What do your children actually want?

In this episode, Tamsin speaks to child inclusive mediator Louisa Whitney. They discuss how this works and how it can help parents to understand what their children really want, rather than just what they think they want.  

Louisa Whitney is an accredited family mediator and a child inclusive trained mediator. She's also a PPC supervising and mentoring other family mediators. In addition to this she also offers training to mediators and lawyers - drawing on her experience as both a lawyer and a mediator. she is hugely passionate about keeping discussions in a separation in line with the 4cs: calm, constructive, conscious and compassionate.











Tamsin is a Chartered Financial Planner with over 20 years experience. She works with couples and individuals who are at the end of a relationship and want agree how to divide their assets FAIRLY without a fight.

You can contact Tamsin at tamsin@smartdivorce.co.uk or arrange a free initial meeting using https://calendly.com/tamsin-caine/15min. She is also part of the team running Facebook group Separation, Divorce and Dissolution UK

Tamsin Caine MSc., FPFS
Chartered Financial Planner
Smart Divorce Ltd

P.S. I am the co-author of “My Divorce Handbook – It’s What You Do Next That Counts”, written by divorce specialists and lawyers writing about their area of expertise to help walk you through the divorce process. You can buy it by scanning the QR code…

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(The transcript has been created by an AI, apologies for any mistakes)

Tamsin Caine 0:06
Hello, and welcome to this Smart Divorce Podcast. I'm Tamsin Caine and I will be your host during this our series six of the podcast. We're delighted that you're joining us again, and hope that you really enjoy today's episode. During series six, we'll be speaking to other divorce professionals who help in perhaps some of the more unusual ways. So we will be speaking to lawyers who deal with international divorce. We will be speaking child inclusive mediation, to name a few. I really hope that you enjoy today's episode. Let's jump right in. Hello, and I'm delighted to be joined today by Louisa Whitney. There is an accredited family mediator and a child inclusive trained mediator. And what we're going to be talking about today is much more about child inclusive mediation. She's also a PPC supervising mentoring of the family mediators, I'm going to need to ask her what that is because I haven't got a clue. In addition to this, she also offers training to mediators and lawyers during on her experience as both a lawyer and mediator. She is hugely passionate about keeping discussions in the set in a separation in line with the three C's calm, constructive, and compassionate. And me and Louise, there have been friends on social media for quite a long time. Now it feels, and I think we have a fairly similar approach to wanting couples to try and sort things out without going to court. So Louisa, welcome. Thank you for joining me today.

Louisa Whitney 1:52
Thank you very much for having me. Oh, I've been looking forward to it.

Tamsin Caine 1:54
And me and me. And before we start talking about child inclusive mediation, what was the bit about PPCs that I've just read out blindly not having any clue what I'm talking about.

Louisa Whitney 2:09
So a PPC is a professional practising consultant. And all mediators have to have a PPC. So it's someone who we say supervise, but that sounds a bit kind of severe. It's really someone who's there as a sounding board to mentor you for questions about kind of codes of conduct accreditation, that kind of stuff. And it's such a valuable source of support. I wish I'd had a PPC when I was a lawyer. And it's kind of akin to counsellors have supervisors. So it's more in that ilk. But I mean, my PPC is such a massive source of support from help, something's happened. And I need to talk it through right through to, can you just remind me what the rules are on this? Because I've been reading it for half an hour. And I've completely confused myself, that kind of thing.

Tamsin Caine 2:56
Oh, that sounds great. I think, yeah, we could probably do with those in financial services. I think there's much more of there. A less structured approach, a more casual approach, probably, to, to those sorts of things. We have a WhatsApp group for financial planners working in divorce. And so yeah, there's a, there's a hell. Where do I find information about this? Or have I remembered this right? Or this barristers questioning me on this? And you always assume of barristers, right, and sometimes they're not. So yeah. That makes complete sense. So we're going to talk about child inclusive mediation today. And I know this is something that's close to your heart. So shall we start by explaining what is child inclusive mediation?

