Mediation conference: conflict management with young people

Report from the Partners Hungary Foundation Mediation Centre Conference on 27 October 2015 On 27 October 2015, we held our third mediation conference this year, focusing on minors and children. This time, we wanted to find out what the profession thinks about the involvement of children in mediation and what experiences mediators have had in mediating with minors. The event, compared to previous ones, set a record [...]

Report on the Partners Hungary Foundation Mediation Centre Conference on 27 October 2015 

On 27 October we held our third mediation conference this year, focusing on minors and children. This time, we wanted to know what the profession thinks about the involvement of children in mediation and what experiences mediators have had in mediating with minors. The event had a record number of participants compared to previous ones: 77.

Five presentations were given on the topic of mediation with children and young people.

  • Erika Pehr is a lawyer,
  • Zsuzsa Lovas Psychologist,
  • Erika Magyar,
  • Barbara Busai
  • Julia Horváth

mediators shared their valuable experiences with the participants. On request, the presenters worked on concrete cases, and we also had the opportunity to see a live case simulation led by mediators Erika Magyar and Róbert Póli Magyar, where the audience could stop the situation and decide together how and with what mediation tools to continue the process, using the tools of forum theatre. Following the presentations, a small group dialogue panel allowed for a professional exchange of views.

Read the full report of the conference here.


Dr. Erika Katonáné Pehr, associate professor at the PTE ÁJK, specialises in law, but mediation is his passion, he has been working on the topic for a long time. He considers it important that parents can get help to find a solution that is satisfactory for the child. Direct or indirect participation in mediation can provide information to help formulate a common interest. In addition, he stressed that, although in the case of divorce, if there is joint custody, there should not be a provision for contact, he believes that it should be necessary. The court may order mediation to ensure parental rights and to establish cooperation. There are child protection and supported mediation procedures (held by a mediator employed by TEGYESZ), the court can order both.

An important change is that from 2016 the child welfare service and the family support service will work together in one organisation. The service will be expanded, e.g. family therapy will be available in the centres. At the end of her presentation, she stressed that although mediation is not a therapy, mediators need a psychological background because divorce is a trauma that children often cannot fully recover from into adulthood.


Zsuzsa Lovas, a psychologist, mediator and head of the Lege Artis Mediation and Counselling Centre, presented a school mediation case. The mediator was approached by a parent. The conflict was manifested in a lot of absenteeism on the part of the students, unauthorised lessons, or when they were in class they did not communicate with the teacher.

The mediator first went to a class teacher's lesson to have a preparatory discussion with the class, during which he asked the students what the problem was. The students, who were considered passive by the teachers, soon relaxed and said that they were indeed missing a lot, but mainly because the teachers did not appreciate their efforts, they were booked as a bad class. They willingly agreed to mediation, for which they chose five of their own representatives. The teachers were also open, and those who either considered the class to be very problematic or were on the other side of the argument that there was no problem were included in the mediation. Teachers identified distrust of students, lack of initiative, lack of means to deal with absences as themes, and lack of communication and failure on the part of students. The teachers' need was for more attention and communication, and the students' need was also for more attention, praise and for teachers to be able to raise their interest in the subject.

No agreement was reached in the case, but the fact that mediation took place is a very important step forward. In the long term, the positive effect of mediation is that we are able to face up to our conflicts and learn to communicate with our partners.

Dr Erika Magyar a mediator, a lawyer by training and experience as a probation officer. In his recent presentation, he talked about the conciliation circle method, which he uses as an alternative to mediation in criminal cases. In a conciliation circle, the participants solve their problems, the facilitator does not give advice, but the principle is that the persons involved in the case can make a major contribution to the resolution of the conflict. The facilitator will approach the participants in advance to explain how the discussion will take place, so that the participants can concentrate fully on the process during the peace circle. One tool in the process is the talking object, a symbolic object that draws attention to an important aspect of the conflict (e.g. the peace pipe for Indians, but also a Pinocchio figurine or a Prince Charming doll for children). The person with the object has the floor, so that participants do not interrupt each other or jump between topics. The reconciliation circle is characterised by a fourfold structure: opening ceremony - prioritisation and unpacking of issues - exploration of needs - closing circle.

