From its beginnings in 1984 FMC has been committed to advancing family mediation by developing standards of practice that promote high-quality specialized family mediation services for the public.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s dissatisfaction with the legal system and its ability to deal with social and inter-personal conflict thoroughly, inexpensively, and efficiently lead to a search for alternatives. Mediation appeared to provide some of the answers and mediation services began to multiply. Yet the early growth of mediation occurred before there was consensus about the nature of mediation or the education and training required. Family mediation was, and to an extent remains today, a discipline that anyone could enter with limited training. Professionals involved in mediation in the 1980s, particularly the directors and members of FMC, became gravely concerned about professional accountability. Thus FMC began to explore the feasibility of developing national educational standards and standards of practice in order to protect both the public and the mediation discipline.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s FMC hired professionals to engage in research and extensive participatory, action-oriented consultation processes with mediation practitioners and trainers – at first individually and then together on behalf of FMC – to explore practice, education, training and assessment issues. In 1993, FMC conducted a national consultation to assess whether mediation practitioners, trainers, educators, members of FMC envisioned the need to create national practice and educational standards for family mediators. The conclusion, from the cross Canada consultation with over one hundred mediators, lawyers, judges, counsellors, and consumers was a resounding “yes” to the need for continuing efforts to define skills, personal attributes and substantive knowledge required of a family mediator.
From 1993 to 1996 Peggy English and Linda Neilson engaged in face-to-face interviews, e-mail and telephone consultations, written correspondence and “town hall meetings” with mediators and mediation trainers at numerous mediation conferences in every province and territory in Canada, and in many states in the U.S. to facilitate the development of standards of practice and, later, a certification process for mediators. Their goal was to isolate, identify and document fully the skills and knowledge necessary to provide competent, credible mediation services. Eventually, the skills and knowledge identified by mediation practitioners in Canada, USA and England would provide the foundation for FMC’s certification process.
FMC’s belief that professionals with practical experience are best placed to define the skills, tools and education required for mediation practice was the basis for developing the certification process. This belief has now been verified by independent research and by FMC’s internal evaluations. Throughout the consultation process practitioners and educators from across the country suggested changes and revisions to improve and fine tune the practice and educational standards which resulted in publication of the “Model Standards of Practice, Certification of Competence and Training”. In 1995 a “Revised Report on Practice Standards, Training and Certification of Competent Family Mediators” was issued. In 1996 the document “Practice, Certification and Training Standards” defined the FMC Certification Process.
In 1997 a grant application was made to Justice Canada for funding to commence a Pilot Project for development a certification process for family mediators. As a result of that detailed, comprehensive application FMC was granted $150,000 for this Pilot Project by Justice Canada and $3,000 from the Northwest Territory Law Foundation. As well, the Family Justice Division of the British Columbia Ministry of Attorney General, once reviewing this comprehensive application, agreed to join with FMC as a partner in this Pilot Project. FMC established a National Implementation Committee.
In June 1997 FMC, in partnership with the BC Ministry of Attorney General, began a two-year pilot project to create, test and research a certification process for family mediators.
During the test, research and revision process many professionals contributed a spectrum of expertise from academic and theoretical to practical. Experienced mediators who applied for certification offered comments on the assessment processes based on mediation sessions with thousands of mediation clients. Each development built on the earlier works of others, and many mediation pioneers contributed their thoughts and wisdom along the way. FMC owes gratitude for the “commitment to excellence” offered by so many. As a result, the assessment tools and the certification process underwent a series of revisions. Examples of the evolution of the assessment “tools” from start to finish are found in Appendix #5 of Neilson, English with Hacking (1999) Family Mediation Canada National Certification Implementation Pilot Project Report 1997-1999, for the federal Department of Justice, June 1999.
Prior to its implementation, the certification assessment process was pilot tested and evaluated in four Canadian jurisdictions – New Brunswick, Ontario, Manitoba, and British Columbia (with spaces reserved for applicants from other jurisdictions) – by an independent, external researcher: Dr. Desmond Ellis of York University. FMC members from across Canada and all of the BC Family Justice Counsellors participated in the pilot certification project. 168 applicants were invited to apply for certification during the pilot process without charge. In return, they agreed not only to participate, but also to comment on the process, participate in the evaluation and allow the use of non-identifying certification data in research. The candidates were selected to create a sample of applicants who would reflect the diversity of FMC practitioners in terms of gender, place and style of practice, professional and academic discipline, and choice of certification designation (family relations and comprehensive). It is important to note, though, that in one important respect the applicants for certification were not representative of family mediation practitioners in general.
Most applicants were seasoned practitioners with education and training far in excess of FMC’s minimum standards. Many were mediation trainers. This selection bias offered advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand seasoned, experienced, knowledgeable practitioners are those best placed to offer suggestions and evaluations of certification assessment processes. On the other hand, as expected, the pass rates were high. During the pilot study 136 mediators successfully completed the certification process. At the conclusion of the pilot study Ellis reported that FMC’s certification process was reliable and recommended national implementation.
In 2008 Judy Beranger and Linda Bonnell, as Chair of the Certification Committee, proposed that Family Mediation Canada (FMC) adopt a Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) process to award equivalency credit when appropriate for a portion of the mandatory training hours required for FMC Certification. Nym Hughes, from the Justice Institute of BC, was contracted to develop a detailed plan for PLAR implementation as an option within the FMC Certification process. Her report, “A Proposal for the Use of Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) in the Process for Certifying Mediators by Family Mediation Canada”, issued in July 2009, was adopted by FMC. Assessors were trained, the objectives for each of the four knowledge areas that form the PLAR process were firmed up, and an introductory video was created to explain the process to potential applicants. Our work with the PLAR process and its integration into the regular certification process continues.
Since the pilot project many FMC members have taken advantage of the opportunity to complete the certification process. Many other organizations both within and outside Canada have expressed an interest in learning more about the elements of our certification process, and, without exception, the feedback has been positive. In 2010 FMC was approached by the International Mediation Institute (IMI) and asked if FMC would like to apply to IMI to become a Qualifying Assessment Program. After completing a rigorous application process in 2011 FMC was pleased when it qualified to recommend its certified mediators for IMI certification.