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Dealing with family conflict

As a carer, you may have to deal with disputes and conflict in your own family. The conflict may be about your role as a carer and the needs of the person you're looking after. The conflict may be about something else, but dealing with it may lead to stress and make your role as a carer more difficult.

The person you're looking after, or want to look after, may have different views about their ability to do something or what type of care they want. For example, you may feel that an older person is at risk of falling if they live alone or do certain activities. But they may want to take that risk in order to keep their independence.

You may be sharing the care of a family member with a brother or sister. If you disagree on how to care for the person or about the care options, such as residential care, it can cause conflict.

You may be caring for someone who refuses the treatment you think they need. For example, they may refuse to take the medication prescribed for their mental health problems. This may create conflict between the two of you.

If such conflicts are causing problems in your family, there are various ways of seeking help. Consider talking to someone in your family, circle of friends or community who has an independent perspective and can look at the dispute in an unbiased way.

You may find your GP is helpful, particularly if they know your family well and understand the background to the dispute. They may also be able to refer you to other sources of help, such as counselling or mediation.

Mediation

Mediation is a process that gives people in dispute a chance to meet together, with the benefit of having a mediator who tries to reach a settlement to avoid going to court. The process may take a few weeks, depending on the dispute. Discussing the issues and the context of the dispute gives both parties the opportunity to find workable solutions.

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Mediation is increasingly used to resolve family conflict. It has traditionally been used for marital conflicts, but the same techniques can be used for other types of family dispute. The mediator acts independently and impartially to help everyone in the dispute understand each other’s point of view.

The mediator normally brings both parties face-to-face in a meeting to try to resolve issues. Sometimes, they'll first meet with each party individually to hear their point of view.

Mediators should act in a non-judgmental way, and confidentiality is extremely important. They won't make a decision about the rights or wrongs of the dispute, but try to get the parties to reach their own resolution.

While mediation doesn't involve compulsion (as in a court judgement), it works in the interests of both parties. It enables people to exercise the same rights as they would in a court but through a less rigid approach that focuses on the wider picture. Only the parties involved in the process decide whether any 'wrongdoing' has occurred and, if so, how it can be made right. Mediation agreements can be made into legally binding settlements if both parties agree. If this is the case, you'll need to contact a solicitor.

Community mediation services are free of charge in some areas, but not all of them undertake family mediation, so you'll need to make enquiries. There are also private mediation services that charge you for their mediation. It's important to discuss charges and any help towards costs before you start the process.

The Family Mediation Council may be useful. It has general information on family mediation, advice on whether your case may be suitable for mediation, information about eligibility for public funding, and contact details for mediation services in your local area.

Counselling

Counselling may also be worth considering, particularly if the conflict is affecting your mental or physical health.

Counselling may help you understand your emotions and may make it easier to work with other members of your family to resolve the dispute.

Sometimes, a conflict can't be resolved, at least not in the short-term. If this happens, you'll need to come to terms with that or find different ways of managing the conflict.

Where to get help

Some local authorities provide mediation services, so you may wish to contact them first. Even if they don’t provide these services, they may be able to refer you to local organisations that can help.

The Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, has contact details of legal professionals. Some mediators are qualified solicitors. Solicitor mediators usually specialise in commercial/civil or family mediation.

You can also find help with your caring situation by searching the directory of local carers' services. You could also call the Carers Direct helpline on 0300 123 1053.

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Page last reviewed: 03/05/2011

Next review due: 03/05/2013

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