Report on Federal-Provincial-Territorial Consultations on Custody, Access and Child Support in Canada
APPENDIX A: REPORT ON YOUTH WORKSHOPS
Prepared by Rhonda Freeman and Gary Freeman
The authors wish to acknowledge the important contribution of Dominique Meilleur and Denis Lafortune to the youth consultation process and to the preparation of this report.
As a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Canada recognizes the importance of including the perspective of children and youth in consultations about changes to legislation and services. A number of strategies were developed to elicit the opinions of youth. As part of the federal-provincial-territorial consultations, the Department of Justice Canada arranged opportunities for young people to talk about services and programs that could help families when parents decide to live apart. It was expected that the participants' ideas would help the federal, provincial and territorial governments understand more about how laws and services could better reflect the needs of youth.
The Province of Saskatchewan sponsored a session for youth in March 2001, although this was separate from the youth consultation meetings described below. Six youths 15 to 17 years of age attended one three-hour session. The format and questions for that session differed somewhat from those reported here, so it is not appropriate to combine the responses. Whenever appropriate, however, information from the Saskatchewan session is included in the text. To respect the confidentiality agreement governing that session, the information is not identified as coming from there.
Youth discussion groups were also held in the Province of Quebec, the results of which were integrated in the consultation report for that province found in Appendix C.
OBJECTIVES OF THE YOUTH CONSULTATION
The objectives of this aspect of the larger consultation process were the following:
- create a meaningful way for youth to participate in discussions about policies that affect them, in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child;
- provide a neutral, non-threatening and age-appropriate opportunity for youth to talk about parental separation and divorce, including what worked well and what could have been improved when their parents separated or divorced; and
- elicit the views of youth with regard to the sections of the discussion guide on roles and responsibilities and children's perspectives.
Youth workshops were held in Manitoba (Winnipeg), Ontario (Toronto) and Quebec (Montréal). Random calls by local market research firms generated a pool of potential participants for each city. The selection criteria included the following variables: parents living apart a minimum of three months, at least one youth between the ages of 10 and 17 years in the household, youth available on the day of the planned meeting and willing to participate in a group discussing how divorce affects children, and parental consent to the youth's participation. With parental consent, the family's name was provided to the consultation session facilitator.
The group facilitators contacted parents located by the market research firms. During a telephone interview, parents were informed of the objectives of the consultation sessions, and confidentiality and consent issues were reviewed in detail. The parents had an opportunity to ask questions about any aspect of the process.
In the screening process, the facilitator first had to ensure that the parent contacted had the legal right to consent to his or her son's or daughter's participation in this project. Second, parents and the facilitator discussed whether participation could in any way jeopardize the youth's adjustment to parental separation, since the topic for discussion had the potential to precipitate an emotional reaction. When requested by either the youth or the parent, the group facilitator also spoke with the potential youth participant about the planned meeting. The facilitator asked screening questions about the following:
- youth's age and sex;
- duration of parental separation;
- type of custody arrangement (i.e. sole or shared);
- parents' current legal status (i.e. separated or divorced);
- the custodial parent's occupation and work status;
- ethno-cultural affiliation;
- language spoken in the home;
- family violence history;
- child abuse history;
- youth's significant medical and mental health history;
- family's significant mental health history;
- school difficulties;
- age-appropriate socialization; and
- counselling history, including whether the child, family or both had received counselling related to parental separation.
As long as there were no apparent contra-indicators, such as severe mental health problems, and the parent with the right to consent was agreeable, the child was invited to participate. In cases of shared decisionmaking, the consent of both parents was required. Written consent was required from all parents and youth participants. The parents received a resource kit and the participating young people received resource information and an honorarium at the end of the consultation session.
Consultation Group Plan
The Winnipeg and Toronto meetings were conducted in English by the same Anglophone facilitator. The Montréal meetings were conducted in French by a Francophone facilitator. Two sessions were held in each city. The first session included youths 10 to 14 years of age. The second session included youths 14 to 17 years of age. The Winnipeg sessions were held on a Saturday morning and afternoon. The Toronto and Montréal sessions were held on a weekday in the late afternoon and early evening. Each session was two hours.