Louisa Whitney 3:54
Yeah, so I think it's something that not enough people know about. Child inclusive mediation is a process which enables children whose parents are separating, to have a voice in the mediation process that their parents are going through. And the idea is to just ensure that their voices are heard. Sometimes as parents, we think we know what our children want. But we don't necessarily, and particularly in a separation, it can be hard to talk to mom or dad, children don't want to upset them, or they're worried something might be difficult. Or sometimes children just have really practical and innovative things that they can share. So it gives them a voice to be heard in that mediation process.

Tamsin Caine 4:39
Okay, and what age children are we are we talking about? Because I'm guessing tiny little sort three, four year olds are going to struggle to understand what's going on. Well, never mind. Anything else.

Louisa Whitney 4:56
Yeah, it's a good point. So there's not a kind of sit ins stone roll. But the rule of thumb would be that they would need to be older children say around 10 and above. But if you've got a sibling group, and you've got, say, one child who's 10, one child who's 12, and one child who's a, you would offer the eight year old a chance, because if they're siblings are getting to have a say in it, they might be quite cross if they couldn't have a say. So it's very much on a case by case approach. But But yes, generally speaking, it's more older children. Okay.

Tamsin Caine 5:30
And how, how is it set up is it is, is the child including inclusive mediation done in an in your office in the child's home house, what's what's the environment that needs to be? Right?

Louisa Whitney 5:48
Again, it varies from case to case. But either it would usually be done at the mediators office, or it might be done online, that's become I think, more common with the whole pandemic. Or possibly it could happen in a safe space, like the child's school, if that's where they felt most comfortable talking to the mediator, the most important thing is that the child or the children are free and able to express what they feel. So in the family home, it might be more difficult with a parent being there. Online, you'd have to assess whether they would be able to have that space away from a parent, you know, sometimes it is tempting for the parent there, whether that moment to kind of listen at the door or try and find out. So you just be checking that the children did have a safe space that they were able to talk to the mediator without anybody overhearing really?

Tamsin Caine 6:38
Yeah. Okay. So this is not the children talking to a mediator with parent or parents there. It's them speaking directly to you.

Louisa Whitney 6:50
Yeah, exactly. The parents aren't there. I mean, if the, the parents may, well, obviously bring the child to the mediators office. But then they would be waiting in reception, or they would go away and have a coffee and the child or the children would talk to the mediator on their own. And it's a real exercise in having a report and setting it up in the right way, I think it's important to put children at their ease, often the mediator will write to them beforehand, so they get their own letter or something like that. So it is important to try and approach them in a way that's going to work for them. And that's where mom and dad can be really helpful in kind of understanding, you know, dark things like maybe we could put a sticker on the letter or something that would appeal to your child, what would it be? What are your children interested in so that we can, you know, start a conversation on something that's interesting to that and all of those kinds of things. There's a lot of work that goes into setting it up before a mediator approaches the child or the children.

Tamsin Caine 7:49
Okay, would that work? Would those conversations be had with both parents? Yeah, I'm really just speaking to what

Louisa Whitney 7:58
they would happen with both parents, child inclusive mediation can only happen if both parents are in agreement, and the child or the children are also in agreement. So the parents will usually be in mediation with a mediator, and it may crop up in conversations, either perhaps there's an issue and mom and dad disagree about what the child thinks or what the children actually want from a particular scenario. And so it can be useful to explore, well, would it be helpful for them to have their voices heard as part of this process? Or it may just be that they're not quite sure what arrangements they need to put in place, and they want to ensure that their children can feed into that. So it would be as following mediation with mum and dad that it gets set up that it's a child inclusive mediation?

Tamsin Caine 8:45
And what what sort of what sort of scenarios what sort of questions are you trying to answer in in when speaking to the children?

Louisa Whitney 8:56
Yeah, so we're, I think it's really important to draw a distinction between the child's inclusive mediation process and calf casts. So calf casts are obviously social workers that are attached to the court. And their questions are probably much more targeted in terms of the way that they approach children and things they're trying to find out with.

