Monday, 24 November 2014

Family Mediation – Booming Marvellous?

To mark National Family Resolution Week Mumsnet Hackney is hosting a sponsored article by Family Mediation specialist Amina Somers who is also answering your questions in our week long Q&A. If you would like to post a question to Amina please just click here. 

The Children and Families Act 2014 encourages separating couples to resolve their disputes outside of court, including using mediation.

In April 2013, in line with this policy, the government removed legal aid for family disputes (with limited exceptions) but retained legal aid for family mediation. 

So has there been an increase in referrals to family mediation?

Anecdotal evidence from mediators suggests not.

According to The Family Mediators Association’s Legal Aid Survey there was a 53% decline in claims made for legally aided mediations between April 2013 and December 2013 compared to the same period in 2012 - 53% less (legally aided) mediations.

While mediators have criticised the government for failing to publicise that legal aid remains available for mediation are there more fundamental reasons why separating couples are not mediating?

Signposting Family Mediation

Mediators have lobbied the government for a televised public awareness campaign. Government has not been receptive having high expectations that the revamping of the Family Mediation Council website, to which all forms of signposting and promotional activity will be directed, will significantly improve public awareness of family mediation.

Difficulties in understanding why mediation works

Most disputes involve a difference in perception - the relationship has broken down but each party’s perception of the situation, how it happened and what should happen next, is different.

In disagreements these different perceptions are advanced, protected or defended by each party. Thinkers like Edward de Bono (1985: Conflicts) believe it is almost impossible for a party in the dispute (or his legal adviser) to change or shift their own perceptions by themselves.

This is also why neither the parties (or their legal advisors) are best placed to design a solution to their own problem and why De Bono says they need a third party – like a mediator - to help them. Otherwise the thinking employed by the disputing parties will remain the same.

The mediator is free (of these perceptions) to suggest ways of reconciling different perceptions by either finding common ground or by designing new perceptions that both parties can buy into.

Fear as a basis for refusing to mediate

A party’s own belief as to what will “really” happen during the mediation process may impact considerably on whether to mediate.

Clients may think that the mediator will indicate that there is no merit in the their position or a client who has felt diminished or the weaker partner in the former relationship may feel that they will not be sufficiently protected or heard in the process. Similarly if one party perceives the other as being more charismatic there may be a feeling that the mediator will be charmed into adopting that party’s position.

So it is easy to understand why a party to a dispute will want both someone to “protect” them and “advocate” for them ie a lawyer.

Where there are such fears it will be difficult to contemplate mediation.

Skilled mediators should be able to uncover these fears, deal with them directly or suggest pre mediation support before mediation begins.

Choosing a mediator

Mediators come from different professional backgrounds e.g lawyers, social workers and psychotherapists.

Good mediators have a good understanding of what enables people to reach agreement, an inventive solution focused mind, empathy and determination. After all they encounter the most challenging of human behaviour at what is often one of the lowest points in the lives of their clients.

When choosing a mediator:

  • Both parties should have trust and confidence in the mediator and speak to the mediator before appointment; shortlist 2 or 3 mediators for this purpose.

  • Think about whether or not the mediator sounds like someone you can work with.

  • Ask the mediator questions about their approach to conflict resolution i.e how they deal with impasse or high conflict situations.

  • Consider the issues and level of conflict. In high conflict cases mediators from a therapeutic background might be useful. In complex and high conflict cases two mediators with complimentary backgrounds (legal/therapeutic) may be appropriate.

  • Consider pre mediation support that focus’s on expectations in mediation, explores fears and beliefs that affect the party’s confidence in the process and ways of managing unhelpful emotional responses.

  • ask whether the mediator works with different mediation models ie shuttle mediation where the parties do not wish to sit in the same room as one another.

  • Check the mediator’s availability - a mediator who has another professional role may need to have longer gaps between appointments.

  • Establish whether the mediator offers legal aid if you think you might qualify.

  • If you like a particular mediator but cannot afford the level of fees - negotiate on fees.

Legal proceedings rarely produce better relations between separating couples while research has shown that mediation produces costs savings and better long term outcomes for children of separating couples. Worth a try?

 Amina Somers consults with specialist family law firm Goodman Ray, is a Solicitor (non practising), Mediator and Therapeutic Counsellor.

© Amina Somers 2014

Friday, 21 November 2014

We have been begging for this to be invented and now someone on for a corker of a product review and get it on your Christmas list!

The must-have accessory for all you Scooter lovers out there, you heard it here first!

It's no secret that we at Mumsnet Hackney love a product review. We are very lucky that we do generally have a small queue of very generous people happy to allow us to do what is easily the guiltiest pleasure of blogging. So what makes this product review different from the others? On this occasion MNH was so impressed with this beautifully simple scooter transporting device that I don't mind admitting that actually I totally crossed the line of professionalism and instigated this review. 

