Kinship Care Mediation – a new model?

Working with various partners, the challenge is on to see if the Kinship Care Mediation project can be scaled up and replicated as an industry model

Kinship care is a hot topic at the moment; in February 2023 the government published proposals for the reform of children’s social care and launched a consultation. In September 2023 a summary of the consultation findings was published, and we were pleased to see support for kinship care on the agenda.

It has been on our agenda for some time – as a firm we were involved in a research project recently to understand whether there was a role for mediation within the child protection process. We ran this under a Practice In Need of Evidence programme in partnership with The Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) and What Works for Children’s Social Care, who subsequently merged in December 2022 as Foundations, the What Works Centre for Children & Families.

Having worked with 50 families we found that:

  • Mediation can be helpful for families who need assistance in reducing conflict, and in making arrangements that are safe for their children, with the assistance of other professionals.
  • Many social workers and other professionals did not understand the process of mediation and therefore do not refer at all, or do not refer at the time that is most beneficial to parents and carers, or send inappropriate referrals.
  • From the cohort of 50 families in the child protection process, people who were most likely to attend and make agreements in mediation were families where the child is living with a kinship carer (when a child lives with a relative or friend who isn’t their parent).

Our initial findings therefore suggested a possibility that kinship care families are more likely to engage in mediation than other types of families involved in the child protection process.

In order to explore this further, we applied to Foundations’ PINE Progression Fund for a grant to provide mediation to 20 kinship care families to explore whether this is effective in reducing levels of conflict between parents and caregivers. In doing so, we were aware that:

  • Kinship care families face significant challenges. Kinship carers and parents have a need to work together to make contact arrangements and other decisions about the child, but balancing a parent’s understandable wish to see their child with the carer’s concerns is often unmanageable and leads to further conflict.
  • Children in kinship care often have physical and mental health needs and behavioural challenges. Biological parent/s often have ongoing additional challenges and needs (for example around substance abuse and/or mental illness) which may have contributed to children living in kinship care. All these pressures can lead to additional stress and conflict between adults.
  • Many kinship carers (such as those with a Special Guardianship Order or Child Arrangements Order) lack statutory support because living with a kinship carer often means children are no longer looked after by the local authority.

We are working with Foundations, which has commissioned Coram to conduct a feasibility study of the mediation pilot project, to determine whether or not our intervention can be evaluated.

The project will deliver mediation to kinship families in four local authorities locally. Twenty families are being offered four in-person mediation sessions, which will typically take place over 16 weeks. The sessions are delivered by one of our accredited mediators and in addition to “standard” mediation, our sessions will also include additional support with conflict management, positive parenting techniques and communication skills. The intervention also includes a consultation with the child, where appropriate, as one of the four sessions. Excitingly, we have also provided “Understanding Mediation” training for over 160 professionals, who are based in one of the four local authority areas. Our aim is for this to increase awareness of mediation as a tool for social services, so that more appropriate referrals are made in the future as a whole.

What are we hoping for?

Amongst other things, we hope to evaluate:

  1. To what extent is the intervention feasible in kinship care work?
  2. How should the Kinship Care Mediation project be developed in future?
  3. Could it be scaled up and replicated as an industry model?

Mediation is an ever-evolving approach, and has changed since first being established in the UK. By looking at alternative ways of working, there is scope for developing models which fit various areas of family breakdown. We hope to be part of that evolution, for family law organisations and for policy makers and commissioners.

We hope that we will have some useful data and evidence within the next 18 months – watch this space!