One area where family mediation has been particularly effective is in situations where children are, or are potentially, at risk. In these cases, litigation can be triggered between parents or guardians and government case workers acting under the authority of child protection legislation.
Whether or not a child is a "child in need of protection" is a factual determination only a court can make and is not something that can be negotiated. However, almost every other aspect of a child protection situation can potentially be resolved using mediation.
For example, disputes about plans of care, services to parents or guardians, placements, services to the child, visits and so on, can all be addressed through mediation.
While the court has a duty to approve and supervise any agreements reached once a court process has begun, Child Protection Mediation can reduce the numbers of cases going through the courts (through pre-application agreements) and - for cases moving through the courts - considerably reduce the amount of court time taken up with managing highly-volatile and contested issues. Mediation used appropriately in these cases has the potential to shift the parties quickly from intensely adversarial roles to more collaborative, problem-solving roles. This is very helpful in laying the ground for a successful, efficient and long lasting resolution of perceived risk concerns.
Child Protection Mediation and its close cousin, Family Group Conferencing, are forms of dispute resolution that require, in addition to strong mediation ability, a high degree of specialized skill and knowledge on the part of the mediator. Delivery models and approaches differ across the country. The implementation of these types of dispute resolution mechanisms nationally is patchy.
FMC supports the greater understanding and use of Child Protection Mediation and Family Group Conferencing and will be exploring ways to encourage the use of these alternate dispute resolution techniques nationally.