consultation as an assessment tool to work out what other services might be of benefit to the child and family. For this reason, a child consultation might be offered in circumstances where there is reason to be concerned about the wellbeing of the children, as well as in cases where it would appear to be a promising strategy for the resolution of the dispute and the improvement of the relationship between parents.

In the Unifam programme, the amount of time parents are involved in child-inclusive mediation is similar to that in the McIntosh et al. study. Typically, parents spend 6 hours in child-inclusive mediation (compared with 6.1–6.2 hours in the McIntosh et al. study), with 3 sessions lasting 2 hours each, including the feedback from the child consultation. That feedback is given to the parents either jointly, or individually, depending on the circumstances. The amount of time devoted to child-focused mediation (that is, where there is no child consultation) is less than was the case in the McIntosh et al. study, averaging 4 hours over 2 sessions compared with 5.1 hours in the McIntosh et al. programme.

Clients of the FRC (Family Relationship Centres), who were proceeding to mediation were told about the study and, if interested in participating, gave their consent to be contacted by the research team. They were then interviewed face-to-face several weeks or months after the mediation had concluded, in order to allow for some distance from the events of the mediation.

Recruitment to the study proved to be difficult. While many parents indicated their willingness to participate at the time that did not necessarily translate into a willingness to be interviewed when they were contacted by the interviewer. Some proved to be uncontactable after several attempts. Fourteen parents in the study participated in child-inclusive mediation.

The child consultant, having spoken with the child or children, provided feedback to the parents, either by telephone or in person.

This group comprised three former couples and eight parents whose former partner did not participate in the study (the child-inclusive group). Three children also made comments when their mothers were being interviewed. There was also a comparison group of 19 parents who had undertaken mediation without their children being seen by a child consultant (comparison group). This group participated in ‘child-focused’ mediation. That is, the mediator did not exercise a neutral and ‘content-free’ dispute resolution role, but used his or her knowledge and expertise to help the parents focus on the children’s developmental and other needs in order to find a way forward in resolving the dispute.

The comparison group comprised five former couples and nine parents whose former partner was not part of the study. Some of the comparison group were drawn from the FRC in Wollongong, where child-inclusive mediation was not an available option for most participants because of resource constraints at the time of the study (Bell et al., 2012). For the most part, the other participants in the comparison group were those who had not been offered child-inclusive mediation because according to the parent’s report, the child or children were considered to be too young, or because one parent had already declined to involve the children and so the option was not available to the other. [6] In two out of the three FRCs, both child-inclusive mediation and child-focused mediation were available, so the same team of mediators was working with both groups.

Parents participated in a face-to-face interview using a semistructured interview schedule that asked about their experience with the mediation process and included several rating scales and standardized measures of the parental relationship  [7] and children’s outcomes.  [8]

1 . DEMOGRAPHIC  CHARACTERISTICS  OF  PARENTS

The two groups of parents were similar in terms of some, but not all, demographic characteristics. The average age of the mothers was 42 years in the child-inclusive group, and 39 years in the comparison group. For fathers, it was 41 and 40 years, respectively; this is very similar to the average age of parents in McIntosh and Long’s study (2006: 21).

Most parents in both groups had been married: 11 of 14 in the child-inclusive group and 16 of 19 in the comparison group. The average length of the marriage/ relationship was about 8 years for both groups but those in the child-inclusive group had been separated for a significantly longer period than those in the comparison group: on average, 76 months in the child-inclusive group compared with 29 months in the comparison group, (t¼4.1, 22 df, p¼.002). However, this did not mean that the child-inclusive group was characterized by much higher levels of entrenched conflict. While in some of the cases in the child-inclusive group there had been conflict for some considerable time, in others, the issue that took the parents to mediation had arisen after years of reportedly cooperative arrangements as older children resisted shared care or overnight contact with their father.

There were 22 children in the child-inclusive group, and 23 children in the comparison group who were the focus of the mediation (an average of 2.1 children per family for the child-inclusive group and 1.99 for the comparison group). The children ranged in age from 3 to 16 years, with an overall average of 8.8 years (SD¼2.8 years). The children in the child-inclusive group were slightly older (9.5 years, SD¼2.1) than those in the comparison group (8.2 years, SD¼3.7), reflecting the longer time since separation in the child-inclusive group and that parents with young children might not be offered child-inclusivemediation.

At the time of the interview, both groups were almost equally split in the children’s living arrangements between shared care (defined as 35 per cent or more nights with each parent) and the children mostly living with their mother. Only 4 of the 33 parents had a tertiary education.

In contrast, McIntosh and Long (2006: 38–39) reported that about 40% of their parents had tertiary qualifications. The predominant educational qualification for participants in this study was a trade certificate and most had income levels that were below average to average weekly earnings. There were more professional and managerial workers in the comparison group than in the child-inclusive group.

There was no significant difference between the two groups in the reported level of conflict with their former partner at separation and before they started the mediation. [9] However, parents in the child-inclusive group reported significantly higher conflict and acrimony with their former partner at the time of the interview than those in the comparison group. [10] They were also less likely to see the other parent as a ‘very good’ or ‘better than average’ parent. Only one parent in the child-inclusive group indicated at the time of the interview that the other parent was a ‘better than average’ or ‘very good parent’ compared with 9 out of 17 parents in the comparison group.  [11] Three parents (one in a child-inclusive case, and two in the comparison cases) raised concerns about the safety of the children in the care of the other parent.

2 . MEDIATION  ISSUES

The primary issue that both groups of parents were seeking to resolve through mediation concerned the amount of time that the father had with the children. Fathers in both groups, and one mother in the child-inclusive group, were mostly seeking more time with their children, increasing to shared care or equal time in six cases. For most of these parents, in five cases in each form of mediation, the time issue was associated with disagreement over child support. The main difference between the two groups was that four cases in the child-inclusive group arose some time after the separation following initially cooperative arrangements when older children refused shared care or overnight contact with their father because of difficulties with the father’s new partner or changes in circumstances. Parents in the comparison

group were more likely to be seeking resolution and confirmation of their parenting plan reflecting the shorter time since separation for these parents. About one in three parents in both groups, however, saw the mediation as a process that was necessary before they could go to court.

