Eldercaring Coordination Settles Family Feuds
A new method of conflict resolution called eldercaring coordination is coming to Michigan – and the method has been highly effective in other states when family conflict takes center stage and caregiving suffers. Eldercaring coordination is a court-ordered dispute resolution process. It addresses abuse and neglect; it helps get elders out of unsafe environments and reduces their risk for abuse and neglect.
Eldercaring coordination is a last resort in the conflict resolution hierarchy which starts with a simple conflict and then escalates to elder mediation. But when issues get so extreme that talking is not effective anymore or when mediation has failed to resolve problems, then eldercaring coordination is used. Under court order, families attend meetings for two years which are frequent at first but less often as the process progresses. During that time, eldercaring coordinators remain available, including when new conflicts arise.
“Eldercaring coordination is different when the conflict, rather than the [care] issues, become the driving force of the family and/or the litigation process,” said Linda Fieldstone, co-chair of the Association for Conflict Resolution Elder Justice Initiative on Eldercaring Coordination. She developed the approach over more than 25 years in the Miami-Dade court system.
Eldercaring coordination is being brought to the Detroit area by the Southeast Michigan Senior Regional Collaborative and the Neighborhood Legal Services’ Great Lakes Mediation Division. In January, the Michigan Health Endowment Fund gave the program a grant. This fall, training on high-conflict issues is to begin for judges, coordinators and others. Full implementation is scheduled for 2022.
Michigan joins six other states that are turning to coordination for high-risk conflicts. Senior Regional Collaborative Program Coordinator Julie Lowenthal said she is excited this program is being introduced here because, it’s “been proven to be very effective. It’s getting the cost away from the legal litigation and helping families be able to solve issues, with resources provided to them as well.”
Eldercaring coordination is a two-year program ordered by a judge after conversation and mediation have failed, the family member is being neglected and/or family members cannot talk to each other.
The first step of eldercaring coordination is an orientation followed by a period of engagement in which coordinators help families plan a course of action, using the tools they have learned. Finally, the family applies the plan that the eldercaring coordinator has put into place.
Eldercaring coordinators help clarify confusion and reduce family stress. They keep the focus on safety, minimizing health risks and improving well-being. Coordinators must be certified. They must have experience working with high-conflict families as well as a master’s degree. In addition, a regulatory board licenses coordinators to ensure they work ethically with families, and coordinators follow Association for Conflict Resolution guidelines.
Fees are set on a sliding scale and are covered by the family as well as by scholarships ordered by the judge.
What are the benefits?
Eldercaring coordination aims to lower stress, foster self-determination, isolate problems and ensure elders’ safety. The process addresses a full range of issues over that two-year timeframe, and the benefits of improved communication alleviate future problems -- even benefitting future generations.
“Eldercaring coordination helps prepare elders and families to work with each other and avoids delays to make better decisions,” Fieldstone said.
What the experts say
Pamela Teasster, director of the Virginia Tech Center of Gerontology, researched the effectiveness of this approach. She found that 100% of the judges she studied who had ordered eldercaring coordination reported that it was effective.
Her research found that 82% of pilot site administrators reported that eldercaring coordination was somewhat effective for families enrolled in the programs.
Lowenthal said, “Eldercaring coordination was recognized by the United Nations as an ‘action to an awareness’ model for the welfare of aging persons.” The UN observes Elder Abuse Day annually. Eldercaring coordination is being considered by other countries, including Australia.
For more information about eldercaring coordination, contact Senior Regional Collaborative Program Coordinator Julie Lowenthal at 888-341-8593 ext. 4, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Information can also be found on the
This story is a project of the Michigan State University School of Journalism and Urban Aging News partnership to introduce students of color to journalism about aging and related issues.