If you’re interested in family mediation in Ontario, chances are you’ve heard of the Ontario Association for Family Mediation (OAFM). Established in 1982, it is the largest accrediting body of family mediators in the province.
Mediation is not technically a regulated field. However, becoming accredited through OAFM can give you more professional credibility and greater employment opportunities. You must be accredited to take part in court-connected mediation services, for example.
To learn more about the organization and get answers to common student questions about family mediation, we spoke with OAFM Executive Director Mary-Anne Popescu.
Q. Mary-Anne, can you give us a bit of background on OAFM?
Mary-Anne: We’ve been around for over 40 years and have more than 1,000 members. The attorney general relies on OAFM for accreditation standards, domestic violence standards, all of those things.
Because we’re so heavily relied on, we’re treated like a regulatory body even though we’re not. So we’re in a bit of a grey zone, and we take that very seriously.
There are two reasons why OAFM exists. One is to create a set of standards and ways for us to mediate ethically, morally, and correctly in accordance with the law.
The other is to self-regulate mediators in the profession so that mediation gets a very good name instead of a poor name. Lawyers do look down their noses at people who are not lawyers doing the job of a mediator, and that’s been a fight for decades.
OAFM supports members and responds to the public in terms of service. We’re really trying to focus on making sure the training is of high quality and that people have the resources they need in order to do well in the role.
We have webinars three to four times a month. We do tons of training. We do free annual conferences. We’re there to support them in their community.
Q. What types of memberships and designations do you offer?
Mary-Anne: There’s a student membership, which is $35 a year. Then there’s an associate level of membership, which is $175. If you’d like to be accredited, you join as an associate member. Then you can apply for accreditation as an AccFM or accredited family mediator. AccFM is the highest level of accreditation.
We also have two additional specialties. One is called AccIM, or accredited intergenerational mediator. That is multi-party mediation from cradle to grave. It covers conflicts related to long-term care, sibling rivalry, making decisions about parents, estates, inheritance, that kind of thing. It’s designed to be an add-on to the professional designation of AccFM.
We also have a child protection mediator designation, which is CP Med. That is a designation for mediators to work with children’s aid societies. They provide services to help talk between the person who may be worried about the child and the parents.
Q. Since mediation isn’t a regulated field, what is the value of getting these designations?
Mary-Anne: Most people are looking for them. The Minister of the Attorney General has a court-connected mediation service in Ontario, and to be part of that you must be accredited by either OAFM or FMC (Family Mediation Canada). FMC is across Canada and tends to be more active in provinces that don’t have their own large provincial body.
Sometimes family mediators have to work a little harder or longer before they meet the criteria for accreditation, so they just do their own thing, which is absolutely fine. It’s not against the law to do that.
But you don’t have anyone to back you up and say, here’s how to mediate, here’s how to be ethical. OAFM sets out good guidance for mediators to stay in their lanes and not get in trouble or do something hurtful.
Q. Mediators pursuing the AccFM designation need 100 hours of practical experience. How can they find opportunities to conduct mediations?
Mary-Anne: During the pandemic, we had been dabbling with the idea of simulated experience. I noticed that at the time Ryerson, which is now Toronto Metropolitan University, had started an articling program for law students that was simulated. I talked to a few of the students there and they said it was a great experience. They were doing much more knowledge-based skills learning than their colleagues who were literally picking up dry cleaning and getting coffee for their senior lawyer.
So we rolled out this simulated role-play course, which meant that training providers could offer a course as practical experience. And 80 of the 100 hours can now be done in the simulated course.
I always tell students to get involved in the organization. If you want to be a student member, it’s $35 and you can go to three or four hours of continuing professional development a month. That’s a really good way to connect with people so you don’t have to cold call them for the internship hours.
Q. What areas can I work in as a family mediator?
Mary-Anne: In the AccFM route, you’re mostly going to do separation and divorce. So parenting plans, financial disclosure, financial mediation. A lot of mediators will specialize in either financial or parenting. Very few do both.
Q. What emerging trends do you see in the family mediation field?
Mary-Anne: Intergenerational mediation has to grow because our population is aging. I’m really advocating to government for the support of intergenerational mediation within the healthcare system, within long-term care. I think this is an area that will grow. I think mediation is very accepted now and widely adopted in most communities.
The uptake for intergenerational mediation has been low so far and we don’t know why. I’ve been trying to unlock this because even in my own family there was a circumstance that I had that I knew could benefit from an intergenerational mediator, and I was like, why aren’t I using one? What’s stopping me?
Many people that we work with were saying the same thing. They’d had experiences and knew about AccIM, but they weren’t using those mediators.
So there’s a stigma or a block that prevents us from doing that. It could be respect of older adults in our life. It could be that it’s too new or it just doesn’t feel right.
One of my largest tasks in the next few years is to look at how I can make that grow.
Q. What would you say is important for prospective family mediators to know?
Mary-Anne: We did some research on family mediation this year and it showed that we have a very non-diverse working group. We’re mostly a group of middle-aged white women, and that’s not reflective at all of the population we serve.
So if you are from a group that’s a minority, such as LGBTQ, Black, Indigenous, person of colour, or any minority group at all, you’re strongly encouraged to enter the profession. People are asking for mediators that they can identify with.
EXPLORE FAMILY MEDIATION TRAINING THROUGH KOMPASS
Kompass Professional Development (a division of Herzing College) offers an OAFM-approved Family Mediation certificate that meets the educational requirements for the AccFM designation. We also offer an Intergenerational Mediation certificate.
Each program is delivered online and takes just 12 weeks to complete.
Click below for further details.