International Cross Border Mediation in child abduction and relocation cases

The importance of “The Voice of The Child”

Experiencing pervasive traumatic events during childhood may be at the origin of long-lasting negative effects. Effects which, depending on the very phase of the child’s socio-psychological development at the time of the event, may leave their traces even deep into the adult life.

A traumatic event is one that involves injury, death, or the physical integrity of oneself or others and also causes anguish or helplessness at the time it occurs. Traumatic events also include traumatic losses. Children that experience abduction and separation subsequent to their parents’ divorce are exposed to a traumatic life event. The child may be abducted by a parent it is emotionally distant from, hasn’t seen for months and may even fear, while losing contact with the parent to whom it is most strongly attached. When attachment is disrupted, emotional development can be affected. This can have a deleterious effect on the child who may already have been traumatised by the separation of the parents and the very form of the abduction.

The impact of trauma is twofold: Firstly, the reaction to the traumatic event itself: the immediate effect. Secondly, the developmental perspective: the transformation of the traumatic experience into an integral part of the thinking framework that the child develops and the development tasks which the child is supposed to perform in growing up.

Children and adolescents vary in the nature of their responses to traumatic experiences. The responses of individual are influenced by their developmental level, ethnicity/cultural factors, previous trauma exposure, available resources, and pre-existing child and family problems. Whatever the child’s background, the loss of attachment figures is one of the most important traumatizing experiences, one that can result in devastating and long lasting developmental problems and delays being more far-reaching than perceived at first sight.

Important is being open to how and what the impact of ((cross border) Child Abduction) trauma may be, what the possible differences are with children and adults respectively, why adequate attention at the right moment is of paramount importance for the child’s (future) well-being and why and how the voice of the child is to be set off to full advantage. This insight may also determine how possible future re-unification is set up and/or unfolds.

Having dealt with the understanding of the traumatic dimension of Child Abduction and the potential consequences in case not addressed adequately, the lecture / workshop follows up ‘hands on’ with the why and how of the mediator actively involving the child personally. The purpose of the interview with the child is to hear its opinions, not to burden it with the responsibility of making a decision about its future. On one hand, the interview allows the child to express its feelings about its current life situation, its parents and all abduction and divorce issues. While we know that hearing the voice of the child is a way of safeguarding the child’s interests and wellbeing, we do not always know how to go about doing this. For example, what are the prerequisites to hearing a child? Do we take the personal attributes of the child into account? What questions do we ask and what questions should we not ask?

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