To put it simply, a Child Specialist helps parents use their parenting skills to protect their children’s well-being and sense of security during the divorce and in the first few years post-divorce.
The Child Specialist gives children “a voice” during this difficult time; a chance to express what’s helping and what’s hurting to someone who cares without putting them in the middle of parental conflict. Having a trained professional talk with your children avoids putting them in the position of feeling guilty about their experience/feelings, feeling like they have to take care of one parent over another, or feeling like they have too much power in a situation where they simply need to be kids.
Every Child Specialist has his/her own unique approach. The value of the Child Specialist is that he/she holds to the principles of a family-centered/child-centered decision-making process for the parents. The Child Specialist knows that parents are best suited to make family decisions during divorce when at all possible – not outside “experts” or legal professionals.
Consequently, after meeting with children, talking with them about what’s helping and what’s hurting, and teaching kids about the “normal process” of living through a family change, the Child Specialist brings the information back to the parents. He/She provides parents with insights about the kids, developmental information, clarifies what the children are actually thinking/feeling about their family change, and provides suggestions for ways to further support their children. Parents listen and choose how to use the information, which allows them to make adjustments, clear-up misconceptions, provide experiences and solve problems together to support their children more effectively through the separation/divorce process.
A Child Specialist may be very different from other child “advocates” in the divorce process:
- Child Therapist: Although often child therapists or counselors by training, a Child Specialist is not the same as a child therapist. A Child Specialist’s goal is to help parents (not professionals) develop the knowledge and skills to be their children’s natural supports, reassuring them, and providing them hope, clarity and guidance on how best to emotionally support their children. The Child Specialist does not have a long-term, on-going psychotherapeutic relationship with the children, nor the type of “confidentiality” typical of therapy/counseling. The kids know that the Child Specialist will be talking with and helping their parents.
- Parent Evaluator: Child Specialists also help by assessing parents’ and children’s strengths, answer kid-related questions and concerns, but they are not Parent Evaluators. Child Specialists do not make decisions for or about parents as an “expert” and do not share information about the family in ways that can increase conflict such as in court. The Child Specialist works for the family – not for one parent or the other.
- Guardian Ad Litem: Child Specialists use their skills to help children speak for themselves about what they are experiencing and to seek their best interests, but they are not Guardian Ad Litems. Although Child Specialists care deeply about the child’s perspective, they also know that the needs and interests of all members (kids and parents) are important in order for the family’s long-term well-being.
A Child Specialist can have a significant impact on how parents journey through the difficult terrain of divorce.
They work to focus parent’s energy on what they can do to help their children thrive instead of becoming overwhelmed with anxiety. Child Specialists can coach parents to develop awareness and skills in order to effectively support their kids. As a neutral professional, he/she can help guide parents in making reasonable decisions rather than getting caught up in unproductive conflict. Ultimately a Child Specialist’s goals are the same as parents. Supporting children in grief, encouraging them to heal. and return to their childhood – just be kids.
If you want to learn more about Child Specialists or their services, you can find information at https://www.kingcountycollab.org and https://www.collaborativepractice.com/. And, feel free to contact me, Kristin, at http://www.kristinlittlecounseling.com/.