Child Protection & Safeguarding
Family Mediation is a confidential process, but where there are concerns about the safety of a child, the protection of children overrides the principles of both confidentiality and parental decision-making.
Child Protection and Safeguarding
Family Mediation is a confidential process, but where there are concerns about the safety of a child, the protection of children overrides the principles of both confidentiality and parental decision-making. The mediator will explain this to you when you come for your first meeting, called a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM). You will also confirm that you understand this at the start of your first mediation session, when you sign an agreement to mediate.
Like all agencies that are directly or indirectly involved with the welfare and safeguarding of children, the Family Mediation Clinic must follow the child protection procedures of the Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) in their area. If it appears to a mediator that a child is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm, they have a responsibility to report the information to an agency with statutory powers to investigate and protect children. This is normally the children’s services department.
Mediators do not have any powers to investigate child protection issues or reach decisions about whether a child has been harmed. But if you or your ex-partner raises concerns in a mediation session, the mediator will discuss these with you in more detail, to establish exactly what is being alleged and the details of what happened.
If it seems that a child has suffered or is likely to suffer significant harm, a referral to children’s services must be made. The mediator will give the parent who has made the allegation an opportunity to make the referral themselves within that working day or by 10 am the next morning at the latest. Otherwise the mediator will make the referral as soon as possible. Mediation is unlikely to continue when safeguarding issues are under investigation.
If you have any concerns about a child you can:
- Contact the children’s services department for the address where the child is living. You will find details on your local council’s website.
- Contact the NSPCC for further advice. The information will be passed to the local children’s services team if appropriate.
The role of children's services
Family breakdown and the disputes that have led you to consider mediation may have also resulted in you receiving services from other agencies, such as children’s services. When you come for your first meeting with the mediator, called a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM), you will be asked about the services you have been offered by other agencies.
Whilst Family Mediation can take place alongside other services, it will be important for the mediator to know more about the nature of children’s services involvement with your family. The mediator may ask for your permission to contact your social worker for more information so that they can ensure mediation compliments any other family work being provided by children’s services.
There will be some circumstances in which it is unlikely that mediation will be suitable, for example, if the department is undertaking a child protection investigation or a child protection plan is in place.
However, where there are disputes about contact and co-parenting, it may be more appropriate for this work to be done by a family mediation service, especially if the focus is on improving communication.
According to the definition adopted across government departments in 2013, domestic abuse is ‘any incident or pattern of incidents, of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (whether psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between individuals who are associated with each other.’ Domestic abuse normally occurs in intimate or family-type relationships and the majority of those affected are women and children. Women’s Aid estimates that at least 1 in 4 women experience domestic abuse in their lifetime and between 1 in 8 and 1 in 10 experience it annually, even though only half of the incidents are reported to the police.
Family mediation should always take place in a safe, confidential environment. When you come to your first meeting, the mediator will discuss with you whether domestic abuse has been an issue for you and how this might affect you in mediation. Even if you attend the first meeting, called a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM), with your ex-partner, you will have some private time with the mediator to discuss any concerns you might have. If it emerges that anyone is in immediate risk of harm, the mediator will discuss with you what action you could take and, on rare occasions, it might be necessary for the mediator to break confidentiality to ensure the safety of a child or adult.
Even where there is a history of domestic abuse, mediation can still be very effective. The presence of a skilled mediator in the room can ensure you get your views heard on important issues such as future contact arrangements. But the decision to try mediation should be made carefully and in conjunction with your mediator, with your safety the prime concern. .
If you decide that mediation is not right for you, you may be eligible for legal aid to make an application to court, as long as you are able to provide evidence of the domestic abuse that has taken place.