I consider myself an experienced family mediator. I trained as a mediator in 2000 and became accredited to carry out legally aided mediations in 2001. I have met with numerous parents and children of separated families and helped them discuss, plan and agree their futures.
However, the last few weeks in lockdown have taken me back to the same feelings of insecurity and uncertainty I had as a brand-new mediator when I was let loose alone for the first time in the mediation world.
Family mediation is about helping separating couples talk to each other, ideally face to face, so that they can reach agreement and make decisions about their financial futures and their children’s future care. It’s about helping them feel safe and comfortable enough to speak to each other; helping them improve their communication skills. Lockdown and the government’s recent slogan of ‘stay home’ prohibited face to face communication with anyone outside your household, so how could we possibly carry on mediating separated parents?
Being born in the late 1960s, pre-technology boom, I have an inherent fear and suspicion about all things technical. I still have to ask my daughters for help switching on the television, and for years I strongly resisted having a mobile phone – and yes, I still like to pay for things by cheque. Yet here I was being asked to mediate clients virtually, online.
Like a lot of people, I don’t particularly like change; if it works why change it? The mediation world has talked for many years about online mediation but the fact that many mediation services have resisted implementing this confirms our inherent resistance to change the way we work. However, COVID-19 has forced us all to reconsider this and explore new ideas.
I am fortunate that I have a work colleague who is tech-savvy and also very patient, answering my daft questions and reassuring me that I cannot damage my laptop when I click download. With her support, I am now able to work remotely from home and to mediate online. That’s not to say that I wasn’t terrified the first time I tried to ‘admit’ a client to a virtual meeting and ended up having to ring our admin team to ask for help.
My mediation clients have been very supportive and understanding too and it has made me realise that, not only am I outside my comfort zone, they are too. Together we have managed to ensure that our microphones are unmuted and our cameras are on, and l think that this has helped to build a rapport and trust between us before we actually start the mediation process.
I felt really proud last week when two parents said that they had found the online mediation meeting ‘really helpful and not half as bad’ as they thought it would be.
It is fair to say that the last few weeks have been a rollercoaster of challenges and emotions. There have been ups and downs along the way, but I have learnt a lot and it has been rewarding. I hope that the families I have worked with online have benefitted and I look forward to assisting more families online to reach a positive future for themselves and for their children.
If you would like to arrange online mediation, contact us now on 03300 881440 or email firstname.lastname@example.org You can also find out further information about online MIAMs and mediation on our web pages.
Author: Rachel Renwick