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Just Court ADR

The blog of Resolution Systems Institute

Happy Resolution Systems Institute Day!

Nicole Wilmet, July 11th, 2019

Today we are celebrating Resolution Systems Institute Day!

On this day last year, during our summer staff gathering in Rockford, Matthew Flores presented RSI’s Executive Director Susan Yates with a Proclamation signed by the City of Rockford Mayor Thomas McNamara declaring July 11, 2018 as Resolution Systems Institute Day!

In 2013, RSI received a grant from the Illinois Attorney General to incubate foreclosure mediation in Illinois through August 31, 2018. Over the course of five years, these programs served nearly 5,000 homeowners, and kept 1,100 people in their homes. In 2018, RSI’s Director of Research Jennifer Shack completed her final evaluation of the programs, which you can read here. RSI is pleased to have had the opportunity to work with the 17th Judicial Circuit and thanks Mayor McNamara for making July 11th a day we will always remember!

Matthew Flores, Assistant City Attorney for the City of Rockford, presents Susan Yates, RSI’s Executive Director, with a proclamation declaring July 11, 2018 as Resolution Systems Institute Day!

My Favorite Resource Featuring Sharon Sturges

Nicole Wilmet, July 2nd, 2019

Our series My Favorite Resource, features interviews with our ADR friends across the country to learn about their favorite ADR resources. This month, Resource Center Director Nicole Wilmet spoke with Sharon Sturges, Director of the Colorado Judicial Branch Office of Dispute Resolution, to learn about her favorite resource.

NW: What is one of your favorite ADR resources?

SS:   As the administrator of a statewide court ADR program, my favorite resource is the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) website and publications.  NCSC is a trusted go-to resource for all things state courts. Lately, I have been immersed in such far-ranging topics as user-centered design, behavioral nudging, and online dispute resolution. I can always count on NCSC for already having looked at these topics, which they have!

NW: Why do you value this particular resource?

SS: No other institution understands state courts and emerging topics as well as the NCSC with its vast network of experts on such a wide range of topics facing state courts today. If they do not know about a topic, the NCSC is wonderful at finding an expert who can help with whatever challenges I face as an ADR administrator. NCSC publications are first rate and provide me with information on what other states, institutions, and researchers are up to. Also, they are accessible!

NW: How did you first learn about this resource?

SS: When developing my Masters in Public Administration Capstone project.

NW: For those unfamiliar with this resource, what is one part of this resource you wouldn’t want someone to miss?

SS:  Any conference sponsored by NCSC, they are quality events!

If you have a favorite resource you would like to share in an upcoming edition of our newsletter and on our blog, please reach out to our Resource Center Director Nicole Wilmet at nwilmet@aboutrsi.org!

Participants Are Highly Satisfied with Nevada’s Child Protection Mediation Program

Jennifer Shack, July 1st, 2019

Last month, I talked about a new evaluation of child protection mediation in Michigan. I’m following this up with a 2017 evaluation of child protection mediation in Nevada. Both evaluations were of several programs taking place throughout the respective states, but their focuses are quite different. Where the Michigan study primarily examined time to permanency, the Nevada study focused much more on participant experience in the mediation and process issues.

The Nevada study, “Process Evaluation of Nevada’s Statewide Dependency Mediation Program,” by Shamini Ganasarajah, et al, of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, found high levels of satisfaction with mediation and agreement, as well as a possible impact on whether scheduled hearings after mediation were cancelled. The study also found that there was no difference in satisfaction rate based on the stage at which mediation occurred, but that satisfaction was higher when mediation resulted in agreement as compared to when it did not.

The study looked at mediation in seven counties. In these counties, mediation can be used at any point of the case. However, most cases used the mediation program at the termination of parental rights (TPR) stage, which is at the end of the case. (This finding regarding the timing of mediation is skewed somewhat by one county using mediation almost exclusively at the TPR stage.) Time in mediation averaged two hours.

Those who participated in mediation were asked to complete post-mediation surveys. For the purposes of this study, these people were divided into program participants (these are natural parents and foster parents) and system stakeholders (the attorneys and case workers involved in the case). During the study period (July 2016 through April 2017), participants completed 113 post-mediation surveys and stakeholders completed 267. In their responses, 84% of the participants and 98% of the stakeholders expressed satisfaction with the mediation program. Their satisfaction was statistically related to whether they reached agreement in the mediation.

The participants (family members) were highly positive about all aspects of the mediation. All of them thought the process was fair. Almost all said they were able to voice their opinions, were treated with respect and were able to be a part of finding answers to the problems discussed. Almost 90% said the others really listened to them. For all practical purposes, these responses did not vary based on whether they were foster parents, natural mothers or natural fathers.

