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Takeaways from a Child Protection Mediator Training

Eric Slepak, February 6th, 2017

On January 20-21, RSI put on an advanced two-day training for the mediators in our new Child Protection Mediation Program operating out of Geneva, IL. This training was the culmination of our efforts to put in place a dynamic and collaborative new forum to address child abuse and neglect cases in Illinois’ 16th Judicial Circuit Court. Based on the outcome of the training, I feel confident that our new program will be a huge boon to Kane County, the jurisdiction which the program serves. I also am glad to have taken away some ideas about how to create a better mediator training event, which I get to share with all of you. (more…)

Tough Love

Eric Slepak, July 18th, 2016

A recent study out of Columbia University suggests that nice mediators finish last. Inspired by the familiar trope of bickering siblings setting aside their differences to unite against a stern parent, researcher Ting Zhang created simulations in which student participants attempted to reach resolution using text-based chatrooms. Zhang added a further twist to the experiment by introducing computerized participants and/or mediators in some of the sessions (though all participants were told they were interacting with other humans). The participating students were randomly assigned a hostile mediator, a neutral mediator or a nice mediator. Across all of these different scenarios, however, the data showed that agreement was more likely when the participants teamed up against a hostile mediator, and that the quality of the agreements reached was similar to those reached with a nice mediator. (more…)

Child Protection Perspectives: Initiating the Conversation

Eric Slepak, April 15th, 2016

As April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, we at RSI wanted to shine some attention on the work we are doing related to the development of the new Child Protection Mediation Program in the Sixteenth Judicial Circuit Court of Kane County, Illinois, as well as the other work RSI has done in using court ADR as a tool to address the issues of child abuse and neglect.

While our work at RSI is often about data, when it comes to child protection (a term which is meant to capture the broad array of cases in which children have been removed from their homes due to abuse and neglect), it is hard not to talk about the personal element.  Prior to joining RSI, much of my work had been as an advocate at the intersections of special education, juvenile justice and the child welfare and foster systems. These seemingly independent worlds actually collide frequently, and illustrate some of the many complexities involved in handling cases of child abuse and neglect. (more…)

In Mediation, As On Broadway, It’s All About The Room Where It Happens

Eric Slepak, February 26th, 2016

If you caught the Grammys last week, I hope you got a glimpse of the live-from-Broadway performance of the opening number from the smash hit Hamilton. One of the show’s many highlights, “In the Room Where It Happens,” is a show-stopping ode to backroom negotiation and the art of compromise that focuses on New York Senator Aaron Burr’s desire to get to the table. Though Burr serves as the foil to protagonist Alexander Hamilton and (spoiler alert) the source of Hamilton’s ultimate defeat, he is not an unsympathetic character; there are many moments throughout where the audience empathizes with Burr’s dreams. Case in point, Burr’s goal of being part of the action mirrors a recurring theme we see parties deal with in ADR: who gets a say in the matter when there are lots of parties involved and/or many different interests at stake?  In other words, who gets to be in the room where it happens? (more…)

A Matter of Degree: If and When ADR Should be Introduced into the Student Debt Conversation

Eric Slepak, December 7th, 2015

Like many of you, we here at RSI have been keeping close tabs on what’s going on with student debt in this country. Perhaps it’s our proximity to the mortgage foreclosure crisis and the improving yet ongoing fallout, but the similarities are a little too close for our comfort. Just as homeowners overleveraged themselves on the road to the foreclosure crisis, so too Americans now stand on the precipice of what could be an equally destabilizing student debt problem. As an organization that has made empirical research its bread and butter for over two decades, we are interested in pulling together all the relevant data we can to see if there is an escape valve for this high-pressure bubble.

What’s a little different from our previous research is our timing. Whether it’s been a response to an explosive crisis like the bursting of the housing bubble, or to more subtle issues, like the gradual erosion of access to courts for low-income litigants which has made ADR such an attractive alternative, we’ve come to study dispute system design as a solution to problems well underway. For the first time, RSI hopes to leverage its skills in designing, managing and evaluating ADR programs to provide insight into a situation that has yet to reach its tipping point.

We think America’s student debt industry could be a prime candidate for action sooner rather than later. (more…)