Lessons from North America in the use of mediation in child protection
Published: 5 Dec 2016
Victoria Teggin is a family law barrister and mediator, who has an MSc. in Mediation & Conflict Resolution. She has recently returned to the UK after spending six weeks in Canada and the USA, studying a number of different Child Protection Mediation programmes. Her travels were enabled by a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Travelling Fellowship award.
Victoria, from Camden in North London, chose to study Child Protection Mediation as the subject of her Fellowship after observing the poverty of the relationships between parents and social workers in care proceedings. Social workers are tasked with balancing their statutory duty to protect children from significant harm against parents’ rights to family life; parents are required to work in an honest and cooperative manner with those who deem their parenting deficient and who seek to remove their children. In the circumstances, it is unsurprising that antagonistic relationships develop.
The use of mediation in child protection litigation is widespread in North America, but unknown in the UK. It brings together all those concerned with the child – parents, social workers, lawyers, foster carers, children’s litigation guardian, extended family, and, where appropriate, the child – in a neutral venue with an independent third party, the mediator, to facilitate the discussion.
Victoria’s Fellowship led her to conclude that there are two key elements that contribute to the success of mediation. First, confidentiality allows conversations to take place which otherwise would not happen - parents were observed to be more willing to acknowledge their shortcomings and work constructively with social workers. Secondly, mediation meetings provide parents and family with a forum at which they have equal status and, importantly, feel heard.
“Child Protection Mediation is not about diluting safeguards for children, nor reaching compromises about risk. It is about enabling those engaged in high level hostility to have honest and frank discussions where their energies are directed at finding child-focussed solutions. Figures just released by the Ministry of Justice show a 24% increase in the number of public law care proceedings issued in the 12 months to June 2016. Alternative approaches to resolving these important cases urgently need to be found. Child Protection Mediation is a flexible, creative tool which can be used early in the process to improve outcomes for children, and achieve speedier case resolution” –Victoria Teggin
Victoria's report will be of interest to all those involved in public law care proceedings, including judges, social workers, lawyers and children’s guardians. Victoria plans to share her learning widely in order to stimulate debate about the use of Child Protection Mediation, and to progress the establishment of a pilot project.
Read Victoria’s report here
Notes to Editors