Lessons from the National Mediation Conference Day 1

There is nothing more inspiring than getting together with a group of experts to discuss what you are passionate about!

The National Mediation Conference in 2019 has a focus of “Over the Horizon”, looking at the essence of mediation for the future.

So many fascinating presentations, but some significant standouts for me!

Dr June Oscar-Whole of life approach and deep listening

Dr June Oscar explained how mediation has been at the heart of indigenous culture for hundreds of years, with a whole of life approach founded in the basic principles at the heart of all humanity. This approach in enhanced by an understanding of these foundational principles to provide a compassionate and caring environment, and effective structures for decision-making-the aim being to keep the peace and to keep her people strong.

All people have a fundamental right of participation when the decision-making has an impact on their life. This must be free from discrimination and prejudice. The essential skill in this process is deep listening, which requires the facilitator to stop, sit quietly, just listening over an extended period. Then, when they are ready to talk, to do so only in response to what has been heard. They are not to impose ideas of what the listener wants, but to clarify the thoughts and feelings experienced by others. The outcomes are to be from the ground up rather than the top down.

This will reflect what the people truly want, hear the voices of all, operate with no set agenda or imposed framework, and thus get the essential dialogue right. Listen first, then respond by talking to the people’s issues, needs and aspirations, applying the principles of collaboration, connectedness, nuture and care, to bring people together and revitalize wellbeing. This is a restorative process for discussion and decision-making-the stuff of life. It has the power and capacity to unite diverse peoples with common purpose in such a whole of life approach, and will uphold all rights!

Andrew Bickerdike- ALRC Review of Family Law System

At last a summary from one of the Commissioners about the leading messages of this long awaited report!

The system is recommended to have a public health approach with the focus on prevention, and three tiers of primary level of prevention, secondary level of community supports, and the third tier of the courts.

The first of 60 recommendations is to achieve jurisdictional reform and avoid the fragmentation of the current courts approach by combining the state and federal courts to ensure that all issues relevant to the family will be dealt with at the same place.

The Case Management Service within the courts is to be expanded.

The Family Relationship Centres are to be expanded to provide Case management for families with complex needs, and to provide a greater range of services including financial counseling, mediation in property matters, children’s contact services.

Greater guidance in property matters including:
• Presumptions to provide an obvious starting point
• Specify the steps that the courts will take
• List the matters that the courts will take into account
• Presumption of equality of contributions during the relationship
• Date for valuations being the date of separation

Consistency for both parenting and property matters to be referred to Family Dispute Resolution and Legally Assisted FDR
• Genuine steps statement for resolution to be possible
• Courts not to hear matters unless either genuine steps statement or FDR certificate
• Strict consequences for non-compliance

An overarching purpose to be included in the legislation, that is to be promoted by everyone associated with the court, with costs consequences if this is not the case.

Do No Harm by Megan Morris and Leigh Robertson

A timely reminder that as well as focusing on what we might be able to do to assist clients we work with, we must also be mindful of the potential negative consequences for them as well as ourselves.

Most of the clients that we deal with in FDR are in a difficult place-often vulnerable, distressed, emotional, experiencing high levels of anxiety, stress and depression, and sometimes in a very acrimonious situation with their previous partner.

In this condition, there is a significant potential for harm, and it can be vital for good practice to identify the risks or possible impacts for each client, as well as the considered risks to us as FDRPs.

Potential harm can come from:
• The other party not wanting to engage from a respectful process such as FDR
• Other professionals such as legal representatives who may not appreciate the advantages of FDR
• Engaging in the adversarial process and the court system with their focus on the negative aspects of the past, the competitive nature of this process, lengthy costs and delays
• Conflict, and family violence from the other party
• Different cultural norms
• Post mediation conflict
• Parents treating the children differently after FDR
• Not a thorough assessment of suitability
• Appropriate level of experience and competency of the FDRP and other professionals involved
• Allowing parties to stay stuck in the past
• We do not attgend to our own skill level,self-care, awareness and reflection
• Inadvertent bias and alignment with one party
• Injecting the mediation with our own viewpoint or solutions that may influence agreements

How can we ensure that this potential is minmised? First of all we can ensure that we are working within the appropriate ethical constraints-professional standards, ethics, standards, values. We must also work towards best practice by applying the best process in each unique situation, applying the best skills in each situation, and being mindful of the impact on ourselves as practitioners.

Good process
• Robust assessment and intake
• Risk of triangulation
• Ability to respond to clients needs throughout
• What if mediation is not working
• Period of review before signing

Good skills
• Personal qualities
• Rapport building
• Acknowledging reframing summarizing

Good self-care
• Clear boundaries
• Work-life balance
• Professional supervision
• Awareness of risks of vicarious trauma

A fantastic presentation encouraging us not to give in to cynicism, to develop an authentic way of being present, and always work towards best practice.

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