PARENTS’ REPORTS ABOUT CHILD-INCLUSIVE MEDIATION

1 . PREPARING CHILDREN FOR THE CHILD CONSULTATION

Before taking their children to see the child consultant, most parents reported that they had given their children an explanation about the process and what was going on. Parents in the child-inclusive group generally had expectations that the child consultation would be beneficial for children for therapeutic reasons as well as enabling the parent to find out how children were feeling (Bell et al., 2012). Accordingly, most parents explained that they had emphasized to their children the importance of being honest. This reflected the weight parents placed on ascertaining ‘the truth’ about their children’s thoughts and feelings:

  • I said I don’t know what you [children aged 8 and 13] can expect, but just answer any questions she [child consultant] has, or whatever she wants you to do, as long as you do it honestly. I don’t want you to say Mummy says, or Daddy says, I just want you to say ‘I feel’, or ‘I think’, whatever. There’s no feedback to Mummy or Daddy about exactly what you’ve said, but maybe how you feel or about what she thinks should be done. So I just wanted them to be honest. (Alison)

Jeremy and his new partner Penny explained what they had said to Jeremy’s two daughters (aged 8 and 11) before going to see the child consultant:

  • Penny: . . . we don’t ever just take them, we always explain to them what’s going on, not in great detail, we don’t go right into, we’re just very quick about it, don’t make a fuss.
  • Jeremy: Explaining this person is going to listen to you, they’re going to try and understand what you think.

The girls’ mother, Eleanor, who also participated in this study, tried to convey to them that she understood how hard it was for them to be caught in the middle of the dispute and that the child consultation offered them some support:

  • I explained that, you know, ‘It must seem to you like there’s dad’s side and mum’s side, and dad’s house and mum’s house, and I understand that you guys feel really pulled. And so your dad and I have agreed that it would be really good if you have somebody there just for you guys, and you know, you can tell her things and she won’t tell me things if you don’t want her to, and she won’t tell your dad things if you don’t want her to’.

Eleanor reported that she had tried to reassure both her daughters that there would be no adverse consequences of speaking up:

  • I said ‘this is about you, I won’t ask you questions about things that were said. If you want to talk to me about anything, feel free to. But like I said, that’s your time, it’s your space, I’m not going to ask you questions’.

Only one parent (a father) reported that no real explanation had been given beforehand to his young son, who was only five:

  1. It was going to be sold to Sean as ‘Oh look, we’re just going somewhere to meet a friend’. (Kevin)

Julia explained to her daughters that participation might be a way of being able to tell their father how they were feeling: ‘if they can say what they want to say, what they think, and dad might listen to it’. A few parents reported that their children were unenthused, at least initially, about participating in the child-inclusive mediation. For example, Tony said:

  • And you talked to him [son aged 10] about going to see somebody? Of course. He was a bit apprehensive, he wanted me to take him, so I explained to him that she [child consultant] just wants to talk to you. ‘Don’t lie to her, tell her what’s on your mind, that’s all they want to know’.

2 . CHILDREN’S REACTIONS TO THE CHILD CONSULTATION

Five parents reported that their children were happy immediately after talking with the child consultant.

  • . . . they loved it (Gina)
  • . . . they felt listened to (Jeremy)
  • . . . I think he was okay with it, seeing that it wasn’t as bad as what he thought it would be. (Tony)

Four other parents were less fulsome but thought that their children seemed ‘fine’ about their involvement. Jayne mentioned that her sons (aged 10 and 12) were ‘a bit sceptical’ about being involved although, after the event, her younger son reported on this differently:

  • How did you feel when mum said you were going to speak to someone? I actually felt a little better. (Saul, aged 10)

Parents generally attributed positive outcomes for children to their being able to have a say or get things off their chest, without fear of the consequences:

  • . . . they felt much better when they came out, they released a lot of things, I believe anyway. (Julia)

Julia’s daughter Marjie, aged 9, said:

  • And because you and dad weren’t there, it felt like we didn’t have, we could just say what we mean and not feel like we have to pick sides.

However, the perception was in some cases at least that talking to the counsellor did not actually change anything in the children’s situation. Three mothers said that, for this reason, the children were likely to be disappointed:

  • And after they’d seen the counsellor, how were they? Were they happy or sad or worried? They were really happy, you know, they said ‘Oh we told them exactly what we wanted’ blah blah blah, when their Dad didn’t agree with it that kind of burst a bubble. (Alison)
  • And good things and hard things for the kids? I think the hard thing is they knew we were going, and there’s probably no resolve in it. At the end of the day, we’re still where we were. (Gina)

3 . RECEIVING  FEEDBACK  FROM  THE  CHILDREN

Most parents received feedback in a face-to-face meeting, but two reported receiving feedback by telephone. How well was the children’s feedback received and what impact did it have on the parents ? In their responses to this question, parents distinguished between feedback which affected the outcome of the mediation, and feedback that had positive effects – such as helping that parent to have a better understanding of how the children were feeling – without necessarily affecting the outcome. A few parents thought that the feedback had a negative effect, noticeably where they felt their former partner had not been responsive to the feedback.

On the whole, the majority of parents did not feel that there was anything surprising in the feedback they received. For example, Patricia said:

  • I think it just reinforced the stuff I knew. Sometimes you do forget. I’m pretty careful, I try not to say anything in front of them and all that sort of stuff. I think it just reinforced things I knew already.

Tony considered he was already in touch with how his 10 year-old son was feeling:

  • . . . I knew all these things before, because I discuss things with him. We have a very close relationship, so I knew all these things before I went there. I just wanted a third party’s opinion of his state, and how he was dealing with it.

Some other parents, however, commented on specific issues that had come out. For example, Julia expressed surprise that her youngest daughter still hoped she and her former husband would get back together.

Gavin was surprised that his daughter (aged 11) ‘rated’ her relationship with her mother’s new partner, Roger, as better than her relationships with each of her parents:

  • Part of the feedback that I got was Christina’s relationship with Roger was so positive because she could be herself and she didn’t have to please anyone. Part of that feedback that I got made me feel as though maybe I need to do a little bit more to make sure to try and relate to her . . .

