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Mediation that prevents homelessness

Photo by Christian Erfurt on Unsplash

When young people hit major conflicts with their parents or siblings, it can lead to them leaving or being thrown out of the house. The third in my series of guest blog posts is by Beth Owens, my mentee and a mediator for families in crisis. She shares here about the support she offers to families and the impact it can have.

“I am a family mediator working for Depaul UK, a charity whose aim it is to prevent homelessness amongst young people. To give you a better idea of what I do, read Jake’s story* here and imagine yourself in his shoes.

Jake’s story*

You are a 16 year old boy living at home with your mum, your 13 year old brother and your 10 year old sister. Your brother has autism and your sister has cerebral palsy. It is hard work because your mum is always getting at you. To top it off, she gives all her attention to your brother and sister, who need help all the time.

Mostly, you’ve learned to look after yourself and keep out of the way.

Everything went wrong in December when you had a huge bust up with your mum.

All you’d done was ask her for a bike for Christmas and she lost the plot! Shouting and screaming and saying you never did anything around the house to help and how dare you ask for a bike and lots of worse things besides.

Well, this was the last straw. You felt unwanted and pushed out, so you stormed off, stayed at a mate’s house for a few nights. Ever since, you have been going to and fro, choosing to go home only when you know your mum is not there. Sometimes you sleep in your own bed and sneak out when you know your mum is busy with your brother or sister.

Other times, you sleep on mates’ sofas. It’s getting tricky though because your friends still live with their parents and you feel like they’re starting to get fed up with it. You’re worried about where to go and have considered just staying up all night to avoid having to go home.

You don’t want to speak to your mum.

Out of the blue you get a call from a woman called Beth who says she wants to help. It’s a bit weird, but she takes you out for a McDonalds and she seems OK. She at least listens to what you’ve got to say.

This situation is a real life example of a family I’ve worked with. Usually, I get a call either directly from a parent or from a social worker about the fact they are having difficulties and would like some support.

The first thing I do is go and meet with each family member individually to get to know them. I listen to what is going on from their perspective and aim to build trust. It must be extremely hard for families to allow an unknown outsider into their personal circumstances.

I need them to see that I’m someone who can be trusted. Often this takes several sessions of meeting with parents and the young people involved to build the relationship.

Sometimes they are ready to come together in a family meeting and speak openly and honestly in a safe space. This is held somewhere away from the family home. After one family session I held, the mother said to me, “You have such a good way of speaking to teenagers as well as adults Beth, you must find your job so rewarding”.

Other times it’s not possible to get the family together and I have adapted the traditional mediation model to working with families in complex crises.Jake’s* situation outlined above is an example where I used indirect mediation.

The mum was having a stressful time with two disabled children to look after, had financial issues and was trying to find the time to study and work. Meanwhile, Jake* was trying to find work and felt ‘pushed out’ and ‘unwanted’ at home. They were both at a stalemate and not willing to speak to each other.

I met with them separately and with their permission, I passed on what was said from our sessions to each other. Over time they began to understand each other’s point of view.

When Jake was ready, I supported him to pick up the phone and call his mum to wish her a happy birthday. She was delighted! This helped to get the relationship back on track and Jake said to me, “I’m doing really well now. Thank you. I’d been wanting to call my mum for agers but couldn’t.”

Jake now has his own accommodation and is speaking to his mum regularly.

I want to be clear here that this all takes time. I worked with Jake’s family for three months to get them to a point where I was no longer needed.

When I mention the word mediation to the young people I work with, I don’t usually get a very warm response! “Isn’t that for when you get divorced?” “You’re not making me sit in a room to have therapy with my family are you?”. There can be a misconception of what mediation is and how it works, especially when working within the field of homelessness.

I think it’s safe to say that all families experience difficulties and sometimes these difficulties can become complex. There can be a range of triggers: bereavement, a history of trauma, financial worries, substance misuse or struggles around communication, rule setting or pushing boundaries.

