This post has been building in my head for a little while and I’ve gone back and forth on whether it’s an appropriate post for the blog which generally concentrates on tips and ideas for clients. Having mulled this over I have come to the conclusion that if you’re passionate about mediation then this must surely be an issue that has to be raised to ensure the sustainability of mediation for the foreseeable future, and beyond. So I’ve thrown caution to the wind and am putting this up as a blog post and sending it as a mail out to other professionals in the hope of starting a dialogue about this and encouraging some reflection on this issue.
In the last few years voluntary regulation has come to mediation in the form of the Family Mediation Council (FMC) and Family Mediation Standards Board (FMSB). There are many, many positives to this as mediation is a vital service, and a craft, and it’s important that those that offer it are suitably qualified and that they devote time to their own professional development. It is a career and not something that should be ‘dabbled in’ – if I can put it in that way. None of the points I make next are me arguing against having professional standards in family mediation (or indeed any other form of mediation).
Currently there are 707 accredited mediators registered with the Family Mediation Council, a further 293 mediators are working towards their accreditation. That quite neatly means there are 1,000 mediators registered as working in England and Wales and subscribing to the voluntary regulation scheme. I’m aware that there are mediators working who are not registered with the FMC but I’ve concentrated on the numbers that are known to make this point. Those that are not registered with the FMC have made the choice not to submit to the voluntary regulation.
In 2015 there were 101,055 divorces amongst opposite sex couples (which was a decline of 9.1% from the previous year). There were 22 divorces of gay couples in 2015. This reflects the fact that marriages (and prior to that, and now along side that, civil partnerships) for gay couples have only been possible in England and Wales in recent years. That’s just shy of 101,100 marriage or civil partnership breakdowns. That doesn’t include relationship breakdowns where the couple (gay or straight) are not married. There are no statistics on how many relationships that were not marriages or civil partnerships broke down.
You may at this point notice quite a sizeable difference between the number of relationship breakdowns and the number of qualified mediators. Not every divorce will require a mediator. Some couples will work things out themselves without any need for intervention. For some couples there are no children and there are no assets and they simply go their separate ways without the need to discuss such things. They often handle the divorce paperwork themselves. There will also, sadly, always be cases where there are protection issues and adults and/or children need the protection of the court. Where one party (or both parties) are vulnerable then mediation may well not be an appropriate way forward. For everything in between these scenarios mediation may well be the best option. I would say that of course because I’m a mediator and I’m passionate about the benefits of mediation. But I do also believe in the right of clients to make informed choices and for that reason people may opt to use the collaborative process, or other such alternative way, for finding a resolution. What I think is essential is that all clients get information about all processes so that they can make an informed choice about how they can move forward. Failing to provide information takes away people’s choices and I feel strongly that that isn’t right. The government’s thinking behind introducing a requirement that all couples applying to the court attend a MIAMS (Mediation Information and Assessment meeting) to find out more about whether mediation might be for them, was to encourage, empower and educate people about their ability to make decisions themselves rather than having outcomes put upon them by the court system. That system is flawed by the fact that the requirement is not being properly enforced but I personally believe the initial premise remains a sound one.
Anyway, I am digressing onto something that could be a blog post (or frankly even a book) in itself. If, just for the sake of argument, you decided that 30% of divorces created issues that were suitable for mediation then that would be 30,330 cases requiring a mediator. This is only cases involving couples who were married or in a civil partnership. According to statistics released in 2014 there are around 3 million cohabiting gay and straight couples in the UK. It’s pretty much impossible to find out how many cohabiting couples separate because no statistics are collected because no one has to register anywhere to become a cohabiting couple. For the purposes of this article I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that if 30% of separations of cohabiting couples are also suitable for mediation then the number of cases requiring a mediator might swell to around 35,000 a year. That would then equate to 35 cases per mediator. This is clearly an average and I’m viewing these cases as couples attending joint mediation meetings, rather than just as MIAMS. Couples averagely require between 3 and 5 joint meetings in mediation to resolve all issues. I would stress the word average as I have seen couples only require two sessions (or even 1 in a small number of cases) and some couples require 6. Some mediators work part time and some undertake mediation as part of other work as a lawyer or a counsellor and so may be carrying out less than this. As a mediator who purely does mediation work (along with supervising other mediators and some training work) I would suggest this is sufficient to make a reasonable living.