Former couple Julia and Phil both mentioned that of their three children, the one who appeared to be coping the best perhaps was not coping as well as they had both assumed:

  • I was probably more worried about one specific child and how they were coping, but I was probably more wrong. The feedback meeting has really made me look at other aspects . . . (Julia)
  • . . . the middle one they said was probably a bit . . . takes too much in, quite intelligent, and you know, probably will have, may have issues as an older person because of trying to please everyone and things like that. (Phil)

One way of dealing with surprising feedback was to seek an explanation for it that differed from the feedback as given. For example, Tony said:

  • It did come as a surprise, when Darcy [aged 10] was talking about some anxiety which caught me off-guard, because he hadn’t been showing symptoms of being anxious. And like I said, I talk to him about everything, and I didn’t pick that up. It’s only after the mediation that it dawned on me that he was talking about how we were fighting at home before the separation. And that’s what he was anxious about? Yeah. He was going way back to there, not to more recent events. So once I understood that, then things fell into place a lot better.

Eleanor was also surprised by feedback from her daughters which implied that she ‘yelled a lot’, and later questioned them about this:

  • So I’ve been really careful and months later, I asked them, ‘Do you guys think that I yell a lot?’ ‘No, we’ve never thought that you yell a lot’. And it was actually clarified that they thought stepmother yells a lot, so it was ‘Oh, okay’. So that was at the time for me it was ‘Oh, I yell a lot?’ No, I’m fairly in touch with my kids.

Giving feedback to the parents was not necessarily risk-free for the children. One parent, Doug, reported that his child had experienced recriminations because of what had been fed back to his former partner after the child consultation. Doug reported that his ex-partner had talked to their 8 year-old daughter, Jemma, about what Jemma had said in her session:

  • . . . she put Jemma under a lot of pressure by saying . . . she’d heard things that had broken her heart and upset her mother terribly – hearing that she wanted to spend more time with her father absolutely devastated her, and I was very cranky when I heard that.

4 . UNDERSTANDING  CHILDREN ’S  FEELINGS

Eight parents felt that the feedback from the child consultation had helped them to better understand how their children were feeling. Four parents indicated that hearing feedback caused them to reflect on their own behaviour. For example, Gavin commented:

  • . . . you realise just how un-child-focused you can be at times. Even though you’ve got a child and you love them and you want to do everything right for them, a lot of the time you can be really un-child-focused.

Two parents reported that understanding the deleterious effects of conflict on their children was a ‘turning point’ in the mediation. Jayne felt that having a person to ‘interpret’ how her sons (aged 10 and 12) were feeling was crucial both for her and her former partner:

  • And after that we went in and spoke with [the mediator and the child consultant] and he was still you know, some of the things, I just howled most of the time, because you don’t hear this from your kids. They can interpret what they’re saying and bring it across that way, and it just broke my heart. How can you do this to your own kids? . . . And I think it hit home with him having the kids not sitting there saying it but having someone interpret this is how your kids are feeling. And from then, we haven’t even been back into a mediation since then.

Kevin also felt badly about how his disagreements with his former partner had affected their 5 year-old son, Sean:

  • I guess it was more than anything a massive amount of guilt about the way myself and Tina had acted towards each other and behaved in front of Sean and not taken his feelings and his needs, for two parents nurturing and bringing him up into consideration, and neglecting him in that way. I felt very, very bad about that.

5 . REINFORCING  BELIEFS  ABOUT  WHAT  THE CHILDREN  WANTED

Other parents felt reassured that they were correct in their understanding of what their children wanted. For example, Alison said:

  • Actually force the children to talk to someone other than myself, and also to set my mind at ease that what they’re telling me is what actually happened, it’s not really, they’re making it up. You know how some people say children play one parent against another.Why would they tell an outsider something that’s not true, when they think that I’m not going to hear about it, or their father’s not going to hear about it, they would tell them the truth.

A former couple each thought that it was positive that their children had been given a voice in the process, but disagreed on the children’s views. Eleanor believed that although her 8 year-old daughter Helena wanted to spend more time with her, Helena feared this could lead to repercussions from her father, Jeremy:

  • And Helena had said ‘I’d like to spend more time with mum’. And then she chickened out, she said ‘Can you tell [the child consultant]? Like it’s true, mum, and don’t be hurt, but I’m too scared of what dad will do if I say that’.

In contrast, Jeremy felt that the feedback from both his daughters reinforced his position regarding their arrangements:

  • . . . it’s given me the confidence to know that what they tell me is what they tell other people. Because there are times that they tell us that and they tell their mum something different. But when they’re telling a third party the same thing that they’re telling me, it reinforces the fact that they are actually telling me the truth.

6 . IMPROVED RELATIONSHIPS WITH CHILDREN

Seven parents felt that having their children involved in the mediation through the child-consultant had improved the relationship between themselves and their children. Jayne referred to being more patient:

  • Has having your children involved in the process helped your relationship with them? Yeah, I suppose, we’ve just got a lot of, I wouldn’t say a lot more time, but we’ve got more time and more patience.

Julia felt that enabling her children to have a say had engendered trust:

  • Has having the children involved in the process helped with your relationship with them? Yes, because I think if I’d excluded them and I’m only conveying the bits that I think they need to hear, there’s always that unknown, what’s being said about me, ‘Is mum really saying how we feel or is mum only saying this?’, or – because there’s got to be a doubt that mum’s representing them.

A few parents thought that the involvement of their children had also improved their former partner’s relationship with the children. Julia, for example, felt that Phil was more aware that outsiders could be ‘judging’ his parenting:

  • . . . he knows now that others are aware of how they feel, that they can always go to somebody and express how they feel. And in a sense that can come back to bite him on the butt. However, Phil himself did not think there had been any change in his relationship with his children: ‘. . .I still treat them the same as what I always have.’

