I’m thrilled that I’ve been certified by the Elder Mediation International Network (EMIN) as an elder mediator, having completed my training (in two years, during Covid, no less!) and successfully fulfilling the robust accreditation criteria and process of this important international network.
‘Congratulations to Margaret Doyle who has just successfully completed all the requirements for the beginning level of Elder Mediation International Certification. Margaret becomes the first Elder Mediator in England to achieve the newly established Cert.EM designation!’https://elder-mediation-international.net/meet-emins-latest-cert-em-advanced-recipient-2-3/
As a network, EMIN raises awareness of elder mediation as an important area of specialist mediation expertise and, through its certification process, ensures that certified mediators adhere to a code of ethics and conduct their practice to a consistent, credible, recognised international standard.
Age in the UK
And to be the first mediator certified by EMIN in England is the icing on the cake (not the first in the UK – the first UK-based EMIN mediator is in Northern Ireland).
The field of elder mediation isn’t well known in the UK, but it’s thriving elsewhere in the world – including Canada, the US, and Australia. Yet the issues that elder mediation focuses on – ageing and all the pleasures and pains that go with it – are as pressing here as in most countries across the world. According to the Office for National Statistics, UK life expectancy at birth in 2018 to 2020 was 79.0 years for males and 82.9 years for females. Our population is ageing, with our demographics shifting towards older ages because of declining fertility rates and people living longer. The ONS projects that by 2032, nearly 20% of the population in the UK will be of pension age or older.
These projections aren’t uniform across the UK. As the Resolution Foundation has explained, in its report Ageing Fast and Slow, Britain has experienced demographic divergence, with older places ageing faster than younger ones and younger places getting old at a slower pace (or actually getting younger).
Such demographic divergence matters for local government, the Foundation points out. It also matters for the services for older people administered by local government, because ‘revenue streams often do not match well with the service requirements of local populations of very different – and ever more different – ages’. There are tensions built into demographic change and divergence in the UK, tensions that can lead to disagreement and dispute.
What is old?
What is ‘old’ is a fluid and contentious topic. Here in the UK, ‘old’ might be over 50, the age at which we become eligible for sheltered accommodation. Or it might be 60, when those of us who live in London become eligible for a ‘Freedom Pass’ allowing free travel on tubes and buses. Or it might be the age at which we can start taking our state pension – for some that’s still 65, but for younger groups it’s 66, 67, and going up all the time. Or ‘old’ might be 70, the proverbial three score and ten, or 80, the age at which people were required to shield in the first lockdown of the pandemic.
I’m not overly concerned to define ‘old’, nor am I keen on terms like ‘elder’, and certainly not ‘the elderly’. What I am concerned with is that as we age, we are well supported to live the lives we want to live and we aren’t dismissed, patronised, or excluded. This isn’t about autonomous independence, but about relational independence: living as independently as we want to within reciprocal relationships, whether those be relationships of care or friendship, at home or within our communities, or with the state agencies with whom we interact.
Why ‘elder’ mediators?
I’ve been a mediator for more than 30 years, and I’ve specialised in disputes involving equalities and specifically disability rights. Although I can now be considered an elder myself, not all mediators are older people, nor do they need to be. But they do need to understand issues and concepts that might not arise in other areas of mediation practice.
The requirements for EMIN certification include being an already accredited mediator and undertaking additional specialist training (70 hours minimum) on issues including elder abuse and safeguarding, family and intergenerational dynamics, legal issues including powers of attorney and guardianship, and dementia. For my area of practice, I need to understand how social care works, including funding of long-term care. And elder mediators need to be curious and engage with questions about how we perceive vulnerability and the way ageism impacts decisions made with and for older people.
How can mediation contribute?
I believe that mediation can contribute to much-needed conversations and ideas about ageing. The underlying principle of participation and supported decision-making is key to mediation. It is also key to the theory, if not always the practice, of work done in social services, health care, including mental health, and disabilities services, including another area in which I work, that of special educational needs and disability rights. The social model of disability rights is one that can be adopted in age rights as well; it moves us away from a medical model, one that focuses on impairment, and explores and addresses the barriers (both physical and attitudinal) that compromise people’s ability to flourish.
Many of the techniques used in mediation are those used in a Strength-Based Approach used by social care professionals, which explores in a collaborative way the entire individual’s abilities and their circumstances rather than making the deficit the focus of the intervention. It is about gathering a holistic picture of the individual’s life, including from their network and other professionals.
So there is a natural affinity between mediation and the interactions between people and the institutions and government bodies involved in social care and health care.
Who uses elder mediation?
Families, friends, community groups, care homes and agencies, hospices and hospitals – all can make use of elder mediation where disagreement about care or decision-making is affecting quality of life and relationships.
It isn’t just about resolving individual disputes and disagreements. It’s a practice and approach that contributes to better listening and more shared experience. It’s also not always about, or only about, ageing; it can also be about intergenerational dynamics and frictions, about fairness between the young and old, and about the need for better, more creative conversations between generations and within communities.
I look forward to working with individuals, communities, and care and health organisations in this new area of practice!