Why is Family Mediation Training Essential?
Research by family law organisations across the UK indicates a rising number of children and young people experiencing poorly managed, acrimonious family breakdown and a consequent risk of poorer life opportunities. Family mediation is crucial for redressing the issue – and so too is effective training for family mediators.
Joan Davis, Executive Director of Family Mediation NI, speaks with us on the training that family mediators should be expected to receive in the UK and Ireland.
What are the fundamental underpinnings of family mediation? In what ways do these differ from other forms of mediation or conflict resolution?
There are a number of models of mediation. Those who offer family mediation use the facilitative model; that is a future-focused mediation. Confidentiality is key (with caveats relating to adult safeguarding, child protection and criminal activity), as is voluntary engagement, with decision-making power lying with family members engaging in the mediation. Mediators are impartial and non-judgemental.
How do these principles inform the training of family mediators?
The principles as above are embedded in our approved training programme. These support a non-judgemental process and an ability to demonstrate impartial practice and support and empower families to remain as their own decision makers. A mediator’s ability to not only understand the principles but to ensure a power balance in the room and that participants have autonomy and respect is also crucial – as is the ability to assess a client’s ability to take part in the process and have the voluntary engagement and capacity to do so.
Whilst there is a great deal of theory in training, including communication theory and power dynamics, it is critical to engage in role play and then co-working with accredited mediators to ensure that clients are getting a professional service that supports families to be their own well-informed, future-focused decision makers. Mediators may understand the theory, but training must ensure that they can manage sessions that are underpinned by the principles of mediation.
Training also needs to be clear on how to respond appropriately to any safeguarding or criminal allegations and concerns. In child-focused mediation, bringing that focus to the parents and raising awareness of information to help parents reach a place where they can make suggestions to one another, generating options for negotiation, in the best interests of their children.
Mediators may understand the theory, but training must ensure that they can manage sessions that are underpinned by the principles of mediation.
What kinds of family mediation training exist, and what is the process involved in them?
Clearly, a glance at the variety of websites across these islands will display many various training programmes approved by accreditation/membership bodies. Here in Northern Ireland, with our small population of 1.9 million, Family Mediation NI is the only organisation specialising in the training of family mediators and in the provision of a quality family mediation service across the country.
We deliver the flagship programme Family Mediator Foundation Training Programme annually. This is a 12-day, six-module, three-stage process that is accessed via application with criteria for entry meeting the conditions of approval as per the College of Mediators criteria. Successful completion of the programme is the first step in the process. A ‘Certificate of Completion’ may be issued, followed with the requirement to complete at least 10 hours’ supervised practice within one year of beginning the training. On successful completion of this, a ‘Readiness to Practice’ certificate may be issued. The trainee may then seek to gain access to cases to work towards building a portfolio of cases to submit to the College of Mediators UK for accreditation.
Mediators Institute Ireland (MII) has a different accreditation process and we are in the unique position whereby our family mediators can benefit from being accredited across both UK and Ireland (EU) jurisdictions. In addition, we offer a 32-hour family mediator training programme for those who have successfully completed a recognised general mediation programme.
What family mediation accreditations are recognised in Ireland and the UK?
The accreditation body in the Republic of Ireland is the Mediators Institute Ireland (MII). In the UK, accrediting bodies include the Family Mediation Council E&W and Relationship Scotland. Here in NI we have a bespoke accreditation system that was established with the UK College of Mediators (a Member of FMC), as the service provision and funding is not similar to GB. We are currently seeking to renew our training approval with MII. As a note, in terms of our neighbours across the border, mediation now benefits from the Mediation Act 2017 and has a professional service fully funded by the Legal Aid Board across the Republic of Ireland.
What skills or talents make for an effective family mediator when encouraged through training?
Key skills include:
- The ability to be present and non-judgemental, and to give clients a framework of mediation that listens to them and responds to their agenda and pace;
- The ability to listen and ask good questions, which retains clarity for the participants and recognition that this is their process;
- Confidence in reflecting back to clients and in the power of silence;
- Excellent communication skills, life experience, optimism, empathy, and the ability to transfer theory into practice, creating a commitment to lifelong learning, reflection and supervision.
- After this, it is the client’s responsibility to maintain the momentum for effecting change for themselves and their family.
Why is effective mediation training essential to family-related conflict resolution?
The uniqueness of each family is inherent. Thorough specialised training in legal requirements, adverse childhood experiences and child development is necessary to support families in protecting their own welfare when parental separation is poorly managed. In addition, parents do get caught up in acrimonious end-of-relationship issues for a multitude of reasons, so the ability to recognise and support parents to move forward and develop a co-parenting relationship is essential for children’s welfare and a functioning society that is able to manage conflict and not just react to it.
As mediators, the timing for this is critical, as asking parents to make well-informed decisions and listen attentively to one another can be detrimental if neither are willing or able to focus on a shared agenda. Of course, this requires not only the ability to talk the talk but also to develop good communication with the other parent that supports the co-parenting and parent-child relationships into the future.
‘Do no harm’ is our mantra, so the assessment process for suitability for our model at the individual information and assessment meeting (IAM) is crucial. All mediators are required to be confident and competent in assessment. This is an important part of training and is continuously supported via regular supervision, which occurs four times per year and is available on ad hoc basis if required. Best outcomes for children and families may only be achieved when we are working with the right clients at the right time for them.
Joan Davis, Executive Director
Family Mediation NI, Rights House, 127-131 Ormeau Road, Belfast, Northern Ireland, BT7 1SH, UK
Tel: +44 02890 243265
Facebook: Family Mediaiton NI
Joan Davis has led FMNI as Executive Director since 2009. She graduated from QUB with a Political Science degree and has gained a wealth of experience in both private and voluntary sector services. However, her passion is for the services provided by the voluntary/ third sector. She believes passionately in early intervention services that both reduce adverse childhood experiences and save the public sector huge sums by averting the lifelong challenges many children face when they are subject to long-running acrimonious parental separation.
Family Mediation NI (FMNI) is registered with the Charity Commission NI and is the lead provider of impartial, non-judgemental, confidential family mediation available at venues throughout NI and on-line platforms. Separated parents mediation has been funded under contract by Dept of Health since 2009. It is also the lead trainer of family mediators in NI, offering a bespoke foundation training programme approved by the College of Mediators (UK). FMNI’s sessional panel of 20 mediators, together with its additional specialists, are able to provide expertise in child-inclusive mediation and wider family mediation as well as elder mediation and finance mediation.