The child specialist in the Collaborative Family Law process is a neutral advocate for the interests of the children. The role of the child specialist in this process is not that of the traditional child therapist, nor is it that of a custody and access assessor for litigation. The child specialist’s role is to assist parents in developing a parenting plan together which best meets the needs of their children. The child specialist can enter into the process at any time; their inclusion is not dependent on any special circumstances, but can be initiated at the beginning of the collaborative process if only to provide the children the welcome relief of being able to talk about their concerns.
The child specialist:
- Advocates for the best interests of the child. This involves assessing the characteristics and needs of the child, and keeping the child’s needs in focus.
- Provides a safe place for the child to share their story and discuss their concerns and interests, without worry of being seen as taking sides or disappointing either parent.
- Provides the parents, their counsel, and divorce coaches where appropriate with information and guidance to help their children through the process. This involves sharing knowledge concerning developmental stages, attachment issues, and family systems.
- Gives an oral report to the collaborative team to help develop an effective parenting plan.
- Does not provide a written report, which is incongruent with the collaborative process.
- Ensures that parties have a signed Collaborative Participation Agreement in place (i.e. specifying that no child specialist notes are admissible or compliable and there is an agreement of the parties that child specialists will not appear in court).
- Does not provide therapy for children, unless essential (e.g., a crisis), and then only with the consent of the parents and a modified Participation Agreement and Child Specialist Consent forms are signed.
- Recommends therapy when needed.
- Can play an ongoing supportive role as the family undergoes transition.
Qualifications of the Child Specialist
A child specialist must be qualified to provide an expert opinion regarding children.
The child specialist must have:
- Expertise in Child Development (which may be restricted by age of children – e.g. infancy, preschool, adolescent).
- Clinical experience with a specialty focus on children, with at least two years therapeutic, assessment, and/or educational experience dealing with children.
- An understanding of children’s unique issues in divorce, with at least two years therapeutic experience with children who have experienced separation or divorce.
- Accreditation in good standing in British Columbia as one or more of the following:
- Registered psychologist
- Registered social worker
- Registered clinical counsellor
- Canadian Counsellors Association
- A background with education and expertise in family systems theory, individual and family life cycle and development, with the ability to assess individual and family strengths, challenges of family dynamics in separation and divorce, and challenges of restructuring families after separation.
- Membership in good standing with the Victoria Collaborative Family Separation Professionals which currently requires a minimum of 12 hours of interdisciplinary collaborative training.