What can a child specialist contribute to a collaborative divorce?
The child specialist is a neutral participant specifically representing the children’s interests in the collaborative divorce process. The role of the child specialist in the collaborative divorce process is to collect as much information as possible regarding the well-being of the children and to convey that information to the collaborative participants. The child specialist then applies his/her expertise to the individual matter to assist the parties in crafting an effective parenting plan. Even though the child specialist is a mental health professional, he/she does not provide therapy (for either the children or the parents) and does not conduct a custody evaluation (which would be inconsistent with the collaborative process). Instead, the child specialist provides a voice for the children within the collaborative process.
The child specialist can enter into the process at any time. The inclusion of the child specialist is not dependent on any special circumstances, but can be initiated at the beginning of the collaborative process if only to provide the parents, or their children as the parents may agree, the welcome relief of having their concerns heard, understood and conveyed to the collaborative team. Upon inclusion of a child specialist in the collaborative process, all parties sign an agreement to safeguard against any information provided to him or her ever being admissible in court.
The child specialist:
- Provides a safe place for the children to share their story and discuss concerns and interests, without worry of being seen as taking sides or disappointing either parent.
- Gives the children a voice in the collaborative process and can, in conjunction with the parents, assist in giving the children an age appropriate understanding of the collaborative process.
- Assesses the individual characteristics and particular needs of each child.
- Educates the collaborative participants regarding the children’s needs, works within the collaborative process to keep those needs in focus for the participants, and shares his/her expertise with the participants regarding developmental stages, attachment issues, and family systems as applicable.
- Reports important information orally to the collaborative process professional team (as opposed to issuing a written evaluation that invariably further damages the family system).
- Recommends therapy (which must be provided by a separate therapist, not the child specialist) when needed.
- Assists the parents and professionals in developing an effective parenting plan.