I met Scooterslingz creator Penny Othen whilst attending Google Campus for Mums, business training for parents: a veritable smorgasbord of business brains and inspiring entrepreneurs. What made Penny stand out was the fact she turned up to class with a microscooter, as you do. 

After confirming this was not her preferred mode of transport and it was in fact a prop to demonstrate her product: the nifty Scooterslingz bag, designed to easily transport your child's scooter, I was all ears. Having a dedicated scooter lover in our family in the shape of our eldest. with a buggy being my youngest son's preferred mode of transport, I regularly attempt what I can only describe as an apparatus conundrum. 

Pushing a buggy with a buggy board and a scooter slung over the handle is something I regularly struggle with. However, this is the only way available to me as I utilise the storage space under our buggy to wedge in youngest's Scuttlebug and our changing bag. Don't even get me started on attempting to take this awkward entourage of wheels onto a bus. 

I also recently had a rather unfortunate experience when walking through the park. I'd attempted to slot my sons scooter over my shoulder to leave my hands free to transport coats, helmets and other appendages. Without being too in depth here I will just say I narrowly avoided wearing the animal excrement that had inadvertently become lodged in the scooter's wheel. 

So, poo-based anecdotes aside and onto the important stuff, how exactly do you fit a mini right angle into a bag? It's a little known fact that a Microscooter's handle bars can be removed very easily. All you need to do is turn the scooter upside down and at the base between the front wheels where the T bar meets the scooter, there is a button. By holding the button down you can then un-slot the T bar, giving you a scooter in 2 pieces. 

The 'before' shot
Scooter now ready to be stowed away. 

One flat packed scooter

The bag is ergonomically shaped so you can easily slide the scooter and T bar inside. It closes with a flap that closes over the top, secured with a strap that clips neatly and snugly around the scooter. You can then literally sling the scooter onto your back and away you go. The strap is adjustable so it doesn't rattle around and, awkward shape aside, a micro scooter is as light as a feather. The bag has a hook so if you do store your child's scooter indoors you can now flat pack it and hang your scooter up. The bag's fabric is waterproof, neatly folds into it's own nifty little drawstring storage bag and is available in a selection of colours or this gorgeous patterned design. 

Naturally this innovative design comes with it's owned beautifully matched little storage bag
If you have it on good authority that Father Christmas might be bringing your child a Microscooter this year then do yourself a favour and make sure you add this to your Christmas list, as its nothing short of a life and hand saver.

For further information or to purchase a Scooterslingz bag, which retails at £19.99 please click here

Mumsnet Hackney received this product free of charge in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Are you feeding your children well?

Left to right: Dr Emma Haycraft, Gaby Morris and Jill Wheatcroft 

Last thursday MNH was very excited to be invited to a talk arranged by childcare experts Riverside Cares titled 'Feed your children well'. As a cooking enthusiast continually short on inspiration I assumed it would be some cooking tips, with nutritional advice thrown in. Little did I realise that even though I was about to be served some healthy portions of both of these, I would also learn the fundamental principles around children's eating habits and the common pitfalls which, as a parent, I experience when feeding my children on a daily basis. In other words: gold dust. I hope I can summarise just a fraction of the incredible information around the psychology of eating and food that was shared. It won't be difficult as I immediately went home and papered my kitchen walls with the notes I took.

Professional childcare expert and co-founder of Riverside Cares (who have been providing a comprehensive range of childcare facilities since 1989) Jill Wheatcroft kicked things off with some sobering statistics, including that 1 in 5 children of reception age are obese, a figure that has been steadily increasing since 1995. According to the WHO, childhood obesity is now one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century. I didn't realise that at the moment my children, who are both under the age of 5, should be doing a minimum of 3 hours physical activity a day! 

Jill then handed the floor over to Senior lecturer in Psychology at Loughborough university Dr Emma Haycraft, who highlighted some of the feeding issues experienced by parents and children which fall into 5 main categories: refusing food, unhealthy food preferences, pressure to eat, food as a reward and food restriction. 

Food refusal is something my children certainly demonstrate on a frequent basis, including food that they will have happily tucked into the previous week. This is linked to neophobia - a fear of new things, an innate instinct we retain from our caveman days when we had to exercise considerably more caution around what we ate, compared to nowadays, in case our foraging efforts were of dubious origins. It takes around 20 attempts of presenting a child with a certain type of food for a child to categorically confirm their dislike for that food. Anyone who has found there are certain foods they just didn't eat until later in life will understand this concept. I didn't really start eating cheese until my 20s. But as a parent where do you begin to track something like this? Why am I asking this? Of course there's an app for that (and an amazing website too for that matter). Also, when you present a particular type of food you might  find that your child might not enjoy boiled carrots but they will eat carrot sticks or mashed carrot. A little bit of creativity beautifully captured in my favourite saying of the day 'think outside the plate'. Another fantastic idea, which anyone who has done baby led weaning will relate to, is allowing your children to play with their food. I don't mean the kind of thing that as I child I was continually reprimanded for, but again being a little bit creative - potato printing, squeezing the juice out of raspberries or beetroot and then painting with it. 

