Family mediation: Helping families in crisis

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As we embark on another national lockdown we thought it might be useful to re-share what our Family Mediation Service does to help young people in conflict with their families. During the first lockdown we saw a huge increase in referrals, as the pressure of living so closely put relationships under strain. Family breakdown is the leading cause of youth homelessness, which is why this service is so important. 

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You may have heard the term family mediation before, but what does it mean and how does it link with youth homelessness? Sandy Horvath, Senior Family Support mediation at YMCA Youth Advice Centre (YAC) Brighton explains. 

I have had the privilege of working at YMCA YAC Brighton for the past three years within the family support mediation team and I work with three very skilled and enthusiastic colleagues.  As a team we work with young people aged between 14 and 25 who present as homeless or potentially homeless due to conflict taking place within the family home.  In addition to young people self-referring we take referrals from our own YMCA YAC housing team, parents, carers, the local Council, Child and Adult social care, Mind the Gap, the Youth Employability Service and other partners.

What do we do?

Our primary role is to support the young person and their family through inter-generational mediation, conflict coaching, assertiveness and resilience building. Our core focus is to help young people and their families re-engage and enable the young person to remain in the family home. The family may involve a wide range of relationships, e.g. the young person, their siblings, parents, step-parents, parent’s partners, absent parents, carers including foster parents, grandparents as well as any other significant relationship that may be impacting on the young person and their ability to remain in the home.

We often find that one part of the family or indeed the young person does not initially want to engage, which is absolutely fine – we’ll then start working with the part of the family who is ready for mediation or conflict coaching to help their relationship improve. Our aim is always to encourage those who are resistant, but always work from the position that family mediation only works if it is voluntary and those involved are ready to give it a try and engage with us by choice.

What is family mediation?

In short it is a simple process that allows everyone to hear their own voice and to be heard by those who are important to them. Our role is to help those involved to work out what they what to say and allow them to be heard in a safe and impartial environment.

To achieve this, we work with individuals over a number of days or weeks until they are ready and confident to come together as a family or with just one other significant person. Through shared conversation we enable them to identify the things that are impacting on each other and seek ways to establish healthy communication, set new boundaries, agree behaviours and find a shared way forward to ensure the young person can remain within the family home.

During Covid, we’ve seen a significant rise in our referral rates, especially between the end of March through to the summer. Restrictions under the pandemic caused additional burdens and stresses within the family which young people have found particularly hard to deal with, with subsequent conflict resulting in many wanting to leave home, being asked to move out or being evicted without notice.

With the under 16’s our role is always to enable them to move back home where possible and safe to do so. With the over 16’s, sometimes it’s about looking forward and seeing that home is only a short-term option, in which case we work with them and the family to sustain them in the home until a managed move to an appropriate alternative can be arranged. Even then we are still sometimes able to help them reconnect and develop relationships and communication after they move out.

Family mediation is not a panacea for resolving family conflict, but it does help a significant number of young people and their families. It is in working holistically with other teams, such as Housing, Support and Advice teams, Tenancy Support and other YMCA YAC Brighton services, that the real strength in what we do comes to fruition.

Contact [email protected] for more information.

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