A psychologist experienced in working with youth and groups facilitated the sessions. A second mental health professional (a social worker or psychologist) attended the sessions and acted as a resource person for the participants as well as a note taker (using flip charts). One representative from the Department of Justice Canada attended each session as a note taker. In some instances, one representative of the province attended sessions as a note taker.
Six youths participated in a single three-hour session in Moose Jaw on March 31, 2001. A trained mediator led this session, along with a youth co-facilitator.
Sessions were held in private meeting rooms at facilities such as a university (Montréal), a private research firm (Toronto) and a community centre (Winnipeg). No one-way mirrors were used, and the meetings were not recorded. Separate waiting areas were provided for parents who brought participants to the meetings. Participants and parents were told that the information provided during the sessions would be considered confidential and that it would not be disclosed except in aggregate form. No individual young person would be identified. This policy was reviewed with the participants at the beginning and end of each consultation group session.
The group facilitators reminded participants that each group would meet only this one time. Participants were not required to describe their personal situations in detail. By way of introduction, the young people were asked only to tell the group their first name, who the other members of their family were, and where they were living. An additional ice-breaker activity was used in one of the Winnipeg groups. Participants were advised that it was not necessary to reach a consensus on any of the issues discussed. Nevertheless, these young people agreed on many points, and these are summarized as follows.
Consultation Group Questions
The following questions were asked in all six sessions, and were translated into French for the Montréal sessions. Participants also had an opportunity at the end of the session to comment on anything else they felt was important.
- What do you remember about your parents' separation?
- What was it like for you?
- How were you involved in decisions your parents made about living apart?
- Are you involved in these decisions now?
- What helped you, and who helped you, when your parents separated?
- Was a counsellor (e.g. a social worker or psychologist) helpful to you?
- What could have helped you?
- What (other) professionals did you meet as a result of your parents' separation (e.g. a lawyer, mediator or judge)?
- What role did they have?
- If you had friends whose parents were separating, what would you tell them?
- What would help your friends?
- What advice can you give parents or people who work with youth that would make separation easier for youth
Eighteen youths participated in the Winnipeg sessions, 22 in the Toronto sessions and 23 in the Montréal sessions. The Winnipeg sessions were held on June 16, 2001, and the Toronto and Montréal sessions took place on June 21, 2001.
Of the 63 young people who participated in the consultation workshops, 30 (47.6 percent) were male and 33 were female (52.3 percent). The youngest participant was 10 years of age and the oldest was 17. There were 13 participants (20.6 percent) who were 10 or 11, 15 (23.8 percent) who were 12 or 13, 14 who were 14 or 15 (22.2 percent), and 21 (33.3 percent) who were in the 16 or17 year category.
Parents provided the following information to the facilitators during the telephone screening interviews. There were relatively few recent separations: only three (4.8 percent) participants' parents had been living apart less than one year. Nine participants' parents (14.5 percent) had lived apart two to five years, 26 (41.9 percent) had parents that had lived apart six to ten years, and 24 (38.7 percent) had been separated more than eleven years. In most cases (47 or 75.8 percent), one parent had sole decisionmaking responsibility. There was a shared decisionmaking arrangement in 10 cases (16.1 percent). There was no agreement about decisionmaking in five cases, (8.1 percent). Given the length of time parents had lived apart, it was not surprising that the majority of parents were divorced (36 cases or 58.1 percent). Eighteen parents indicated they were separated (29.0 percent), and eight parents (12.9 percent) were unclear about their current legal status. The majority of the youths lived primarily with their mother (59 youth or 95.2 percent).
The participants' families represent the broad social spectrum in Canada. Parents' reported occupations ranging from unskilled labourer to professional. Most of the custodial parents were working (47 or 75.8 percent) and the remainder reported being unemployed or on government assistance.
