Safeguarding adults: Mediation and family group conferences

Working with domestic abuse - Addressing power imbalance

Abuse is likely to result in a significant power imbalance between the alleged abuser and victim.  There is debate as to whether imbalances of power can ever be balanced. It has been suggested recently that it might be more appropriate to achieve an adequate – but not necessarily equal – basis of power to participate effectively (CCEL 2012).

In the context of domestic abuse, mediation or an FGC should not proceed unless additional safety measures are in place – such as pre-meeting discussions about sharing information with law enforcement agencies, consideration of seating positions, safety planning for after the conference, follow-up victim support services (e.g. counselling) and information sessions for workers (Gavrielides and Artinopoulou 2012; Nixon et al 2005).

The number of interested parties and the complex power dynamics involved in mediation and FGCs are similar in the context of child protection, and the strategies developed in this context may be relevant to safeguarding vulnerable adults. For example, strategies to address power imbalances may include carefully choosing who should attend mediation or the FGC, and educating and coaching participants about how to present their views in the mediation joint session or FGC (CCEL 2012).

The mediator or FGC coordinator should use the preparatory phase to identify and manage power imbalance during the session. This may include appointing a support person or representative, or offering other help to enable a vulnerable adult to take part in mediation or FGC safely and effectively.