Crucial Conversations Project –
Final report of family dialogue pilot (Sept 2009– March 2012)
This report explores the learning from a two-year intergenerational dialogue pilot aimed
at young people and their parents/carers. The pilot was run as a service offered by
Community Resolve and was funded jointly by the Parenting Fund and Andrews
Charitable Trust (ACT). ACT funded this service as part of its ‘Tackle Homelessness across
the Generations’ programme, which worked with five selected organisations - SPAN,
Survive, Community Resolve, Shelter and Orbit – to address holistic family approaches to
the prevention of homelessness.
For Community Resolve, ACT funding supported the post of a 16-hrs per week project
manager briefed to develop a service that could stand alone by the end of the funding,
as a self-financing or partially self-financing project. Not only was this achieved but an additional outcome
has been that the project infrastructure is now in place to run independently as a fee-charging operation.
The service developed by Community Resolve supported families where there was a serious breakdown in
family relationships and/or where the young person was already homeless, or in danger of being homeless.
During the pilot period, it was free for families to access, although this has now changed. Where the
approach of this service differed from most mediation services, and especially from those working with
families, was that it provided families with an older and a younger mediator working together. This pairing of
mentors mirrored the power dynamics at play within families as well as modelling good cross-generational
How it worked
The service aimed to sustain relationships within the family whether
the young person stayed at home or not, and to so prevent the need
for crises intervention further down the line. Through a
combination of mentoring, coaching and joint mediation meetings
older and younger mediators supported family members to
communicate with each other, reflect on their own contribution to
tensions and to think about how to manage conflicts in the future.
Where the young person was planning to leave, or had already left,
the mediation process helped to support planning and positive
engagement of family members to keep lines of communication
open and improve future relations and tenancy sustainment.
Over the course of the pilot, the project received 36 referrals, some as self-referrals from families and young
people, and others from a range of public agencies. Our mediators worked with a total of 23 young people
and 26 parents and wider family members.
What’s been the impact?
Improvement in communication between parents and young person
100% of the initial evaluations from parents, young people and referrers in the first year
reported markedly improved communication between parents and the young person.
Mediators felt this was in part due to the modelling of communication between older and
younger mediators. Improved communication in the family also led to more success in
dealing with conflict situations as they arose.
Number of referrals
Youth Offending Teams
“If we hadn’t got
when we did, our
have been over”
Mother of 17 yr old
“He never used
to listen to me,
now he does”
Mother of 14 yr old boy
Greater confidence in dealing with conflict
Mediators gave parties specific conflict transformation tools to work with and practise and supported them
to think through beforehand how to approach difficult conflict issues in a way that would help them
communicate and find a positive way forward rather than escalate the situation. Throughout the process the
mediators modelled intergenerational respect - all parties were taken seriously and had a
chance to experience what it was like to deal with a conflict openly and positively, be more
confident and willing to try to deal with conflict situations in the future.
Out of the 12 completed distance-travelled evaluations used in the 2nd year of the pilot, all
evaluations of parents/carers and young people showed a definite improvement in
communication and family relationships with an increased confidence in dealing with conflict
by the end of the process compared to the beginning.
Young person’s ability to deal with conflict/anger: Extract from a distance-travelled evaluation:
Key: Young Person before intervention Young Person after
Greater clarity around conflict in the family and personal responsibility
The Project was extremely flexible in the range of approaches used. In addition to
using intergenerational mediation, mediators were given the training and the
opportunity to include mentoring/coaching – which was another way in which this
mediation project differed from others. Young people and parents were able to
phone, text or meet mediators and receive coaching on how to deal with conflict
situations as they arose. In particular young people were encouraged and guided
in how to look at their own assumptions and responsibility in conflict situations.
“Children and young people who have taken part in the Crucial
Conversations mediation process say that they are more able to
consider the part they have to play in conflicts developing at
home, to develop strategies to engage with conflict more
constructively, and through the mediator, have the opportunity
to see young people acting in a professional way in partnership
with an older mediator.”
Excerpt from Evaluation Report 2012 by Jo Howard,
independent evaluator for the Andrews Charitable Trust
12345678910 11 12
Number of points
The parent was asked before the intervention about how her young
person dealt with conflict and again after the intervention (1 lowest, 5
Q. How does young person deal with conflict in the home?
A (mother). HE HAS GOT BETTER. THERE ARE NOT SUCH RAGES AS
BEFORE. HE IS MORE UNDER CONTROL AND WE ARE ALSO DEALING
WITH HIM DIFFERENTLY
"I try to walk
more and I
Mother of 15 year old
“Even though we
never got to do the
big meeting at the
end it was good to
have had the one-
to-ones with J. It
made me look at
how I talk to my
mum and take on
what she says”
17 year old
Maintaining relationships throughout the process of leaving home
The process did not always result in families staying together. However, once they
felt their point of view had been heard, parties had the opportunity to be more
understanding and express more positive feelings for each other - something that
might not have seemed possible when locked in a cycle of conflict, anger and
recrimination. This served to keep lines of communication open, in some cases
allowing both parties to accept that, for the moment, the best way forward was to
live apart - see case study below.