The specific case presented by Erika Magyar was a vandalism of a playground, which the municipality was fed up with and filed a complaint. The perpetrators included both juvenile and child offenders. Minors are not punishable, but juveniles go through a very long process in criminal proceedings (court, prosecution, probation). This was tried to be avoided by the use of a conciliation circle instead of mediation, in which parents were involved. The session required a lot of preparation to ensure that the child participants were not harmed in the process. However, Erika Magyar says that their participation was very important, as she has found that the younger the child, the sooner he or she has access to his or her own experiences. The most prominent theme brought in by the perpetrators was responsibility, which is crucial because otherwise it would not have been perceived by the children, who are under the age of criminal responsibility. Their feedback was that the biggest takeaway from the meeting was that they knew how much they had disappointed their parents and how good it was that they had the opportunity to talk it out and make amends.


Barbara Busai mediator, discussed the specialities of mediation with adolescents. She said that she likes to deal with adolescence because it is a very crucial period in life (also called the second birth in psychology) and because she has heard from experienced mediators that those who mediate well with adolescents can cope with any situation. He has a lot of background information from books on family therapy and psychology (details in the full presentation), because although mediation is not therapy, this information is very helpful in situational awareness. It is a huge challenge to treat the adolescent as a partner, there is no single recipe for this, there are only individual solutions. However, it is very important how we phrase things during the sessions, to really find a way during a mediation session to the adolescent partner to make him feel like an equal. Also, it can be a challenge for the mediator to maintain impartiality. There is a very strong risk of involvement because of the easy access to one's own experiences, so very strong internal supervision and self-awareness is required. Barbara Busai mentioned an example where one mediator introduced a form of quality assurance whereby if a dialogue or agreement could not be initiated, he would provide another opportunity free of charge - thus providing self-motivation. The issue of likeability and self-acceptance is very strong in mediation with adolescents. It is also a common experience that adolescents are difficult to involve in the process. For this, the following methodological tools from the toolbox of Ferenc Kardos are recommended:

  • At the end of each content unit, the adolescent should summarise, so that you can see where you are in the process.
  • Normalization: the mediator acknowledges negative emotions and declares them "normal" and understandable, which helps to maintain focus and also conveys empathy.
  • If you have a separate discussion, don't send the weaker communicator out first.
  • It may be helpful if the mediator expresses appreciation for the efforts of the parties in the process.


Julia Horváth an organizational psychologist, mediator and former Partners Hungary Foundation intern, is participating in mediation work at the University of New Mexico for the second time. She registered for our event via Skype. By 1995, thousands of peer mediators had been trained because previous initiatives to address school aggression had not been effective.

Dialogue panel

The presentations were followed by a dialogue panel with small group discussions around the following questions:

  • As there is no standard professional protocol on the involvement of children in mediation in Hungary, how do we involve children in mediation - what are the conditions for involving children?
  • What age specificities should be taken into account and what differences should be prepared for?
  • How to protect children in mediation and beyond?

The results of the discussions with the facilitators have already been discussed in plenary. There was a consensus among the small groups that the child should not be involved in all cases, this is at the discretion of the facilitator. When discussing the possibilities of involvement, it is important to assess the child's state of mind, so as not to traumatise or hurt them more; whether involvement would help or hinder the process; whether to sit with the parents or separately (the latter requires the parent's consent, of course). In some countries, it is the practice either to have the child interviewed by a professional with a social or psychological qualification or to have the interview with a separate child interviewer in a physical setting appropriate to the child's age (or, in England for example, in the child's home). Participants also agreed that if the child is involved in mediation, it may be indirect (e.g. the mediator is informed of issues concerning the child through the parent). Age of involvement was considered appropriate for some participants, but it was agreed that the maturity of the child is a more important consideration than age. A key point raised was that, in order to protect the child, the process should not place the child in a decision-making situation that would place an additional burden on the child in this already very vulnerable state. The idea of child-centred mediation was also raised in several places, with the question of whether and how the mediator could represent the interests of the child and whether his or her impartiality would be compromised.


Case simulation

Experienced mediators Erika Magyar and Róbert Póli worked on a real case in which the central conflict was the relationship with the mother of a 14-year-old adolescent child. The conflict was played by Partners' staff. During the exercise, it was clear that although the situation was simulated, the conflict was real. Thanks to the tools of the forum theatre, the conference participants were able to pause the situation to decide which questions and methodological tools the mediator should continue with. Although the exercise lasted only 45 minutes, so there was no way to resolve the conflict, there was a meaningful change in the communication between the parties.

A very meaningful day, thank you to our participants! For more mediation events and news, follow us on the Partners Hungary Foundation Facebook page!

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