Helen Casey, the Trust's longest serving mediator, has decided to retire from mediation after over 30 years working with the Trust. The Trustee's long standing PPC, Jane Bridge, has provided a heartwarming review of the impact Helen has had on the mediation world.
Helen worked as a specialist family law solicitor in Cambridge for nearly 30 years, and always approached her cases from a practical, solution-based point of view, trying to help clients to avoid acrimonious and expensive litigation so far as possible. We were all extremely fortunate when she decided to combine her legal practice with a desire to qualify as a family mediator. Whilst running the Family Law Service at the CAB, and pregnant with her daughter, she undertook mediation training in 1994 and joined what was then The Cambridge Family and Divorce Centre. She worked her way to full accreditation in the late 1990’s, and continued to combine her legal practice with part-time mediation. In addition, she agreed to act as legal consultant to the service throughout her time with us.
Helen spearheaded many ‘firsts’ for the service. She was a pivotal member of the team when it moved premises and changed its name to The Cambridge Family Mediation Service (CFMS) in 2000. Then, in around 2005 she, together with the late Paul Morgan, pioneered through Cambridgeshire County Council the provision of mediation for the parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) who were in dispute with the local authority over the provision of support and resources. On the sudden death of Paul, Helen brought that work to CFMS, and developed it together with the late Bridget Lindley, and also trained other members of the team in SEND mediation. This immensely valuable work continued until 2020 and enriched our skills and experience.
Helen and I led the development at Cambridge County Court of the first At Court Mediation service from 2004 until the arrival of Covid in 2020 largely halted ‘in person’ hearings. She used her long-standing relationships with the local judiciary, solicitors, barristers, CAFCASS officers and court staff to engender confidence in the process. The service helped countless litigants to settle their cases ‘at the doors of the court’, thus reducing further acrimony and cost. In tandem with this, Helen has acted as Chair of the Private Law sub-committee of the Local Family Justice Board for many years – providing a vital link between the mediation service, other legal professionals and the court administration structure. Throughout her career she has carried out numerous presentations and seminars and conducted training courses over topics ranging from the law relating to the division of finances and property on divorce to child law and the ways in which separating parents can best support their children.
Helen was the first of our mediators to train in 2008 with the Children and Family Court Advisory Service (CAFCASS) as a presenter of the Separated Parents Information Programme (better known as SPIP). She cascaded that learning to the rest of the team and we have continued to provide the programme ever since. It has proved to be a wonderful additional resource for separating parents, perfectly complementing the mediation process. The SPIP emphasizes the key message that it is conflict between parents that damages children rather than the separation / divorce process itself. It provides a foundation stone for us to help parents to agree ground-rules that will help them to communicate in a more child-focused and constructive way, thus reducing the conflict experienced by their children.
Our CEO, Mike Mack, arrived In post in the middle of 2019, only to be confronted with the global chaos of Covid-19, and the challenges of converting us more or less overnight from a largely ‘in person’, paper-based workplace into a streamlined electronic, online service. At the same time we merged with the Norfolk Family Mediation Service and then the Peterborough Family Mediation Service to become The Family Mediation Trust. Once again, Helen was at the forefront of the mediation team who worked through the enormous changes we had to get to grips with – a genuinely steep learning curve for all of us in trying to help clients by way of online video meetings rather that in person in the office. Helen could always be counted on to be open about the difficulties of the new technology and the first to admit when she needed help and instruction. This was hugely reassuring, particularly for our newer mediators – to know that no matter how experienced you may be, it’s fine to ask for assistance! Indeed, Helen has mentored many of our trainee mediators over the years, co-working cases and helping them to build confidence by a combination of observing how she manages difficult client interactions, giving them the opportunity gradually to increase their own participation, and encouraging them to develop their own skills and strategies.
On a personal note, I have had the immense pleasure and privilege of being not only Helen’s mediation colleague for the last 20 years but also her supervisor for much of that time. I can truly say that it has been a real joy to work with her in every possible way and I will miss her for many reasons - her infectious sense of humour, her modest and self-effacing personality, her downright common sense and last but not least her vast legal experience and practical solution-based approach to helping separating families. These are things to treasure, and she can rest easy in her well-deserved retirement, knowing that she has been responsible for helping in a humane and empathetic way hundreds, if not thousands, of clients and children though the most difficult of times.
Mediator and Professional Practice Consultant
The Family Mediation Trust