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Voice of the Child Interview for Settling Parenting Disputes

Separated parents in conflict argue as to the child views and preferences in terms of their residential arrangement. What parents in dire conflict forget is that the views and preference of the child may be expressed to a parent only to appease a parents wishes.

The child sees the anger and and animosity from one parent to the other and doesn’t want to be the brunt of those toxic negative feelings. The child’s only escape is to appease BOTH parents by telling each parent what the child believes that parent wants to hear. While this strategy of the child lowers their perceived risk of recrimination from the parent, it at the same time ramps up the parental conflict as each parent believes to have received the truth about their child’s preferences. This is a set up for a terrible merry-go-round of increasing conflict and animosity typically culminating in a court battle.

To bring some resolution to the situation, some lawyers seek to obtain a “voice of the child” interview. This entails a neutral service provider meeting with the child to obtain a less biased view of the child’s views and preferences. The structure of this service process is crucial lest the process of obtaining the child’s voice actually escalate conflict. This is not something to be carried out willy-nilly and certainly not by an inexperienced person.

Regardless of how appropriately the views and preferences of the child are obtained though, the structure of resolving maters through an adversarial approach remains and creates the conditions akin to bringing gas to a fire.

I was recently asked to provide a voice of the child interview for court purposes. I explained to the referring lawyer that I no longer offer services for court purposes. I went on to explain that I do provide this service, but only for settlement purposes, outside of a court process, such as in mediation or collaborative law or even in lawyer assisted negotiations.

I provided the lawyer with a link to explain the process of voice of the child interviews as they are not as simple as one might think.

The lawyer replied:

I really like your approach to this. The lawyer I mentioned would not get authorization to pay for this type of approach, however, I just got off the phone with a different lawyer on another case so will recommend he speak with his client about getting your help as his client is paying privately. When I have private paying clients I would definitely recommend your closed service. The most important thing is to understand our children’s needs first. Have a great day and thanks for making families days greater too.

I am not quite sure why my service couldn’t still be utilized in a context of publicly funded service. However, I am pleased that the lawyer values seeking to resolve matters outside of court and will put my service forward as a potential peacemaking alternative.

If you really want to elevate the best interests of the child, seek peace above all else.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker facilitating the positive growth and development of people and services. It would be my pleasure to be of service.

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Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

gary@yoursocialworker.com
http://www.yoursocialworker.com

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Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas and Georgina Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships

In The Service of Peacemaking

Woody Mosten is a world leader in mediation, practice and training. He is also a leader in providing training on how to be a trainer. Beyond his credentials experience and expertise, he is just a really nice guy.

As a really nice guy, Woody invited 15 people that included mental health professionals and family law lawyers, all of whom practice mediation and Collaborative Law to attend a free two day workshop in Chicago, July 2016. The opportunity was to train to be a trainer of his workshop, How to Build a Profitable Peacemaking Practice.

The goal of Woody’s peacemaking workshop is to encourage and promote other people to become successful peacemakers working with families in conflict, particularly separated couples and children living between two homes.

The goal of our workshop was to develop us as trainers of his workshop so as to create the conditions to train a greater number of successful peacemaking practitioners. If Woody has an agenda, it is to make the world a better place, particularly for separated parents and their children and to be able to earn a living doing so.

His invitation criteria was that the people invited all have taken or participated in co-leading his profitable peacemaking workshop. The other thing all the invitees had in common is that Woody considered the invitees to be top professionals in the field of peacemaking. I was included in his list of invited guests. I co-lead Woody’s Profitable Peacemaking Practice with him in Toronto, September 2015. I can’t speak to my professional status. I leave that to Woody and others.

Woody has a style that is remarkably engaging, warm and collaborative. While on the one hand he has a wealth of information to impart, on the other had he facilitates the input of all the participants to arrive at decisions as to what information may be most helpful to us. In other words, he walks the talk and his training style demonstrates attributes of peacemaking such as inclusion, acceptance and consensus building. Astonishingly, 15 participants under his guidance helped determine the content delivered by a master trainer to facilitate our learning needs. He obtained total buy in from the entire group.

