For Family Mediation Week, Abbey Krause from our Mediation and Support team writes on the increased pressure on families during the pandemic and the life-changing impact person-led services can have on those they support:
Every family experiences conflict in one way or another. Some may not be dealing with it well; another worry on top of other unbearable external pressures too, such as rising living costs and incomes that just don’t make ends meet. This can lead to relationship breakdown - one of the leading causes of homelessness for young people.
It’s important that families get the support they need to prevent this happening, and my job as a mediator is to provide support to families so that they can best work out a solution, one which makes things feel more manageable for everyone.
When we meet a young person or a family, we never ask ‘what’s wrong with you’. It makes people focus on negative experiences, or what they perceive to be lacking in themselves and their family members.
Instead, we ask something like ‘what are things like at the moment, and what would you like to change?’. It’s a subtle shift, but a powerful one. Many of the families I have worked with have experience of services and professionals dictating to them what they need to do and focussing on what people perceive to be their flaws or how they ‘should’ be doing things. It’s disempowering, and dehumanising – and it doesn’t work. There’s no trust or respect in that kind of relationship.
That’s why, in my role as a mediator – as ‘the professional’ - I deliberately make sure it’s known that I’m not in a judging position where I’m expected to ‘fix’ problems; people themselves know what they’d like to see change, and it’s up to us to support them to make it happen. My role is to develop a supportive relationship, to nurture that trust.
The most successful mediations are where that relationship is established well, and where I can step back and let the family do the work. A couple of years ago, I met a young woman who was staying in temporary accommodation after leaving her family home. Homelessness is a miserable experience, and has a lasting impact, perhaps especially so for young people at such a formative stage in their lives. She hadn’t spoken to her family for 8 months, had no relationship with her dad, and just felt like her family didn’t love her or want her.
After I spoke to each of them for a while, both her and her mum agreed to meet up. It’s important that the environment is as welcoming as possible – I usually have biscuits and tea ready too. On this occasion they both saw just how upset the situation made them. These conversations are never easy, but they’re necessary and they’re valuable. They each had the opportunity to ask questions, converse in a safe space, and see it from the other person’s point of view. After I’d finished working with the family, they both realised that they still loved and cared about each other. She started visiting home again and re-connected with her sisters, for the first time in months she also started talking to her Dad.
My job is to make a space where everyone gets a chance to say what they need to say – where people can feel listened to, feel valued, and that they are understood. That is increasingly difficult during the pandemic and with restrictions on non-essential travel – we’re working around this as best we can, using digital tools and making sure young people and families can access these.
But for me it highlights yet another example of how unequal the impact of this pandemic is. Families and young people who were already struggling, and who relied heavily on wider family and community support, just often aren’t getting the support they need.
Preventing homelessness is a priority for Scotland as we face another difficult year, and as we look ahead to the future. It’s only right that we, as a society, reduce the pressure on families, firstly through boosting incomes and reducing the cost of living – the uplift in Universal Credit, for instance, has been a lifeline and that needs to stay. And we need to make sure that relationship-based support that upholds principles of dignity, trust and respect is available and accessible to all.
Treating each other with care and compassion should not be limited to professional mediators like me, but should be the place we all come from in all our interactions.