Tamsin Caine 9:17
Cats... Sorry, just for anybody listening who doesn't know what calf casts is? And no, no, we use them all the time, but just could you just explain what calf casts is and when they might get involved? And then

Louisa Whitney 9:31
yes, sorry, is this problem when you work in this area? It's like things are normal and other people go wrong. So you have cat stands for the courts advisory family court. I can't even remember the last two bits, but it's effectively the The judge in the courts. So cafcass only get involved in a court application. And they are the judges eyes and ears within the family as to what is right for this particular family. So what the children's view Use are, what mum and dad's views are. So the calf casts officers are social workers, but they work for calf casts. And when a case goes to court, it's often referred to calf casts. And they get involved in preparing a report by talking to mom talking to dad, usually talking to the children's school, and the children and they then prepare a report that's gone through the welfare checklist. Does that make sense? It's, I'm so aware of the fact that when you do this stuff all the time you rattle things off. But actually, you're not sure whether it does actually make sense to people. always useful to check, isn't it? Yeah,

Tamsin Caine 10:36
absolutely. Absolutely. Okay, so that's what calf cast do. So where do you differ from what calf casting?

Louisa Whitney 10:43
So child inclusive mediators is a much less formal process. We're not interviewing children, we haven't got a list of set questions we're going to put to them. It's much more about having a chat and explaining that you're working with mum and dad, they're trying to make arrangements for what's going to happen following the separation or when they separate and don't live in the same house. And you just want to see whether there's anything that children are worried about anything that they think would be really useful for mum and dad to know, anything that they really want to input in that process, and you keep it really general, it's not about, you know, having a formal interview or asking set questions. It's just about encouraging children to explain things from their angle. And the really crucial part is that anything that children say to the mediator is confidential. And the mediator only feeds back to the parents what the children are comfortable with. So they can just offload stuff like I hate mum and dad fighting. I really wish they'd listen to us. But they may then say, actually, these are just the points that I want you to say to Mom and Dad, I don't want you to say the rest of it.

Tamsin Caine 11:54
Right. Okay. You mentioned that it it's you use child includes mediation to answer particular questions that might come up in the mediation with the parents. So what, what are some examples of questions that you might then go and talk to the children to get answered? Because it sounds like quite a broad conversation with the children, but quite a specific requirement from the parents mediation setting?

Louisa Whitney 12:26
Yeah, so this is where the kind of setting it up is really crucial. So there may be adult issues that mom and dad are not finding it easy to sort out, they might have different views on what Mr. Or Jack actually wants to happen. And the job of the mediator isn't to kind of go in there and go, mum and dad are wondering whether you want to spend extra Wednesday's with dad or that kind of stuff. It's very much that general conversation. And that's explained to parents that look, you know, what we want to know is what's important to your children. And this is where I think it's really interesting because parents get really hung up on adult issues. So whether there should be an extra stay over in the week with the parent, the children don't live with, whether you know, the time that they spend is equal or not equal or what it is as a percentage. Children tend not to worry about those things. They just want to know that they're going to be able to see mom and dad and that they're going to be able to have fun with mom and dad. And that they know it's okay with mom that they're going to see dad and it's okay with dad when they're with mom because often there can be little things and children are so intuitive and picking it up. You know, if Mum rolls her eyes every time we say something about Dad, we learned not to mention Dad, if dad looks a bit cross every time we mentioned mum, we learned not to mention mum. So looking at it from the Children's angle, often their take is about much more practical things like what happens if I've left my P kit at another house at the other parents house. I don't want to get a detention. What happens if I'm on a school trip and no one's done my lunch? I'm going to be hungry. Yeah, simple things like what if I don't have a hairbrush at one parent's house and my hair looks a mess and I get teased at school. These are the kinds of things that children worry about and are really useful to feedback to parents because often parents have been really focused on should we have Thursday night stay overs rather than my child's really worrying about this particular aspect?

Tamsin Caine 14:27
Yeah, no, I totally get that. To me, my parents are divorced and I was 12 to ideal age when they separated and I think that if at that age, some I kind of felt like why is nobody asking me for my opinion? Why does nobody want to know from me? Where are where are we gonna live them? Who are you know, what, how often I want to see do the parents and and things like I I kind of think this is, this is a good way of getting voices heard. I should also add that I am divorced. And, and neither advice were asked, because I don't think I was aware that this, this existed, and that it was a way that we could we could ensure our children voices were heard, but I can absolutely see the benefit. What are what are the ways in which it helps the parents? So you've had a conversation with the children. And obviously, you'll only repeat the the sections of the conversation that the child is happy for you to repeat? How does it help their parents to move forward?