7 . IMPROVING  RELATIONSHIPS  WITH  FORMER PARTNERS

Four parents thought that the mediation had helped their relationship with their ex-partner. For example, Kevin linked the feedback he received in the child-inclusive mediation process about his son, Sean, to improvements in his relationship with his former partner; and improvements in Sean’s behaviour and happiness as a result:

  • I guess it’s helped us communicate better and the on-flow of that is that Sean now is a happier child. Sean now is no longer an aggressive child, he relates well to other kids, he’s such a loving boy. And developmentally too in regards to his language and literacy, he’s getting on really well at school, and that was a concern for me when he started.

Similarly, Jayne identified hearing feedback about her sons (aged 10 and 12) as a decisive moment in the mediation for both herself and her former husband. She was happy that he was making more of an effort to spend time with the children, although she was unsure that this was due solely to the mediation:

  • Now, he [ex-husband] said he was going to see a counsellor at his work, I don’t know any more details than that, but he was seeing someone in there and his attitude has changed. . . it’s made a hell of a lot of difference. I don’t think he understands how much of a difference he’s made.

Julia had some safety concerns for her daughters (aged 9, 12, and 14) when they spent time at their father Phil’s house, concerns which she felt Phil had not been taking seriously. She felt that the mediation had a positive effect on her relationship with Phil because she had been able to have some discussion about this with a third party mediator. Phil, however, did not think that the mediation had improved his relationship with Julia.

8 . CHILD-INCLUSIVE  MEDIATION  AS  A  PATHWAY TO  DISPUTE

RESOLUTION

These positive comments about child-inclusive mediation need to be understood in a context of the overall perceived outcomes. Generally, child-inclusive mediation did not have a significant impact on the outcome. Only 5 of the 14 parents in the child-inclusive group felt that mediation had helped them to resolve some or all of the issues that they went with; four of these five thought that their relationship with their ex-partner had improved as a consequence of the process.

Parents in the child-inclusive group who were disappointed with the mediation, and aspects of their children’s involvement, expressed that it had:

  • . . . not helped them to understand how the children were feeling;
  • . . . . not changed their former’s partner’s views or increased the former partner’s understanding of how the children were feeling; and
  •  . . .  in some cases, been detrimental to their relationship with their former partner or with their children.

These parents tended to have high expectations of the mediation, particularly around the hope that the children’s involvement would change their former partner’s attitude and behaviour. They were correspondingly disappointed when it failed to achieve the outcomes they had hoped for.

Furthermore, the resolution of the dispute was not necessarily attributable to the feedback from the children. For two parents, it certainly played a decisive role. These parents felt strongly that their children’s involvement had been a ‘turning point’ in the mediation and had triggered a resolution of their dispute. Hearing the children’s feedback had a positive impact on both themselves, and their former partners. Kevin, for example, said:

  • A better experience I’ve never had, it was sensational. If I’d had that experience with the guys at Fairfield the first time around, it has been life changing [. . .] Because we’ve gone from a situation where we would not talk to each other, where we were doing changeovers via a police station for Sean [aged 5]. We were communicating very tersely with each other via a communication book, to a situation now where we can ring each other up and talk any time. I speak to Sean when he’s not with me most nights, and when he’s not with his mum, I always encourage him to pick up the phone and talk to her, and we can just make arrangements and agreements with each other off the cuff.

Others thought that although some issues were resolved at the mediation, this was not necessarily due to hearing children’s feedback. Tony thought that the participation of his 10 year-old son had not really affected the outcome:

  • And do you think that having Darcy involved in the mediation helped you sort out the dispute? No, I don’t think it did. Oh look, I think it may have helped, but I think Darcy should have been involved a lot more, because then the mediators would have seen the relationship he has with the father and the mother.

Instead, Tony and his former partner later came to his preferred arrangement: equal shared care of Darcy. Tony said: ‘Darcy and I still wanted equal share, so it just came after mediation.’

Conversely, some parents thought that things were in fact worse after the mediation than before:

  • So it hasn’t helped you sort out the dispute? Like I say, I’ve gone from seeing my daughter to not seeing her. In that sense it’s been a spectacular failure. (Michael)
  • So how did you feel about the children talking to a psychologist? I thought great, that’s what I wanted. Because I don’t want him to think it was coming from me, but he still thinks it’s coming from me, so he just can’t see it. (Alison)

In Michael’s case, contact ceased because his teenage daughter was strongly resistant to going to see him.

Why did most cases not result in an agreement? Some parents commented that their poor relationship with their former partner was not necessarily due to the mediation itself, but to other factors, including that the relationship would never change:

  • No, whether it’s their fault or not, and I’m not suggesting it’s their fault, but our relationship has been deteriorating now for at least the last 6 months, if not more. (Michael)

I thought it was just going through a process because that was what we had to do. I didn’t expect him to agree because he’s never agreed to it. (Alison)

Parents tended to be particularly disappointed when they felt that hearing the children’s feedback had not had an impact on their former partner:

  • . . . based on the feedback I was getting from Darcy about how he was treated at his mother’s place, I don’t think it’s changed. . . . So I think she left mediation pretty much the way she came to it. (Tony)

If we both got the same feedback, I wonder how much is taken on board. (Gavin) Other parents were unhappy with the feedback that they received, either because they said they did not receive it at all, or found it to be vague and unhelpful. Gina felt that feedback had helped her understand how her children (a son aged 10 and daughter aged 11) were feeling, but her ex-husband Michael was disappointed with the lack of specificity:

  • . . . it wasn’t anything specific, and it wasn’t like ‘oh we’re on the right track’, or ‘this is what we think needs to happen’. There was nothing that came out of it that I could modify my behaviour or do anything about it, or let me know I was on the right track or wrong track.

Gina thought that the counsellor was trying to ‘protect’ their daughter by resisting Michael ‘fishing’ for information divulged in the session. While Michael felt left out of the loop about how the children were feeling, Gina was disappointed that the mediation had not had any impact on Michael or his relationship with the children.

Some parents felt that their former partner had actively resisted the messages from feedback. Doug thought that hearing that his daughter wanted to spend more time with him caused his ex-partner, Tamsin, to abort the mediation:

  • The child psychologist said to Jemma, ‘Do you know why you’re here?’ And she said ‘Yes, so I can spend more time with my dad’. And I was very shocked that she said that, and she was very brave to say that, because her mother is very dominating over her. [. . .]..and I think Tamsin hearing that was to her pretty much enough to say ‘That’s it, I know where this is heading to, I don’t want this.’ [. . .] And then I was waiting for another meeting and they contacted me and told me that Tamsin has no further interest in mediation – which to be honest with you, I found the whole thing a complete waste of time.