Avoiding family breakdown
Communication had broken down between the 17-yr-old girl and her parents in
a professional Pakistani Muslim family, with explosions of anger and
resentment about the young person staying out at her boyfriend’s, smoking and
drinking. Community Resolve paired a British-born Pakistani conflict worker with
a younger English female as co-mediators, their diverse ages/backgrounds
reassuring family members that their differing values and beliefs were
recognised and understood. Over several weeks, the mediators worked with the
family both separately and together, aiming for increased understanding and
respect between the young woman and her parents rather than a ‘happy ever
after’ scenario. The preparation before joint meetings was key to clarifying
everyone’s desires for the future, as well as their part in the current conflict.
After two joint meetings, both the young person and her parents agreed that
they could not live under the same roof and that it was better she moved out.
The daughter moved out of the family home in a managed process which kept
basic communication channels open. She is now in regular contact with her
mother, is attending university and gained a 1st in her first year examinations.
Benefit to local community
As well as the impact on the young people and their families who have participated in the mediation process
an additional benefit built into the programme was capacity building in the local community.
Because of this pilot, 18 local young people and a number of workers from Connexions involved in youth
engagement/ homelessness advice work have had the opportunity to receive training in mediation and
conflict coaching. The project also provided opportunities for young people to be involved in their local
community and earn money while making a positive contribution. The training of young people in mediation
and mentoring skills is set to continue past the end of the pilot, linking up with other services that the
organisation as a whole provides.
Older, experienced mediators also had the opportunity to broaden their
expertise through working alongside young people who were often from
very different backgrounds to themselves. Not all those trained went on to
be mediators, although some who completed the training sessions were
offered further opportunities to develop their skills around conflict by
participating in other areas of Community Resolve’s conflict work in their
particular communities. To date, two of our young mediators have received
national awards from Leap Confronting Conflict for their part in helping to
address conflicts in their community.
is lot better since
Father of 15 year old girl
“The mediator always
wanted to hear what
I had to say & I have
said them things to
my mum now”
17 year old boy
Assessing the project design
Fexible mediation As family conflict is deeply personal, building stronger relationships with family members
was going to enable the mediator could coach the parties in dealing with conflicts as they arose. As a result,
early on in the pilot we took a flexible approach to the community standard mediation model (where
mediator/s meet the parties just at the time of the joint mediation meeting or briefly beforehand and
concern themselves with what presents in the room). We felt it appropriate to engage in mentoring and
coaching in addition to pure mediation work - although this meant that attention needed to be paid to
maintaining clear boundaries between conflict work and therapeutic intervention such as counselling, for
which our workers were not trained.
In order to maximise participation from young people and their parents, we set up additional meetings with
the young people as part of the engagement process. Younger mediators would arrange to meet them in an
informal setting of their choice - a café, gym or crazy golf course - and take time to build a relationship so
that the young person would feel that they would have an advocate in the room if they chose to participate
in mediation, someone similar in age who understood their point of view. If a referrer felt the young person
was going to be hard to engage, initial contact was often by text.
The use of younger and older mediators The project emphasised
the importance of both older and younger mediators to modelling
respectful communication between themselves and developing a
practice which allowed the younger mediator to play their part
and be seen to play their part, in leading the process. Both
younger and older mediators had specific training and support in
working across the generations in this way. The putting together
of a younger and older mediators worked extremely well. All the
family members thought it had a positive impact. Our experience
in working with young people and community conflict over a number of years had led us to believe this
would be the case and we strongly recommend that this approach be taken with any service of this kind.
Supporting young mediators Young mediators had to have a high degree of ‘presence’ and self-awareness
to engage a young person and to develop the trust required to explore their feelings on such short
acquaintance. They also need a good deal of support, around keeping the cases moving on, and having a
chance to download their experiences. This has implications for the financing of such a service.
Sustaining the impact Although communication had undoubtedly improved,
deeply ingrained communication patterns and family dynamics would have
benefited from more in-depth conflict coaching and support than our initial
model could allow for. Initial feedback from referrers and families was very good,
with families on an emotional high from experiencing positive heartfelt
communication and participating in making plans for the future after months of
anger and sometimes violence. Where we contacted the parties 6 months later it
was clear that the initial positivity in the family was hard to sustain.
Length of intervention Based on this insight, a standard mediation model of one
meeting with each ‘party’ before a joint meeting was adjusted to include additional coaching to both parties
before and after the mediation meeting. As sessions were often spread out to once a week or once a
“Yea I'm not living
at home any more
but me and my
mum get on a lot
better because of
the help you guys
17 year old boy
“100% of service users who
replied said that they thought
having an older and a younger
mediator helped them.”
Jo Howard, ACT evaluation, 2012
fortnight, this significantly increased the timescale of intervention from approx 6 weeks to 3-6 months. This
gave time to family members to see themselves and each other in a new way and also supported both
parents and young people to reflect on their part in subsequent conflicts as they unfolded and to work on
following through on behaviour agreements that had been made.
