Children beyond dispute: a prospective study of outcomes from child focused and child inclusive post-separation family dispute resolution

Children Conflict management Families Australia

Study synopsis

This study was funded by the Australian Government Attorney-General's Department, and conducted through a collaboration between Family Transitions, Relationships Australia and La Trobe University.

The study compared outcomes over one year for two groups of separated parents, who attended mediation over parenting disputes. These parents engaged either in a child-focused intervention, or in a child-inclusive intervention, at one of three Relationships Australia services (Canberra, Melbourne and Adelaide).

Two hundred and seventy-five parents took part in the study (142 families). They reported on 364 children, and 193 of those children, aged 5-16 years, also participated directly in the research. No significant differences were found between the two treatment groups on demographic variables. A good retention rate of 75% over the year occurred for children, and 83% for parents.

The child-focused intervention prioritised the psychological and relational elements of parents' separation, and the making of parenting arrangements that would best support the developmental needs of the children. Their children were not seen for the purposes of the mediation. The average length of time spent with both parents in this intervention, including intake, was 5.1 hours.

The child-inclusive intervention shared the same intent and approach, but also involved a brief direct assessment of children's experiences of the separation and of their relationships with each parent. The children's material was carefully formulated and considered with parents, and core themes incorporated into their negotiations. The average duration of this intervention with parents, including intake and feedback of the children's material, was 6.2 hours, plus a separate 1.5 hours with children.

Extensive repeated measures data were collected from parents and children prior to mediation commencing, and then again three and twelve months after the conclusion of mediation.

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