In late 2011, Delaware Elder Mediation Services, Inc., was formed to provide mediation services to the elderly and disabled in Delaware. The all volunteer Board initially consisted of 5 individuals and later expanded to 7. I was the primary mediator and also served as the Corporate Secretary and Executive Director. My duties included accounting, fund-raising, outreach, webmastering, and all office duties. – all as an unpaid volunteer.
At first we thought we would charge $75 per person for mediations unless a participant was low-income. But one of first mediations taught us a lesson. A mother, who was living in public housing, requested mediation with a daughter who was living in what had been the family home. The daughter was a busy, working mother but, at first, she was quite receptive to the idea of mediation. However when I mentioned a $75 per person fee, her response was “I have spent enough money on that woman. I am not spending another cent.” Fortunately, I was able to obtain some funding from the State of Delaware as compensation for teaching half-day seminars on the nature of elder mediation. This state funding paid enough tto cover our initial cost of liability insurance. Later we received small grants from the Chichester duPont Foundation and the Longwood Foundation that provided funding for the corporation’s basic expenses.
We offered mediation free of charge in order not to discourage people from coming to the mediation table. And over the next 4 years we helped many people, not only through the mediations that were held but through referrals to other sources of assistance when mediation was not appropriate. But the number of elder mediations that were actually held did not increase appreciably.
I firmly believe that elder mediation is an essential service that will only become more important as the population ages and the pressures of care-giving impact their families. Nevertheless, after close to four years of operation, it became very apparent that elder mediation would be difficult to sustain as a stand-alone operation. And for me, due to a personal change of circumstances, doing the grant-writing, bookkeeping, newsletter-writing, out-reach, etc. was beginning to be a burden. So in the fall of 2015, the Board agreed to the dissolution of DEMSI as of the end of the year. The few assets that DEMSI had were donated to a local 501(c)(3) public charity that offered other mediation services and indicated it would also offer elder mediation services as well, but that has not as yet come to fruition.
I am very grateful to the volunteer Board who were so very supportive for those four years and I am very grateful to the families that did use the mediation services and benefitted from them. I personally am still committed to helping families resolve conflicts and while I will not forgive all fees, I am willing to forgo a portion of my fee for a family member who is unemployed.
You may ask why it is so difficult to get families to the table. There are numerous contributing factors including.
- Elder mediation deals with a vulnerable population. One mediation was scheduled where all participants were willing and eager to have their views heard in mediation. Then the week before the mediation was to occur, Dad went into the hospital with breathing issues for the fifth time that year. In another a participant was diagnosed with breast cancer the day before the mediation.
- Elder mediation is not compulsory and there is no incentive for a participant with the upper hand to come to the table. A number of cases were referred to DEMSI by Adult Protective Services where to quote a worker, the actions of one family member were “immoral but not illegal”. Since the elder was “safe,” APS would not intervene. And, since APS has a "no harassment" policy, the staff would not stick around to try to pressure the “immoral” family member to the table. Why would the wrong-doer come to the table? In one case one daughter moved Mom from the family home to that daughter’s home and refused to give a sibling access to Mom. The case was referred to DEMSi but when I talked to mom I got the same response that APS had received. Yes Mom did want to see her other daughter but she did not want to have mediation if the child she was living with did not want it. If Mom is competent and not willing to stand up for her rights, there is nothing APS can do and there is no way to force mediation.
- People change their minds. In one instance where daughters were arguing over where Mom would live, mediation was scheduled and then one daughter decided she would give up and Mom could move out of state to live near the other daughter. Mediation was canceled. Then daughter decided she wanted one more summer with Mom near her and she could move in the fall, but there was still no mediation.