Parent review feedback summary
- While parent reviewers were supportive of Restorative Family Mediation, they overwhelmingly expressed fear and distrust over the involvement of case workers and judges. Parent partners used words like uneasy, scared, and hurt to describe the system’s involvement.
- Reviewers want to know if parents will maintain autonomy and avoid shame and punishment while working so closely with CPS. One reviewer recommended “giving families a break.”
- Parent reviewers want child welfare systems to prioritize creating safe, culturally respectful spaces, to be mindful of the existing power dynamics between the system and families (potentially removing case workers from the process as a whole), and to be open to customizing this experience for every parent.
What is the intervention?
Restorative Family Mediation (RFM) is an alternative resolution process focused on restoration, collaboration, accountability, and healing. RFM is 100% voluntary and uses a restorative circle approach, distributing power equally among the group. RFM mediators maintain power balance throughout the process and do not have a stake in the outcome(s) decided by the group. The goal is to move from hostility to constructive dialogue, for restoration and resolution, not compliance.
When a social services department contracts with RFM, workers can refer families to RFM at any point of engagement, for many reasons. These include birth planning, sobriety planning, divorce, partner conflict, restoring family relationships, custody, or family reunification.
Once a referral is made, an RFM mediator gets in contact with the parent to plan the mediation, which usually lasts 60-120 minutes. Mediation sessions referred by the county can include up to three family or friends to support them and include their worker. The facilitator writes down the consensus agreement and sends it to the participants. Agreements can – if applicable and desired – be sent to social workers or to the court.
RFM is run by the Katallasso Group out of Minnesota. Current mediators include social workers, parents, pastors, lawyers, and community members.
What makes it a Bright Spot?
In Minnesota, RFM is court approved as Qualified Neutral mediation service as outlined in Rule 114, which means facilitators must, by state statute, remain neutral. This sets it apart from family group conferencing, for example, where the facilitator may have a stake in one outcome over another. An RFM facilitator guards against power plays, ensuring power is distributed equally.
RFM contracts with county social service providers to make mediation available for free for families, which is a much lower cost to agencies than litigation. Sessions can be held in person or via Zoom. The 40-hour training to become an RFM facilitator is free.
RFM is two years old and started in one Minnesota county focusing on work with pregnant mothers with opioid abuse issues. RFM is now available in 8 states and Mexico. A report from anonymous surveys of 60 RFM participants, a majority “definitely agree” to feeling a sense of fair treatment, integrating differences, psychological safety, trust, belonging, and diversity during RFM.
What steps can you take?
- Contact the Katallsso group to explore a referral partnership with RFM for families in your jurisdiction
- Become an RFP facilitator for families in your area by taking the free, 40-hour training
These downloadable resources may help provide additional context and information about this family-approved resource for systems change.
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