As part of the training opportunity, Woody provided reading material in advance and also asked us each to prepare a ten minute presentation on any one of his many learning modules. To say there was reading material and preparations to be made is an understatement. As invitees, we had to arrive having already invested substantially in our own learning. Given we each would be presenting our learning module to a group of 15 other high level practitioners and trainers, you can imagine the pressure to perform was on. I think I can say with confidence we were all nervous to be judged by our peers and likely felt at least somewhat competitive in terms of our presentation.

Day one of the training the trainers workshop involved considerable group discussion facilitated by Woody as he also delivered substantial content on how to setup and deliver workshops. For every aspect of training Woody made it abundantly clear there were multiple approaches with no orthodoxy as to one approach being better than the other. In lieu, he challenged us to make decisions and discuss our decisions as to methods of organization and training and all with a view to consider the context in which the training was occurring and the learning needs of those in attendance. We had to think through everything.

Day two continued the training  with each of us presenting a module from Woody’s long list of training modules. We were not only exposed to the content of his workshop then, but also 15 individual training styles. The exposure to 15 different training styles provided another profound learning experience. Between readings, PowerPoint, music, role plays, discussion and more, in one day we all were exposed to 15 different ways to facilitate the transfer of information.

Exposure to 15 different presentation styles is like going to a buffet of varied food, all of which is amazing. You get to taste, gorge, share, discuss and try so many different approaches to conveying information. You soon come to realize, one is no better than the other. Each presentation style has it’s own special place depending on the content you seek to deliver and the experience you are using to facilitate the delivery.

Along with the exposure to the 15 different styles of presentation Woody also had us take turns providing a critique of each others presentation. We learned not only how to present and how varied the teaching methods may be, but also how to deliver feedback extremely constructively and with a view to provoking greater learning and reflection. With each critique, we were supported in thinking about how our module fits within the broader workshop goals. Everything is purposeful.

Woody’s brilliance is that he can structure a learning experience with layer upon layer of learning. We were exposed to learning about content, process, approach and values both directly and subtly.

I think it was through the subtleties that the greatest learning took place. Those subtitles included Woody’s engaging, warm and collaborative style. This is not something that can be taught well by lecture or discussion. This is something to be taken in experientially.

This experiential part of the learning doesn’t translate into the content of the presentation, but rather it’s tone. This is the part that distinguishes a good presentation from one that is transformational.

What a remarkable experience and what a remarkable group of people I had the pleasure of meeting and learning with this past weekend. Everyone left their ego at the door. The environment was safe for learning, self-discovery, experimentation and reflection. Woody demonstrated how to create a place of higher learning.

My fellow attendees were:

  1. Adam Cordover, Tampa, FL
  2. Dona Cullen, Portland, OR
  3. Brian Galbraith, Barrie, Ontario, Canada
  4. David Hoffman, Boston, MA
  5. Robert Merlin, Coral Gables, FL
  6. Ken Neumann, New York, NY
  7. Enid Miller Ponn, Weston, FL
  8. Ron Ousky, Edina, MN
  9. Nancy Retsinas, Vancouver, WA
  10. carl Michael Rossi, Chicago, IL
  11. Kevin Scudder, Seattle, WA
  12. Melissa Sulkowski, Erie, PA
  13. Zanita Zacks-Gabriel, Erie, PA
  14. Kathleen Zumpano, Portland, OR

Woodys-trainers

I know I would consider it a honor to participate in the delivery of training with any of my colleagues above and given the opportunity, with Woody again.

We look forward to paying forward Woody’s generosity of spirit and facilitating his vision of a brighter tomorrow by training and supporting others with their peacemaking practices. We all have a sincere interest in helping others succeed. Probably the best way of truly saying thanks to Woody.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker facilitating the positive growth and development of people and services. It would be my pleasure to be of service.

