The inclusion of children in family dispute resolution in Australia: Balancing welfare versus rights principles
Faculty of Business and Law
School of Law and Justice
Over the course of the 2000s, Australia has been at the international forefront of implementing child-inclusive services to families undergoing separation (Birnbaum, 2009). Around the world, various policy initiatives and research projects have suggested that the direct participation of children in family separation processes correctly recognises the child's right to be heard in matters of direct relevance to them. This article reports on the findings of a study which involved the interviewing of children and parents participating in family separation mediation in Australia. The key findings were that for most children their inclusion in the mediation was either unremarkable or beneficial in some important ways, however in a small number of cases involving family violence and/or anger, their inclusion sparked fear in children. We conclude that child inclusive separation processes must recognize the pervasiveness of family violence and balance the right of children to be heard with traditional welfare principles regarding the protection of children.