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

Section 6: The future of elder mediation

The findings of this paper lend much support to the significant potential elder mediation has as a method of addressing age related issues including elder abuse and neglect. More particularly the findings disclose that:

  • Elder mediation provides a user-friendly, effective means of conflict resolution for families facing the stress associated with age related conflicts. Other methods of conflict resolution—litigation for instance—are generally seen to be ill suited to dealing with these types of conflict;
  • The early application of mediation techniques to age related conflicts prevent those conflicts from escalating into abuse;
  • Elder mediation offers resolutions that are specifically designed to the situations at hand and does so in a non-judgmental, safe, respectful and confidential fashion. In consequence, the specific solutions achieved tend to be more flexible and comprehensive than those generated by other conflict resolution models. This tends to result in agreements that are more durable;
  • Elder mediation has been shown to have health and wellness implications as the process reduces the overall stress in family systems, enhances the functionality of the family support network, heightens interpersonal communications, and delays the utilization of institutional care;
  • The appropriate application of elder mediation to age related conflicts appears to result in significant cost savings to families, to organizations and to governments.

A recent report of the Canadian Institute for Health Information concluded that, compared to 20 years ago, older Canadians can now look forward to a longer and better quality of life. The professional practice of elder mediation is well positioned to play an important role in ensuring that such a prediction comes to pass.

Neither the legal profession, nor the public at large, has yet to fully recognize the value of elder mediation—yet it is steadily progressing in stages just as elder law and private geriatric care management has done previously (Medford, 2004). As outcomes of research are published and families tell their compelling stories of how elder mediation positively impacted their quality of life, how it helped them to eliminate elder abuse and neglect, and how it helped to maintain and strengthen relationships, the service of elder mediation will assuredly grow to be utilized on a much larger scale.

We used elder mediation to get beyond the crisis because we were going in circles for almost three years. We were at a complete stalemate. Decisions were being dragged out and dragged out and painful as could be. It was unbelievable that we could let ourselves get to this point. I was a whiskers hair from a nervous breakdown (Comment from Atlantic Canada Research, 2009).

We have much to learn from what has already been done. The British Columbia White Paper on Family Relations Act Reform provides recommendations for mediation in relation to the prevention of elder abuse. It recommends that alternate dispute resolution processes in family matters be given greater emphasis and not simply to be seen as add-ons to the court process. More and more we will hear success stories from across the world (e.g. the Alaska Guardianship Project, the Cornwall Project, the Australian Project) and further confirmation that elder mediation promotes improved quality of life for all involved.

When participants in elder mediation agree to work together to provide optimal supports, compliance with the plan is higher than with other processes. One success rate for compliance with elder mediation is estimated to be about 80% to 85% (Cooper-Gordon, 2010). As professionals begin to understand the nuances unique to elder mediation, more families and organizations supporting older people will be encouraged to promote elder mediation as an approach in the prevention of abuse and neglect. The Canadian Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (CNPEA) for example published Outlook 2007 on "Promising Approaches in the Prevention of Abuse and Neglect of Older Adults in Community Settings in Canada". Mediation of any kind was not mentioned. Three years later, according to CNPEA Board Member, Judy-Lynn Richards, they have recognized the value of elder mediation and now include it as a viable strategy in their delineation of "promising approaches" (Richards, 2010).

Elder mediation is a growing market for mediators who are working to expand their business practices. In addition, the field in Canada and the United States has been traditionally focused upon legal and financial aspects of changes in older adults' lives and their transition to greater care and dependency on family, nursing home and other care options. Elder mediation is concerned with helping families resolve other issues that may compromise quality of life, and strives to accomplish this in a manner that best preserves the wishes of the older person as they deal with the myriad of challenges that can arise during later stages of adulthood.

There is a need to develop evidence-based practice on a national and international basis, so that the most broadly-based and up-to-date information can be shared and actioned. Future world summits would be a logical venue where interested and invested parties would be present for a conversation around how to best strengthen the continuum of care by supporting the service of elder mediation. By taking an international approach and reviewing what people have learned, as well as heightening our awareness of what needs to be learned, it is hoped that the profession of elder mediation will come to be understood and utilized on a much larger scale.

As diversity is embraced and it is further recognized that conflict presents opportunities for growth, the future of elder mediation remains promising. Much anticipated developments would include:

  1. Increased support and promotion of comprehensive research and pilot projects;
  2. Mandatory mediation for guardianship applications in all provinces. (Presently only in British Columbia and Ontario);
  3. The development of a centre of excellence, a state of the art elder mediation centre where specialists in elder law and elder mediators come together to offer a program that can be replicated throughout Canada and across the world;
  4. The provision of elder mediation training for employees within health care;
  5. Canada continues to be recognized as one of the leaders in the elder mediation arena, elder mediation would be included in federal strategies as a crucial service on the continuum of care;
  6. Elder mediation to be included as an option in the standards of care for community care, long term care and hospitals;
  7. Increased community awareness of the value and importance of elder mediation;
  8. Networking opportunities for practitioners, would-be practitioners, advocates and other stakeholders to share information, knowledge and resources;
  9. The creation of a database of elder mediation practitioners and resources;
  10. Best practices in elder mediation will be integrated into training and education modules;
  11. Elder Mediation Canada's certification process will become the standard in Canada and promoted to elder mediators across the country thus ensuring credibility, consistency, and standardized practice for elder mediators;
  12. Government policies would be developed to monitor and regulate elder mediation across the country;

Every theory and model of mediation perceives the world through its own subjective lens. Mediators with a psychological, management, community or other perspective tend to focus on issues that mean little to mediators with a legal perspective (Cloke, 2006). Viewing the world differently often makes it difficult for us to learn from each other. Researching for this project has uncovered gems of mediation practice spanning many diverse perspectives. Clearly we have much to learn from the insights and contributions of each other. A realistic vision for the future is the development of stronger and heightened networks with colleagues where collaborative energies are converged and the finest elder mediation practice possible is provided.

Judy McCann-Beranger, M.A., CCFE, Cert.CFM, Cert.EM

Project support:

  • Greg McCann-Beranger, M.S.W., Cert.EM
  • Lia Versaevel, Family Mediator, Reno, NV
  • Elizabeth Sterritt, M.Ed., Cert.EM, Acc.FM
  • Cheryl Picard, PhD
  • Frances Shamley, M.A., Cert.EM Candidate
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