Thursday, January 20, 2005

Mediation for parents

Yesterday’s government announcement on reforms to family law were desperately needed. I’ve been surprised by the number of fathers I’ve met in the past few months who, however hard they try, are having problems getting any access to their children.

Conciliation seems a sensible step, and is the first time, as far as I’m aware, that a anything resembling a reconciliation and mediation programme has gone mainstream in the public sector on this scale. Thames Valley Police have been leaders in restorative justice (a form of conflict mediation between victim and offender) since the late 1990s. Mediation has also been used by some local authorities to try and deal with neighbourhood disputes, young offenders and schools – see for more information. A number of conflict mediation charities exist throughout the country (e.g. the Christian inspired Conflict and Change) , from which local authorities sometimes ‘buy in’ expertise.

However, my (relatively limited) experience suggests that their services are not well integrated and tend to be called upon as a last resort, by which time it’s too late.

Mediation between parents to try and avoid damaging and painful court cases must be welcomed as a positive step. Whether a service run by Cafcass (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service), a court based organisation, are the right people to run mediation I’m unsure. By the time people have applied to the courts in many cases it may already be too late and conflict mediation can be driven by those wanting to cut costs. A lot will depend on the expertise already existing within Cafcass and their ability to adapt to their new role.

As usual all the announcements yesterday focused on ‘what’s best for the children’. Protecting children is of course hugely important, but the rhetoric conveniently sidesteps and ignores what happens to the parents involved in the breakdown. The fact that relationship break-down is one of the most stressful events that can happen in your life, causing knock on effects to friends, jobs, the economy, mental health and the NHS, parents are simply left to ‘reap what they sow’.

The long term aim must be to develop a culture where asking for input into your long-term relationship or marriage becomes the norm, not just for those whose relationship is on the verge of breaking down. Relationship building is a core value in many churches (and other faith groups) , who potentially have a great to deal to offer wider society. Christians that have them don’t need to be defensive about the relationship-building skills that we can bring to people in our towns and cities. I don’t know anyone who wants to grow up as a single parent or see their relationship fail. A survey by the Scottish Council Foundation ‘identified [a parent’s] highest priority, both during pregnancy and after the baby is settled at home, as having the full support of partners and family members’ . However, the question is how churches can move beyond ‘marriage courses’ (excluding large segments of the population) and assist those wanting to work at long-term relationships, whilst still upholding the importance, benefits and sanctity of marriage.

No comments:

Post a Comment