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October 2005Vol. 6, No. 8Evaluating Mediation in Child Protection Cases

As court systems across the country strive to meet the timeframes for permanency required by Federal legislation such as the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (ASFA), alternative dispute resolution techniques such as mediation have emerged as promising tools in child welfare cases. The Washington, DC, Family Court Act requires the court to use alternative dispute resolution to the extent that is feasible and safe. In 2002, the family court implemented a 1-year pilot project in early case child protection mediation in the hope that such a program would result in earlier resolution of cases.

A new Technical Assistance Brief from the Permanency Planning Department of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ), Mediation in Child Protection Cases: An Evaluation of the Washington, D.C. Family Court Child Protection Mediation Program, reports on an evaluation conducted by NCJFCJ on the effectiveness of the program. The evaluation studied outcomes for 200 child abuse and neglect cases that were randomly assigned to mediation and a comparison group of 200 cases that were handled through the traditional hearing process. The study tracked the cases from initial hearing through disposition and beyond. Data sources included case file reviews, mediation program files, exit surveys, and interviews with judges and other stakeholders.

Results of the evaluation show that 93 percent of mediated cases were able to reach some settlement. Compared to traditional hearings, mediation resulted in more timely resolution of cases (7.0 months to case closure for mediated cases vs. 8.6 months for other cases). In addition, mediation seemed to promote more long-term permanency with lower rates of re-entry into care. The findings also suggest that the process generated detailed, case-specific service plans and provided families with a nonadversarial forum in which to be heard. In light of these results, the Family Court continued funding for child protection mediation after the study.

This study was funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, with additional funding from the Council for Court Excellence, Washington, DC. The report, written by S. I. Gatowski, S. A. Dobbin, M. Litchfield, and J. Oetjen, is available online at