The Case of Family Mediation as an Example of Contextual Knowledge Production
Family disputes represent a central part of people's everyday life that, when combined with welfare problems or dynamics, easily lead to miseries all over the globe. Changing family structures and growing divorce rates can be seen as global factors behind the increase in well-being problems and even in child protection needs. Parental conflicts are known to affect children's life and welfare (Amato 2000; Mustonen et al. 2011; Tapola-Haapala, Karvinen-Niinikoski and Kääriäinen 2012; Bernardi et al. 2013). Social workers struggling with loads of complex family dispute cases face the children's malaise as objects and go-betweens of parental disputes (Karvinen-Niinikoski and Pelli 2010; Toimiva lastensuojelu 2013). There is a need to rethink treating these problems not only as cases for child protection but for improving child welfare according to the current policy trends
(Gilbert, Parton and Skiveness 2011). The problem is how to introduce a practice
for handling parental conflicts in a constructive way.
In Finland, divorce and family formation are very flexible and easily arranged and supported by modern family and child legislation. Similarly, conflicts connected to family disputes and custody of the children also are known to produce welfare and emotional problems, a fact seen in figures as well as outcomes. The well-being and coping of families are affected and seen in parenting problems and problems in children's well-being (Stein 2006; Strandell, Haikkola and Kullman 2012). The larger number of child protection cases (Toimiva lastensuojelu 2013) also reflect the changing family structures.
There is an increasing concern in managing these kinds of conflicts, which can lead to extreme violence and family tragedies (Kauppi et al. 2010; Piispa, Taskinen and Ewalds 2012) as well as problems on individual, family and societal levels brought into light by recent and increasing research on divorce and parenting (Karttunen 2010; Mattila-Aalto et al. 2012). The national concerns lie in the welfare of children and young people as well as in the violence, substance abuse and mental health problems of adults and young people, which reflect the helplessness in managing these kinds of conflicts and problems on individual, family and societal levels.
Family mediation is widely considered as an intervention to treat the problems of divorce. In Finland, family mediation has been entrusted to the municipalities since the 1980s. However, these mediation services seem to have not been sufficiently understood as a method for everyday conflict management of parents and it has been difficult for the parents to find this kind of service regardless of the legislation. The project discussed in this chapter was established for developing family mediation services.
There are previous efforts and models for making family mediation work, for example increasing research on family mediation that concerns the internationally adapted model of family mediation in courts (Cohen 2012). Also in Finland parallel to the project discussed, the governmental policies have started piloting a similar kind of mediation model between the court and experts such as psychologists or social workers (OM 2013). This model seems to work even with high-conflict disputes that end up in court and which have burdened the system. The major part of divorces and family disputes concern, however, everyday issues related to families and parenting that occur during and after the change processes involved with divorces and changing family structures.
There is a need for a new kind of conflict management and easy access mediation services for people to handle these emotional and social conflicts of changing family life. In this kind of facilitative family mediation model (Parkinson 2011), the mediation facilitated by an impartial mediator allows parents and families to handle and solve the disputes themselves. In the court model, the aim is a contract that the court has authority over and which thus is the aim of expertassisted mediation as well. The difference also lies in the scale of what is agreed. International research shows that the court model mainly concerns only one or
two factors and that the fewer factors agreed on, the less impact the mediation has on future improvement of parental cooperation (Cohen 2012). The facilitative model aims to be holistic, childand parenthood-centred, allowing several issues (e.g. custody, housing and parenting and even everyday agreements like caring about children's hobbies) into divorce processes. Cohen goes on to suggest that when only one or two issues is concentrated on, the conflict easily re-escalates as the parental cooperation in everyday issues in the children's lives tends to stay missing.
Recapturing family mediation calls for, as Gilbert, Parton and Skiveness (2011) suggests, 'empowering parents and promoting resilience for children who need safety, love, respect and good upbringing', regardless of the changes brought about by disintegrating and complex family structures. This new empowerment is especially important, as it seems that somehow the multi-professional and multiinstitutional service systems for divorce and even mediation practices are part of the problem. Family disputes and mediation concern social work practices but also wide multi-professional networks. The high-quality professional services provided by social workers and welfare offices, family and child counselling clinics and counsellors, lawyers and judges and courts are in practice involved in reproducing the problems and even deepening and contributing to the escalation of divorce and family conflicts (Karvinen-Niinikoski and Pelli 2010; Haavisto, Bergman-Pyykkönen and Mattila-Aalto 2011).