Safeguarding adults: Mediation and family group conferences


Key messages from policy and research

  • Mediation and FGCs:
    • place the at-risk person at the centre of the decision-making process
    • may prevent abuse by empowering families to address tensions at an early stage (Craig 1994, 1998; Larsen and Thorpe 2006; Park et al 1992)
    • can be a valuable response to safeguarding concerns, promoting choice and control at the same time as protecting people from risk of abuse and harm.
  • There is currently wide variation in processes and the training and experience of mediators and coordinators.
  • There are few robust effectiveness or cost-effectiveness studies.

Practice points

  • All responses to domestic abuse must follow safeguarding policies and procedures.
  • Mediation and FGCs should be part of a range of safeguarding response options; they can be used separately or together.
  • Advocacy must be available to help people meaningfully take part in mediation and FGCs.
  • All practice with people who might lack capacity to consent to any aspect of the process must comply with the Mental Capacity Act 2005.

Safeguarding vulnerable people has always been an important element of social work, and recently social workers have been encouraged to operate in a more person-centred way. This personalised approach extends to the way professionals respond to reports of abuse or concerns about an individual’s safety.

There are many ways of responding to safeguarding alerts. Mediation and FGCs are formal responses to safeguarding concerns that would fall between ‘soft’ responses such as talking to family members, and ‘hard’ responses such as involving the police or the courts. Practitioners need to listen to the person being abused and be able to offer the whole range of choices so that the safeguarding process does not negatively impact on quality of life, family relationships or self-determination. People want information and support to work through their options, but they also want to make their own choices and retain control. For this process to work, local authorities need to promote choice and control at the same time as fulfilling their statutory obligations to protect people from risk of abuse and harm.

Mediation and FGCs are family-led decision-making approaches that empower families and wider support networks of friends and carers to find solutions. Using mediation and FGCs in the early stages of disagreement or conflict can help to safeguard vulnerable adults by empowering families to cope better before a situation gets out of hand (Craig 1994, 1998; Larsen and Thorpe 2006; Park et al 1992).

A trained mediator or FGC coordinator can support the at-risk person and their family or wider support network to reach an agreement about why the harm occurred, what needs to be done to repair the harm and what needs to be put into place to prevent it from happening again. These approaches offer people a way to take control of their situation and resolve issues within the family unit – often in the context of strained relationships – in a safe and controlled environment (ADASS 2011; Cabinet Office 1998; Cass 2011; Department of Health 2008; Klee 2009). They can also avoid the trauma of court proceedings, reduce the inefficient use of court resources and lessen demand on family and community carers by making maximum use of all appropriate community support services (CCEL 2012).

These approaches do not replace current policy, procedures and processes in adult safeguarding.  However, they can be used alongside existing policies and offer another way to get the best outcomes for people who use services and their families.