However, if these issues go unaddressed it may lead to heated arguments potentially resulting in a young person running away or being kicked out of the home.

At Depaul UK our mission is to prevent and ultimately to end homelessness. Our method of mediating with families takes into account the varied nature of individual cases to support families to remain together in the way that best suits them.

However, if these issues go unaddressed it may lead to heated arguments potentially resulting in a young person running away or being kicked out of the home.”

Bethany Owens is a family support worker and mediator working for Depaul UK in Manchester. Depaul UK continue to offer listening and mediation support to families in crisis throughout the Covid-19 lockdown. If you know of a family who might appreciate the kind of support outlined in this article, please get in touch at Familysupport.GM@depaulcharity.org.uk.

*Not his real name. Some other details have also been changed to protect confidentiality.

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When Family Mediation offers so much more than a settlement

Harli Marten

While I’m not trained in family mediation, it is often something that I get asked about.

The second in my series of guest blog posts is by my good friend and Family Mediator, Laura Mackey. She offers her thoughts on what family mediation can do for couples who are separating. I hope you will agree, it is inspiring reading.

” As a family mediator, I work with people going through a separation or divorce. My clients are couples who want to reach an agreement so that they can draw a line and move on.

Typically, they need to sort out property, finances and often childcare arrangements.

What couples don’t always expect -or perhaps dare to hope for -is that mediation can help them to improve their relationship. This often seems an impossibility.

Bob and Jane’s story

Take the example of a couple I worked with a little while back. I’ll call them Bob and Jane.

Bob and Jane had separated two years previously, almost overnight, after 10 years of marriage.

They hadn’t seen or spoken to one another since that sudden end to their relationship. They came to me because their divorce was approaching and they needed to sort out their finances and property arrangements.

Both Jane and Bob were extremely nervous about facing each other in the mediation room and needed coaching to get to the point of being ready for that.

However, they were both also courageous people who were willing to try, despite their misgivings.

In that first face to face meeting, the atmosphere in the room was heavy. There was a lot of hurt, anger and fear expressed as they took it in turns to speak and listen to one another. It was not always easy and I had huge respect for them in sticking it out.

As they worked through their finances, it became clear that they wanted and needed to talk about what had happened. Following their lead, I supported them to address the traumatic end to their marriage and to rebuild their communication after a long silence.

Building understanding and empathy

We had three joint meetings. During these sessions, Jane and Bob reached a point where they were able to acknowledge the love and the good times they’d had together, as well as the difficulties and reasons for ending the relationship.

For the second and third joint meetings, they arrived and left together. And by the end, they were able to laugh and share tender moments with one another.

When one of them got upset in the meeting, the other would offer comfort. It was touching to see their transformation through the process.

Reaching a joint agreement

Mediation helped this couple to sort their property and finances for their divorce, which is an amazing outcome – saving them time, money and further upset. Mediation also provided a chance for them to heal from the trauma of their relationship breakdown and ending.

The benefits of a transformative model

The method I’ve described above is referred to as a ‘facilitative’ or ‘transformative’ approach to mediation. It is client-led and focuses on both the outcome and the relationship, aiming to create a win-win for both people involved.

This is the process that I use because I believe that it offers the best possible experience for my clients. A solid agreement and an opportunity to connect with one another, where that is wanted and needed.

As with any mediation process, client autonomy is paramount. I never persuade or encourage people to engage with one another at that level where that is not what they themselves want.

However, I believe that I’d be doing a disservice to my clients if I were to focus on a purely outcome-driven, agreement-focused model of mediation.

Another advantage of this model, is that it can help to build foundations for constructive co-parenting long into the future. It can also help parents to model healthy communication and relationships for their children.