It is not uncommon for children to have unhealthy food preferences and Emma's explanation for this was compelling in its simplicity. Children are born with an innate preference for sweet things because breast milk is sweet. Often by explaining to children the potential super powers they will gain by eating certain foods (such as carrots help you see in the dark) is great for motivating your child to eat certain foods. However, this links in beautifully with the next section regarding pressuring your child to eat. This sounds harsh but actually it's something I frequently find myself doing. Urging my children to clean their plates or just simply to eat up their vegetables. The two key points to consider here are: firstly that children are very good at understanding when they are full and that this may have no correlation with them finishing what's on their plate. As parents we must trust our children to know when they are full. Whilst gentle encouragement is fine, by continually urging your child to clean their plate they will stop listening to their internal cues telling them that they are full and follow external cues like the amount of food in front of them, which could lead to a life time of over eating; The second point is once again delightfully condensed into 2 words: portion control. A rough guide to the size of each portion of food being served on your child's plate should be around the same size as the palm of your child's hand. 

The section that as a parent I related to the most is that of giving food as a reward. This is something I was brought up on and I often use to manage my own motivation (there will be biscuits at the end of this blog post). Bribing your children to eat their vegetables by offering a pudding-based incentive, escape from sitting at the dinner table if they just have one more piece of broccoli or treats if they are upset or refusing to get dressed/get in the car/get in their buggy are a daily occurrence in my household. Rewarding good behaviour with food creates emotion around eating which can then lead to emotional eating. Rewards should come in the form of a trip to the park or a small toy for example. Also, consider the logic from a child’s perspective, that carrots surely must be horrendous if they warrant a reward such as cake or ice cream once they’ve been eaten. 

Immediately on hearing the term 'food restriction' I thought this would not be something that I could relate to but on further explanation I realised it was something I do frequently. Food restriction falls into 2 categories: overt (for example 'you've had 2 biscuits you're not having anymore) and covert (making unhealthy food or snacks quite simply unavailable in the first place) So by openly refusing your child to have something that they know is stored away on a high shelf makes it even more desirable to them. However, if you give them a 'treat' but it's made clear that there are no more left then this makes it easier for them to understand 'treats' and they consequently feel less restricted. 

The main question this left for me was 'when is the time to give treats in the form of sweets or chocolate and should they even be referred to as ‘treats’? Of course if there was a straight forward answer to this then I’m pretty sure we’d all be doing it already however, reminding your child that sweet treats are special and not an everyday occurrence and not giving in to a perseverant toddlers or offering sweets as a reward is a good starting place. I know for me one of the greatest things that impacted on the volume of treats I gave to my children was moving the treat tin out of MY reach. 

To find all of the above information in far more articulate detail along with how to download the app please go to

Mumsnet Hackney was allowed to attend this event free of charge courtesy of Riverside Cares in exchange for an honest review

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Gherkin for lunch?

Searcy's at The Gherkin

Yes, we know, MNH is very spoiled indeed to experience arguably 2 of the best views of London in one week. Days after a trip to the see the View from the Shard we paid a visit to 30 St Mary Axe, more commonly known as the gherkin. It is a little know fact that the top floor of this commercial skyscraper in London’s primary financial district houses the exclusive Searcy’s restaurant: the highest private member’s club in England and, for the next few weeks only, it has opened it’s doors to the public so of course we felt duty bound to go and investigate. 

Similar to the Shard, security checks are required prior to riding up the 41 floors to the top, via 2 lifts. As you walk through the polished, sleek, industrial corridors it’s hard not to automatically take on a sophisticated swagger (or in my case pretend, just for a moment, I am the good wife) However, it’s hard to maintain sophisticated poise when you ascend the spiral stair case to the top floor where you are met by a jaw dropping view.

I can’t pretend I had any interest in attending Searcy’s at the Gherkin just to talk about the food. With a view like this whilst you dine, I would have happily eaten beans on toast. However, who wouldn’t ask the question: was the food as mind blowing as the view? Ok so I’m not sure food and dramatic views of London should ever have to come up against each other, a get out clause to not answer that question? Quite possibly. However, the food did not disappoint. I visited on a Sunday afternoon and the aroma of roast beef as you walked into the restaurant was incredible and immediately put me in the mood for Sunday lunch. I started with squash soup, with salted granola and a poached quails egg. It was a delightful appetiser and I was pleased the granola was salted as Searcy’s is clearly so confident about it’s food that seasoning was not something available on our table. The main course of course was Roast rump of beef, for me this was cooked to perfection, rare. Followed by creme brûlée topped with poached pears. Everything about the menu encapsulated hunger-assuaging comforting warmth.  Next week we'll be having elevenses up the BT Tower.

Searcy’s is open until Christmas, to book your table click here

MNH was not requested or incentivised in any way to conduct this review.