In Washington, D.C., child protection mediation is mandatory at the outset of a case. Natural parents, their attorneys, a government attorney, the children’s attorney and the social worker meet with the goals of making progress on the legal issues in the case, services for the parents and children, and visitation. This evaluation looks at outcomes of mediation, the larger impact of participating in mediation on the case, and the program process. Evaluators collected information through focus groups of the professionals who participated in mediation and mediators, interviews with parents and judges, mediation observations, and examination of court and program data from two time periods: all cases filed in 2013-2014, and cases mediated from April through October 2017.
The results of the evaluation show that parents who mediated in 2013-2014 were twice as likely to stipulate before trial as those who did not mediate. Further, it is likely that they were more compliant with services, although limitations to the data make it impossible to state this with certainty. Limitations to the data also made it difficult to draw conclusions about mediation’s effect on time to permanency. The evidence, however, points to mediation not having an effect on the time it takes for a child to have a permanent home.
Other results were that approximately half of the mediations in 2017 ended with some progress on the legal issues in the case and at least half ended with progress on services or visitation. Further, both parents and professionals gained understanding through mediation. Almost all parents who completed surveys said they better understood the points of view of the others at the mediation, as well as what they had to do next. The vast majority of professional participants who completed surveys believed that they gained understanding of others’ points of view and the parents’ situations. Almost three quarters of parents trusted that those involved in their case wanted to do what was best for their children.
More than three quarters of the parents were satisfied with the mediation and 83% believed it was helpful to them. Both parents and professionals believed they had an opportunity to talk about what was most important to them and that they were understood. Most parents believed the mediator and, more importantly, the professionals, treated them fairly and with respect. All professionals believed that the mediator treated them fairly and with respect.
Despite the success the program has in achieving its goals, the evaluation noted areas in which the program could be improved. It found that timing of mediation was either too early or too late in 1/3 of cases. It also found that only 20% of mediations started on time, with the most common cause of delay being the later arrival of a participant. The evaluation also uncovered the need for ongoing training and education of both the professionals who participate in mediation and the mediators.
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