Custodial parents were asked about their ethnic or cultural affiliation. Parents in 43 families (69.4 percent) identified themselves as "Canadian." In four families (6.5 percent), one or both parents said they were Aboriginal (i.e. First Nations or Métis). In 15 families (24.2 percent), one or both parents were born in other countries. Most parents reported fluency in one or both of Canada's official languages (58 or 93.5 percent).
A history of family violence was reported in 16 families (25.8 percent). Child abuse concerns were described by seven (11.3 percent) parents. In 11 instances (17.7 percent), parents identified significant factors in their child's medical history (e.g. surgery, head injury related to a motor vehicle accident or chronic illness). Mental health concerns (e.g. attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or clinical depression) were reported for eight (12.9 percent) of the youths and 14 (22.6 percent) of the families (for family members other than the participating youth: substance abuse or anger management, for example). School difficulties were noted for 18 (29.0 percent) of the participants. In only four cases (6.5 percent) did parents report concerns about their child's socialization skills. A small number of participants (6 or 9.7 percent) had received counselling related to separation and divorce. A larger number (13 or 21.0 percent) had received counselling about other issues.
REPORT ON THE WORKSHOPS
"Divorce is about law and about feelings: you need to make sure both are in the right place."(Youth participant)
Participants and parents expressed enthusiasm for this project. Many of the youths were surprised that the government would be interested in and value their opinions. For example, one youth said,
"We don't pay taxes and we don't vote. Our opinion doesn't count." The sessions were lively and the youths had important ideas to share, along with their advice to parents, professionals and policy makers.
The participants were not screened for their level of verbal ability or comfort with a group situation. Very few of the participants knew each other before attending the sessions, although two young people in one group recognized each other and told the group that they live in the same neighbourhood. None of the participants had met the facilitator or resource person before the session. Despite this, the youths quickly made themselves comfortable and responded to questions in a thoughtful manner. The group facilitator and resource person ensured that every participant had a chance to respond to the questions during the session.
The consultation sessions represented a one-time opportunity for young people to come together to talk about the experience of parental separation and divorce. Their ideas and comments are summarized below with, whenever feasible, direct quotes illustrating their points.
Parents of many of the participants had separated many years ago so their recollections about what transpired at the time of the separation were limited by the passage of time. Nevertheless, participants described how family change continues to be a major factor influencing their lives. In what seemed to be a message to the group facilitators, as well as parents and policy makers, one participant said,
"Words can hurt more than you know. There can be scars for life." During the sessions, youth participants articulated the specific ways that parental separation and divorce affects them. Their experiences are summarized below in relation to each of the questions posed during the sessions.
Regardless of the key variables identified above (i.e. age and stage of development, the duration of separation, and the type of custody arrangement), participants brought out six consistent themes during the meetings:
- parental conflict;
- parental abandonment or lack of interest in the child;
- voice of the child;
- availability, responsiveness and accountability of professionals;
- child support; and
- concern about the future.
In each city, regardless of age or duration of separation, participants repeatedly focused on the negative impact of ongoing parental conflict. One youth reported his fantasy about how parental conflict might be resolved.
"I dreamt that a cop put my parents in jail. They were handcuffed to the floor until they talked it out and agreed."
As will be described below, opinions differed about whether children should be asked to make decisions about how they will be cared for when parents separate. However, the vast majority of participants wanted services and divorce legislation to provide a way for their voice to be heard when decisions were made.
Many participants thought that professionals (mental health or legal) could be an important resource for children when parents are separating. Few of the Montréal participants reported involvement with mental health professionals prior to attending the youth consultation session; nevertheless, they were skeptical of the ability of psychologists, in particular, to be responsive to youth. On the other hand, many of the Winnipeg participants strongly recommended that every child whose parents separate be offered the opportunity to speak with a counsellor.
During the meetings it became clear that counsellor availability and responsiveness are critical factors for youths. They want counsellors to be available in comfortable, youth-oriented settings. One participant said that
"toys in your office help me to know you like children." Older participants emphasized the importance of being able to drop in to see a counsellor, rather than having to make an appointment. There was agreement that while listening was important, counsellors also needed to interact with children, give opinions, make suggestions and engage in discussion-not just take notes.
