Safeguarding adults: Mediation and family group conferences

Working with domestic abuse

Key messages from policy and research

  • There may be benefits from mediation and FGCs even where domestic abuse has occurred (CCEL 2012; Knowlton and Muhlhauser 1994; Nixon et al 2005).
  • A skilled practitioner with experience of the screening process should conduct screening to determine whether or not mediation and an FGC is safe and appropriate (CCEL 2012; Daybreak 2011; Gavrielides and Artinopoulou 2012).
  • Mediators and FGC coordinators should be cautious about over-relying on screening tools to protect abuse victims from harm (CCEL 2012).
  • The victim may feel protective of the alleged abuser and may want the mediation or FGC to address the support they need (Daybreak 2011).

Practice points

  • There should be an agreed protocol in place to help make any decisions about whether to go ahead with a referral.
  • The mediator or FGC coordinator must be able to ensure the safety of a person who may be a victim of abuse, and that they are not disadvantaged by taking part in mediation or an FGC.
  • Measures must be taken to address the power imbalance between the victim and their alleged abuser.

Screening for domestic abuse

There is significant debate as to whether mediation and FGCs are appropriate responses once abuse has occurred. A number of authors and practitioners argue that they empower victims of abuse, enhance communication and understanding, and can be effective even when domestic violence has already occurred. This effectiveness depends on the nature and extent of the party’s vulnerability, the level and type of abuse, the competence of the independent mediator or FGC coordinator and the ability of the service provider to put additional safety measures and processes in place (CCEL 2012; Knowlton and Muhlhauser 1994; Nixon et al 2005). However, most agree that mediation or an FGC is inappropriate in cases involving allegations of serious physical, emotional or financial abuse (CCEL 2012).

A mediator or FGC coordinator should consider the level and type of abuse to decide whether mediation or FGC is appropriate. Best practice suggests screening for domestic abuse and power imbalance before mediation (Groh and Linden 2011; Knowlton and Muhlhauser 1994; Smyth 2011). A skilled practitioner with experience of the screening process should conduct this screening (CCEL 2012; Daybreak 2011; Gavrielides and Artinopoulou 2012).

The breadth and depth of screening for domestic violence can strongly affect the decision about whether mediation or FGC is appropriate (Knowlton and Muhlhauser 1994). Some elder mediation pilot projects have tried to tackle this issue and to create effective screening models. For example, the University of Windsor’s ‘Elder Mistreatment Mediation Project’ in Canada has developed an elder abuse mediation intake guide and an abuse screening tool that requires the intake worker to gather information about different forms of mistreatment and the older adult’s level of fear and intimidation. These tools were used to decide whether mediation was an appropriate response and to determine what support should be provided to enable safe and effective participation in mediation.

In the absence of evidence on the effectiveness of screening tools in the context of safeguarding vulnerable adults, policies governing mediation and FGCs in situations where abuse may have occurred should be cautious about over-reliance on these processes to protect abuse victims from harm (CCEL 2012).

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Case studies