A large group of mediators from across Canada and the UK travelled to Cape Cod in late September to attend the inaugural conference of the Academy of Professional Family Mediators.
It was billed as a “Visionary Gathering & Reunion of Family Mediators”. The conference brochure promised cutting-edge presentations from “the best thinkers and leading presenters in our field.”
We met new colleagues from across America and also from Canada. We made great new connections with the conference organizers and speakers which we hope will last a long time. We signed up for committees, provided lots of constructive feedback and took away some good materials and many great ideas.
We were treated to thoughtful and inspiring presentations from Bill Eddy, Don Saposnek, Jennifer Kresge, Arlene Kardasis and Crystal Thorpe, Arnold Swartz and Rod Wells. We heard about some of the current “live” issues in family ADR: brain science, dealing with difficult people, incorporating the voice of the child into mediation, and how much drafting of documents mediators should or should not do.
There was an invigorating session on marketing presented by Mark Bullock who gave us a comprehensive list to remind us that we must never stop promoting our work.
A great benefit of inter-jurisdictional gatherings is to learn what we do differently. For example, our training standards in Canada appear to be more standardized than those of our American cousins. With our long history of FMC, ADR Institute of Canada and their various associated provincial organizations, along with well established court-connected mediation programs in Ontario, our discussions here are more about how to update and upgrade our current standards, and less about where to begin.
Canadian ADR practitioners appear to have a deeper experience with lawyer-driven mediation-arbitration, which is no surprise in Ontario where recent regulation and practice standards have evolved the practice. But experience in the US with parenting coordination and variants thereof is much richer, including guiding legislation in many jurisdictions.
Canadian experience with and protocols for screening for power imbalances and domestic violence appear to be more standardized as well. This is possibly the result of our reasonably well-funded court-connected mediation programs that require consistent screening protocols combined with well established and relatively consistent accreditation standards. As well, in Ontario, recent legislative changes have mandated that screening take place in all family arbitrations; and in BC, all family law professionals are now required to take screening training (effective next March).
We had a large contingent of court-connected mediation providers in attendance, something that did not appear on the conference agenda. Likewise, issues of diversity and access to justice– themes that dominate much of the intellectual discussion north of the border– did not get as much prominence as they might have.
Many of the conference participants were highly sophisticated and reflective practitioners. There is lively and progressive experience in some states with involving children in mediation, and a strong tradition of interdisciplinary practice that was well reflected in the conference. And there were many high quality presentations that were specific to the jurisdiction of the speaker, perhaps less useful to the Canadians and Brits in attendance but no doubt of great value to those from that jurisdiction.
Conferences like this are enormous work and the organizing committee pulled together an ambitious event in a short period of time, attracting about 250 people from across North America and beyond. The mediators in attendance were enthusiastic and the discussions that took place outside of the formal seminars were as invigorating as the seminars themselves.
We were honoured to be part of this inaugural experience and hope that we can make a greater contribution to the success of this new organization.