So, you have completed all of your mediation training courses and want to build a practice as a recognized professional in family mediation. What are the requirements for practical experience? What does it cost? Where do you find experiential learning opportunities? Many who recently completed foundational mediation training have found that internship opportunities are difficult to come by, and the pandemic exacerbated this challenge by reducing the demand for court-connected services through the spring and summer. But change may lead to innovation and the dramatic shift from in person to online mediation, has the potential to create more internship opportunities going forward.

Are you an established Family Mediator finding the online world to be challenging and the technical issues daunting? Could you use some help navigating and maximizing the use of Zoom or other online platforms? Maybe both you and your clients would benefit from another set of eyes on the screen and ears tuned to the speakers. The potential advantages of sharing your knowledge and experience with an intern and contributing to our profession have never been greater.

The Elusive 100 Hours

To meet the professional standards required by the Ministry of the Attorney General (MAG) candidates for professional designations must obtain a total of 100 hours of supervised practical experience as well as mediating 5 cases from start to finish. The requirements differ somewhat between FDRIO, OAFM, FMC and ADRIO, so candidates should review the specific requirements for certification or accreditation by the various organizations (see links below).1

The internship experience typically progresses through observation, co-mediation, mediation and drafting documents. Anecdotal reports suggest that it may take 6 to 18 months for active interns to complete their 100 hours. But the duration of your internship often depends on your availability. Candidates who have more flexibility to leave their “day job”, may be able to more easily take advantage of opportunities to participate as they come up. However, as more mediation moves online and the need for parties to travel diminishes, the ability for candidates and supervisors to attend joint sessions may improve significantly. 

Court Connected Options

There is more than one way to accumulate the necessary experience for accreditation, but for many the preferred option is to work with a court-connected mediation program. MAG has contracted with organizations across the province like mediate393 (Toronto), Peel Family Mediation Services (Peel), and AXIS Family Mediation (Hamilton) to provide onsite and offsite mediation services. Prospective interns can find the full list of court-connected service providers on the MAG website.2 Candidates should contact the service providers in their area to determine whether they have an internship program, and how to apply for a placement. Be sure to enquire about family mediation opportunities as some organizations, for example, Durham Mediation Centre, offer community mediation as well. 

The court-connected experience offers candidates the opportunity to observe and be supervised by a number of different mediators, exposing them to different styles and approaches to dispute resolution. The volume of cases has traditionally been high, allowing interns to be involved in numerous cases from start to finish. Onsite sessions tend to be brief and focused, serving the unique needs of the court. Offsite mediations are more similar to private services but may be limited to a specific number of hours of mediation. 

One former PFMS intern told me that she appreciated the well-established procedures that were in place, because they provided her with a process that she was able to replicate as she progressed through training. The court-connected programs typically only have the capacity to supervise a small number of interns. Even in large centers like Toronto and Peel, service providers typically can accommodate 4 to 6 trainees at a time. In addition, And as a result of the pandemic, wait lists for placements have grown significantly.

Practicum Programs

Practicum programs are a relatively new option for candidates seeking certification. A change to the Employment Standards Act prohibits organizations from using unpaid interns to provide service to clients unless the work is connected to an approved education program. This change impacted the format of some of the traditional internship programs. To fill the gap, several organizations, including FDRIO, are offering practicum programs to provide another avenue for interns to gain experience toward certification. The programs vary in length, offering opportunities from 20 hours to the full 100 hours of experience, and some mediated cases as well. The programs provide training, coaching, observation, and supervision. The FDRIO program is being offered online this November and for $450 over the course of 3 days participants will gain 25 hours of observation and participation, and up to 2 mediated cases in a simulated environment. One participant found the program to be excellent, providing small group experiential learning, and insightful, comprehensive feedback. The observation component, although simulated, provided valuable insights into the process. There are other practicum programs available that stretch over several months which meet all of the requirements for accreditation.  Google “mediation practicum” for information on programs in your area.

Private Mediation Internship Opportunities

If you are not able to obtain one of the court-connected placements, there are professionals who have established internship programs for 1 or 2 trainees within their private practice.  When I reached out to some of these potential supervisors, I found that many were not engaging interns over the summer, but were planning to this fall. Now would be a good time to reach out to the community to see who might be open to providing you with a training opportunity.

Mediators who have never worked with an intern may not appreciate the value provided by having a trainee. Supervisors that I spoke to said that interns often assist with note taking, communication with the parties, and can provide a second neutral opinion on the issues at hand. Once a relationship is established between the supervisor and intern, they are able to participate more fully in the process. Explaining the mediation process to someone who is learning is a great opportunity for mediators to reflect on their own practices and be intentional in their use of new techniques with clients.

Interns should also be intentional in their approach to potential supervisors; know what sorts of cases you want to observe and the type of experience you are looking for. Some former interns suggest that when looking for a supervisor, candidates should try to target accredited professionals with similar backgrounds to their own, i.e. a supervisor with a mental health practice might prefer to work with an intern who has experience in mental health. Alternatively, if you are already a family professional, you may want to intern with a provider from a different discipline to gain exposure to more varied styles and approaches. 

Creative Approaches

Although some senior mediators that I spoke with provide supervision at no charge, most appropriately put a value on their time and for 100 hours of supervision fees appear to fall in the range of $2,500 to $3,000, including the court connected programs. Candidates might try to obtain supervision agreements with more than one mediator, i.e. if you are able to find 3 supervisors, you might agree to pay each supervisor $1,000 for 34 hours each. The OAFM’s Supervised Practical Experience Policy (SPEP) can be found on their website and includes a sample Experience Agreement.3

If you already have your own family services practice, you might begin your internship observing and participating in mediations with your supervisor’s clients. However, once you begin offering services within your own practice, you will be able to bill your clients and still benefit from your supervisor’s review and guidance.

Supervisor Standards

Be sure to canvas your network for recommendations on mediators known to be good supervisors. Accredited mediators in private practice may offer internships or may offer the opportunity for interns to observe or co-mediate, including online. The OAFM requires that a supervisor be an experienced Accredited Family Mediator in good standing who has confirmed with the OAFM that they will follow the SPEP. FDRIO requires supervisors to be Accredited or Certified for at least 5 years prior to supervision and warrant that they have mediated an average of at least 10 cases per year over those years. 

Despite the variety of programs and experiential options available, some candidates may still find it challenging to fulfill the requirements for certification. But after completing your training and gaining the necessary experience you should be confident in your ability to effectively assist clients through the challenges of a family breakdown. As a family mediator you will be in a position to impact individuals and families in potentially profound ways. The high standards that are demanded by the profession are appropriate and necessary to ensure that every client receives nothing short of the best help available. An effective internship or practicum experience will ensure you meet that standard.

  1. https://www.oafm.on.ca/family-mediation/becoming-an-accredited-family-mediator/
  2. https://fdrio.ca/mediation/family-mediation-designation-guidelines/
  3. https://adr-ontario.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/CertFMedCriteriaDec102014.pdf
  4. https://www.fmc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/FMC-Certification-Brochure-2019.pdf
  5. https://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/family/service_provider_by_family_court_location.php
  6. https://www.oafm.on.ca/supervised-practical-experience-policy-spep/

Sylvia Basso was called to the Bar in 2019 and is a lawyer with Galbraith Family Law in Toronto and Newmarket. Sylvia came to law as a second career with many years of experience in human resources and labour relations, and holds a J.D. from Osgoode Hall Law School and a B.B.A. from Wilfrid Laurier University. She has completed her mediation and collaborative practice training and is actively looking for internship/practicum opportunities.

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