Louisa Whitney 15:49
Yeah, it's a really good question. And I think you're exactly right, that when I no resolution to a lot of these studies, they talk to children, the statistics on how many children feel that they weren't listened to, or that their views weren't so out, is massive, I can't remember the latest percentage off the top of my head, but it's always a significant percentage. I think the way that it helps parents move forward is firstly, it helps them understand what their children are worried about, or what it is their children are focusing on, which is often very different to what they're saying. So sometimes you can be in a situation where a child or children are saying, we don't want to go to the other parents house, we don't want to go to dad's house. And then that creates an issue between parents because in this case, if it's dad, the children don't want to see, there's often an assumption that mom's not encouraging them, or that mum has somehow turned the children against them. But actually, when you talk to children, it can be a really simple explanation, like, I haven't got my computer, so I'm not able to do my homework, and I'm worried that it's going to be late handing it in. Or we always do loads of things with dad, because we haven't seen him so often. And I get really tired, and I'd rather slow down. And often it's not about the parents, and it helps them to understand what's going on for the children. So that can be one way in which it's really helpful kind of putting that percentage in. Sometimes it can be really helpful because sometimes children just put their finger on things in a way that adults miss. Because, as adults, we overcomplicate things. And I know sometimes I've been having a discussion with my children, and I've been Oh, well, you know, we might do this you might do that might be there. And then they'll suddenly say something and you think, oh, yeah, I've completely missed that bit. And they just have that perspective on it. Which brings it back to the whole, right, this is what's important, actually, whether it's five nights or four nights or three nights isn't important, what's important is that our children are happy and that they feel loved and that they don't feel caught in the middle. Because pretty much all separating parents I've ever spoken to want the best for their children, even if they you know, have different ways of going about that.

Tamsin Caine 18:05
Yeah, no, you're absolutely right. I guess some of the kind of concerns about child inclusive mediation might be that the parent who has them on the day that they go to see the mediator might be putting ideas in their head, or don't say this, make sure you tell them that you want to live with me? Or you know, I suppose you'd call it coaching, wouldn't you? And I'm trying to think, yeah, if it was in a legal setting, it'd be it'd be coaching the witness, wouldn't it as thinking in terms of those sorts of things? How how do you get prevent or kind of make sure that that's not such a big issue?

Louisa Whitney 18:55
Yeah, and it's a, it's a pretty common and understandable concern, especially in a situation where one parent is either not seeing the children for whatever reason, or perhaps aren't seeing them very much. And it's something we need to be really alive to as child inclusive mediators. So firstly, we're always watching and listening and asking questions to say, you know, is this something that we feel might be an issue? Is it a cause for concern? Secondly, we're explicit with parents that that can't happen. Children mustn't be coached mustn't be told what to say. And neither parent must ask them about what they told the mediator. And that is all part of doing it and everybody agrees to do that. And thirdly, you know, if there's a situation where children are coming out with things that sound very, very adult, then that might be something that alerts are concerned with a mediator that you would then have to deal with. So it's very much if they say curiosity is a mediators, friend, and I'm a big believer in that it is just about Watching, noticing asking questions, all of that kind

Tamsin Caine 20:03
of thing. Yeah, no, that makes sense. What? Um, what about things that the children say that are unexpected, but are of course, their concern to you know if there are, if it sounds like that is those things have been happening, that you are concerned about how? How can you deal with those sorts of things.

Louisa Whitney 20:31
So all mediators at the outset of any mediation process will explain that everything in mediation is confidential. But an exception to that is that if somebody tells the mediator, something that makes them think there might be harm to another person, whether that's a child or an adult, then that's something that we have to report, that's part of our safeguarding training. So if something like that came up, and it was a real cause for concern, then it's something that you might need to report to social services to make a referral, it would very much depend on the circumstances. And we talked about PPCs. Right at the start, this is where your PPC is an absolutely invaluable support, if you've got a situation where you think you've got a safeguarding concern, having someone to talk it through with and say, Look, you know, I'm concerned about this, this is what I think is the action, it's just really, really helpful, because it can be a really, really tricky situation for the mediator to be in because they're working with mum and dad. And obviously, there's, if there's something that happens like that, it's going to end the mediation process, but you have to balance that with your duty to safeguard and if something is a cause for concern, that's something that you absolutely have to report.

