A Strengths Approach to Elder Mediation

date01 July 2015
DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1002/crq.21119
publishedDate01 July 2015
C R Q, vol. 32, no. 4, Summer 2015 481
© 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. and the Association for Confl ict Resolution
Published online in Wiley Online Library (wileyonlinelibrary.com) • DOI: 10.1002/crq.21119
A Strengths Approach to Elder Mediation
Jennifer Martin
Elder mediators require specialist knowledge of aging in context, capac-
ity, and dementia as well as skills in strategic intervention to redress
power imbalances without jeopardizing mediator neutrality and the
integrity of the mediation process. A review of the literature on the
social context of aging highlights problems faced by older people. It is
argued that a strengths approach facilitates critical refl ection on issues
of stigma, discrimination, and power imbalances. A focus on positive
aspects of aging is emphasized promoting an encouraging environment
for older people and family members to engage eff ectively in the media-
tion process.
A
n aging population presents unique features that provoke rethinking
the way that mediation is conducted among its elders. Longevity (and
its shadow, dementia), better health awareness and care, value in greater
independence, lifestyle changes necessitated by reliance on accumulated
resources, and a retraction in government subsidies are some of the struc-
tural and social changes that contribute to these features. Frugality informs
discretionary spending, and political measures aff ect personal choices. In
this setting, stereotypes and negative preconceptions of the aged merit
reconsideration.
is article considers mediation involving an elder person. It contends
that a strengths approach might be advantageous in elder mediation to
assist older people in maintaining their sense of dignity and autonomy and
for all parties to feel empowered to participate eff ectively in the process.
Elder mediators must be “informed and qualifi ed in mediation practices
and processes as well as being knowledgeable of—and sensitized to—age
related issues” (McCann-Beranger and Elder Mediation International Net-
work 2014, 20).  is article asks, “What specifi c knowledge of age-related
482 MARTIN
C R Q • DOI: 10.1002/crq
issues, practices, and processes is required for eff ective elder mediation?” In
responding to this question, I argue that a strengths approach provides a
useful lens to consider age-related knowledge of the social context of aging,
including elder abuse and neglect, individual capacity, and dementia. It
also assists with process management skills and practices and, in particular,
strategic intervention.  e article begins with a review of the literature
on the social context of elder mediation and specifi c problems that elder
mediators face.  is is followed by the application of a strengths approach
to address these problems. Issues of capacity to participate eff ectively in
the mediation process are considered with specifi c knowledge and tasks for
mediation with older people with dementia and their families identifi ed.
Strategies to avoid potential pitfalls such as loss of mediator neutrality are
presented.
Background: Social Context of Elder Mediation
Social context infl uences how older people are viewed within a particular
society, and this will infl uence attitudes and behaviors in the mediation
process, as well as the type and location of services available to older peo-
ple.  e social context of elder mediation is complex, and elder mediators
face a number of challenges that are particular to this area of practice.  e
goal of elder mediation is to facilitate a fair and unbiased process that is
responsive to individual, family, and social issues while maintaining the
dignity and self-determination of the older person and all other parties.
“Elder mediators can assist older people, their families, and signifi cant oth-
ers with diffi cult conversations to make plans, and to reach outcomes to
disagreements—outcomes that work for older persons, respect their rights
and enhance their safety” (Elder Mediation Australasian Network 2014).
Issues are often interrelated and include family communication, caregiving,
living arrangements, asset protection, and inheritance and estate disputes.
Disputes occur over guardianship and administration, medical care, driv-
ing, fi nancial planning and management, and end-of-life issues. Particular
challenges of aging include maintaining independence, coping with loss,
caregiving and aging families, and long-term care options for family elders.
Elder abuse is a signifi cant issue that may arise in elder mediation.
Research fi ndings indicate that 5 percent of older Australians have expe-
rienced abuse or neglect; in fact, this fi gure is probably higher due to the
reluctance to report abuse ( Law Institute of Victoria 2014). A Victorian
Seniors Law service has witnessed an increased demand in recent years

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