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Most disputes in the trial so far had related
to financial, family or facility conflict. Dickson
also sees advanced care planning as an area
where specialised mediation may be helpful.
Another group that noticed growing
demand for mediation is Relationships
Australia, having experienced increased
numbers of seniors seeking its relationship
support services where family relationships
have become strained regarding aged-
In response, the organisation, which has 190 locations across
Australia, plans to pilot a specialised counselling and mediation
support service for seniors and their families next year.
The program aims to aide difficult conversations and resolve
family differences in areas such as end of life and retirement
planning, bereavement, inheritances and future care arrangements.
Paula Mance, Relationships Australia's national policy
manager, tells AAA that the program is in part a response to the
organisation's own practitioners expressing interest in expanding
their skillset to deal with the specialised nature of such issues.
"We have identified an increasing need in the community,"
says Mance. "We do get some of these clients coming in and we
would like to provide them a better service. We would like to have
the skills in our network to deal with capacity issues and have our
offices set up properly to deal with any disabilities."
The focus of the mediation sessions will be on intervention,
improving communication and preserving relationships, while
avoiding more adversarial processes such as legal proceedings.
"If you look at some of the overseas models, particularly in
places like Canada and Ireland, they have huge elder mediation
services and they sit side-by-side with family relationship
services," says Mance.
"It makes sense because you have the same goals. You want to
assist people to come up with their own solutions... You're stopping
them from going to court, because it's not like where you have a
dispute with your neighbour over a fence; you try to preserve those
relationships because they are important family relationships."
A customised training program has already been delivered to
staff by Dale Bagshaw, chair of the Elder Mediation Australasian
Network, ahead of the pilot.
The 12-month pilot program will begin in January and be
trialled across six locations: Wagga Wagga, Canberra, Adelaide,
Launceston, Moreton Bay and Kew. In case of mobility issues,
practitioners will be able to visit aged care facilities or a client's
home. At the end of the 12 months, the program will be evaluated
for effectiveness and the ongoing need.
LEARNING HOW TO IMPLEMENT
One of the aims of the Relationships Australia pilot is to identify
referral pathways, as well as strategies to work with aged care
services and advocacy groups to improve outcomes.
Developing referral pathways was also a key part of Benetas'
role in working with FMC Mediation and Counselling Victoria.
Aaron Wyllie, a research assistant at Benetas who has worked
closely on the program, says that from a provider perspective,
the trial is providing an opportunity to learn how to best facilitate
and promote such programs on the ground.
"It's really useful to understand barriers to involvement. We
have a service which appears to be quite effective in dealing with
conflict, but we need now to take that one step further and look
at how we can make sure the people who need that service are
able to get that service in a way they want it," Wyllie tells AAA.
Referrals pathways to the program have been adjusted
throughout the trial to deal with such issues. Referrals to
the program may come from Benetas staff, who may pick
up on strained relationships between visiting relatives or
within the home. Other red flags, such as fees not being paid
on time, may also encourage staff to refer an older person
to the program. Benetas has also started
to promote the program through facility
and community managers, and through
its customer service team, who may note
communication issues within a family prior
to admission to a facility.
Jenni Dickson says one of the main
challenges to the trial so far had been
recruitment, particularly getting all parties to
agree to attend a meditation session.
"When we're dealing with this type of
conflict, because it's often long-standing
family conflict... It can be quite challenging
to get them to agree to sit down and communicate in a
respectful setting. So that's one of the challenges we're looking
at now, how we can better engage those people to bring them to
the table," she says.
Dickson says that while specialised mediation for seniors is
still in its infancy in Australia, the need for it will only increase
as the population ages. In the long-term, she would like to see
mediation programs used before families go down the legal
pathway to guardianship or administration. n
To find out more about the Seniors Mediation Program
contact the Benetas Customer Centre on 1300 236 382 or
FMC on 1800 639 523.
To find out more about the Relationships Australia program,
visit relationships.org.au or call the numbers listed below:
• Canberra & Region, ACT 02 6122 7100
• Wagga Wagga, NSW 02 6923 9100
• Kew, VIC 03 9261 8700
• Adelaide, SA 08 2234 5666
• Launceston, TAS 02 6337 6551
www.australianageingagenda.com.au | 49
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