The Michigan State Court Administrative Office recently released its report on child protection mediation (CPM) in the state. In Michigan, CPM is conducted by community mediation centers associated with the courts. The study looked at CPM at five of these centers, which collectively provide services for 24 counties. It focused on descriptive statistics, participant and stakeholder perspectives, and time to permanency. The report found that CPM participants have positive perspectives on the process, that stakeholders are largely supportive of it and that it reduces time to permanency.
Mediation in the five sites (Gaylord, Jackson, Marquette, Petoskey and Traverse City) is voluntary and primarily takes place early in the case, on average within 60 days of the filing of the petition. In the five sites, the number of mediated cases during the study period (January 2016 – October 15, 2018) ranged from six to 105.
Petoskey and Gaylor had participant experience data. In both, participants responded positively to each survey question asked. In Petoskey, participants said that they had the opportunity to express themselves, gained a better understanding of the issues, felt respected and felt the process was fair to them. In Gaylord, they had similarly high ratings for those topics, and also said they felt safe and believed the mediator was neutral.
The study included data from surveys statewide that asked those going through the traditional process and those going through CPM how satisfied they were with their experience. On three metrics, parties who went through CPM gave slightly higher ratings: case resolution, staff courtesy and courtesy of the judge.
The researchers interviewed ten stakeholders for the report. The stakeholders were asked about their perspectives on the effectiveness of CPM. The majority believed that CPM resulted in significant time and cost savings. They also felt that mediation was effective at improving family permanency and the parents’ relationships with child protection workers. On the other hand, they had some reservations about how often parents comply with mediation agreements.
The interviewees were also asked their perceptions of other parties’ willingness to participate in CPM. Their responses indicated that stakeholders were consistently likely, or very likely, to be willing to participate in CPM, with child protection workers relatively willing and guardians ad litem extremely willing to do so.
The researchers compared the average time to permanency in the CPM study sites to those in comparable sites that did not have CPM. They found variation in the time to permanency among the five sites, as well as the comparison sites, with Petoskey having a much longer time to permanency than any of the other sites. Overall, however, they found that time to permanency was 50 days shorter on average in CPM sites than in the comparison sites. The researchers also found that cases in the CPM sites were more likely to close within 2 years than those in the comparison sites. Again, there was significant variation among the sites.
It isn’t clear from the data provided that CPM was the cause of the shorter time to permanency or the higher closure rate. In Traverse City and Jackson, which had the shortest times to permanency, a very small percentage of cases was mediated (6 mediated cases, 145 cases closed for Traverse City and 9 cases mediated, 133 cases closed for Jackson), which calls into question how much of an effect CPM was on permanency at those sites.