This week is children's mental health week. The theme of this year's awareness week is Growing Together, focusing on how children have grown and can help others to do so.
Many children and young people have suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic, with not only significant disruption to schooling but a drastic reduction in the ability to socialise; two things which perhaps adults today took for granted as a given in their own childhoods. Such challenges will, unfortunately, inevitably take their toll on children's mental health in some shape or form. That being said, it is hoped that raising awareness of the importance of mental wellbeing will minimise such difficulties by reducing stigma; a welcome shift from those same childhoods of the older generation.
This increasing progression towards recognition of the importance of mental wellbeing in children is something which is a key consideration when parents separate. Lawyers, mediators and judges alike are obliged to ensure that they are assisting parties in resolving arrangements based on the best interests of the child. The paramount consideration of the Family Court in such proceedings is the welfare of a child of the family. Welfare can come in many shapes and sizes, such as the wishes and feelings of the child or their emotional needs. The Court clearly has to consider the potentially significant and long-lasting effects of any order it might make in relation to a child; in other words, how the child will grow. There are various tools which can assist the Court in determining this, such as a detailed report covering how the child feels about the proceedings and what their preferred outcome to the proceedings might be. Such wishes and feelings are to be weighed up carefully, taking into account the age of the child. Equally, parties who are able to avoid the Court process and use the assistance of a mediator to reach an agreement about arrangements for their children will often be encouraged by the mediator to consider 'child-inclusive' mediation so that parents can better understand how their separation is affecting the way that their children feel.
Such approaches reflect the ever increasing movement within the family law arena to focus on the importance of the voice of the child, thereby seeking to reduce any damaging effects as the child grows. The importance of children's mental health cannot be underestimated given it underpins almost every aspect of growth, whether it be social, academic or emotional development.