Tamsin Caine 21:45
Okay. And I am assuming that the child inclusive mediation is used primarily for sorting out the children discussions, rather than the financial discussions, is that the case? Or can they? Can they be used it? Can they be spoken to regarding the financial parts as well, I'm not quite sure how but

Louisa Whitney 22:09
yeah, it's definitely just about issues relating to the children. But that said, for the adults, for the parents that may inform the financial decisions. For example, if you're going to have the children spending broadly equal time with both parents, then you might need to make sure that you've got a more suitable property, you might need a garden, then if you were the children, were just staying with you every other weekend, you might be able to manage with a smaller property, that kind of thing. And depending on the financial circumstances, but yeah, the children would only be spoken to about children, about issues, about things relating to them not about financial issues, that wouldn't be appropriate, I think.

Tamsin Caine 22:51
Okay. And so, we've talked about the younger, kind of eight age group is there, because I know from from age 60, and children can essentially decide what's gonna say their own destiny, but like, they can choose where they live, and so on. So it's 60 in the oldest that you would speak to, or, or if there were, if it was a sibling setting, would you speak to kids that were older than that?

Louisa Whitney 23:18
Yeah, it's 16 is not necessarily a cut off. As you say, if there were slightly younger siblings and there was a 17 year old, then it would be wrong to exclude them, they may want to certainly have their say, it may also be reassuring for younger siblings if the older sibling is there, and that might help to make them feel a little bit more confident. So there isn't a kind of cutoff point in that sense. It often comes down to the individual circumstances really?

Tamsin Caine 23:48
Yeah, sure. That that's actually made me think of an ever another question. So you were saying about the, the younger sibling might feel better if the older sibling was there? So do you speak to us all the children together? Or did they have the opportunity to speak to you individually, I'm thinking myself and my sister would have had very different views on on our parents divorce were quite different people would have, I suspect, I mean, didn't do but I suspect would have had different views that that the other, we wouldn't necessarily we wanted to share in front of one another.

Louisa Whitney 24:30
Yeah. And again, it depends on the situation. So it would be something to talk about with parents beforehand as to what they think the children might think. But also to talk to the children themselves as to whether you know, they're happy being in together or whether any of them or all of them wanted to be able to have their say, you might get a situation where a younger sibling really feels that they can only speak when they've got their brothers and sisters with them because they feel a bit uncertain but and I older sibling might feel actually, you know what I'm happy to be in here with my younger brother or sister. But actually, I'd like to say things away from them once we've been in here for a bit. And again, that could be arranged, you could make sure that mom or dad is in reception, take the younger child back and then be able to talk to the older children.

Tamsin Caine 25:18
That makes a lot of sense. So in terms of the whole process, sort of, if you are gonna go down this route, it's starts off in the standard mediation process, the parent to bring it together, can you talk me through an ease that there was a letter that would usually arrive? Can you talk me through the process from from that point from the parents agreeing that this is going to be a good idea?

Louisa Whitney 25:43
Yeah, so if the parents are in mediation, and they talk about it, and they say, Yeah, I think this would be a really helpful thing for us, then they would sign the letter of consent, and the mediator would approach the child or children, either by letter or perhaps some kind of electronic means. And then the children would say whether they want to come in and see the mediator. If they do, then we would arrange your time and date when the children could come and see the mediator and how that would happen, whether it was online or in person, children would then meet with the mediator, and as I say, it might be together, it might be a bit of separating them out. And then quickly after that, usually, within a few days, the mediator would then meet with mum and dad, again, away from the children to feed back what it is that the children have said. And the feedback is only what the children are comfortable sharing. And it literally just what they have said the mediator doesn't interpret it or put any other spin on it. It's purely this is the situation. And usually the parents would be together. If there's a reason why it's difficult, then perhaps mum and dad might be separate. Or if there was a piece of feedback that was very focused on one parent, perhaps it might be sensitive to give that to the parent away from the other parent. You know, it's, it's all adapting to what's said and shared, really. But that's the kind of general the process.