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Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

gary@yoursocialworker.com
http://www.yoursocialworker.com

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Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas and Georgina Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships

Building a Successful Peacemaking Practice

Having a peacemaking practice is only as good as people know about it. So as much as it is necessary to have the associated practice skills, marketing one’s practice is important too. Trouble is, many good peacemaking practitioners just don’t know how to get the word out about their practice.

In June (2016), I provided a 90 minute workshop at the annual conference of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC). AFCC is “the premier interdisciplinary and international association of professionals dedicated to the resolution of family conflict.  AFCC members are the leading practitioners, researchers, teachers and policymakers in the family court arena.”

The workshop I provided was called, Building a Successful Peacemaking Practice with Attention to Three Details. Those details included; how to determine the services you provide; how to differentiate your service from others; and how to get yourself known to your potential clients.

I just received the evaluation from the workshop I provided. My overall average score, summing up all the scores gave me 91%. You can view the entire evaluation and breakdown of scores and read the comments here.

If you need help building and learning to market your practice, it would be my pleasure to be of service. I am available on a consultation basis or to provide workshops.  It would be my pleasure to see your peacemaking practice an unbridled success!

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker facilitating the positive growth and development of people and services.

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Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

gary@yoursocialworker.com
http://www.yoursocialworker.com

Facebook
Linked In
Twitter

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas and Georgina Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships

What would you tell this person at this point?

A contact messaged me on Linked In.

The contact is a social worker and asked to pick my brain about building a private practice. The contact was interested in hearing my thoughts.

I offered the person to phone me directly and provided my phone number.

Two months later the contact messaged me again indicating “we” haven’t been able to connect and was wondering if it was possible for me to share my thoughts through messaging.  I was asked if there was anything I would do differently in hindsight and was told that experience is the greatest teacher.

I offered that developing a private practice takes much effort and that one shouldn’t squander an opportunity to speak directly with someone who offered to be helpful. I asked what the contact would do differently now in hindsight.

I received this reply:

I see that you’re asking me to have called you. I understand it would be easier to speak than to write in the moment. However, you seemed to be very busy, and I assumed this would be a more convenient method to communicate. I also have some holidays planned soon, and I wouldn’t be available to speak. Under the circumstances, I don’t think calling you would be wise, and I wanted to follow-up with you. If you’re able to share your thoughts on here, I’d appreciate it.

What would you tell this contact at this point?  Please comment below.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker. On rare occasion, I am speechless.

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Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

gary@yoursocialworker.com
http://www.yoursocialworker.com

Facebook
Linked In
Twitter

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas and Georgina Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships

Counseling a Child of Separated Parents? Therapists take heed:

Therapists take heed. Your counseling may make matters worse and could set you up for a professional complaint.

Children in distress between warring separated parents is common. The child, caught between the conflicting tugs and pulls of unresolved parental disputes can look anxious and/or depressed. Their behavior may be restless, sullen, withdrawn and/or aggressive. The child may not listen to the parent or teacher and may be rude, difficult to manage and/or may express disdain or preference for one or other parent.

In view of the child’s distress, a parent may seek counseling services, believing the child could benefit from a safe place to explore their feelings.

However counseling for a child between separated parents can make matters worse for the child.

Separated parents may worry that the child may say something that could influence the outcome of a parenting dispute regarding the care, residential arrangement or parental decision making responsibilities. Further a parent may be concerned that a child could be coached to provide misinformation about the child’s care or preferences to influence matters in a court process or other dispute resolution process.

In point of fact, some children are coached and some parents do use counseling as a means to manipulate the outcome of a court’s decision. As such parents then fight about who takes the child to counseling, who pays and who talks to the counselor. Many children in this situation are then questioned by their parents to find out what the child has said to the counselor.

The behavior of the separated parents fighting over the counseling intensify the very problems for which counseling was sought in the first place – children caught between their warring parents.

Not only are the children caught between the warring parents, but so too are the counselors. The counselors may feel slave between two masters, each with counter demands and each seeking to be privy to the content of the child’s sessions. Counselors caught between warring parents can also be subject to abuse by a parent including professional complaints.

