Mediation vs. Family Group Decision-Making

by Janet M. Powers

Family Group Decision-Making has come to Adams County in the past few years and has had an extremely positive impact for families with custody problems or those dealing with troubled youth. Frequently, we are asked what is the difference between Family Group and Mediation, and when is each appropriate?

First off, it is important to realize that these two forms of conflict resolution are not in competition with one another. Rather, they are different forms of a peaceful approach to handling disputes without litigation. Family Group, in fact, is a partially facilitated mediation. The outcome of both FGDM and Mediation is a win-win situation in which no one goes home the loser. In both processes, disputants are empowered to arrive at their own solutions.

FGDM, as its name implies involves extended families and often others who are closely involved with those families, such as pastors, teachers, or even neighbors. A large number of people are often present on both sides of the conflict. A trained facilitator helps both sides to explore the issues involved and to examine the positive and negative aspects of the situation. When everyone is clear about possibilities for solution, the facilitator leaves.

When left alone in this way, significant family members from both sides take on leadership roles in helping to resolve the conflict. Thus, families are empowered to recognize their own strengths in coming to terms with seemingly insoluble problems involving young people. Sometimes it takes several hours, but outcomes are nearly always positive. Providing food also helps to create an ambience of sharing.

Mediation, on the other hand, typically involves two disputants and a mediator or pair of mediators (in cases where gender issues are sensitive). Mediations, however, can involve larger groups of people as well, as with churches or local government. A well-trained mediator is present throughout the encounter, as disputants tell their sides of the story, identify issues and then begin to brainstorm for solutions. At the end, an agreement is drawn up and signed by both parties, as well as the mediator.

Holding the belief that families are the right ones to solve difficult problems involving children, FGDM is lodged in the office of AC Children and Youth. It has a paid full-time Coordinator, who gathers information about a particular conflict before the family meeting takes place. FGDM offers an excellent avenue for families dealing with major concerns about the future of children and young people.

Mediation Services of Adams County, on the other hand, has a Help Line rather than an office and is an all-volunteer organization. Trained mediators, however, meet the credentials set by the Pennsylvania Council of Mediators, which include 22 hours of initial training and 6 hours of annual in-service training. MSAC offers help with amicable property settlements, neighborhood disputes, workplace disputes, as well as conflicts in local government and congregations.

With both agencies, the emphasis is on diminishing violence and disagreements between individuals in our community without spending huge amounts of money or creating winners and losers. Empowering people to solve their own problems is a new way to approach societal conflict and one which holds great promise for the future.

Family Group can be reached at 717-334-5809 and Mediation Services at 717-334-7312.