Shadow Justice Minister Andy Slaughter MP addressing attendees at the Dialogue First reception
On 17th February professionals from human resources, occupational health, education and the voluntary sector gathered under the banner of Dialogue First at the House of Commons to discuss the impact of family breakdown on workplace wellbeing.
High on the agenda was new longitudinal data stating that at the onset of divorce/separation, between and a third and a half of impacted employees report mental distress levels high enough to be deemed at risk of depression.
With one exception panelists were drawn from entirely non-legal backgrounds. They included wellbeing leaders from Royal Mail, EAP provider Right Management Workplace Wellbeing, national children’s charity Place 2Be and the National Association of Head Teachers.
In the audience were representatives of major employers, EAP providers, the NHS and family wellbeing organisations. The aim of the evening was to demonstrate that a commitment to workplace wellbeing – and early stage intervention – could be leveraged to help support separating parents to communicate effectively when their children need it most.
There were some tough questions put the panel about employers being more proactive around personal matters but given the impact on mental health suffered by children and adults alike, there was consensus the issue should not be ignored.
This was especially true when chair of the panel – mental health campaigner and former Unilever HR executive Geoff McDonald – shared more longitudinal data stating that between 1996 and 2011 barely half of separating couples sought out legal advice and just one percent took themselves off to see a family mediator.
Worse still, the number of family mediations we know about across England and Wales has halved since April 2013, when policies put in place by the Ministry of Justice were supposed to see the number double. This is all the more depressing given that over three quarters of family mediations that got underway in 2013/14 ended in agreement.
The only family lawyer on the panel – Mike Devlin of Stephensons Solicitors – even stressed that supporting clients attending mediation could be lucrative for family lawyers. He added lawyers could even fix their fees for doing so and remove the anxiety of legal bills spiraling out of control.
This is precisely why we’re developing Lawyer-Supported Mediation. And it was a privilege to see the concept discussed outside of legal circles by professionals bringing an entirely new perspective to the challenge ahead.
*We are now putting together a community of major employers, EAPs, OH providers and trade unions, to offer Lawyer-Supported Mediation as part of a nationwide pilot that gets underway in April. For more information, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org