Mediation is most commonly known as a way to resolve a divorce without using litigation, but it can also be used in cases involving CPS and parental rights. As someone who has mediated a number of these cases, I can say that mediation is often more expedient and less contentious for CPS cases as well as divorces.
But because the stakes are so high, with the possibility of someone losing his or her parental rights, it’s prudent for you to know about the process and how it works before determining if it’s best for your cases.
A CPS case that can be settled through mediation begins with the initial removal, where CPS intervenes and removes a child or children from a parent’s custody. There are then a series of hearings, including hearings about where the child or children are to be placed, to bring the case to the point where mediation is possible. The mediation can be initiated by either parent or by those involved with the placement of the child after the initial removal.
It’s complex in that it involves multiple parties. In divorce cases or custody cases, there are typically two parties involved. A CPS mediation will start with the father and his attorney and the mother and her attorney-and if a parent can’t afford to seek and retain counsel, one will be appointed by the court for the mediation process. The parents and attorneys are typically joined by other parties at the table in a CPS mediation, including the caseworker, the caseworker’s supervisor, the attorney from CPS, and the party responsible for placement of the child, as well as an ad litem attorney for the child involved, appointed by the judge and specially trained to take on that role. There might be as many as 12 to 15 people involved with a CPS mediation.
Knowing whether reunification of the parent and child is an option depends in large part by how the parent has been complying with CPS service plans. These can include anger management courses, parenting courses, psychological evaluation, and/or drug rehab, and are typically reviewed every 30 to 45 days. The timing of a mediation can and often does depend on how far along the parent in question is with those service plans.
The mediation initially looks to get everyone on the same page. I remind everyone that the focus is on the child, in order to set the best tone for resolving the case. When I have everyone introduce themselves at the start, the introduction includes what each person wants for the child, and where they see the child in five or ten years. That gives a chance for all the parties to see that there are shared intentions for the child, and that everyone wants to see the child happy and safe.
From there, they can briefly weigh in on what they want, how they feel about the parent reunifying with the child, and to voice any complaints or concerns. Then the individual parties break off into separate rooms to talk about what’s going on. Sometimes, the matter is resolved in these caucus sessions where the individual parties are separate from one another, and sometimes, it requires coming back to one big room to talk about it.
Mediation is unique in that all the resources concerned with the child’s well-being, making sure that the child is protected, are all in that one building together where the hearing takes place. Depending on the emotions involved with the case and the situation leading to the removal, one setting might be more appropriate than the other for coming to a resolution. But mediation seeks to come to a solution within a specific window of time: It can go as long as eight hours or as short as one hour.
And while not every CPS case that goes to mediation gets resolved there, the many that do get resolved aim for a resolution that has the child’s best interest first and foremost in focus.