Families may decide to use Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) to try to work out a plan for their family that is acceptable to both the family and Child Protective Services. If there is legal involvement, ADR may occur in addition to or instead of court. There are 3 types of ADR available for families involved with Child Protection Services:
- Child Protection: A mediator works with the Children’s Aid Society (CAS) and the parents to discuss concerns and agree on a plan for the child. Children usually don’t come to ADR, unless they’re older and want to. If they take part, and if your child doesn’t have a lawyer, CAS must inform the Office of the Children’s Lawyer (OCL) about the ADR.
- Family Group Conferencing: Family Group Conferencing (FGC) is one of the prescribed methods for ADR in the Child & Family Services Act of Ontario.
- Indigenous Approaches to ADR: It is especially relevant for indigenous families where only the family understands the complex kinship relationships and capabilities of family members.
FGC is a decision-making process for resolving disputes between a CAS and the family of a child, young person or other vulnerable family members at risk. FGC are now the preferred approach to making decisions for children needing out-of-home care.
What is a Family Group conference or Indigenous circle?
A “conference” is a meeting of a child’s entire family, family friends, other supporters and CAS which is organized by an independent, neutral FGC Facilitator who has no decision-making power. Participants voluntarily consent to attend the meeting. The hope is that by having this discussion, the family and support network can develop a plan to care for that family member at risk.
There are three parts to a conference:
The meeting is opened by the family in a way that is meaningful to them. The FGC Facilitator arranges a meeting so the family can learn about the concerns for the vulnerable family member and what support can be provided. Other professionals and service providers may also be present to give information and tell how they are willing to help. Family members are encouraged to ask questions about what they heard.
Family Private Time
In this phase, all the service providers leave the room. Family members and their support network meet alone to discuss and to develop a plan to keep the child safe. A meal is usually shared by all participants. The FGC Facilitator may come in and out during this time, but they will not be facilitating discussion or prescribing the plan. The purpose of this process is to empower the family, not to lead them. The length of family private time varies.
The Agreed Plan
The final stage is presenting the plan developed by the family to the professionals who have remained waiting outside. If CAS and family are in agreement, then the plan is accepted and may be resourced by the CAS.
After the day of the conference, there should be ongoing support and scheduled plan to review after a while.
Funding from the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services supports the use of ADR if a court intervention is being considered, is pending, or is in progress. ADR can be a valuable tool to resolve conflict and to move forward in a positive way.
Banyan maintains a roster of qualified ADR professionals who are all accredited or certified for Family Mediation.
All referrals for Banyan’s ADR program come from the CAS. Families cannot self-refer for this program.
For more information, please email ADRreferrals@banyancs.org