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Youth Voices: A Call to Action for Family Lawyers and Mediators–Part 2

This is Part 2 of a two-part piece focusing on how family lawyers and mediators can participate in and support the Youth Voices Initiative.

In Part 1, I described the foundations of the Youth Voices Initiative, overseen by the BC Family Justice Innovation Lab, which aims to improve the well-being and resilience of children and youth who are experiencing parental separation. I tried to connect the dots between the child rights provisions, Adverse Childhood Experience research, the importance of child voice/participation and the family justice system. Out of a human-centred design process emerged a story-based concept which the initiative team is now prototyping through Instagram (@youth_voices_bc) and eventually through a new digital platform.

The work of the nine remarkable young people who compose the Youth Leadership Group has revealed a number of important messages for parents and system professionals. The initiative has begun to release short videos through Instagram highlighting their experiences and advice to the system. Goals include encouraging other young people to share their stories, creating a peer community of support and providing

In general, these are some of the themes that have emerged to date relevant to parents and family lawyers/mediators:

  • Follow Youth Voices’ Instagram account (@youth_voices_bc) and encourage young people in your life to follow too.
  • Read about Youth Voices on the Lab website and blog and send us comments and feedback.
  • Encourage children to speak up, to share their stories and what they mean to the child.

Parents:

  • At an early stage, at a carefully chosen time, explain the situation and ask your child for their views.
  • Ideally both parents should meet with their children together.
  • Listen deeply without judgment and with tons of love.
  • Acknowledge the child’s feelings.
  • Resist feelings of defensiveness or hurt if your child suggests something that is not what you want. Put them first.
  • Then take those stories and views into account. Don’t let them fall into a black hole which could multiply hurt. Let your child know how their voice was heard and acted on.
  • Separation is a really difficult time for parents so it may be hard to you to do this. But reach out for help from others, including counsellors, therapists or Hear the Child

Family lawyers:

  • At the outset of your engagement, inquire of your client (the parent) about the child’s views. Have they asked? What did the child say?
  • Avoid the temptation to rely solely on the parents’ assumptions of the child’s views or what is in their best interests. Offer alternative ways to hear the child’s views that allows parents to check their assumptions.
  • Explain ACEs and the consequences for their child; describe how ignoring or suppressing the child’s voice can cause long-term harm.
  • Suggest involving a Hear the Child Practitioner and/or child specialist (counsellor or therapist).
  • Consider out of court processes, like mediation, that could allow for child participation.
  • Consider what coaching or advice you can give to the parent.

Family mediators:

  • You are in a unique position to have access to both parents.
  • At an early point in your engagement, ask each parent about the child’s views. What steps have they taken to explain and inquire of their child? What did the child say?
  • Explain ACEs and the consequences for their child; describe how ignoring or suppressing the child’s voice can cause long-term harm.
  • If appropriate, suggest options to ensure that the child is heard.
  • Consider how the child could participate safely in the mediation, either through a child specialist or, if appropriate, directly with the mediator.
  • Consider what other coaching or advice you can provide to each parent.

All the initiative’s work to date has been done in collaboration with a multi-disciplinary team including family lawyers, mediators, parents, therapists, educators and young people (including a Youth Leadership Group). The goal is to prototype in a way that is meaningfully youth-led. We also need the involvement of, and feedback from, more adult “allies” including experienced system professionals. If you have questions or suggestions or would like to be involved or support this movement, contact information is below. We look forward to hearing from you.

“When you silence a child, you invalidate their thoughts, feelings, and emotions. This is the reason why children lose their sense of identity, self esteem, and purpose. You are doing more harm than good by silencing the voice of a child, and this is exactly why the Youth Voices Initiative exists.” (S, age 20)

The members of the Youth Leadership Group and the initiative team are motivated to make positive change to improve the well-being and resilience of children. Are you?

Youth Voices Initiative
c/o BC Family Justice Innovation Lab: www.bcfamilyinnovationlab.ca
Kari D. Boyle, Coordinator: kari.boyle@shaw.ca; kari@bcfjil.ca; 604-838-2149

Note: I am grateful to the advice and suggestions about this article from my colleagues Jane Morley Q.C. and Nancy Cameron Q.C.

 

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