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How mediation services can combat family breakdown

21 October 2015

Family breakdown is one of the main reasons many young people in the UK find themselves homeless. One of our funded projects, the Swale Mediation Service works with young people and their families to help them resolve issues that might put the young person at risk.

Swale Mediation Service's logoThe Swale Mediation Service  in Kent is one of our ‘Awards for All’, small grants. With grants from £300 to £10,000, our Awards for All and Reaching Communities funding have supported 8,249 projects in communities across England with funding of over £251.5 million. It supports young people and their families who are experiencing conflict or relationship problems, offering the young person a safe space to be heard.

Donna Akhurst, a mediation case manager at the Swale Mediation Service, explains:

“I have seen many cases where family breakdown has led to a young person becoming at risk of homelessness. In my experience there are number of different reasons that this could happen – for example, there could be issues involving a step-parent, or maybe disagreements regarding  boundaries which put a strain on relationships, or maybe the conflict got too much and resulted in the young person choosing to leave the family home. We work with young people in many different circumstances, providing them with a judgment-free environment as we help and support them to resolve any issues.

“The mediation sessions we provide give the young person the opportunity to have a voice and to feel listened to in a calm environment. We also give them time for a one-to-one session so they can talk about and acknowledge how the conflict has affected them. Ultimately, we are led by the young person – they decide who is involved in the mediation and what the next steps are. We don’t make suggestions or offer them advice, we help them to explore possible solutions which will help them improve their relationships and move towards a positive future.”

The Swale Mediation Service often works with young people that have been referred from other agencies; the local authority, schools, police or organisations that work with young homeless people.

Stephen’s story

Thirteen year old Stephen (not his real name) had not been able to return home because of arguments and the breakdown of his relationship with a parent and step-parent. He was temporarily living with friends when his secondary school referred him to the Swale Mediation Service. After several meetings with the young person and his parents, their contact was increased, boundaries and expectations were discussed and eventually Stephen could return home full-time.

Mediation word map on a flip chartDonna added: “With our team of volunteers we are able to run regular sessions to help bring young people and their families together. Every case is very different but we always focus on encouraging and promoting discussion, looking at one issue at a time in a safe environment to enable a positive discussion to keep moving forward.”

Projects such as the Swale Mediation Service show that there are steps that can be taken to prevent family issues from escalating. These issues can lead to a serious breakdown in a relationship, where someone has to leave their family home. Swale Mediation Service also shows the value and impact that our smaller grants can have; that even smaller amounts of funding are used to tackle fundamental issues; and how small, local and personal services can tackle big issues that have a profound effect on individuals in our communities.

The Swale Mediation Service also takes self-referrals from people in north Kent, and can be contacted on 01795 473828 or via e-mail at

Check out our series of blogs on the causes and solutions for young people becoming homeless.

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