Gavin felt that his former partner, Wendy, had not made a genuine attempt to resolve things in the mediation nor focus on their daughter Christina (aged 11). As a result, Gavin thought that his relationship with Wendy was worse as a result of the mediation:

  • If anyone had questioned her motivation, after sitting there and saying ‘yeah, it’s all about Christina, I’m happy to do this’, and then in my opinion do everything she can to upset that process, I feel as if anything it did more harm to my relationship than good.

Jeremy also thought that the child-inclusive mediation had not had any effect on his ex-wife Eleanor and this lack of change on her part had made things worse. Likewise, Eleanor thought Jeremy’s attitude had not changed and he was not willing to listen:

  • Do you think that having the children involved in the process helped your relationship with Eleanor? No, if anything it highlighted the problems and made it worse, because she was told things in the feedback and nothing’s changed. (Jeremy)
  • So in the end, what did I get out of mediation? Nothing, nothing that time. I hoped that the child-inclusive practice would bring things into focus a lot more, but that didn’t work either. (Eleanor)

However, even parents who were unhappy with aspects, or even the ultimate outcome, of their mediation, generally felt it had been good for their children to speak to a professional about how they were feeling:

  • The only thing was for me it was a hoop that I had to jump through. . . . For the children it was very beneficial, I think, because they had a voice, they got heard and listened to, and some of the things that they had been thinking and feeling had come out . . . Things that I needed to hear as a parent came out. So on that level, while the mediation didn’t work, the counselling that came with it for the kids and that intervention stuff was helpful. (Jeremy)

There might also be other benefits from the mediation, despite the absence of a positive outcome. Patricia, for example, said:

  • I think Edward is an idiot, has unrealistic expectations. I think he thought he would take me to court and they would force Brigid [aged 11] to go, whereas I knew that would not be the case. And so the mediation was good because it made him realise that that wouldn’t be the case.

PARENTS’ REPORTS IN THE COMPARISON GROUP

The parents in the comparison group also reported benefits from the mediation process.

1 . REACHING RESOLUTION

Thirteen of the 19 participants in the comparison group felt that mediation had helped them to resolve some or all of the issues that they went with. While there was a near-significant trend for parents in the comparison group to be more likely to indicate that the mediation had resolved some or all of their issues than parents in the child-inclusive group, the best predictor of resolution overall was not the parents’ mediation group, but their levels of acrimony, conflict and cooperation.  [12]

As with the child-inclusive group, parents referred to the benefits of the mediation as enabling communication as well as providing an opportunity to have a say. Parents who thought that their relationship with their former partner had improved generally also felt positive about what was resolved at mediation. However, some parents who thought their relationship had not improved still felt there had been positive outcomes from the mediation, such as a ‘reality-check’ for their former partner, or firming up care arrangements by ‘having it on paper’. For example, Jacob said:

  • It made me feel more confident that I was not being unreasonable with my demands and concerns. It put me in a situation where I could voice my opinion, and although my opinion was not welcomed by Sarah, she was actually able to see that two family relationship counsellors involved in the mediation process were very quick and honestly saying that my concerns were reasonable.

2 . IMPROVED RELATIONSHIPS WITH CHILDREN

Seven of the 19 parents in the comparison group felt that the mediation had helped their relationships with their children, although their children did not attend a child consultation. Six parents said that it had no effect because they already had a good relationship. Loretta felt that she had a better understanding of her children’s needs:

  • Do you think the mediation process had any effect on your relationship with the children [aged 4, 7 and 12]? For me it did because it made me see all the children on a different developmental level. What I need to look out for, I suppose, when it comes to their needs and care, what each child wants out of my ex-husband and I.

Graeme felt that his relationship with his 10 year-old son Caleb had improved because the resulting arrangement was what they both wanted:

  • . . . Caleb got what he wanted which was 50/50, that’s what I wanted. I was being fair, so in that relationship, in that side of it, it was fair, but if you ask my ex, she’ll probably say it was unfair because she wanted more than 50/50.

3 . IMPROVING  RELATIONSHIPS  WITH  FORMER  PARTNERS

Eight parents thought that mediation had helped their relationship with their ex-partner. Geoff, for example, reported:

  • I was very happy with the FRC. They helped her see clearly for a while which was good. I’ve been telling her all along to think about Nathan [aged 3] the whole time, he’s number one, and she’d get very irrational, and she went there, and they helped her out and she started thinking Nathan number one for a while.

Maria and her ex-husband Robert each thought that their relationship had improved and that their 6 year-old daughter was happier as a result:

  • I think after Robert went there he recognised, he changed completely. He started to be more open, and think that we can have a normal relationship. So as soon as our communication improved, Aurelia became more happy. (Maria)
  • It helped her [Maria] realise perhaps her perception about what was best for Aurelia wasn’t necessarily correct . . . She sees the relationship we have now and thinks wow. (Robert)

Jeannine thought that the controlled environment of the mediation was an opportunity to ‘practice’ good communication with her ex-husband, Ross:

  • . . . it gave me the opportunity and him the opportunity within a controlled environment, with a third party present to keep everyone on their best behaviour, for us to practice no conflict. Because that was the biggest bonus for me. We had that session where it could have been very heated, whereas if I’d said ‘Let’s sit down at the table, Ross, and work this out’, there would have been to-ing and fro-ing, and with the third party present, and with the very official controlled environment, we got to practice behaving well. So it kind of set up an expectation for what can be achieved.

