Andrew Boyd, Cyrenians Mediator, explains how he supports ‘Kinship Carers‘, families looking after their young relatives.
“If it wasn’t for Mediation, we wouldn’t be together as a family.”
These are the words of a gran that I worked with, who had struggled to cope with the challenges of having her 15 year old granddaughter living permanently with her and her husband.
I am privileged to work as a mediator with Cyrenians Kinship Care and LAAC (Looked After and Accommodated) Project, part of Cyrenians Mediation and Support, which provides a tailored mediation service for young people and their kinship carers. I am also privileged to work with The Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution and deliver workshops and training to kinship carers, helping them to understand and manage conflict.
In Scotland there are over 4000 young people who are looked after by kinship carers. These grannies, grandpas, aunts and uncles look after their young relatives when it is no longer possible for the young people to remain at home with their parents. Often, by the time kinship carers are looking after their young relatives, the young relatives have endured multiple adverse childhood experiences, with the consequent challenges that result for both the young relatives and their kinship carers.
As a mediation and support service, when we meet with clients for the first time we usually need to explain to them what mediation is about. There are a huge number and range of definitions of mediation, but when we distil things down, mediation is about helping people to talk about things. Talking about things is at the heart of relationships, and if we struggle to talk about things then relationships are usually compromised.
For young people in care, they are almost always struggling with relationships, and are often yet to experience what a healthy, positive relationship is about. The opportunity to talk about things has often never happened. I often hear from young people: “You’re the first person that has ever really listened to me”… listened without giving advice, listened without giving an opinion… just listened! The skill of listening is at the heart of relationships and core to why mediation is so successful.
One of the most frequent challenges for young people in care is to manage the multiple relationships that are necessary to survive in the high pressure environment that exists in our primary and secondary schools.
Adoption UK has recently published a survey detailing the challenges that adopted children are up against in school. The statistics are alarming. Adoption UK tells us that adopted children are 20 times more likely to be permanently excluded from school, and that on average they achieve academically only about half as well as their peers. Adoption UK suggests some solutions, which could help teachers to better understand the impact that abuse, neglect and trauma has on a child. Having this understanding gives teachers an explanation of why kinship kids often struggle with relationships, including the relationships between kinship kids and their teachers and between friends at school.
The Kinship Mediation and Support Project is already helping young people and their carers to explore why they act and react the way they do, what a positive relationship looks like and then what needs to happen for them to move forwards to establish better relationships. As a mediator I see positive changes in the young people and the parents/carers that I work with. Talking about things helps; it can be really challenging but with the support and safe space that mediation provides the positive outcomes for young people and their parents/carers are happening now.
Andrew Boyd, 21st September 2018