There is no limit to what mediation can offer to clients when it takes a person-centred approach with no judgement or persuasion. “

Laura Mackey is a family mediator, registered with the Family Mediation Council, based in Manchester, UK. She works at Children First Family Mediation – a charity, working with separating couples on children and finance issues:   www.childrenfirstfamilymediation.org.uk

If you or a friend or family member are going through a separation, you can find a family mediator in your area (of England and Wales) using the search tool on the Family Mediation Council website: www.familymediationcouncil.org.uk/find-local-mediator

How to handle conflict when you hate it

How to handle conflict when you hate it- like me!

Dmitry Ratushny

Over the next few months I’ll be publishing a series of guest blogs from other people.

This month, my other half, Ben Gilchrist, shares some personal reflections on being conflict averse. And how to handle conflict when you hate it.

If you or someone you know avoids conflict, read on to learn the six key things that have helped him to face up to conflict and handle it anyway.

Let’s hear from Ben in his own words…

“I am conflict averse. It’s not my fault I was born that way. Well, alright a healthy mix of upbringing and my emotional wiring mean that’s part of who I am.

And it’s something I’m slowly learning to notice and appreciate for the strengths and weaknesses to be found there. Here are a few reflections on my journey so far. I hope it helps those of you who, like me, hate conflict and wish it would just go away!

Know it won’t always be like this

If you are conflict averse I’ve found a helpful mantra in any conflict situation is, “it won’t always be like this”. By bringing this to mind I can cut through the fear, anxiety or stress that conflict rapidly triggers.

For those who are not conflict averse, this might sound ridiculous but it can honestly feel like a conflict situation will never end and all the worst things I am thinking will come true.

Notice your reaction and consciously listen to others

If I can interrupt my instinctual reaction to conflict then I am much more able to consciously listen in an active way. When I can do this the whole conflict situation becomes easier to bear and much more resolvable, normally in a shorter space of time.

Living with others is probably the best practice for this. I can think of too many times with my wife and children where I haven’t been able to pause and choose to actively listen.

I am trying to though, and when I do this the power of reflecting back and checking what I’ve heard is palpable – it creates a different space.

Creating a different space with my daughter

Just this morning my 5 year old was yelling at me, saying I was interrupting her. This was a red flag for me as I thought that was exactly what she was doing to me. I managed to get down on her level and to articulate what she was saying to me and the feelings she was expressing. This action interrupted the spiral of conflict. I asked her to eat her breakfast as there was clear ‘hanger’ going on (feeling angry from being hungry). Phew!

If only I was always able to apply this! Often, my conflict aversion means I become defensive with simmering anger that is ready to erupt.

To show someone feeling afraid of conflict
Luke Jones

Feel your feelings – it’s OK

However I have learnt that it’s okay to feel my feelings and vital to accept them. In contrast to the volcanic eruption, I can state that I am feeling angry and be okay with not quite knowing why entirely. When I state my need for some time out to cool down that helps. It gives me more space to work out what I am thinking and feeling. Writing this out can really be beneficial too.

I’ve also learnt to better notice the difference in my reactions between when generally things are calm and the times where stress is high. When tensions are high, I can become overly diplomatic and not say what I mean. This creates confusion and frustration for others. I try to smooth things out too much and it doesn’t work.

When you hate it, lean in to the conflict

When I am aware and lean in to the conflict as something with potential, rather than retreating into what I’m comfortable with, it is normally much more productive.

Yes it is hard. I am learning to notice the fear, though, and put it aside. “It won’t always be like this”. Remember that.

If you aren’t conflict averse you may of course be thinking what on earth is he talking about?

Share your experiences with others

Please talk to someone you know who is conflict averse to hear the real joys and challenges it can bring. I would love to hear other people’s reflections on being conflict averse because of course it goes with the territory that we don’t talk about it enough.

Let’s share strategies for dealing with any roots of fear in this whilst celebrating the good things that it means we can bring to our communities and workplaces.

Here’s to doing conflict well, if perhaps a little less than some people seem to prefer.”

What are your experiences of conflict? Are you an avoider, a confronter or somewhere in the middle?

Please share this article with your friends – there are bound to be some who are conflict averse! Click on the links to share.

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