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RSI Publishes Report on Improving Pre-Mediation Screening for Intimate Partner Violence through Proposed Online Tool

Eric Slepak-Cherney, October 29th, 2019

Over the past year, RSI has been working on a project researching and exploring whether and how an online tool could improve the frequency and competency with which mediators screen for intimate partner violence (IPV) prior to mediation. Under a planning grant from the Family and Interpersonal Resilience and Safety Transformation (FIRST) Fund, RSI has been able to study the current landscape of screening tools, survey experts in IPV dynamics (as well as lawyers, judges and mediators) about the divergence between best and actual practices, and convene those experts to explore how to close that gap. As a result of that work, we have  published this extensive report, which outlines the features of RSI’s proposed solution and the steps needed to actualize it.

Among the many findings in the report, we note that it is critical to develop a tool geared towards new mediators and those who mediate on an infrequent schedule. These are the mediators who our research found would be most receptive to an online screening tool. Also, because adequate screening is essential to ensuring parties will be safe and able to exercise self-determination throughout the mediation process, the use of such a tool by new and intermittent mediators would greatly improve the mediation services their parties receive. Accordingly, we advocate for developing a tool that has low barriers to use (e.g. does not required significant specialized training) and is provided free of cost to mediators to encourage its wide adoption.

We recognize that there a number of existing protocols, such as SAFeR and MASIC (both of whose creators provided valuable input to our research), which serve as high-quality screening tools. However, no existing solution we found provided mediators a free, easy-to-use, guided process to screen parties for IPV. The reality, confirmed by our survey of the field, is that screening does not happen at the level and with the expertise that  the seriousness of IPV demands. One of the next steps will be to determine if there are funders who are enthusiastic about developing this tool.

Thank you to the FIRST Fund and all the expert voices who assisted RSI in the development of this report.

RSI Hosts Expert Summit on Screening for Intimate Partner Violence Prior to Mediation

Eric Slepak-Cherney, July 18th, 2019

On June 11, RSI convened a summit of experts in mediation, family law and intimate partner violence (IPV) to help us explore whether and how a tool, such as a website or app, could improve the frequency and quality of mediator screening for IPV prior to mediation. Generally, IPV screening is intended to ensure parties will be safe while coming to, participating in and leaving mediation and also ensure there has not been coercive control that would impede a party’s ability to exercise self-determination in mediation.

Unfortunately, screening is not practiced universally by mediators and approaches to screening vary widely. While some mediators employ sophisticated screening techniques, many mediators do not screen, or rely on factors such as whether an order of protection has been filed to determine whether to mediate. This means some mediators may not uncover critical information and may risk re-victimizing survivors and empowering abusers.

The group of Chicagoland-based and national experts spent the day digging into questions such as whether potential downsides outweigh likely benefits, who would be the audience for this kind of tool and how it might function. One critical question in this project is whether a tool like this is a good idea, or will its potential misuse outweigh its benefits? Overall, the group of experts was positive about the tool while also raising a number of important issues that would need to be considered in developing it.

One major theme was the role the tool could play in increasing mediator knowledge, especially about IPV, how to screen and what to do with the results. The experts valued the idea of giving mediators a thoughtful dialogue guide that would empower them to explore issues around safety and coercive control. They stressed that a tool could be very beneficial if it guided the mediator through the screening process and also provided information, such as how to refer a party for IPV services. Conversely, the group raised concerns about whether a tool could provide sufficient training for mediators to use the tool responsibly.

Relatedly, the group also discussed the usability of the tool. Ultimately, they wanted to create something that a large number of mediators would use, particularly those who are new to mediating family cases or do so on an infrequent basis. A chief concern centered on how long and robust of a guided experience the tool should provide. Finding a balance between making sure a mediator has comprehensive conversations with all parties, on the one hand, and making the guide concise enough that mediators actually use it, on the other, will be a key challenge.

Having identified some of the challenges and barriers, the group brainstormed some features that the tool could employ to address these challenges. Access to resources for the participants would be greatly beneficial, as would educational videos for the mediators. The experts were keen on using visualizations, such as radar charts, as a way to summarize and map participant responses, and identify particular areas of concern.

These are but a few of the takeaways from this informative and collaborative event. RSI is in the process of developing a full report that will summarize the consensus for developing such a tool, and lay out the steps that would be needed to make this tool a reality. RSI sincerely thanks all of the experts who volunteered their time to provide their thoughtful insights, and the FIRST Fund for their support of this project.

                           Images from RSI’s IPV Screening Summit.                                   Photos taken by Gahyun Kim and collaged by Nicole Wilmet.

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.

Introducing RSI’s Special Topic on Online Dispute Resolution!

Eric Slepak-Cherney, April 26th, 2019

We are excited to introduce our new Special Topic on Online Dispute Resolution (ODR)! With courts across the country exploring ODR at a rapid pace, we sought to develop a resource that would help provide thoughtful context and guidance on how court administrators and stakeholders should approach the intersection of technology and dispute resolution. Containing a history of ODR, considerations for courts and links to other helpful resources, we hope you will find this new content enlightening and will excite you for the future of delivering justice through online dispute resolution.

Saving Homes, Building Understanding

Eric Slepak-Cherney, November 29th, 2018

Resolution Systems Institute is proud to share its latest publication, Saving Homes, Building Understanding: An Evaluation of the Eight Foreclosure Mediation Programs Funded by the Illinois Attorney General. This new evaluation looks at four-plus years of data across eight different programs to provide a comprehensive analysis of foreclosure mediation in Illinois, and to highlight how differences in program models impacted outcomes. (more…)