26th FMA Conference

Mr Justice Andrew Moylan, at his first year as President, did a wonderful job of chairing the conference, and started the day with a thought-provoking review of the state of mediation. There were some issues with the venue, largely because this was our best-attended conference ever, and consequently a little cramped. We apologise to any of you who had problems seeing or hearing presentations; we have a different venue planned for next year, which we should be able to announce early next year.

Our first speaker was Simon Hughes MP, the Minister of State for Justice and Civil Liberties; this was the only time in the day the Minister was available, and in the event he gave very generously of his time. This was another opportunity for us as mediators to communicate with and influence one of the key decision makers, and once again delegates seized their chance. There wasn’t enough time for everyone to ask their question, so the Minister very kindly suggested that any additional questions be sent on to him for him to respond to at a later date. FMA therefore invited everyone who attended to let us know what they would like to ask the Minister, and we have passed your questions and comments on to him. Simon Hughes spoke with great personal charm, and evident understanding about the role of mediation in the family justice system – he was clear about the financial and political constraints on what can be done, but also spoke with enthusiasm about the potential for growth. We can only echo what one delegate said ‘Good – one hopes he will respond to the real issues raised’.

Although the timing of his talk was once again constrained by his availability, we were very fortunate to have the author of the new FMC Standards Framework, Stan Lester, to talk to us. Stan very kindly cut his talk short, to take account of the extra time given to questions for the Minister, but provided much valuable information about what the FMC will be doing in 2015 to introduce new standards and to give the public a clear vision of a profession that is capable of regulating itself. Some of us, particularly those who had attended the pre-conference focus on the new standards, and what we can expect next year, already had some insight into this material, but it was essential for all delegates to hear something about the big changes coming in 2015, if only so that they could make a note to find out more. For the FMC document setting out all the new standards to be introduced in 2015, click here; for a summary FMA guide click here. One member commented ‘We needed this update and some interesting points were made. Points to reflect on also’

Penelope Leach then delivered the keynote address, explaining to the conference what her book ‘Children in the Middle’ really says about attachment. She discussed a number of issues she believes everyone working with families should take into account when trying to maintain or develop strong parent-child relationships, and raised some interesting issues about direct child consultation. One delegate commented ‘This was a very important message for us all to hear. Excellent!’ There were a number of technical problems during Penelope’s talk, which she responded to with great charm – we are sorry if this interfered with anyone’s experience. Her Powerpoint presentation (like those of all the other speakers) is available to anyone who came to the conference; just contact us on info@thefma.co.uk and we will send it to you. We were very grateful to Penelope for joining us, and for giving us a clearer picture of her views, which have prompted a national debate of real interest to our clients.

A very busy morning finished with a talk on how marketing can help mediators survive in the new climate, delivered by Karen Tinkler, who is a director with Partners, the firm that provides the FMA with PR and marketing support. Karen was setting out the basics of marketing, and also giving delegates a preview of the new marketing packs. These have been released today, and are available to members in the members’ area of the website. They can be found by clicking here. For more about this, see the November newsletter on Family Mediation Week, which explains how the FMA has been promoting family mediation in the media, and in particular FMA mediators, and suggests ways in which you can use the marketing pack to find more clients. One delegate noted ‘Pleasing to hear FMA commitment to help us with marketing – would like opportunity to explore more’.

After lunch, Henry Brown, one of our founders and one of the most experienced family mediators working in England and Wales, gave us the second John Cornwell Memorial Lecture. Henry focused on the importance of exploring new models for family mediation. It was fascinating to hear one of the people who created the family mediation model most commonly used in England now talk about ways he would like us to adapt this model in a creative way! Henry’s talk is being published in Family Law early in the new year, and is then being made available to FMA members, by kind permission of Jordan’s, the publishers of Family Law. As one of the delegates put it, ‘Excellent. Reflective as well as forward thinking’. Until the lecture itself becomes available, you may be interested in Henry’s textbook ADR: Principles and Practice, which was published last year; click here for the book review published in a previous newsletter.

We then heard a presentation from Anne Barlow, one of the authors of the influential Mapping Paths to Family Justice study, explaining to us key lessons that family mediators may be able to learn from the study’s findings. Some of those findings, particularly in relation to client levels of satisfaction with the process, have worried mediation professionals, and it was very good to have an energetic and enthusiastic speaker take us through the issues, and suggest possible changes. A delegate noted ‘Slightly depressing to hear rather negative research, but important to hear it.’ Another delegate commented ‘Again pertinent and I was appreciative of the academic input.’

We had three parallel taster workshops running, one from Stephen Anderson and Paul Gadd on using technology in mediation practice, one from Tom Farrell on money in mediation and one from NYAS on the voice of the child. All three were very well attended and well received. We had scheduled more time for the workshops than in previous years, but had to curtail the time a little, so we once again had requests for more time for discussion for all three workshops. The feedback on the NYAS talk suggested that the discussion was extremely valuable, especially in the light of some comments made by Penelope Leach. Tom Farrell’s workshop was pitched just right for some delegates, but others found it was at a more basic level than they had been hoping for, so this is something we will bear in mind for next year. The workshop given by Stephen Anderson and Paul Gadd got rave reviews, and the overwhelming theme of the feedback was that people would like to spend more time on this topic – as one delegate put in ‘Excellent! Could do with a whole day with Stephen!’

Bill Hewlett, who delivered our final presentation of the day, proved to be many people’s favourite speaker – quite a difficult thing to achieve at the end of a long day! Bill’s presentation was an extremely entertaining and engaging review of the Australian experience of ‘mandated family dispute resolution’, in particular of working with high conflict clients. Bill was described as a ‘wonderful speaker’ covering ‘useful skills info sadly lacking on many courses’. A number of delegates suggested that they would like to spend much more time listening to Bill, and we are talking to him about making another appearance at next year’s conference – although the fact that Bill lives and works in Australia may pose some logistical problems!

Our feedback also suggested a number of topics that might be covered at future FMA conferences, these included:

  • the relationship between the role of the solicitor and mediator in family breakdown
  • issues of confidentiality
  • legal aid

 

If you have any comments on these ideas, or suggestions of your own, please do get in touch with us at info@thefma.co.uk; we would very much like to know what people want from next year’s conference, and will do our best to maintain the high quality of this year’s speakers.

A big thank you to all our speakers and participants; we are particularly grateful to our sponsors, Family Law (Jordan Publishing), Resolve IT, and Novitas Loans, and, of course, to all those of you who were able to attend.