From Family Mediation Lothian to Family Journeys - The Way Ahead
Family Mediation Lothian, or FML as it was often called, has long been recognised and relied upon as a valuable resource, most particularly, for the provision of contact centres and mediation services within Lothian. It recently changed name to Family Journeys. I asked Ruth Campbell, Director, what had prompted the change of name. Ruth explained,
“The organisation does so much more than mediation, and we felt a broader name gave families looking for other support the encouragement to find out more about us. We offer parent coaching, which is especially useful for parents when the other person does not want mediation; we offer parent groups; children’s groups; and many solicitors will know we have always offered child contact.”
“When we were discussing the development of our organisation in 2020, we realised many parents that use our services need different things at different times following their separation. We felt the concept of a journey reflected their experience and our approach to meeting their needs.”
Ruth provided me with further details of the range of services on offer.
“We’re probably best known for mediation – this can be done online now, and there are options for shuttle mediation where partners separately communicate via the mediator, as well as mediation between two people who are present. We offer the opportunity for children to be consulted as part of this process and the majority of our mediators are trained and skilled in this. We are developing facilitated family meetings, for situations where the wider network of family members want to discuss solutions for the children after separation.”
“Parent coaching can often help a parent who is struggling, or the parent who feels left “high and dry” if the other parent does not want mediation. Coaching is about the parent as a person who is dealing with what we all know is a seismic experience in their lives, so it can be helpful to help people explore their situation and how they can stay resilient.”
“We still offer Parenting Apart, a three-hour session for parents (separately) to look at co-parenting and the impact of separation on children. By summer 2021 we will also have new parent groups for ongoing support and peer support. Again, these can be online if necessary.”
"For children, we have a new children’s rights officer role, ensuring that we can help children plan how to get the most from their child contact experience, and provide children’s groups to help children feel less alone, angry and confused.”
“Finally, our Family Connections – child contact – is developing so that we have fewer occasions when the contact doesn’t work. We are doing more preparation with both parents and the children prior to contact starting, so that we are confident we have given it every chance of success. We have listened to parents and children, and in 2021 we will be responding to their feedback that sometimes contact feels unnatural. We’ll be looking at safe ways to make it a more fun experience, with new collaborations with leisure providers, so there are a wider range of choices for families”.
I asked Ruth if the health restrictions introduced as a result of the pandemic brought about an increase in the number of families seeking help. She replied that,
“The impact of the health restrictions has been mixed. Some families have decided for themselves to move to independent contact outwith centres. Provided this works for them, and is a safe choice that both agree to, it is obviously best for children not to have a barrier to their relationship with their non-resident parent. But in other families, the health restrictions have become another source of conflict – about whether an ex-partner is bringing additional risk to children. For our part, we’re obviously super-careful about ensuring good hygiene, advice for parents and the safety measures you’d expect, whenever we have been able to open up our playrooms.”
I wondered if the health restrictions had seen a shift to the provision of different services such as on-line services. Ruth said that,
“Although we have facilitated online contact, as you can imagine it’s not a hugely popular choice for families with younger children. We do support some families where parents live a long way away, so we will maintain this online option. We’re starting to look towards some outdoor venues for contact. Provided these are risk assessed, safely contained and have access to toilets etc, this may be one way we can develop our contact services and stay within restrictions – because Scottish Government has always encouraged as much outdoor play for children as possible, even during ‘hard’ lockdown. This won’t work for all families, especially those with safety needs, and would be entirely the choice of the family. But our values are about helping children enjoy their family relationships, so we feel we have to think creatively about the situation we all find ourselves in.”
She added that,
“Going forward, we are going to find that parents have been under massive pressure and are exhausted – and the financial pressure of furlough or losing work will continue to be difficult for them. As an organisation we’re committed to doing all we can to help families and we’ll be monitoring parents’ and children’s experience and asking funders to help us respond.”
Finally, I asked Ruth the question that many of our clients ask us, when will contact centres reopen?
Ruth considered this and said,
“Family Journeys pressed quite hard for contact centres to be considered an essential service. We also feel that the children who need to use contact centres to see their non-resident parent should have parity with the children in families who co-parent without the help of services, who have always been encouraged to continue sharing care. It’s particularly hard when we can see children starting to return to nurseries and schools, but not to contact centres – even though our infection control measures are equal to these settings. There will be a legacy from closure: longer waiting times, more frustrated non-resident parents, more children being introduced to their non-resident parents with too long a gap since they last saw them. But we are where we are. We’re all a bit fed up of the pandemic, but it is still a reality and we have to respect that it’s a virus that is still changing. We’ve used the lockdown and restrictions to take a good long look at our services and we hope that, even though it’ll be challenging to deal with a backlog of cases, we’ll come back better, brighter, and with bags of enthusiasm to make families’ lives better in all the ways we can.”
Family Journeys offers a wide range of services and continues to be a valuable resource for families even during these difficult times. As family lawyers, many of us have first-hand experience of the value of the service provided to our clients and their children. Membership of Family Journeys is open to all of us as professionals and I would encourage you to consider becoming a member. For further information please visit the Family Journeys website.