This evaluation looked at three areas: program performance, program process, and stakeholder assessment of mediation and understanding of its role and function within the child protection system. The study included data from 164 cases referred to mediation, as well as interviews of mediation participants, judges, attorneys and program staff. Participants, particularly family members, have very positive reactions to the program. However, very few are given the opportunity to experience it. Judges and hearing officers see the value in the program, but do not often make referrals to it. The majority of judges and attorneys interviewed believed mediation could occur early on, but almost always referred cases to the program after the disposition hearing (generally two years after the children were brought into the system). This is the paradox of the program. It works well, is well-regarded by almost everyone, and the participant families find it to be a rewarding experience, but it is underutilized.
The author is an RSI staff member.
Description of Study: Examination of process and outcomes of a single site program, including participant experience and stakeholder views of the program.
Method: Examined mediator reports. Questionnaires provided to all participants at the end of the mediation. Interviews conducted of sample of all stakeholder groups (judges, attorneys, child welfare workers, family members).
Variables Examined: Participant experience with the mediation, settlement rates
Program Variables: Court-ordered program that in practice allowed for opt-out. 2/3 of cases were mediated between adjudication and termination of parental rights. 53% of mediations were referred by judges; 15% by the child’s attorney. Average time in mediation was 2 hours 14 minutes. Mediators were county staff with at least 40 hours of mediation training, and mediations were conducted in the same building as the courtrooms. Program was 3 years old at the time of the study.
Findings: Full or partial agreement was reached in 74% of cases. Settlement was most likely for issues of services, visitation and communication. 1/3 of professionals believed that participating in mediation would reduce their time spent on the case; 50% said it would have no effect. 75% of professionals said that mediation would help the case move forward.
86% of family members were satisfied with how the mediation was handled. 93% of professionals who participated in mediation and responded to the questionnaire were satisfied with how the mediation was handled. 87% of family members believed they had more chance to express their point of view than in other forums. 92% felt they had an equal chance to talk. 95% and 83% felt they were treated with respect by mediators and others at the mediation, respectively. 99% and 94% of professionals, respectively, felt the mediators and others treated them with respect.