Unless the separated parents are in agreement for the child to be in counseling and for the counseling to remain confidential and not be used for court purposes, counseling for the child, even though in distress, might best be avoided. Although counseling is typically seen as only helpful, in these situations it ramps up parental conflict and make matters worse for the child.

In lieu of counseling for the child, the degree to which the parents can be helped to resolve their differences the child can benefit. Strategies to facilitate resolving differences include parental education, mediation and collaborative law. Ongoing court and litigation is known to perpetuate and inflame parental conflict.

So, as tough as life may be between warring parents for the child, counseling may add fuel to the fire. That child may have to wait to attend counseling as an adult to redress the harm from the childhood exposure to parental conflict.

If however you are going to consider providing counseling to a child caught between separated parents, consider the following guidelines:

  1. Obtain both parents approval in writing to provide counseling service;
  2. Meet with both parents first prior to ever meeting with the child;
  3. Set out your terms of service including:
  • Confidentiality;
  • Cost;
  • Payment;
  • Right to terminate;
  • Court involvement;
  • Who attends or transports the child;
  • Goals;
  • Feedback sessions:

In working with children of separated parents, remember the old adage, “First do no harm.”

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker. Check out my services and then call me if you need help with child behavior or relationship issue.

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Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

gary@yoursocialworker.com
http://www.yoursocialworker.com

Facebook
Linked In
Twitter

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas and Georgina Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships

The Three Levels of Boundary Setting and Personal Well-being

When it comes to mental health and relationships, boundaries is a catch-all term meaning you are able to separate yourself from others; be protective of yourself; and not get drawn into other people’s problems. It is about being able to take care of yourself midst the push and pulls by others whose push and pulls may not be in your interest. In many cases, it is about the ability to say no. Typically, the more appropriate the boundary the better your mental health and relationships.

Let’s look at these examples of problematic boundaries and solutions:

Problem Boundary:

Frank’s mother continues to have Frank stop by her house after work each day. Frank is married with kids at home. Superficially this appears kind. On the other hand this interferes with Frank’s own family and his support of his wife with the kids. His mother is intruding on his family boundary and Frank is having difficulty asserting his need to support his wife. Conflict ensues between Frank and his wife.

Solution:

Frank advises his mother he is unable to visit each day after work. He learns to say to no her constant requests. Although it is a disappointment to his mother, she adjusts. Franks wife is pleased with the outcome. His marital life improves, he enjoys his time with his children and his mother comes to appreciate her son has a family of his own. His mother is no longer depending on Frank’s company. She now has motivation to explore other friendships in her community.

————–

Problem Boundary:

Sita is unsatisfied in her marriage. A co-worker has been giving her the hint of a romantic interest. Sita flirts with her coworker and this is discovered by her partner. Her partner confronts the coworker at their place of employment. Sita and her partner are now in open conflict about the co-worker which is distracting from underlying issues of their relationship. Both Sita and her co-worker have to deal with HR at work for their flirtation affecting the workplace. Sita had a poor boundary with her co-worker. Her partner had a poor boundary by intruding at her place of employment.

Solution:

Sita, in view of romantic advances by a co-worker realizes she should confront her issues with her partner at home. She approaches her partner and advises of her dissatisfaction. The couple goes for counseling. Whether or not their relationship survives, it can be addressed without the complication of a third party.

—————

Problem Boundary:

There are a group of friends. Two friends are fighting. One seeks to end the relationship recognizing it isn’t healthy. A third friend, upset by the conflict and impact on the group tries to influence and repair things. When that is unsuccessful, the third friend tries to influence other friends to have the one return to the group. The one who left feels more disrespected and conflict escalates and spreads throughout the group.

Solution:

When the friend who left the relationship realized a third friend was intervening, that person was asked to stop. When it then appeared that the third friend was seeking to enlist the support of others to influence the situation, the one who left the relationship withdrew further and without confrontation or comment. This person realized that some people just won’t respect a decision to take care of oneself even if distressing to others. This person also realized that arguing only keeps the matter alive and that to take care of oneself, sometimes one has to simply move on. Best case scenario would have been for the third party to resist their peacemaking efforts (maintain their own boundary). Their involvement only made matters worse despite best intentions. That is a difficult lesson for some third parties to learn.