The accountability of professionals was also extremely important to the participants. One said that he had seen several lawyers:
"…I had a voice but I don't know whether they told the court what I said." Another participant poignantly described feeling betrayed by an assessor.
"The assessor said that what I talked about would be confidential. Later I found out that everything I said was in the report for court."
The youth workshops focused on custody and access issues, not child support; nevertheless, participants raised the issue of child support at every meeting. They were adamant that child support was important. They viewed payment of a child support obligation as a way that paying parents show that they are interested in and care about their children. Youth expect the government to strictly enforce child support arrangements.
Participants also described their concerns about the future. They expressed worry about how their lives and relationships would be shaped by the legacy of parental separation and divorce. For example, one participant interrupted the group discussion to say,
"I fear for my generation. Divorce is all we know." This person wanted to know whether other participants thought they would marry and have children when they became adults.
What do you remember about your parents' separation? What was it like for you?
"My life is like a roller coaster."
This was one participant's description of divorce. Another participant said he felt like he was living in
"a double world." Despite this, participants seemed to accept the idea that some adult relationships are not successful. Divorce was not viewed as unreasonable. For example, one youth said,
"Divorce is okay. If the marriage doesn't work, just end it." Some participants discussed hearing different stories from their parents. Virtually all of them emphasized the importance of being honest with children. There was general agreement that children have a right to accurate information and to understand and be informed about the specifics of the custody and access arrangement. They stressed the importance of parents considering the impact of their decisions and behaviour on children.
Participants described a range of reactions to and feelings about separation (i.e. frustration, confusion and anger). One youth stated,
"I got mad," and he told his parents,
"You need a divorce; you shouldn't be together." Another commented,
"Home doesn't feel like home anymore." Yet another said,
"Even at age four I felt the pressures of my parents' separation. I felt the tension and the fights."
Other participants, whose parents had separated some time ago, reported that
"now it just feels normal." Still others pointed out that they had no apparent reaction at the time of the separation-it came many years later. This group of participants talked about how their reactions and feelings affected relationships with siblings and at school. Several participants said they were more aggressive and acted out, attributing these behaviours to unhappiness with the family circumstances.
Four important issues surfaced during this discussion. The first related to the availability of both parents. Many participants described feeling abandoned by one parent. Referring to times when one parent was supposed to pick him up, one participant stated,
"I waited for him, and waited. He didn't come. Eventually I stopped caring." Another participant said,
"If he was part of my life, he wouldn't have to ask me all these questions-he would know these things." The youths described abandonment in terms of time (e.g. disappearing from a child's life or being unreliable) as well as financial resources (e.g. failure to pay child support). In contrast, one participant stated that parental divorce had little, if any, impact on his life because he saw both parents all the time. There was general agreement about the importance of parents meeting their financial obligations for children and continuing to be psychologically and physically available to children after separation.
The second critical issue raised by participants was the impact of ongoing parent conflict. Participants described how difficult it was to hear one parent criticize and complain about the other parent. Participants indicated that when parents did not get along, this sometimes affected their residential schedule. They see this as unfair, and are resentful about the impact on their lives. Several participants suggested that continuing conflict between parents sets a poor example for children. There was general agreement about the importance of parents resolving differences and working together to raise children, regardless of their marital status.
The third major issue concerned the length of time children spend with the non-custodial parent. Many described feeling disappointment and anger that this time did not meet their needs. It became an obligation, rather than something to which they looked forward. Some participants questioned whether the non-custodial parent was really interested in them. Many participants felt that the non-custodial parent's home did not adequately reflect their needs and life. They expressed resentment about being left in the care of a friend or relative, rather than being with their parent. Others did not like sharing all of the time with a parent and his or her new partner. There was general agreement that non-custodial parents should ensure that time they spend with children is meaningful.