COMMON THEMES AND FINDINGS

Parents in both groups had varying views on whether the mediation had helped them to resolve pertinent issues. A number of parents saw benefits in the mediation enabling communication, helping to establish arrangements, and in some cases, improving their relationship with their former partner. Others did not feel that the mediation had been beneficial, and a small number thought that things were worse after the mediation than previously. Overall, parents who said they had resolved

some or all of their issues reported lower levels of acrimony and conflict (at the time of the interview), and more support and cooperation, than those who said they had not resolved any of their issues. While this might be expected, there is some evidence that these higher levels of acrimony reflect parents’ frustration with the lack of success of the mediation, rather than the lesser likelihood of success for parents whose relationship before the mediation was more conflictual and acrimonious. [13]

The higher level of reported acrimony for those in child-inclusive mediation may therefore reflect the disappointed expectations of the numbers of parents in this group in which none of the issues were seen to have been resolved, particularly in those cases where parents said the mediation had worsened their relationship with their former partner.

Children’s behaviour as reported by their parents was also associated with the resolution of some or all of the issues in the mediation. Across both groups, children whose parents reported that they had resolved all or some of their issues had lower SDQ scores, meaning fewer behavioural problems, than those whose parents did not.  [14]  These parents were also more likely to indicate that the other parent was a ‘very good’ or ‘better than average parent’. [15]

In both groups also, most parents thought that they already had good relationships with their children that had not been affected by the mediation, or that they were already ‘in tune’ with how their children were feeling.

When asked about the good things in mediation and whether they would recommend it to others, most parents in both groups indicated that they would still recommend mediation to others in similar circumstances, despite the disappointment of some. Parents in the child-inclusive group focused on the value of better communication and their children having a voice whereas parents in the comparison group focused on the benefits of transparency, being able to ‘get things off their chest’, of getting things in writing, and gaining some reassurance that their position was ‘reasonable’. This perceived transparency did not necessarily lead to any resolution, however, and in several cases confirmed or exposed more negative sentiments. For example:

  • If we didn’t have that mediation, I wouldn’t have known the depths of his depravity actually. I had accusations brought up against me that I had no idea about. Yeah, he withheld his address from me, but I must say the mediator was pretty helpful, because he’d make [my former partner] see my point of view. (Eleanor, child inclusive group) It was a positive experience for me because I felt that my objectives that I wanted were met and he came out looking like the total dickhead that he is, a liar, and it made him look stupid because he’s a liar, and that’s the thing. For me, from my perspective I came out there thinking ‘yeah, that worked in my benefit’. And that’s the thing . . . we have got a parenting plan in orders now that he throws in my face every five minutes. (Yvonne, comparison group)

Several parents in both groups identified similar disappointments with mediation, and would not recommend it to others. Their frustrations concerned the futility of trying to communicate with their former partner or secure any change in their behaviour, and the delays in the process.

  • I probably would have had the same outcome with the children being able to go and see a child psychologist, so that to me is like putting it back six months. But then again if a miracle had happened and he actually listened, maybe we could have resolved something. But him being him, we wouldn’t, it doesn’t mean that other people wouldn’t have. (Alison, child inclusive group)
  • If they don’t want to communicate, if they don’t want to make things better, it’s not going to be a positive outcome or process. [. . .] If I knew she was so vindictive or malicious with her intent, I probably wouldn’t have gone, I would have gone straight to court if I could have afforded it. (Jacob, comparison group)

DISCUSSION

Just over half the parents, across both the child-inclusive and comparison groups, reported that their mediation had resolved some or all of the issues they came with. This small study {emphasis added} did not, however, demonstrate significant benefits from child-inclusive mediation for the majority of the parents in terms of improved parental relationships or a greater likelihood of resolution of the dispute. While there was no significant difference between the two groups in the reported level of conflict with their former partner at separation and before they started the mediation, only five of the 14 parents in the child-inclusive group felt that mediation had helped them to resolve some or all of the issues that they went with, compared with 13 out of 19 in the comparison group. Although the numbers are very small, fathers in the child-inclusive group were more likely than the mothers, and more likely than the comparison group parents, to say that mediation had not helped resolve any of their issues.

These results cannot be readily compared with the results from McIntosh et al.’s pilot study. While McIntosh and Long (2006: 73) reported that child-inclusive mediation resulted in more ‘durable and workable agreements’, they gave no details of the proportion of mediations, in either the child-focused or child-inclusive mediation groups, that actually resulted in an agreement. Rather they reported on degrees of ‘progress’ towards the resolution of the dispute, [16] and on the proportion of child-inclusive cases where new legal action was instigated over parenting matters in the year following mediation (McIntosh and Long, 2006: 66), and later whether there was a return to mediation in the four years post-mediation (McIntosh et al., 2009: 35). [17]

{Editor – So in other words, her study did not prove it was superior – yet this is the “important new counselling process”  that Jenn McIntosh is supposedly famous for creating – and for which the AFCC gave her an award for as an “Outstanding” researcher}.

Nonetheless, it does appear that child-inclusive mediation proved a less effective intervention in this study, in terms of helping parents reach agreement, than was the case in McIntosh et al.’s pilot. Only 4 of the 14 parents in the child-inclusive group, compared with 11 of 19 parents in the comparison group, thought that their relationship with their ex-partner had improved as a consequence of the mediation. While half the parents in the child-inclusive group thought that the mediation had improved their relationship with the children, a similar proportion of parents in the comparison group also thought their relationship with their children had improved. Children’s behaviour as reported by their parents also did not differ across the two groups but there were fewer perceived problems where parents said they had resolved all or some of their issues, across groups.

While these results do not indicate advantages to child-inclusive mediation as a method of dispute resolution, there were some perceived benefits from the involvement of children in the process other than achieving resolution and better outcomes. Parents expressed different, sometimes overlapping thoughts about the positive aspects of their children’s involvement, including that it had:

  • . been therapeutic for the children to talk to someone about how they were feeling;
  • . helped the parent to better understand how the children were feeling; and
  • . demonstrated that the parent was correct in their understanding of what the children wanted.

A few parents in the child-inclusive group thought that the involvement of their children had also improved their former partner’s relationship with the children, and just over half thought that it had improved their own relationship with their former partner. Yet a number of the parents in the comparison group also thought that their mediation had improved these relationships, despite their children not being involved.

