Exploring the Role of Elder Mediation in the Prevention of Elder Abuse

Section 2: Elder mediation in practice

Research was undertaken to determine if the practice of elder mediation was growing in other countries, its use specific to situations where elder abuse or neglect was involved or suspected, and if the practice of elder mediation was identified as having a preventive effect on such abuse. In most countries, it appears some mediation with age related issues is happening but it is often not yet recognized as a distinct service but rather as variation of community or family mediation. Other countries are still exploring the general practice of mediation. The European Mediation Network Initiative 2010 conference hosted speakers who were still discussing whether or not the general practice of mediation is recognized as a profession.

Some mediators who reported working with age related issues reported having no experience with abuse and neglect while others indicated involvement in elder mediation programs that were determined to be very successful at mediating abuse and neglect issues.

A. Canadian Examples of Elder Mediation

a. Elder and Guardianship Mediation Project (British Columbia)

This project is a two-year (now extended) research study of national and international issues on elder and guardianship mediation in response to elder abuse and neglect. Project Director, Joan Braun maintains that as a result of the modernization of adult guardianship and personal planning statutes in Canada and the increased awareness of elder abuse and neglect, elder mediation will become more prominent (Braun & Watts, 2009). This research is timely for several reasons including the new provisions to the Adult Guardianship Act and the limited expertise in the field around aging and guardianship issues. In a workshop hosted by Family Mediation Canada in October 2009, Braun and Watts emphasized the conviction of mediators generally, that the mediator alone cannot ever determine capacity and where capacity of an adult to make certain decisions may be challenged; mediation will now play a role in bringing the parties together to reach a mutually agreeable resolution.

Challenges identified through the Project to date included:

  • a shortage of lawyers with elder mediation training
  • a lack of therapist mediators with legal training
  • a need for more specific training around abuse and neglect dynamics
  • a need for additional training and sensitivity around aging.

The project will also review the concept of specialized training to determine what types of trainings and competencies elder mediators need. Laura Watts, National Director for the Canadian Centre for Elder Law, reported there is a broad national and international agreement about the need for specialized elder issues training and training for guardianship, substitute decisions, elder abuse and neglect. She also talked about the necessity of training for capacity issues.

Unfortunately, project outputs were not available at the writing of this paper. When available, it is anticipated the project will assist in the creation of a body of literature on elder and guardianship mediation, support continuing private and public legal education initiatives, provide model recommendations for practice, provide scholarly research into these subjects and demonstrate the potential need for law reform in the area (Braun, 2009).

b. Creating a Circle of Care—Respite and Relief Elder Mediation Program (Cornwall Ontario)

Established in 2008, this is an innovative, pioneering program meant to validate the use of elder mediation, as a viable approach for helping families with respite needs. The Alzheimer Society, the Canadian Mental Health Association, Tri-County Mental Health and the Champlain Community Care Access Centre make up the team. The credibility of the project is enhanced by the successful collaboration and partnerships involved in the project and the expertise of those involved—a certified elder mediator consultant and a full time, elder mediator.

The program is meant to enhance quality of life and empower caregivers by assisting them in the self-direction of their respite needs. Teresa Rivera-Mildenhall, project leader and manager of client services says the fundamental goal of the Program is to create a circle of care for the family that is looking after their loved one at home. The intent of such circles of care is to:

  • provide respite/relief for the caregiver(s),
  • prevent premature admissions to a long term care facility for the dementia client, and
  • prevent hospital visits and/or admission for the caregiver.

For seniors who desire to live at home as long as possible, this program offers an alternative to being placed in long-term care (Rivera-Mildenhall et al, 2010).

c. Restorative Justice: A Healing Approach to Elder Abuse—(Waterloo, Ontario)

This project, focused on providing opportunity for change and healing to people affected by elder abuse, was developed and delivered by the community care access centre of the Waterloo Region (Groh, 2009). The Waterloo region has a large ethno-cultural community, boasts the first Victim Offender Reconciliation Program in the world, and has a very active regional Committee on Elder Abuse. The Ontario Trillium Foundation funded the Project.

As the central focus of restorative justice is about repairing harm and rebuilding relationships, established models of restorative justice were sought. According to Arlene Groh, team leader for the project team, following consultation, it was decided that the model for the process needed to be incident driven, allowing the team to select a restorative justice tool that is appropriate to each incident.

As in other projects training was of upmost importance to its success. It was considered essential that facilitators were empathetic, sensitive and knowledgeable about the complex issue of elder abuse. At the same time, they needed to be informed enough to realize that sensitivity would not express itself in an attempt to rescue the older adult. The facilitator cultivates humility, avoids thinking that he or she has all the answers, and avoids imposing solutions on people affected by elder abuse. Solutions that work best are the ones that the participants reach a consensus about in the circle process. The ability to prepare participants for the circle and the ability to trust the circle process are essential skills for circle facilitators and key to an effective circle process.

Facilitators contribute to a sensitive, responsive restorative justice approach when they:

  • help the group stay focused and productive by asking the right questions
  • ensure everyone present is heard
  • make sure the final agreement addresses relevant needs and is workable
  • ensure that individuals in the group, while denouncing the offending behavior, show support of the person who offended, balancing an ethic of care and an ethic of justice.

Learning from this project included the belief that both traditional justice and restorative justice are essential to address elder abuse. No single approach or service can meet the complex needs of people affected by elder abuse (Groh, 2009).

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