work tangible to decision makers, and evaluating and demonstrating the value of the programs.
Ideally a program will reach a stable place where it
can count on funding through the regular court or
agency budgetary processes.
In the design of both our current programs, we
have kept in mind the vital importance of collaboration and stakeholder input. We engaged the larger
stakeholder groups in the counties and then divided
them into smaller planning groups to work on the
details and return to the larger stakeholder group
to present them. We provided program orientation opportunities to the larger stakeholder group
and future mediation participants. These processes
were long and labor-intensive but well worth it, as
illustrated by the following comments.
One stakeholder who was in a planning group
One of the many strengths of the design
of our pilot was the organized, collabora-
tive effort between the various players to
create a detailed, well-thought out plan.
The mediators provided the planning
committee with written materials as well
as examples of other mediation project
plans to educate and assist us in designing our pilot.
A planning committee member from a different
The approach recommended by our me-
diators included a first step of developing
“buy-in” from all the potential mediation
partners. In other counties, the judiciary or
some authority had simply ordered play-
ers to participate. Here, we had to con-
vince them that it was a good idea. We set
up a number of meetings with key players,
which were surprisingly productive. The
process was lengthy, but well worth it. The
inclusiveness and slow pace of ramping
up may have reassured some who were
skeptical. The process also resulted in a
project design in which any partner can
refer a case for mediation, which in turn
has resulted in mediation of different
categories of cases than first targeted.
Consequently, it appears that many key
partners have a sense of ownership regarding the program. Most partners really
want the program to succeed.
Because the initiative and initial funding for both of
the new programs came from different stakeholder
agencies to the child welfare cases, rather than from
the judiciary or court budgets, educating and including the Court and the Juvenile Clerk’s office in
strategic planning sessions to gain support for the
project has been noted by stakeholders as another
key strength. Because the programs are funded by
participant agencies and not directly from courts, the
programs may last longer, as long as they have the
judicial support. As the research and our own experience tells us, the support of the bench is still crucial
to the livelihood of any program.
We designed and established child protection mediation programs by starting with pilot programs
involving a finite number of cases and a small number of experienced mediators. We kept in mind the
accepted best practices and used the most current
research to guide us. Our approach provided us the
mechanism to get foundational protocols and procedures in place as well as the flexibility to assess and
modify procedures in order to improve program efficiency and effectiveness prior to continuation for the
long-term. Our early and ongoing engagement with
stakeholders is proving to be key to program sustainability, both financially and otherwise.
In an era marked by attention to both access to justice and fiscal austerity, we are finding that at least
some jurisdictions value highly the capacity of mediation to meet the needs of court systems, child welfare systems, families, and communities. Careful design results in mediation programs that are viewed
as effective and fiscally prudent. This is essential to
the programs becoming institutionalized.
“Our early and ongoing engagement with
stakeholders is proving to be key to program
sustainability, both financially and otherwise.”