Tamsin Caine 27:08
And have you ever had a situation where there's nothing that you can share that the judge said with the parents?

Louisa Whitney 27:15
I haven't. But I know of other mediators where that has happened. But I have to say, I don't know very many. Usually, if the children wants to come, it's usually because they've got something to say that they want to be heard on.

Tamsin Caine 27:27
And they want mom and dad to know, but they don't necessarily want to tell them directly. Absolutely. Got you not know that. That makes sense. That makes a lot of sense. Okay. And so what do you generally find that if the children have been spoken to that mum and dad, then quite quickly moved to resolving the the issues that they've had with the children issues? Or? Or does it sometimes still take quite a long time?

Louisa Whitney 27:59
I think it very much depends on the issues, I think it can be really powerful for mum and dad to hear what children have said, particularly if it's not what they were expecting them to say. That can be something that's quite, can be quite difficult to hear. You know, and certainly, the feedback meeting, it's only the feedback that happens, you wouldn't usually give the feedback and then go, let's continue with discussions, you would usually have a meeting scheduled another day, because often it's just, it just can be quite emotional, particularly if your children have shared something that you weren't expecting, or perhaps that is upsetting. You know, if there's something that they don't feel you're getting, right, that can be hard to hear as a parent. You know, my daughter told me two weeks ago that she didn't feel I was listening to her. And my first reaction was, well, of course, I'm listening to you, what do you say? But actually, the point is, whether I am or I'm not, she doesn't feel like I am. So that's the bit that you kind of got to address.

Tamsin Caine 28:59
Yeah, no, that's, that makes sense. And is there anything else that I should have asked you that I haven't? Catch?

Louisa Whitney 29:11
The catch all question. And just I think this, you know, this isn't a magic wand solution as nothing in Family Justice is, and there are certain situations where it wouldn't happen. For example, if you've got a situation where the children have perhaps been through the parents being in court, they've spoken to calf casts, maybe they've had other people that they've had to meet as part of a family therapeutic session or something. And then a mediator would be very mindful of if the children have already spoken to a lot of different professionals. Perhaps it might not be appropriate for them to talk to a mediator as well. But it's just fascinating work really, I mean, children just have such a, you know, a different perspective on things that I think it can be quite interesting humbling for adults to hear, you know, we, we often look at the world through very adult eyes, but looking at it from a children's lens can be quite therapeutic.

Tamsin Caine 30:14
I can only imagine. And so if any of our listeners have heard anything today that makes them think that they really need to speak to you, which I'm sure I'm sure the world will people, how can they get in touch with you?

Louisa Whitney 30:32
So my website is for my family mediation practice, which is L kW family mediation, and the website is L kW family mediation.co.uk. And I'm also on pretty much all the social media challenge channels. So if there's anything I've said today that resonates, come and have a look at some of the stuff I'm sharing or drop me a direct message on there, because sometimes it can be scary. And you know, just ask a question.

Tamsin Caine 30:58
Fantastic. That's brilliant. Louisa, thank you so much. We will put your contact details in the show notes as well. If anybody does want to get ahold of you, they will be able to that way but it was an absolute pleasure to talk to you today. Thank you for joining me.

Louisa Whitney 31:13
Thank you very much for having me on.

Tamsin Caine 31:19
And I hope you enjoy the episode of the smart boss podcast. If you would like to get in touch please have a look in the show notes for our details or go onto the website www dot smart divorce.co.uk. Also, if you are listening on Apple podcasts or on Spotify, and you wouldn't mind leaving us a lovely five star review. That would be fantastic. I know that lots of our listeners are finding this is incredibly helpful in the journey through separation divorce and dissolving a civil partnership. Also, if you would like some foot further support, we do have Facebook group now. It's called separation divorce and dissolution UK. Please do go on to Facebook, search up the group and we'd be delighted to have you join us. The one thing I would say is do please answer their membership questions. Okay, have a great day and take care

Transcribed by https://otter.ai


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