Lastly, many participants talked about the impact of parents' new partners. Several youths stated that new unions are difficult for them because they have no power and no say in what happens. Often, other children are involved. Participants recognize that relationships are complicated, and that sometimes there is less time for children. One youth told us,
"When I think of him being there for the new baby, and not for me, it hurts." There was general agreement that parents should exercise caution when entering new relationships and minimize the potential for negative impact on children from prior relationships.
How were you involved in the decisions your parents made about living apart? Are you involved in these decisions now?
The participants had varying opinions and experiences with respect to decisionmaking about caring for children. One participant concluded,
"The issue is power. Parents have more power than children."
Some youths described being very involved in family decisions. One participant said he helped his mother decide what bills to pay because there wasn't enough money to cover expenses. Another stated that he did babysitting and contributed his earnings to the family's resources to help make ends meet. Others stated emphatically that decisions, particularly those about residential schedules, were not the children's responsibility. Participants had differing reactions to their current residential arrangements. Two participants in different cities stated that going between their parents' homes is inconvenient. Another participant suggested that perhaps children should stay in one house and parents travel back and forth.
There was extensive discussion about how parents and professionals can tell whether children are ready to contribute to the decisionmaking process. Participants identified a number of factors, including the children's level of anger, pre-divorce experiences and the desire to blame or punish one parent. The youths concluded that every situation is different and that one method or rule for decisionmaking may not suffice. As one youth suggested,
"What's best for the child should be a combination of parents' ideas and the child's ideas." There was general agreement that children's opinions should only be requested when they will influence the decisionmaking process.
Other participants emphasized how difficult being involved in decisions can be for children. They identified the loyalty conflicts that emerge when children are in a position to choose between parents. Older participants expressed concern about whether younger children "were mature enough" to contribute to decisionmaking. They described how younger children could be confused or swayed by parental promises. Several participants reported parents suggesting that if they moved to their home, there would be no child support obligation.
A smaller group of participants raised the issue of parent re-introduction. They were referring to parents who express a desire to reconnect with children after a significant length of time apart. Participants identified the difficulties inherent in the re-introduction process: many questioned a returning parent's interest and goals. In contrast, some other children who had experienced parental abandonment expressed a longing to reconnect with a parent. Some indicated that they would search for their parent when they were older.
The majority of participants favoured a process that allowed children to make their wishes and preferences known. One participant challenged policy makers and the legal system when he stated,
"Don't make decisions for us; make them with us." There was general agreement that siblings should remain together and that decisions about parenting arrangements should foster consistency to the greatest extent possible in the children's school and peer relationships. Participants emphasized the importance of each parent's home being a comfortable environment for children.
In every session, participants noted the importance of having professionals, such as a mediator or judge, available to help parents agree on how they will care for their children.
What helped you, and who helped you, when your parents separated? Was a counsellor (i.e. a social worker or psychologist) helpful to you? What could have helped you?
Participants identified four types of help that positively influenced their experience of parental separation and divorce. As described earlier, the youths emphasized the importance of parents resolving their conflicts. The youths suggested that child adjustment was more likely when parents lived near each other (preferably in the same area but at least in the same city). Participants looked to their parents to develop constructive co-parenting and parent-child relationships. Most participants felt strongly that children should not have to go to court or testify about their parents. There was general agreement that parents need to acquire skills to communicate effectively about children.
Second, participants described the importance of support systems. Siblings were identified as a key resource. Friends and other relatives, such as grandparents, were also seen as fulfilling an important role in children's lives. Some participants recommended keeping a diary, and others mentioned pets as a source of support. Still other participants talked about how activities and hobbies helped them to cope.
Some participants mentioned books they had read or videos they had seen. There was a diversity of opinions about what sorts of resources would be most appealing to children. However, participants urged policy makers to ensure that resources are up-to-date, include realistic situations and are geared to specific age groups. There was general agreement that children should be involved in creating the resources to ensure their usefulness and acceptance by the intended audience.