The evaluators analyzed whether there was a relationship among the participants’ responses. One that stood out was that when participants believed others in the mediation had “really listened” to what they had to say, they were more likely to express satisfaction with the mediation regardless of whether an agreement was reached.

The stakeholders (attorneys and caseworkers) were also highly positive about the mediation, with all or almost all believing the process was fair, that they had an opportunity to express their opinion, were treated with respect, were listened to and were able to be a part of finding answers to the problems discussed.

Interestingly, both participants and stakeholders were most likely to mention communication as what was most helpful about the mediation. Both groups were also most likely to say that parties being unable or unwilling to compromise was the reason no agreement was reached.

Also interesting was that the mediators reported agreements in 84% of cases, while the stakeholders reported that agreement resulted from only 71% of their mediations. There is no explanation as to why. The study also found that hearings were cancelled after 51% of the mediations were held. The evaluators recommended further examination of the relationship between mediation and vacated hearings.

Other recommendations included expanding the use of mediation to all stages of the case, as most mediations occurred at the TPR stage; assessing implementation of domestic violence screening protocols; and enhancing mediator training to include additional strategies for effectively listening to participants and stakeholders and making them feel heard.

New Mexico Launches Nine ODR Pilot Programs

Nicole Wilmet, June 28th, 2019

On June 3, 2019, the Supreme Court of New Mexico announced the approval of nine new online dispute resolution (ODR) pilot programs to resolve debt and money due cases. The programs will run until June 30, 2020 and will operate in New Mexico’s Second, Sixth, and Ninth Judicial District Courts, Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court, and five Magistrate Courts in Curry County, Grant County, Hidalgo County, Luna County, and Roosevelt County. The Administrative Office of the Courts will be overseeing the pilot project and will appoint and certify mediators to serve in each of the programs. The courts will be using Tyler Technologies’ Modria® software for each of the programs.

Referral to the pilot programs will be mandatory for all applicable debt and money due cases. If the parties enter into a settlement agreement through the pilot program, then their agreement will be put into writing, signed and filed with  the court using the Modria software. In the event the parties do not reach a settlement agreement within thirty days, then the court may either grant an extension to continue the parties’ use of ODR or schedule a date for trial or other hearing. The Supreme Court of New Mexico will be using these nine pilot programs to consider expanding the ODR program to courts statewide.

Facilitating Earlier Intervention in Child Protection Mediation

Eric Slepak-Cherney, June 27th, 2019

Since 2017, RSI has been mediating cases involving families in the child welfare system in Kane County, Illinois. In these mediation sessions we focus on the dynamics within the family, such as communication between family members and how their relationships with one another impact the children. Our roster of volunteer mediators also address issues involving family members and the professional stakeholders, such as the Department of Child and Family Services caseworkers, guardians ad litem, and attorneys; for instance, we assist parties in clarifying what services family members should be receiving and the logistics therein.

Many of these cases, unfortunately, linger in the child welfare system for a long time. There is robust evidence suggesting that children experience more adverse effects the longer they are in foster care, or without permanency (finding these children a stable, long-term home and support). Another unfortunate outcome of cases lingering in the system is that as cases languish without resolution, the parties often become disillusioned. When these sorts of cases are referred into mediation the neutrals often find themselves with a nearly insurmountable challenge: finding common ground between parties who have years of negative interactions between them.

One way our program is trying to combat this problem is by intervening at an earlier stage in the court case, in what will be called “facilitation” sessions. Modeled off similar sessions we observed in Cook County, Illinois, our goal for these facilitations is to help better orient the family to what they can expect from the court process as well as to build rapport between family members and professionals. The role of the mediators in these sessions is still to facilitate a conversation, but one that is centered less on exploring a potential agreement and more on the exchange of information and answering questions. This seemingly simple objective has the potential to prevent major conflict down the line by providing clarity about the Child Protection process and establishing positive relationships early on.

We are still finalizing details about what exactly these sessions will look like, but we expect them to take place very soon after the children have been removed from the home. One challenge this presents is helping family members navigate the shock and raw emotions of this experience, and presenting information in a way that can be absorbed in spite of the overwhelming circumstances they face. We’re also mindful after having evaluated the DC Child Protection Mediation program that conducting a mediation session too early can run the risk of duplicating the family team meeting, which is why we want to have a clear purpose for facilitation and distinguish it from the mediation sessions we conduct later in the process.

In spite of these potential pitfalls, we are hopeful that the facilitation session will be another powerful tool in navigating these fraught cases. We are operating in a context where, among all states, Illinois ranks last in time to permanency. Everything we can do to help bring the focus on the kids and their needs stands to help ameliorate this unacceptable status quo. We welcome the input of any and all of our colleagues for suggestions on how we can get the most out of these sessions.