One of the issues that emerged with child-inclusive mediation is that parents tended to have high expectations for the mediation, particularly around the hope that the children’s involvement would change their former partner’s attitude and behaviour. Most, however, felt that this had not occurred. They were correspondingly disappointed when it failed to achieve the outcomes they had hoped for. The views of the three former couples in the child-inclusive group illustrate this dissonance:

Eleanor and Jeremy each felt that the children’s feedback had reinforced their own view of the dispute; Michael felt he had learned nothing from the feedback, while Gina was disappointed that Michael had not changed; and Julia thought that the mediation had impacted on Phil’s relationships with her and with the children, but Phil did not think so. Parents also reported a sense of disappointment from some of the children that their situation had not changed as a consequence of child-inclusive mediation.

Child-inclusive mediation, in this study, also produced few revelations that were game-changers in the resolution of the dispute. Two parents, a father with a 5 year-old son and a mother with two sons aged 10 and 12, reported that the child consultation proved highly beneficial in helping them resolve the dispute and in improving the level of cooperation in the parental relationship. This was largely because these parents felt that hearing the feedback had been a ‘wake-up’ call both for themselves and for their former partners (McIntosh et al., 2008). These parents felt that the mediation had brought home to them the damage that the conflict between them was inflicting upon their children.

However, most parents generally considered themselves to be ‘in tune’ with what children wanted, so that a large proportion considered they had not learned anything surprising in the feedback they received. In a couple of instances, they reframed confronting feedback in a way that provided an alternative meaning for the children’s statements. Nevertheless, even the parents who were disappointed by the outcomes of child-inclusive mediation generally still felt it had been beneficial for their child or children to talk to a professional about how they were feeling. Only one parent thought that his daughter had been inappropriately pressured by his former wife about the child consultation.

Parents in both groups were also generally positive about being involved in mediation and most would recommend it to others. These results need to be understood against the background that UnitingCare Unifam does not engage in child consultations only for the purpose of supporting the work of helping parents come to agreement about the parenting arrangements. The child consultation is also used to assess the children’s needs for other support services. For this reason, the success of a child consultation should not only be measured in terms of the resolution of disputes or improvement of the parental relationship.

This may also explain why some parents did not receive detailed feedback from the child consultation. It may be in these circumstances that it was not safe for the child to say too much to the parents, but the child consultation may have led to other forms of support being offered to the child or family.

The limited success of the programme in resolving the parenting disputes may also reflect the entrenched conflict among some parents in both forms of mediation, and for whom mediation was more about ‘going through the process’, required before they could go to court.

Generally, the comparison group, who had separated more recently, had fewer cases of entrenched conflict than the group that experienced child-inclusive mediation. [18]

It is important to emphasize also the limitations of this study. The number of participants in child-inclusive mediation and in the comparison group was small, since recruitment to the study proved to be very difficult. The study was based upon a retrospective interview. It involved fewer participants than in the McIntosh et al. (2006, 2009) evaluation, and funding did not extend to allow for longer term follow-up. Conversely, however, the McIntosh et al. evaluation was conducted with a much higher-income and more educated client group, all of whom were participating in mediation on a voluntary basis. The cohort in this study is perhaps more representative of the population that requires dispute resolution services to resolve parenting issues than those in the McIntosh et al. evaluation.

The intervention practised by UnitingCare Unifam in FRCs is also different in material respects from that designed and advocated by McIntosh, in particular because the child consultation also serves a therapeutic purpose in terms of assessment of the needs of the child and family for other services. There is not just one form of the practice of child-inclusive mediation. Petridis and Hannan (2011) have illustrated the important role that child consultations can play in child protection whether or not a case is deemed suitable for mediation, and UnitingCare Unifam has a similar approach. For that reason, the findings of this study should not be interpreted as raising issues generally about the efficacy of the intervention. It does nonetheless raise questions about whether the very encouraging findings from McIntosh’s pilot study can be replicated if the mediation is mandated (subject to suitability assessment and exemptions) and involves less well-educated participants.

This small study {emphasis added} indicates that the therapeutic value of the child consultation may be more beneficial than its value in promoting dispute resolution and improving parental relationships. Indeed, as reported elsewhere (Bell et al., 2012), many parents both in the child-inclusive group and in the comparison group thought that the purpose of the child consultation was counselling or therapy. If that is so, then more might be gained by offering the child or children the opportunity to talk with a counsellor as one of the services available through the FRC, than to channel cases routinely into child-inclusive mediation when both parents consent and the service is available.

There may also be a need for better selection of the cases where a child consultation is likely to assist, particularly given the additional cost of providing this option. A key issue is the likelihood that the parents will be responsive to the feedback, particularly confronting feedback.

That may be difficult to discern in advance, but perhaps an indication that a child consultation will not assist is if both parents see its utility as helping the other parent to accept their version of reality, and that neither considers it at all likely that they will hear something they don’t already know from the child. There may still be value in a child consultation for therapeutic purposes, but it may be better to suggest this option independently of its utility in terms of the mediation process.

While this is only a small qualitative study {emphasis added}, its findings raise sufficient questions about the optimal use of child-inclusive mediation that we recommend a larger research study should be commissioned to provide rigorous and independent evaluation of the benefits of the process as it is now being used and experienced in the community, rather than in a model or pilot programme. One of the difficulties of taking a pilot programme to scale is that the context for its broader implementation may be quite different from the commitment and approach of those who developed, evaluated, and advocated for the initial programme. A carefully designed pilot study that has been conducted at the University of Indiana (Holtzworth-Munroe et al., 2010, 2012) may provide further valuable information about the benefits of child-inclusive mediation in comparison with other kinds of intervention, although as in this study, small numbers may constrain the generalizability of the findings.

We cannot generalize about the utility of child-inclusive mediation from the outcomes of this small qualitative study, but it does provide some insights into the perceptions of the parents involved.  [19]

Child-inclusive mediation is a very promising and innovative approach to family dispute resolution. However, we are still in the learning stages of knowing how and when it is likely to be most useful to parents and beneficial for children, and whether it really does promote decisions and arrangements that are in the best interests of children as opposed to mediation conducted without children’s participation (Ryrstedt, 2012).

 

Footnotes:

[1] For a discussion of some limitations of the methodology employed in the McIntosh study, see Holtzworth-Munroe et al. (2010: 118–120).

