What happened to family mediation in 2020
By Philippa Johnson
My mediation service used to offer online mediations to families, but only in very specific circumstances, where there really was no way that our clients could meet any other way. Most of my family mediator colleagues did not offer online mediations at all. In March 2020 all that changed – probably for ever!
Mediators around the country rose to the challenge presented by lockdown. Everywhere mediators worked out what they needed to change about their working practice in order to help families facing the serious challenges they were facing. Some of the families we saw in those early months were dealing with problems that had been created by lockdown – relationships unexpectedly taken to breaking point, home schooling pressures, worries about the safety of existing arrangements for children to move between two homes and the stress of needing to develop new arrangements. Other challenges that already existed were made worse by the fact that during the pandemic it became much harder to access the courts.
Lots of families had to face the fact that the courts really could not help them with their immediate practical problems, certainly in the short term. Family mediators spend a lot of time explaining to families that in fact the courts probably would not be able to help them resolve their real issues but in 2020 the truth of this was inescapable. Many families understood that they had no option but to try to sort things out themselves. But this can be. hugely difficult at the best of times and was even more so at a time of great stress and general isolation. We wanted to make sure that families who wanted to help could get it.
The family mediation world transformed itself almost overnight. The public was given access to lists of family mediators able to work online – almost all of us! The special difficulties – and opportunities – that come with working online were addressed in online meetings and then set out in new guides to working practice. The regulatory body for family mediators in England and Wales – the Family Mediation Council – helped by responding quickly and decisively to change its website and some of the regulations that govern how mediators work. Mediators who provide families with legal aid mediation liaised with the government to make sure that they could continue to help people who needed it. The new online ways of working meant that more people could access low cost family mediation without compromising on quality. You can find out more about what family mediators do and which of us are working online here: https://www.familymediationcouncil.org.uk/
It was wonderful. Mediators committed themselves to showing the same sort of flexibility and courage that they regularly see in the families they work with. At every stage we, as family mediators, asked ourselves the questions that we always ask the families who come to us for help – what will work and what will not? We also asked ourselves the questions that we are professionally bound to ask ourselves – are we working within the core principles of family mediation (mediation is voluntary, mediators are impartial, mediation is confidential, in mediation clients make the decisions, and children's interests come first). At every stage new ideas were tested against these principles and we discovered new ways to achieve these goals. We spoke to each other even more than we had before to find out who was doing what and we shared ideas about how to provide more and better support to families.
As one very experienced mediator Janette Wood said to me recently: I'm enjoying doing the online mediation and absolutely surprised at how effective it can be. It has opened my eyes to the potential of online which I'm sure can be better and more effective for some people (I appreciate not all). Without having being made by the pandemic to take it on board, I would never have given it the chance which I know now it deserves. It has been fascinating to work on new skills.
All to say that if you and your family need some support in 2021 because of separation or divorce, you can get it online from a group of dedicated family professionals who have worked hard to develop a robust and practical range of support available to everyone. Family mediators have shown that they can and will work with families who need them, no matter what happens. Just get in touch!
If you would like some information on family mediation, please call us today on 01273 694 661 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be very happy to help.