Several participants suggested that mental health professionals, such as social workers or psychologists, were important potential resources for children. A number of the young people emphasized that it did not work simply to force children into counselling. Most participants seemed to grasp the importance of identifying feelings. One youth stated,
"The problem is I don't let it out. I keep anger in." One participant commented,
"I wish I had been to a group-my parents, too-and had the opportunity to hear from a professional." Another participant's message to policy makers was clear:
"Don't let kids feel alone or empty." There was general agreement that support systems were valuable for helping children identify, understand and deal with the myriad of feelings resulting from parental separation and divorce.
Third, participants returned to the abandonment theme noted above. They emphasized the importance of maintaining contact with both parents. One participant advised other session participants to
"always make sure you have their telephone number. Stay in touch with your parents." Another participant said that what really made a difference was his father's continued involvement in his life.
The fourth theme was safety. Participants described the importance of ensuring that children are protected from emotional and physical abuse. They viewed this as the children's basic right and an obligation on the part of adults.
What (other) professionals did you meet as a result of your parents' separation (e.g. a lawyer, mediator or judge)? What role did they have?
Few of the participants reported having their own legal representation. Several youths thought that if the parents could not reach an agreement, then the children should have a legal representative to ensure that their point of view was heard. As one participant noted,
"You might need someone to speak for you." On the other hand, some participants reported that
"Questioning from lawyers and other family members led me to believe I needed to choose which parent's side I wanted to be on." Another commented,
"I felt pressure about answering questions when I didn't know everything that went on." Participants strongly recommended that lawyers have training in psychology and be more sensitive to child development issues and concerns.
Consistent with the background profile outlined earlier, some of the youths had had prior contact with a mental health professional. In some instances this support was seen as valuable and in others not. There was general agreement that professionals who work with children should clearly identify their role and the purpose of the contact. Professionals should be responsive and ensure that children have an opportunity to express their point of view.
Participants emphasized the importance of professionals really listening to the children's perspective. Counselling, participants suggested, would be more effective if the mental health professional interacted openly with children, responded accurately to questions and respected confidentiality agreements. Participants identified the components of counselling that would help them: provide guidance about dealing with the situation, help deal with anger, and help to
"get rid of the energy inside me." One participant was explicit about what he did not want:
"I don't want pity. I don't want someone to ask, 'Are you okay.'" Participants were also looking for support with regard to their parents:
"Don't suggest I talk to my parents when I really don't want anything to do with them." There was general agreement that professionals should take children more seriously.
Many participants seemed to understand that when parents could not agree about how children would be cared for, a professional might be called upon to investigate and make a report to the court. Several participants stated that in high conflict situations, it would be beneficial to have an opportunity to tell a neutral third party how they were being treated. There was general agreement that in such situations professionals had a responsibility to help children feel comfortable. In the participants' opinions, this means that professionals would review reports or other materials with them prior to submitting such documents to the court.
If you had friends whose parents were separating, what would you tell them? What would help your friends?
Participants had many suggestions for other young people whose parents might be separating. In every one of the six sessions, they repeatedly emphasized the importance of children understanding that divorce was not their fault. One participant said she would tell her friend
"Don't try to find out what you did wrong." Another said,
"Your parents don't hate you. Don't hate them." They would urge other young people not to get
"caught in the middle" or
Some participants thought children had a responsibility to maintain peace in the household. Others suggested that
"if you only see one parent, try to live your life without worrying about the other parent." They would encourage their friends to stay calm.
In every session, participants repeatedly stated that they did not want parental separation and divorce to be the focus of their life. They said that they would advise friends that
"life continues after divorce." They would encourage their friends to try to be positive and to use activities to distract themselves from difficulties in the home and from parental conflict.
Although in one group there was skepticism about the value of professionals, most participants indicated they would recommend that their friends
"talk to someone."
What advice can you give parents or people who work with youth that would make separation easier for youth?