Life and relationships can carry risks. Some work well. There is a sense of mutuality and reciprocity and people can be respectful of each others interests and needs. When that is not the case, then the challenge is about addressing the issue. Addressing the issue is what is meant by setting boundaries. It may require setting limits as Frank did with his mother. It may require discussion and counseling as it did for Sita and her partner. In other situations, it may require severing of relationships particularly when limit setting or counseling is ineffective or unavailable.

Given the examples, the three levels of boundary setting are:

  1. Say no. Assert yourself and set limits in accordance to what is acceptable for yourself and situation.
  2. Discuss and/or attend counseling. Some issues require a more open and frank discussion about peoples’ contribution to distress. If you cannot discuss the issues directly or unaided, then seek professional help to facilitate the dialogue. You may need to involve others who are a part of the situation in order to address all issues to everyone’s satisfaction.
  3. Set a firm boundary. Some issues may not be resolvable. A person may not hear “no” or may not be open to self-reflection or attending help with a professional. If that is the case, you may have to consider limiting your relationship, exposure to the person or situation or walking away altogether. This can be very challenging and disruptive to others who may be involved. Support or counseling may be helpful in making and maintaining this kind of decision.

Setting boundaries is about taking care of oneself in the context of where one’s well-being is compromised in the relationship to the other. Certainly this can pose challenging situations to confront, especially in the face of push-back from others.

Typically the person violating the boundary isn’t in distress because their needs are being met, even though at the expense of the other. When the other person’s needs are no longer met, this can give rise to more open conflict. Hopefully the disparity can be addressed and a mutually satisfying resolution achieved. If not, then one is left choosing.

At times the choice is between compromising one’s personal health or mental health or values to maintain a relationship that more meets the needs of others over oneself. This may be self-destructive however.

I suggest people make their own cost benefit analysis. If a resolution that is mutually satisfying can be achieved, this is the best outcome. If not, then one must consider how much compromise is acceptable. It too much is expected, then one may consider establishing a firm boundary and walk away.

We are all in charge of our own well-being. Better boundaries improves our well-being.

Food for thought? I would love to read your comments. Please post them below and please share this blog with the links provided.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker. Check out my services and then call me if you need help with child behavior or relationship issue or setting better boundaries.

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Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

gary@yoursocialworker.com
http://www.yoursocialworker.com

Facebook
Linked In
Twitter

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas and Georgina Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships

Separated Parents: What is Really in the Child’s Best Interest?

When separated parents start throwing out the phrase, “best interest of the children,” in the midst of a dispute with the other parent, I know something is amiss.

As the fight rages on, both come to evoke that phrase. The dispute may be about decision making, the residential arrangement, choice of school or activities or attendance at some special event.

Each parent locked in bitter battle accuses the other of losing sight of the child’s best interest, while presenting themselves as the one truly acting on the child’s behalf.

What neither parent realizes though is that the life-long outcome for children of separated parents is less determined by who decides what, what time the child spends where or what school or activities they attend.

The real factor that determines the outcome for children of separated parents is the level of conflict between the parents. The greater the parental conflict, the more at risk the child is for poor outcomes.

The best interests of the child are served by parents finding peaceful solutions to resolving their differences. If there are locked in battle, it is clear one or both have lost sight of their child’s true best interest despite what may be said.

Your child likely won’t be counting the days he or she spent here or there as an adult, but will remember the pain and anguish of being torn apart.

The best childhood memories start with peaceful parents. Now that’s in the best interest of children.

Do you know someone who might benefit from this information? Please scroll down and share this article. To view my full list of peacemaking strategies to facilitate settlement, check this out.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.

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Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

gary@yoursocialworker.com
http://www.yoursocialworker.com

Facebook
Linked In
Twitter

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas and Georgina Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships

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