When a law is not enough - developing family mediation in interprofessional collaborations

Bergman-Pyykkönen, M. (Speaker), Vaula Haavisto (Speaker), Karvinen-Niinikoski, S. (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


Abstract for Oral presentation at European Conference for Social Work Research April 2019
Presenters: Marina Bergman-Pyykkönen, Vaula Haavisto, Synnöve Karvinen-Niinikoski
In the Marriage Act of 1987, family mediation was established in Finland as a new statutory social service for all kinds of family disputes, but especially for divorcing parents in custody disputes over their children. The law prescribed the family mediator to be an individual who is familiar with child welfare, family guidance work or with family law, and who, by his or her previous experience and personal characteristics, is adequately competent to work as a mediator. The legislation left open at least three important questions: 1. how is the family mediation service to be organized, 2. what kind of structured process is needed, and 3. who are the mediators? The municipalities did not get any uniform guidelines in how to provide the mediation service and, therefore, it developed slowly, if at all.

FASPER-project (2009-2014) was built up as a multi-organizational and multi-disciplinary effort to research and develop family mediation, aiming at boundary crossing and co-creation of knowledge. The project began with interviewing 100 practitioners working with divorcing families and found out that local authority social workers, psychologists, family therapists and family counsellors, as well as family counsellors of the Lutheran Church, had continued to use their own professional techniques under a generic label of ‘mediation’. Family mediation was a kind of no man’s land, belonging to no single profession. This may create an open battlefield for the professions – or invite to genuine boundary crossing collaboration. As an answer to the questions left open in the legislation, FASPER created a unified, collaborative approach to family mediation as a structured, short-term intervention for parents in conflict and developed a specialised training programme to be rolled out nationally.

Despite an effective dissemination project (Haavisto 2018), the family mediation service is still unequally available to the citizens. Practitioners, who attend nationwide mediator training programmes and work in municipal and ecclesiastical agencies responsible for providing family mediation, report that mediation seems to be something extra over the normal workload. The blurred vision of family mediation is clearing up, yet slowly, and thus raising questions about professional contradictions over the jurisdiction and ownership of the concepts (Abbott 1988). The underlying question of conceptual difficulties in translating concepts, such as family mediation defined in a law, into practice is crucial for the interprofessional efforts to improve practices (Haavisto & al 2016).

To better understand the situation of family mediation today, we apply the history of the present approach (Skehill 2007). In this paper, we analyse main turns in the development of family mediation in Finland. As one of the turning points, we investigate the discourses concerning both divorce and parenting, and the role of welfare society and social work at the time of legislating the Marriage Act 1987. Based on the analysis, we discuss the possibilities and restraints of the future development and the establishment of family mediation, but in addition, more broadly of social service innovations and practices in the changing welfare society.
Period12 Apr 2019
Event titleEuropean Conference for Social Work Research (ECSWR) 2019: null
Event typeConference
LocationLeuven, Belgium
Degree of RecognitionInternational