Mediation has become an increasingly popular option for settling family disputes in Ontario. It’s typically quicker, more cost-effective, and less adversarial than going to court.
Mediators need to prepare and support their clients to make sure each party can participate fully. They need to be alert to anything that can adversely affect a client's ability to engage in the process, such as mental health issues or family violence.
That's why they meet with each party beforehand to understand the factors involved. This is known as pre-mediation, or "screening in."
Thinking about a career in mediation? Keep reading to learn what the intake process involves and why it’s so important.
WHAT IS SCREENING IN ALL ABOUT?
Screening in is a process by which a mediator determines whether mediation is appropriate and what steps need to be taken to provide a safe and fair environment for both parties.
For mediation to be effective, all parties must feel comfortable giving their perspectives. But in cases where there has been violence or abuse, for instance, one party may be too afraid to express their needs or concerns.
Mediators must also look for signs of significant power imbalances that can affect people’s ability to negotiate. These can stem from many sources, as Kompass instructor and experienced family mediator Hayley MacPhail explains.
“For instance, if one party works in or is very familiar with the legal system and the other doesn’t or isn't, that’s what we would see as a power imbalance because one party has more direct knowledge and access to a lot more information.
Sometimes the imbalance is financial based, where one person controls the money. Sometimes it’s about kids—one party might threaten that if they don’t get what they want, they won’t let the other party see the kids.”
Power imbalances don’t necessarily mean the mediation can’t work, but a mediator must be aware of them up front so they can customize the process.
WHY IS SCREENING in IMPORTANT?
Conducting a thorough intake process is particularly crucial in family disputes because of the risk of harm to the parties involved. Unfortunately, some people (most often women) suffer serious consequences when they try to leave an intimate relationship.
Ontario’s Domestic Violence Death Review Committee, which analyzes fatalities arising from family violence, found that more than two-thirds of cases between 2003 and 2018 involved couples who were, or were about to be, separated.
Hayley says the main purpose of screening is to ensure that both sides have the capacity to partake in the mediation process.
“We need people to be able to negotiate fully, to participate fully. They need to have that decision-making ability without any threats of coercion.
As mediators, we need to make sure that we address any such threats and build a process that works for both people so that they can fully participate equally.”
WHEN DOES SCREENING HAPPEN?
Screening is typically done as the first step in family mediation. The Ontario Association for Family Mediation (OAFM) requires mediators to screen each party separately before beginning the actual mediation.
Screening begins with an initial interview, but it doesn’t end there. Mediators must continually be alert to signs of intimate partner violence or power imbalances throughout the entire process.
HOW DOES SCREENING IN WORK?
The mediator begins by meeting with each party individually and asking questions to get a sense of the relationship dynamic and identify any risk factors.
“We might ask a question like, ‘How were decisions made when you were married?’” says Hayley.
“And depending on their answers, we might dive a little deeper. So if a woman said, ‘I wasn’t really allowed to make the decisions, he made all the decisions,’ then that’s a risk factor. And we would dive a little deeper into that.
We might go on and ask if there has ever been any verbal abuse. Was there ever any shoving or pushing? Are you OK to mediate in the same room? We would ask these kinds of questions to make sure that we’re creating a safe process.”
WHAT KINDS OF customizations CAN A MEDIATOR MAKE?
There are ways to adapt the mediation process to make sure you do no harm. For instance, you might have clients wait in different areas or bring a support person to the mediation.
Hayley says moving online during the pandemic helped because the clients weren’t in the same physical room.
“And even online, we can put them into separate breakout rooms. We’ll shuttle back and forth with the information and try to build a plan with them.”
IS SCREENING ONLY APPLICABLE TO FAMILY MEDIATION?
As already mentioned, screening is crucial in family mediations because of the safety risks to participants. If you’re interested in family mediation and becoming certified through the OAFM, you must take an approved course in screening for family violence, abuse, and power imbalances.
But Hayley points out that the training can benefit mediators in other areas as well.
“Even if someone was going straight into labour mediation, for example, they would get something out of this course in terms of how valuable it is to meet the parties separately prior to a full-on mediation and really build that rapport with the parties and understand the issues and each client’s goals.
So this is a really good course that will help them understand the process and how to do that beginning better.”
LEARN MORE ABOUT SCREENING IN FAMILY MEDIATION
The Screening for Domestic Violence, Abuse, and Power Imbalances course is part of the Family Mediation certificate offered by Kompass Professional Development (a division of Herzing College).
The certificate meets the educational requirements for the Accredited Family Mediator designation through the OAFM. Training is delivered online and includes real-time role-playing.
Already have some mediation training? You could choose to take the screening course on its own.
Click below to get more details and chat live with an admissions advisor.