Expanding the process to include more coaching sessions meant all parties and especially the parents/carers,
had to want to engage with such intense work. It has been noticeable that some parents tended to deny the
impact of their behaviour on the situation and found themselves unwilling to acknowledge a shift in the
behaviour and attitudes of their children.
What’s the learning so far? – key points from the pilot
Retaining Young mediators
The capacity to meet the demand created
for the service has to be balanced with
making sure that there would be enough
cases for young mediators to be involved
in, so their interest and enthusiasm is
maintained. There is also a higher turnover
with young people as they move on to new
Ensure young mediators are not trained too early in the project’s
development, or too many trained at one time.
Provision of ongoing training for young mediators and conflict
Careful management of expectations and provision of
volunteering or sessional work in the wider activities of the
Duration of process
As the project evolved, young people in
particular gained a lot of benefit from the
additional mentoring/coaching available.
However it was hard for young mediators
to bring an end to the process, as support
with conflict is always beneficial.
Occasionally interventions broadened into
Assessment with referrers/families at the beginning of process.
Devising clear exit strategies with parties.
Clear timescales set out to include specified number of stand-
alone mentoring/coaching sessions or sessions before a scheduled
Similar timescales to support agreements made
Parties looking at their part in conflict
Mediators found a reluctance, particularly
on the part of the parents to look at their
role in the perpetuating often very
entrenched family reactions to conflict
Additional conflict coaching sessions (4-6 x 90 minute sessions) for
both parents and young people offered prior to mediation to help
parties come to a clearer understanding of the issues around their
conflicts and the part they play in them
Parties finding it difficult to maintain
changes in behaviour or entrenched
Continuation of conflict coaching sessions (up to 6), after
mediation, in order to support parties to maintain changes in
Follow up mediation session timetabled in at the end of first
Managing expectations over length of involvement and devising a
clear exit strategy with parties
“I would like to find a way to contribute or do something in return because
you have been brilliant. I don’t have much money but I could do admin tasks”
Mother of 12 year old boy
Appropriate selection of referrals
Some referrals were too serious and
entrenched for mediation process – e.g.
family violence including assault charges of
violence against mothers, etc.
Shifting from taking all referrals to those where the relationships
are not at the point of crisis – ie leading up to or post relationship
breakdown - see case study. This has a higher chance of lasting
impact and fits better with the organisation’s ethos of ‘conflict
Working to establish/transform good long term relationships,
rather than a short-term emergency fix.
Positioning the service as part of the provision available for
families in breakdown.
Timing of intervention
It became clear that this service was better positioned as part of
an integrated service, than as a single crisis intervention.
Young person participation
Some cases have not proceeded after
referral although parents have wanted to
proceed, as young person did not show up
to arranged meetings
Initial contact arranged by young mediator. Overall the project has
achieved a high level of young person participation, in part due to
the young person being able to relate to the young mediator.
General use of text messaging Warning a young person by text
that they are going to receive a phone call.
Meetings with young person on a more casual footing, where
necessary - typically a cafe where the young person and a young
conflict coach/ mediator chat through what’s in it for them.
Meetings might also take place in the gym or on a walk.
Mediators modeling respectful communication.
It became apparent that some parents
were worried about being blamed for their
Young person’s behaviour while some had
become used to seeing their young person
as the problem and were not planning on
looking at their own part to play in the
Inviting parents to be involved in a service for the young person.
This allowed parents to feel that they were not being blamed for
their young person’s behavior and also gave them the same
conflict resolutions tools to use.
Participation in evaluation process
Conflict is a very sensitive area and parties
were often not willing to participate in
evaluation conversations beyond the
When the contact is made there is a frank discussion about the
parties possible reluctance to ‘dredge up conflict issues and
participate in evaluation in the future and the purpose of
evaluations is explained.
Initial evaluation methods were qualitative
and retrospective and did not provide a
base line evaluation from which to measure
change over time.
Times of conflict can be very sensitive.
Workers and families often didn’t feel it
appropriate to be filling in evaluation forms
Distance travelled questions with 1-5 values used with parties as
part of the initial meetings and the same questions asked at the
end of the process, establishing a clearer measure of changes.
Consideration of how to also capture qualitative/anecdotal data.
Simple questions limited to 3 or 4 in number which could be asked
in a conversation rather than on a form.
Business stand alone potential
The project has received most of its
referrals from local government or
government funded organisations with very
limited current and future budgets. The
service has been offered free of charge as a
pilot it so is difficult to assess take-up once
Developing our marketing in schools and colleges, including
private schools where there may be scope for school/ privately
funded conflict coaching for young people and their families.
Continuing to train young people in the local community as
capacity building in its own right.
Looking at early intervention. Offering a ‘draw down ‘ package to
CAF panels/CYPS whereby they pay for the number of hours used
rather than on case by case basis.
Siu-Ming Hart on behalf of the pilot team
Community Resolve, August 2012