Analysis of the discussion revealed five types of concerns or advice. Participants emphasized the importance of identifying and taking account of children's needs when parents separate or divorce. They said that
"children need stability." There seemed to be a feeling among participants that parents and professionals did not always consider the impact of decisions on children. Some participants felt that parents thought more about themselves than about their children. Many participants said that they would have liked an opportunity to meet other young people in the same situation
"in a group like this" (the workshop). There was general agreement that children need information about the family changes as well as time to make necessary adjustments.
The second theme that emerged was parent conflict. The participants' message was explicit and emphatic. Several participants recommended that parents receive therapy. As one youth said,
"Parents should remember they are role models for children." They stressed that parents and policy makers must know that
"…whatever happens, parents have to stick by their children. They need to separate children from the rest of the divorce. Children aren't just another possession." There was general agreement that participants expect parents to resolve their differences and work together on behalf of the children.
Third, participants challenged professionals and parents to find meaningful ways to include children's voices in the decisionmaking process. As one participant succinctly stated,
"We're not dumb; we know things." Participants recommended that children be asked for their ideas, rather than being forced to choose between parents. For example, one participant reported wanting a place to run away to,
"…where no one was going to ask me to choose sides." Participants recognize that options need to be available. They want parents to
"listen more and take what we say seriously." One participant wondered whether
"…you could make a law that forces parents to be responsible." Several participants suggested that children need skills to help them have a voice. There was general agreement that adults (parents and professionals) have an obligation to create situations that encourage children to talk without fear of recrimination or censure.
Fourth, participants expressed concern about the lengthy process and how difficult it seems to be to resolve issues and obtain a divorce. Many participants also stated that
"divorce is too expensive." One participant wondered why
"…divorce had to be an eight-month court battle." Another youth recommended that
"…there should be scholarships for parents" who need financial support to pursue legal options. There was general agreement that decisions affecting children's lives should be made more quickly, and provision be included allowing decisions to be changed when necessitated by developmental needs or circumstances.
The fifth theme was child support. As mentioned earlier, many of the participants (particularly in Toronto and Winnipeg) had considerable knowledge about child support issues and expressed serious concerns about non-payment of child support obligations. They advocated that the government impose strong enforcement measures. They viewed child support as an expression of caring and concern on the part of the paying parent. They saw this as important, even when the receiving parent had sufficient economic resources to support the children. One participant suggested that
"…the money might be needed later. It would be good to know it was there. I could use it for university."
Lastly, participants returned to their earlier concerns about parents' new relationships. They urged parents to
"go slow." One participant stated,
"I've put my life in that family. How can he [stepfather] just come in and take over?" Several participants had experienced living in a blended family. One youth described how a parent's new relationship can affect children of a previous union:
"Parents are selfish; they put their own relationships first. I couldn't go up to my dad and talk to him in front of his girlfriend, so then I stopped talking to my dad."
Participants in the workshops described how parental separation and divorce affect their lives. On the one hand, they identified their disapproval of parents who are unable or unwilling to resolve their differences. As one participant explained,
"I still love my parents but I have to understand that's how it is. It's hard to respect parents because of their behaviour."
On the other hand, participants seemed to accept that not all relationships are successful and that some do not continue. Many participants were able to identify positive aspects of divorce, such as increasing one's independence, learning from mistakes and becoming a stronger person. They expressed concern that parents did not always work hard enough on their relationships, both before and after the divorce. Many of the youths acknowledged that it is now harder to trust adults. Some participants were clearly burdened by their parents' divorce, and had assumed or were given responsibilities beyond their years (e.g. involvement in financial decisions). One participant advised the other youths,
"You have to look after your mother, because your dad's not there anymore."
Young people are looking to parents and policy makers to create effective and responsive services that support children when parents no longer live together. They expect child support obligations to be fulfilled. They want to learn skills that will enable them to contribute to the decisionmaking process. They expect professionals to be available, youth-oriented and responsive to their needs. They worry about the future and their ability to be successful in relationships. They are searching for effective role models and want parents to take more responsibility for preparing them for adulthood.
This consultation process was designed to ensure that the perspective of young people is included in discussions about legislative reforms and services. It is appropriate to conclude with two comments from the youth participants:
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