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November 2004Vol. 5, No. 9Permanency Planning Mediation: Decreasing Time to Permanence

A recently released final evaluation report from the Permanency Planning Mediation Pilot (PPMP) Program in Michigan suggests mediation in child welfare cases can result in positive outcomes for children, families, professionals, and systems without increasing the overall costs of judicial and administrative handling of child welfare cases. The report, released in June 2004, provides a retrospective look at the first 3 years of child protection mediation in seven pilot program sites.

Researchers analyzed case characteristics and outcomes for 207 (86 percent) of the 289 mediation referrals during 1999, 2000, and 2001. Cases represented all types of child maltreatment and were referred to the program at all stages in the legal process, from preadjudication through completion of petitions to adopt. Some key findings included:

  • Achievement of permanency was higher for mediated cases than nonmediated cases, and this difference was statistically significant.
  • Time from petition to permanency also was shorter for mediated cases, compared to cases referred but not mediated.
  • The time from petition to any type of permanency averaged 17 months for all cases referred to mediation, regardless of the referral point (e.g., pre- or postadjudication).
  • The average time from mediation referral to any form of permanency averaged just over 13 months. (Following referral to mediation, family reunification was achieved in 11 months while adoptions were finalized in an average of 15 months.)
  • Comparison of averages for time to permanency from Michigan's AFCARS data suggests that permanency was achieved through mediation in a more timely manner in adoption cases, with some modest time savings in foster care cases resulting in reunification.

In addition to the positive permanency outcomes, the evaluation data suggest participants in all roles were satisfied with the mediation process:

  • In the great majority of cases in which a mediation agreement was finalized, there were high rates of parental compliance with the terms of the agreement. (Comparison data for nonmediated cases were not available for analysis.)
  • Parent participants reported that they had been included in case planning and had their viewpoints considered during the process.
  • Involved judges, attorneys, and child welfare professionals all indicated high levels of satisfaction with the mediation process.

From their findings, authors conclude that mediation is a reasonable option in the range of legal responses to child maltreatment and protection. The authors also suggest that while precise financial savings were not demonstrated by this study, it is reasonable to conclude there are financial benefits to be gained from a mediation program staffed with trained volunteers.

The 75-page report, including lessons learned and recommendations for future study, can be downloaded from the Michigan Courts website at (PDF - 515 KB).