Ms Kerri Gunthorpe
I began my studies as a counsellor with the Australian College of Applied Psychology. I then worked in Family Group Conferencing, which originated in New Zealand to work with and not against Maori value and culture. The Children and Young Person’s and their Families Act, 1989 made these conferences a central part of practice and services where serious decisions about children are to be made. This required involving and liaising with family members and significant other persons outside the family in order to coordinate solutions and implement new practices when families were at risk of having their children removed by children’s services.
I found this to be a very powerful tool to invoke change and provide the family unit support to manage through these turbulent times.
Following in this area, I completed my Family Mediation studies through Bond University Australia. Then in 2010 I attended training in Child Inclusive Mediation with Prof Jennifer McIntosh. Additionally I have completed training in Gottman Relationship therapy and other couple counselling training. These features I believe assist me to have an ability to comprehend the relationship dynamics that are represented even within the breakdown of a family unit.
Working within these fields for a number of years I am continuously tested to explore creative ways to provide tools to empower families to manage the life challenges they face within the family unit breakdown and the immense life obstacles this time presents them.
I have resided between Hong Kong and Australia for the past 20 years; have experienced rewards and challenges of expat living. Having recently returned to Hong Kong as an empty nester, I am highly motivated and enthusiastic to share these experiences.
Involving Children in their own story
In family mediation or collaborative law, a parents dialogue often begins with the focus on the other party. The motivation to vindicate oneself and condemn the other parent when in the depths of relationship despair seems to cloud all thoughts of the impact of those silent casualties of a relationship breakdown. The children.
While as professionals we are aware that part of our responsibility is to acknowledge adult emotions, the challenge then is, how do we ensure that children also have a voice in this process?
I find it extraordinary that when the subject of the children and the ramifications of the relationship break down on them is examined, how often the subsequent body language and verbal dialogue by a parent shows limited cognizance of this possibility.
With a shake of the head and a shoulder gesture I would regularly hear, “they are fine, in fact they are behaving better than ever!”
They’re okay because we no longer fight in front of them. In fact it’s good now because we never even talk!
I have heard many stories over the years from children and adults who come from broken families. The story is often the same. “It took away my childhood.” “I had to always look after my little brother/sister.” “They didn’t even know we were there.” “They just kept yelling.” “I wipe Mummy’s tears now. That’s my job.” “They didn’t see me.” “It was like they were in their own little bubble.” “I can’t have them come to my school sports anymore. I’d be too embarrassed if they’d fight.”
Our challenge is, how do we with the extraordinary responsibility our roles assume, facilitate parents to navigate through this challenging time, acknowledging their pain, while enabling them to comprehend the impact on their children, the far too often unseen and silent casualties of the disintegration of a relationship?
Family Mediation and Collaborative Law, while very influential processes, may not always provide the tools necessary to facilitate the changes required that would enable this transformation.
A Child Consultant used additionally with these methodologies, has the potential to unearth information that these processes alone may not expose. These elements incorporated into this process we now know to be important features in assisting parents to adjust to separation and therefore provide a subsequent support to those children we would normally never encounter.