By Tarryn Skilling

Child Inclusion Specialist – what does this newly developed role mean for Family Dispute Resolution?

American Anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”[1] In line with the ADR Centre’s vision to move the world to resolution, it is encouraging that the New Zealand Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) sector is embarking on a legislative shift to more consistently include tamariki (children) and rangatahi (young people) in the kōrero (conversation) of family mediation. Although not changing the world, so to speak, this has the potential to create a powerful and positive change within FDR practice.

What has caused this change?

Whilst some practitioners have argued that the existing Voice of Child (VoC) practice is sufficient to enable a child’s voice to be considered, research has indicated that the existing practice has afforded too much variance and has been described as a purely ‘representative’ model of children’s voices. Renowned Mediator and founder of The Goldson Model Jill Goldson stated that the VoC “tends to be misrepresented too often for safe practice.”[2] We are excited to be working as a supplier of service with Jill, alongside voice of the child practitioners, on redefining this process.

On 16 August 2023, the Family Court (Supporting Children in Court) Act 2021 amended the Care of Children Act 2004 to include a clause that “a child must be given reasonable opportunities to participate in any decision affecting them.”[3] As an omnibus bill,[4] this caused a profound shift, as it overrode the previous legislative landscape for children specified in the Care of Child Act 2004 and the Family Dispute Resolution Act 2013. This change was also intended to align New Zealand more closely with our obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC). Under UNCROC, children are seen as independent citizens whose rights, including of participation, are paramount. They must therefore be awarded the opportunity to express their views freely and their views must be given due weight in matters affecting them, dependent on the age and maturity of the child.[5]  

Child Inclusion Specialist defined

The Ministry of Justice’s FDR Operating Model has thus been adapted, giving rise to the newly established Child Inclusion Specialists. This role requires high levels of education and specialist knowledge and training of working with children and families.[6] With the intention of ensuring consistent child engagement from a ‘child inclusive’ framework that employs developmental psychology, attachment theory and family systems theory,[7] these roles will be utilised “to support mediators (or engage children directly) so that the children who are the subject of a Family Dispute can participate in FDR in an age-appropriate and safe way.”[8]

Looking to the future

Reactions to the implementation of Child Inclusion Specialists have been mixed. We, however, see this as an opportunity to reflect and continue to improve. Change is always challenging, but it is also the space where development and improvement thrive. Jill Goldson has stated that “the childʼs need to have a voice and to be informed is equally urgent outside legal processes.”[9] With a newly appointed Child Inclusion Specialist, and more to come, the FDR Centre is excited about the changing landscape of FDR practice and the prospect of facilitating positive outcomes for tamariki, rangatahi and whānau across Aotearoa by truly allowing their voices to be heard and play a significant role in FDR outcomes. 

 

 

[1] Cassar, C. (2023, September 2). Empowering Voices: The Best Quotes from Margaret Mead. Anthropology Review. https://anthropologyreview.org/influential-anthropologists/quotes-from-margaret-mead/

[2] Goldson, J. (n/a). The difference between “the voice of the child” and child participation in mediation. https://www.jillgoldson.co.nz/blog-posts/the-difference-between-the-voice-of-the-child-and-child-participation-in-mediation

[3] Care of Children Act 2004 section 5(g) inserted, on 16 August 2023, by section 4 of the Family Court (Supporting Children in Court) Legislation Act 2021 (2021 No 33)

[4] It also amended section 11 of the Family Dispute Resolution Act 2013

[5] United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989, article 12.

[6] Ministry of Justice Family Dispute Resolution Quality Practice Framework

[7]Goldson, J. 2009. Child inclusion in dispute resolution in the New Zealand Family Court. A position paper. http://www.nzlii.org/nz/journals/NZLFRRp/2009/2.html

[8] Ministry of Justice Family Dispute Resolution Operating Guidelines (10 Jan 2024)

[9] Goldson, J. 2009. Child inclusion in dispute resolution in the New Zealand Family Court. A position paper. http://www.nzlii.org/nz/journals/NZLFRRp/2009/2.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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