1. What is a Child Specialist?
    1. Licensed mental health professional with specific training and expertise in child psychology and development and family systems and experience with divorce and separation 
    2. Works with parents and professionals to improve family functioning through the restructuring 

that divorce or separation requires

  1. Helps the parents plan for a joint conversation with their children and understand the impact of their words and actions on their children’s future emotional well-being 
  2. Helps discern and share the child’s feelings, needs and preferences in the process—supporting the concept of “voice not a choice” in the family transition and court process
  3. Helps professionals understand the family system
  4. Helps parents communicate and create a workable co-parenting plan that meets their children’s unique needs and interests
  5. Drafts a detailed, child-centered Parenting Plan to incorporate in final agreement
  6. Provides a resource for future family challenges parents may face post-judgment (significant others, changing child development, residential moves, or other issues) 
  7. Similar to models of child-inclusive family mediation 
  8. Not a witness; role is to provide out-of-court intervention and expertise to assist parents in lessening conflict and making child-centered decisions
  9. Not a therapist – works as a neutral focused on resolution of family matters not therapy to diagnose and address psychological disorders; therefore, not covered by insurance; may make appropriate treatment referrals
  10. Not a psychological evaluator – helps parents make decisions with professional input and support, not provide conclusions about a schedule
  11. Not a parenting coordinator/special master – does not make decisions for the family
  1. Overview of Process
    1. Initial parent meeting (individual and joint time)
    2. Child meeting (s)
    3. Feedback session—techniques for bringing the child into the room (words, pictures…)
    4. Discuss and draft the parents’ joint Parenting Plan (principles, communication, decision-making, schedule, and future issue resolution process)
    5. Options for teamwork with mediator, GAL, attorneys
    6. Define role as child-inclusive/family mediation or have a Stipulation and Order to clarify cannot be a witness
  1. Benefits of Child Specialist Involvement
    1. Child
      1. Children have the opportunity to speak openly (and be heard) about their experience of their family changes with a trained caring professional
      2. Children acquire a feedback mechanism to communicate their “voice” to their parents
      3. Parents learn new skills and techniques for reducing conflict and improving communication that directly benefit the children
      4. Helps avoid the children feeling responsible or like a rope in a tug-of-war
    2. Parents 
      1. Most parents care about their children; the child specialist gives them a window into their children’s feelings and the impact of their own behaviors
      2. Parents may learn what they can do or should avoid doing to benefit their children, including managing emotions and learning co-parenting skills
      3. Parents make their own decisions with greater likelihood of compliance
      4. Gain a resource for future consultation/issue resolution to avoid post-judgment litigation