Victoria Legal Aid

Kids Talk

Kids Talk allows children between the ages of 5 and 17 to be involved in the decision-making process in family law disputes.

What is Kids Talk?

Kids Talk is the child inclusive program at the Victoria Legal Aid Family Dispute Resolution Service (FDRS).

The program allows children between the ages of five and 17 – where both parents have consented and the matter is assessed as suitable – to be heard in the decision-making process.

Often parents have different views about their children’s experiences and wishes about spending time at each home. There may also be allegations of poor parental capacity, drug and alcohol misuse, mental illness and family violence.

In these circumstances, it can be important for children to have a voice about what’s important for them. For example: What is their experience of family relationships? What pressures are on them to conform to adult views? Do they feel safe?

Kids Talk provides parents and professionals involved with the opportunity to gain an insight into the social and emotional world of children and how they experience parenting arrangements. This insight can assist parents when making decisions about what is best for their children at FDRS.

How does the process work?

An FDRS case manager assesses the matter for suitability and obtains both parents’ consent, after they consult their lawyers for advice.

The children in the family are brought to FDRS or one of our regional venues and a specialist child consultant (an experienced social worker or psychologist) interviews them together and separately.

The consultant explains to the children that they do not need to feel responsible for the final parenting arrangements, because the final decisions are up to the adults.

The interviews use established methods – including family drawings, toys and bear cards (for use with young children to more easily discuss emotions) – to help children comfortably explore and explain their family dynamics.

The child consultant gives individual feedback to each parent and works sensitively to help explore the child’s world and gently encourage a child-focused perspective in preparation for the upcoming FDRS conference.

Subsequently, the child consultant writes a brief, confidential and inadmissible report that is sent to parents, lawyers and the Chairperson. The report offers expert guidance about interpreting the children’s experiences through a developmental lens with a discussion on children’s needs. During the FDRS conference, the report assists child-focused decisions.

Why should lawyers recommend Kids Talk?

Because it works and most matters settle after Kids Talk.

FDRS conferences consistently achieve a settlement of all or most of the substantial issues in dispute in over 80 per cent of cases.

The matters that involve Kids Talk are usually ones that cannot be resolved without children’s views being considered.

Most importantly, children have a say in the decisions that directly affect them and agreements reached are more child-focused and tailored to individual children’s needs.

Role of lawyers

Lawyers advise their clients whether to participate in Kids Talk.

The Kids Talk written report is released to lawyers at the same time as the parents, after the child consultant has provided verbal feedback to each parent.

Clients can react to aspects of the feedback that may surprise them or is not in line with their own views and they benefit from working through these issues with their lawyer prior to the conference, so that they come prepared.

During the conference, lawyers can effectively ‘reality test’ proposals with their clients, with reference to the Kids Talk report and feedback.

Which matters are suitable

Suitable cases are those involving school aged children and parents who are willing and able to take on board feedback obtained through Kids Talk. FDRS will recommend Kids Talk in cases where the child’s interests will be promoted and their safety protected by participating in Kids Talk.

Allegations of poor parenting or family violence do not necessarily rule out Kids Talk.

If a parent struggles to be child focused at the beginning, Kids Talk may help shine a light on the family’s circumstances so that parents can put in place better arrangements for their children.

For example, one FDRS case with Kids Talk involved parents successfully making child focused arrangements for eight children while addressing allegations of parental alcohol misuse, family violence and mental health issues.

Case managers may assess a matter unsuitable for Kids Talk if there is a risk to children, if one or both parents have a serious mental illness or otherwise lack capacity to engage with feedback, where there are other counsellors involved who are willing to provide feedback to parents, or a Family Report is available or likely to be ordered.

How do I access the Kids Talk program?

To access the Kids Talk program, contact our Family Dispute Resolution Service on 1800 136 832 or (03) 9269 0500.

Disclaimer: The material in this print-out relates to the law as it applies in the state of Victoria. It is intended as a general guide only. Readers should not act on the basis of any material in this print-out without getting legal advice about their own particular situations. Victoria Legal Aid disclaims any liability howsoever caused to any person in respect of any action taken in reliance on the contents of the publication.

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Reviewed 14 March 2024

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