Child Welfare Tshwane launches Mediation Centre

November 1st, 2017

Director of Child Welfare Tshwane, Linda Nell, at the launch of its new Mediation Centre in Pretoria.

By Kathleen Kriel

Child Welfare Tshwane launched its new Mediation Centre in Pretoria on 27 September. Director of Child Welfare Tshwane, Linda Nell, welcomed guests to the event and gave a brief introduction as to why the Mediation Centre was started. Ms Nell told guests that Child Welfare is a very old organisation that will be celebrating its 100th birthday next year. She said that the public perception of Child Welfare is: ‘Here comes the welfare, then they take the children and then there is a farewell’. Ms Nell added that it is a perception that they are trying to change as that is not what welfare organisations are doing these days. She said that a huge part of the work that Child Welfare does is family preservation. ‘There are all kinds of diversity in families, but as long as we can keep a child – as long as you can – within a family and within a community it is actually the best place for him or her to be,’ Ms Nell said.

Ms Nell said that there is a lot of preventative work that is done in the family preservation programme and the Mediation Centre will be a part thereof. Ms Nell went on to say that according to the Children’s Act 38 of 2005 (the Children’s Act), the interest of the child is paramount. ‘When you speak about the interest of children then you speak about the interest of their fathers and mothers as well,’ she added.

The mediation services that will be offered at the centre are:

  • Family and divorce mediation, which includes –
    • minimising conflict and trauma;
    • conflict resolution strategies;
    • developing a financial plan;
    • developing a working parenting plan;
    • family mediation; and
    • post-divorce mediation.
  • Parenting plans, which include –
    • living arrangements;
    • maintenance of the child;
    • contact between the other parent;
    • schooling;
    • religious upbringing;
    • emergency protocol; and
    • disclipline.
  • Voice of the child, which includes listening to the child’s perspective and experience.

Ms Nell said that Child Welfare Tshwane focuses on the children and healthy families and that is why the centre was started, so that people who cannot afford a mediator will have access to one. Mediators will be able to provide services in all languages at the centre and the option of mediation will be available at all the Child Welfare Tshwane offices. ‘We want to have a centre that is all inclusive,’ she said.

The keynote speaker of the evening was Senior Family Advocate from the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, Chris Maree. Mr Maree said it was a step in the right direction for other organisations to get involved in what was being done and what will be achieved in the future of mediation.

Mr Maree said that South Africa (SA) had one of the highest divorce figures in the world and added that it was claimed that 3,2 out of every five first marriages in SA would fail and that some of the people involved in divorce would end up at the Office of the Family Advocate.

Mr Maree said that in the Mediation in Certain Divorce Matters Act 24 of 1987 (the Act), there was no definition of the word ‘mediation’ in the Act, he added that the Act was outdated. ‘It is time that we get together and write something new as far as mediation is concerned. I do not have a definition for mediation. … What I can tell you is that the Act obviously allows and gives the mandate for mediation to the Family Advocate’s Office,’ Mr Maree said.

Mr Maree referred to the Children’s Act and said that reference is made to the Family Advocate’s Office therein. ‘Is that not wonderful that we have put all these things in the [Children’s] Act, but we have not provided for the machinery to work and that is why what is happening here tonight is so wonderful, because the Family Advocate’s Office … is an institution that works … because of its success that office is busy imploding … because of the amount of work referred to the office. Every second matter that lands, for instance, in the Children’s Court can be referred to the Family Advocate’s Office. It is possible. But, I just do not have the people to accommodate you,’ Mr Maree said.

Keynote speaker Senior Family Advocate, Chris Maree, said: ‘It is time that we get together and write something new as far as mediation is concerned.’

Mr Maree said that statistics show that in 2013, approximately 23 000 divorce cases (that were reported) were handled by the courts and added that if every average divorce couple had two children, that would be an enormous amount of children that would be affected by the Office of the Family Advocate every year. ‘We need organisations to assist us and the Children’s Act makes provision for this, to have assistance in the sense that it gives the Family Advocate the duty to register the parenting plan that is created after a mediation session,’ Mr Maree said.

Mr Maree reminded the attendees that mediation cannot be rushed and that it consists of a considerable amount of emotion from the parties involved. ‘Remember when people come to the Family Advocate’s Office, very often it is the first time that those two people are together in the same office or room after they have separated and then real emotions come out. … You have a Family Advocate who is trying to be as professional as possible and you have people fighting. … I am trying at best to alleviate an unbearable situation between two people who just do not love one another anymore. … That is where an organisation, such as the one that we are creating tonight can assist as it takes some of the frustration away from what the Family Advocate faces on a daily basis,’ Mr Maree said.

Mr Maree said the object of s 2 in the Children’s Act is to preserve the family. Mr Maree added: ‘We create the mediation in the legal process, we make provision for parenting plans, parental responsibilities and rights agreements, but no one talks about s 157 permanency plans. … Mediation goes hand in hand with a lot of obvious training, it goes with a lot of patience.’

Mr Maree discussed the future of family law in litigation and said he was in favour of mediation and added that SA should follow the English Model and make it compulsory in SA. ‘Let’s give people a mediation certificate. You cannot get divorced if you have not attempted to mediate. … Everyone says we do not have compulsory mediation. I say we have, because we have been given presiding officers and s 48 additional powers. You can be forced to come to my office, the Family Advocate does not have powers of subpoena, but additional powers, which is given to the courts can assist me to at least get those people back in my office. … With NGOs [non-governmental organisations], with people who give their help to assist the Family Advocate’s Office … and bring the final product to me … and we can then make a court order. We will be able to bring court rolls down sufficiently to deal with more serious matters,’ Mr Maree said.

Kathleen Kriel BTech (Journ) (TUT) is the production editor at De Rebus.

 This article was first published in De Rebus in 2017 (Nov) DR 9.

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