Child protection mediation has been shown in a number of studies to have a positive impact on families, the court and, most importantly, the children. Now one more study adds to the evidence for this. At the request of Judge Patricia Martin, the Presiding Judge of the Child Protection Division, RSI undertook an evaluation of the Cook County Circuit Court Child Protection Mediation Program. The study, which we just published, looked at three areas: program performance, program process and stakeholder understanding and assessment of mediation and 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, had very positive reactions to the program. However, very few were given the opportunity to experience it. Judges and hearing officers saw the value in the program, but did 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 was the paradox discovered by the study. It worked well, was well-regarded by almost everyone, and the participant families found it to be a rewarding experience, but it was underutilized.
In part in recognition of this, Judge Martin expanded the program in the beginning of 2010 to be mandatory soon after the temporary custody hearing, or, for cases in which the children are to remain with their family, soon after intake. This has not only greatly increased the number of families who benefit from mediation, but also provides that benefit early on.
The study also indicated that mediation was effective at all stages of the mediation and resolved a variety of issues. This coincides with other studies (seen here), which have found that mediation is effective at resolving issues from intake through the termination of parental rights, including finding family to care for the children, identifying appropriate services for the parents and children early on, and making natural parents more comfortable with the adoptive parents and the loss of parental rights.
While conducting the evaluation, I was impressed by the program’s willingness to be evaluated, and to accept all findings, whether they were good or bad, and to use the findings from the evaluation to make changes to improve the provision of services. It was a model of what a program should do, and how it should react to an evaluation.