Children and Families Bill

Memorandum submitted by the National Family Mediation

(CF 72)

2.0 Introduction to NFM

2.1 National Family Mediation (NFM) is the only voluntary sector provider of family mediation.

2.2 NFM is the national body that supports 47 local family mediation providers in England and Wales.

2.3 NFM has been delivering family mediation services for 30 years. It is a founding member of the Family Mediation Council, the regulatory body for family mediators.

2.4 NFM is the lead training body of family mediators.

2.5 NFM services provide family mediation in all issues, child contact and residence disputes and all associated applications of Section 8 of Children Act 1989. NFM services provide all issues mediation in finance and property matters in accordance with ancillary relief in divorce or separation. NFM services provide other related support services that enable parties to separate amicably including direct consultation with children and child and adult counselling support services.

Summary

1. National Family Mediation (NFM) welcomes the Children and Families Bill. This Bill provides for significant developments and enhancements in the delivery of family justice that will benefit many more families.

2. This summary is concerned specifically with clause 10 the Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting and seeks to provide additional information about the training and qualification of family mediators.

Clause 10 Family Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting

3. NFM welcomes the strengthening of the requirement to attend a MIAM from "expects" in the Pre- Application Protocol to "must" as stated in the Bill. This will help to ensure that all parties subject to attendance and the family justice staff and services will no longer be confused about the status of this meeting.

4. We believe the strengthening of the requirement to attend the MIAM and the term MIAM itself will help to increase the awareness of family mediation services generally to the wider public but also the professionals working within family justice. To alter the title would at best dilute the MIAM process into a general assessment process with little purpose and at worst create extra confusion to an already confused and distressed public that is trying to find a way through a divorce or separation.

5. The training of family mediators in NFM is central to our reputation and our commitment to providing the highest quality services to the public. People experiencing relationship breakdown are in a state of high distress vulnerability and personal emotional and practical turmoil. It is essential that the services delivered to this section of society are of a high quality. NFM very much welcomes the move towards standardised accreditation and regulation of family mediators. In NFM we believe achieving accreditation is critical to the quality of provision. The public should be assured that any mediator who delivers services meets one recognised standard. For clarification and information the average length of time to achieving accreditation in an NFM service is in the region of two years. Family mediators come from a range of professional backgrounds and this is usually a second career choice. A team in an NFM service provides a rich set of skills with mediators bringing their past professional knowledge these can include social work, psychology, law, financial expertise. This is more than an average law firm providing family mediation. Selection on to an NFM foundation training course requires that candidates are educated to degree level and/or have related relevant professional experience. They must meet the essential criterion and aptitude requirements. Foundation training provides the core essential skills knowledge and practice skills for trainees to begin supervised practice. Before practising alone NFM mediators undergo a period of supervised practice working alongside experienced accredited mediators and supervisors. Trainees take an increasingly active role in managing the mediation process during this development phase. The cases can range from young parents in conflict about children arrangements to multimillionaires sorting out trust funds. Cases can be complex or straightforward they can be high conflict and have complex mental health issues and domestic violence and child protection elements. The mediator is learning to manage highly emotionally charged negotiations between two people who are trying to end a longstanding and/or very significant personal relationship. Mediators who undertake this training soon realise it is extremely difficult to move people who are fearful or downright hostile from their positions to one where co-operation or negotiation is possible. Cases that take up court time are not always in essence complex legal issues but fear, hostility and loss combined with the legal process serve to make relatively simple issues become highly conflicted and turn them in to intransigent legal disputes. Well trained mediators can manage the negotiations even in this environment to enable people to find constructive solutions.

In relation to concerns expressed regarding the safety of potential victims of domestic violence I confirm that NFM mediators have been subject to compulsory domestic violence training since 1996. A mediator has to be satisfied that both parties to the mediation can make an equal contribution to the negotiation, that they are not under duress or being coerced to participate. It is a key and fundamental part of the training of mediators to assess for suitability to mediate. All mediators must comply with local safeguarding procedures and are under a duty of care to assess vulnerable children and adults.

In this working environment it is in our view essential that all mediators achieve at least the FMC accreditation. We therefore urge the committee to ensure family mediators are properly trained and accredited and fit to undertake this new role being bestowed upon the mediation profession by the legislation.

March 2013

Prepared 19th April 2013