[2]  Child-inclusive mediation is now offered by several organizations that provide mediation such as Relationships Australia, UnitingCare Unifam, and Anglicare. These organizations also run many Family Relationship Centres, in which child-inclusive mediation may be available.

[3]  Family Law Act 1975 s. 60I, as introduced by the Family Law Amendment (Shared Parental Responsibility) Act 2006.

[4]  On the development of the Centres and how they operate see Parkinson, 2006; Parkinson, The availability of this mediation without charge has now been threatened by funding cuts. It is likely to be means-tested in most centres, although with a significant degree of subsidy.

[5]  The national median household income, according to the 2006 census, was $1027 per week. In Fairfield, it was $873, in Wollongong, $933, and in Campbelltown, $1,059 (http://www.censusdata. abs.gov.au).

[6]  For a more detailed discussion of how parents came to be offered one type of mediation as opposed to the other see Bell et al., 2012.

[7]  Parents were asked to complete the Ahrons Acrimony scale (23 items on a 5-point Likert-type scale where 1¼‘never’ and 5¼‘always’, comprising two sub-scales, conflict and support), the Ahrons Content of Co-parental Interaction and the Ahrons Quality of Co-Parental Communication (9 items on the same 5-point scale, Ahrons, 1981). McIntosh  and Long (2006: 25) used a similar scale, the Acrimony scale (Shaw and Emery, 1987). Parents were also asked to rate their level of conflict with their former partner on a 5-point Likert-type scale (1¼‘very little’ to 5¼‘a lot of conflict’) at three points in time: at separation, before they started mediation, and again at the time of the interview post-mediation.

[8]  Parents were also asked to complete the Strengths and Difficulties questionnaire (SDQ), a commonly used brief behavioural screening questionnaire (for 4–17 year olds) for each of the children involved in the dispute. McIntosh and Long (2006) reported that 33% of children were in the clinical range on this scale at intake to their study (pre-mediation) and 21% one year post-mediation. In the current study, 23% (12/52) of children were in the clinical range at the time of interview post-mediation.

[9]  Parents’ ratings of the level of conflict at separation and at the start of mediation were both retrospective, reported at the time of the interview, and not significantly correlated with their ratings of ‘current conflict’ at the time of the interview: r¼.15, n¼30, p¼.42 (at separation), and r¼.09, n¼30, p¼.63 (at the start of mediation). There was no significant correlation between the length of time the parents had been separated and the reported level of conflict either at separation or before mediation but the level of conflict at interview was higher for those who had been separated longer (r¼.44, n¼30, p¼.015).

[10]  The mean Ahrons conflict score for the child-inclusive group was 14.9 (SD¼4.15) and 11.7 (SD¼3.7) for the comparison group (t¼2.23, 27 df, p¼.03). The mean Ahrons acrimony score for the child-inclusive group was 57.0 (SD¼12.3) and 46.2 (SD¼14.6) for the comparison group (t¼2.43, 28 df, p¼.03). The level of acrimony within and across both groups of parents was highly correlated with parents’ ratings of the level of conflict at the time of the interview (r¼.87, n¼30, p¼.001) but not with the level of conflict at the time of the separation (r¼.24, n¼30, p¼.275) or before starting mediation (r¼.16, n¼30, p¼.931).

[11]  This difference is significant even though the numbers are small: _2¼7.66, df¼2, p¼.022.

[12]  Parents’ mean scores on each of the Ahrons acrimony, conflict and cooperation and support scale scores differed significantly (p¼.02 to p¼.001) according to whether they reported that some or all of the issues they went to mediation with were resolved or not. The mean scores and t-test values for acrimony were 43.1 and 62.5 for resolution and non-resolution, respectively (t¼4.73, 28 df, p<.0001); for conflict, 11.3 and 16.2, t¼3.73, 28 df, p¼.001; for support, 20.4 and 14.3, t¼4.15, 28 df, p<.0001; and for cooperation, 26.1 and 19.3, t¼2.39, 28 df, p¼.024. There was a near-significant trend for parents in the comparison group to be more likely to indicate that the mediation had resolved some or all of their issues than parents in the child-inclusive group (Likelihood ratio¼3.57, 1 df, p¼.06).

[13]  The level of acrimony was highly correlated with parents’ reported conflict at the time of the interview, as reported earlier, but not the level of conflict at separation or at the start of mediation. The mean reported levels of conflict were also significantly different between those parents who resolved or did not resolve some or all of the issues for the reported level of ‘current conflict’ (at the time of the interview) only, not for the rating of conflict at separation or before the mediation (provided retrospectively): mean ratings of current conflict of 1.9 (SD¼1.1) and 3.9 (SD¼1.2), respectively (t¼4.68, 28 df, p<.001).

[14] The mean SDQs were 9.6 (SD¼5.2, n¼30) for the children whose parents indicated some resolution of the issues and 14.1 for those who did not (SD¼6.8, n¼20); t¼2.66, 48 df, p¼.011). A lower score indicates fewer behavioural problems.

[15]  Only two parents who indicated no resolution of the issues indicated that the other parent was a ‘very good’ or ‘better than average parent’ compared with 8 of the 18 parents who indicated resolution of some or all of the issues (_2¼5.85, df¼2, p¼.05).

[16] The researchers reported on how parents rated ‘their progress since mediation on a seven point scale from ‘No progress’ through to ‘Good progress’’ (McIntosh and Long, 2006: 26–73)

[17]  Both comparisons favoured the child-inclusive group, although in the 4-year follow up only 55% of mothers and 63% of fathers reported that the disagreements over parenting with the children’s other parent had been resolved satisfactorily; there was no significant difference between the groups in this regard (McIntosh et al., 2009: 41).

[18]  McIntosh et al. (2008) reported that ‘progress’ in child-inclusive mediation was not associated with the time since separation, with fathers reporting ‘consistent progress, regardless of the time since the separation, [and] mothers reporting increased progress, the longer the separation had been’ (p. 116). For parents in child-focused mediation, however, the longer the separation had been, the less the progress.

[19]  A strength is that there were 3 former couples in the child-inclusive mediation group and 5 former couples in the comparison group, allowing for insights to be gained about the experience

 

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