Legal Affairs: Resolution Services Center director suggests mediation for Child Welfare Law cases

By Roberta Gubbins

Legal News

Linda Glover, executive director of Resolution Services Center, recently encouraged the members of the Ingham County Bar Association Child Welfare Law Section to consider mediation as a tool for resolution of issues that arise in Child Welfare cases.

The present system of conflict resolution used in abuse and neglect cases does "not allow for a free exchange of information," she said.

"The mediation model creates a scenario where all the parties come to the table, everyone hears each person's message directly. Because there is a neutral facilitator who does not make a decision, the parties are not arguing for decision maker approval. It takes time to accomplish, however, it saves time in the long run. Ultimately, the court has to approve the final decision.

"Mediation is never used to investigate abuse and neglect allegations," Glover emphasized.

"Permanency Planning Mediation," she said, "may be used at any stage while the case is in court." Some of the issues that can be resolved through mediation are:

* Development of a service plan or parent/agency agreement.

* Settlement of child placement disputes.

* Wording of petition.

* Visitation plans.

* Permanency options.

* Communication difficulties.

"With mediation, people stop demonizing each other," she said. "People come to a solution that really is in the child's best interests."

Participants in the mediation include the parents, attorneys for the parents, lawyer/ guardian ad litem, case-workers and may include children, foster parents, prosecution, other service providers, court appointed special advocate (CASA) or support persons.

An evaluation of the mediation process was conducted by Michigan State University, which found that 90% of the attorneys would recommend mediation to others, the mediated cases were resolved in 17 months as compared to 29.5 months for the others, and all groups reported strong satisfaction with the process.

Generally, the mediation process needs to be ordered by the court, Glover said, to get everyone around the table.

"It doesn't always need a court order if all the parties agree, understanding that a court still needs to place the final order." Glover volunteered to "take on some of these mediations pro bono since there is no funding now. If it works, we would look for a funding source."

The Resolution Services Center, located in Lansing, helps individuals, businesses and organizations resolve conflict through:

* Mediation: Trained, experienced mediators help parties define issues, generate options and reach a mutually acceptable agreement.

* Facilitation: A more informal process than mediation, facilitation is used in multiple party situations. A neutral facilitator helps the parties discuss issues and develop a plan of action.

* Restorative Practices: Based on principles of restorative justice, conferencing and peace circles in area schools are used to resolve peer conflicts and reduce the number of days youth are suspended from school.

For additional information, visit the website at www.rsccm.org or call (517) 485-2274.

Published: Wed, Mar 16, 2011

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