FMA Conference 2016

In categories: FMA Conference

On Day 1 we reviewed three key topics: domestic violence issues, compassion and mental health issues. In each case we began with a talk from an expert in the field, delivered in the imposing Oxford Union, and followed this up with extended workshop sessions in which colleagues shared their experiences, concerns and ideas. The domestic violence session was led by Dickie James from Women’s Aid , whose team asked us to think hard about our strategies when faced with domestic abuse and about the important work we do in screening for domestic abuse (for a very positive review of this workshop see the October newsletter). The compassion session was led by Dr Charlie Heriot-Maitland from King’s College, London, who began by asking each of us to cast ourselves back and try to identify what it was in our past that had led us to choose the difficult and sometimes exhausting profession of family mediation. As one attendee put it this was “Excellent input, well contextualised for mediators”. Charlie identified key ways in which to engage our compassion when dealing with clients and ways in which we can also encourage clients to engage their own compassion and find ways in which to soothe their anxieties. Charlie was also very strong on the need to be compassionate to ourselves! The final presentation of the day dealt with mental health issues (including depression), led by our own Neil Robinson, who invited us to reflect on how common these issues are, in the mediation room even more than in life (because of the stresses people are under when they separate) and our strategies to deal with them. Neil’s characteristically warm and personal talk was described as “Interesting and insightful” in the feedback.

Generally, attendee feedback from Day 1 emphasised how much people appreciated the opportunity to talk in smaller sessions, exchanging real life examples and sharing both concerns and good practice.

On Day 2, after a wonderful introduction from our President Andrew Moylan, who has just been appointed to the Court of Appeal, we had a real treat in the form of Professor Jan Walker’s John Cornwell lecture, which wove Shakespearian references into a really outstanding survey of research into what separating families need from us. The feedback described this as ‘Fascinating’, and it was – you could have heard a pin drop. Jan’s lecture is going to be published in Family Law and a little later will be published in the FMA newsletter, so if you missed it watch this space!

Our distinguished Academic Panel, Professor Jan Walker, Lisa Parkinson, Henry Brown, Adrienne Cox, Bill Hewlett and Mavis Maclean, who of course include some our most experienced practitioners, spoke on a range of topics, not least the threats posed to the mediation profession by perceived (and perhaps real) differences in approach depending on people’s pre-mediation background. Our feedback shows that people enjoyed the debate, and in particular the ‘good tips at the end’.

We had a another treat later in the day in the form of a presentation from two young people speaking on behalf of the charity Voices in the Middle – Emily later confessed that this was the first time she had ever spoken in public (the Oxford Union is not a bad debut venue!) but no-one in the audience would have guessed. For more about the current Voices in the Middle campaign, which is all about child-inclusive mediation, have a look at the article below. As our feedback put it: Excellent to hear from the young people,” “Super. Well done to Anya and Emily,” “Really impressive and inspiring”

The rest of the day was given over to workshops – you had asked for more time and more choice, so that is what we tried to offer. We provided seven workshops for you, all focusing on a practical issue, spread over two separate sessions and covering a very wide range of subjects. In the first session Paul Gadd contributed his guide to social media and marketing; as many of you know Paul is a wonderful friend to FMA and mediation more generally, as well as an enthusiastic and skilled guide to all things social media – feedback described this as a brilliant and useful presentation. Phil O’Connor offered us a straightforward guide to pensions – this was described by one mediator as the best workshop he had ever had on this subject, and one of the best workshops at any FMA conference – marvellous! Some of you may be even more impressed by the following written feedback: “I find pensions are really complicated and confusing but Phil made it clearer.” Charley Hampshire and Sophie Winsper from Cafcass talked to a large group of mediators about working with parents in a child-focused way, which included a video used in the SPIP programme (many of us would love to use this ourselves but it isn’t available to show clients apparently); people found this a very useful insight into the work of Cafcass and some of the tools available. Helen Adam, who has joined the Foundation Training team, gave her first conference workshop, and was a great hit. “Helen was brilliant! The right mix of helpful hints and enthusiastic presentation. Thank goodness you booked her!” We weren’t surprised but we were pleased! In the second session Gavin Fennell guided us through reading business accounts, and this too was described as really helpful. Mandy Cornick helped us understand social security benefits, including universal credit – one mediator urged us to include this as a presentation to everyone next year, and the talk was described by someone else as “Outstanding. Informative and practical. Brilliant.” Finally, Ruth Smallacombe and Bill Hewlett gave us some ideas on how to engage children and young people in child-inclusive mediation, which was a special chance to hear two of the leading child practitioners in the country: people found this interesting and stimulating.