Importantly this is based on only 30% of divorces and separations using the services of a mediator. I believe that that is a conservative estimate and that that number could well increase quite considerably with education about options and greater awareness of mediation as an option (which is definitely on the increase). If you make your living from mediation because you love what you do then you are passionate about the benefits of it and believe it could be suitable to resolve issues in the majority of separations. Marketing yourself as a mediator is marketing mediation, as well as your own services. I know that some family practitioners disagree with the number of cases that may be suitable for mediation but I see what mediation helps to achieve; and the benefits for any children caught up in a parental separation are difficult to deny.
However, were the number of separating couples coming to mediation to increase substantially then 1,000 mediators covering England and Wales becomes far from sufficient. There is a limit to the number of cases a mediator can usefully assist with without burning themselves out and not performing at their best. So it has always followed in my head that if you are passionate about the benefits of mediation then you must also be passionate about training the next generation of mediators and helping them to develop. I know many mediators for whom this is absolutely the case. But I have also encountered the following situations:
1. Mediators charging to have mediators trying to gain experience sit in on meetings (which the clients were paying them for in any event).
2. Mediators who believe that there are sufficient mediators and that effectively we should try to stop others qualifying to preserve our own businesses. If you go to any event where there are a number of family mediators it will not escape your notice that a number of them are looking to require in the next 10 years. This is not me being personal, I have attended a number of events where straw polls have been taken on this point. So not only will we not have sufficient mediators if the volume of mediation work increases, but the existing trained and accredited mediators will also diminish in number.
3. Mediators who believe that new mediators are taking work away from existing mediators. My view is that the more mediators there are, the greater the noise about mediation is. This in turn means more people find out about mediation and use it. So the more mediators there are the more work they generate through their conversations and marketing. The work for family mediators is only finite in the sense of the number of couples separating.
4. The accreditation process is onerous and it is a real badge of honour to have completed it. When I submitted my portfolio under the old FMC accreditation system (which was slightly different to the current one but not massively) my portfolio was 128 pages. It is right that being an accredited mediator means something and that it represents a professional standard but for some mediators the difficulty of this is the difference between becoming a mediator and giving up. It’s not just about the sheer volume of the things you have to demonstrate, it is about obtaining the work that will enable you to demonstrate the skills you need to evidence. It is not for the faint hearted, or those that are not 100% committed to the idea. There are many that demonstrate their commitment and drive but are still struggling to get everything together. I have spoken to lots of these people. I mentor some of them as a PPC. It is not for want of trying or dedication to the cause. Many volunteer for free to get their mediation hours up. For many people working voluntarily for so many hours for so many months is simply not viable. Yet there are mediators who believe that if these people do not succeed then it is because they have not really tried. They were not made of the right stuff. Again I urge you to think about the effect on the future of mediation if some or all of the 297 people currently working towards their accreditation and registered with the FMC were to give up on mediation. Furthermore, what would this to do to others thinking about training or qualifying as mediators in the first place? Angela Lake-Carroll (an experienced mediator and one of the leading lights in developing our profession) talks about a view amongst some young would-be mediators that the older professionals have done a good job of sewing the profession up for themselves. They all got in and then drew up the ladder. For anyone who thinks this is acceptable ask yourself what mediation in this country will look like in 10 years. Or 20 years?
To my mind if you are passionate about mediation then it’s because you feel deep down in your soul that the work you do is something that makes a substantial difference to people’s lives at a difficult time. This may be seen as going over the top but I honestly believe mediation is one small way of making the world a slightly better place. It’s a calling of your soul to do this work and not simply a “turn up and see what happens and go home” type thing. I truly do understand the fear about ‘getting enough work’ as a mediator. It is my sole source of income (if you include ‘mediation related activities like mentoring and training) but we have to think about the world tomorrow and not just the world today. If you make every effort to keep work away from training mediators then that means there is bread on your table today but does it ensure that separating couples in the future can avoid conflict over their tables for years to come? If you feel as I do about mediation then you too must be concerned about the longevity of being able to offer the services that we do. It is not sufficient to say that we have mediation today, we need mediation today, tomorrow and forever.