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Lawless Dispute Resolution

January 25, 2008 permalink

Dufferin Children's Aid is adopting an alternative dispute resolution process. Kim James, the social worker who drove your editor's wife to the suicide clinic, will administer it. The method chosen is called Family Group Decision Making, a process developed in New Zealand to avert the wholesale destruction of Maori families by foster care. Our quick search in the internet turned up a description from the City University of New York (pdf), and in case of removal, we have a local copy. It speaks in warm terms of forming a conference to meet with the family and work out an agreement. It is silent on how the family gets into the process, or the consequences of failure to agree to the conference recommendations. Based on previous experience with Dufferin Children's Aid, and Kim James, we can only surmise that both will be the same: agree with us, or lose your kids, delivered with the sensitivity of Nurse Ratched. Here is a warning to all Dufferin area suicide clinics: Be prepared for an onslaught of new cases.



Child agency looks for family solutions

family group decision making
"Dufferin Child and Family Services has embraced family group decision making -- a method of family problem-solving developed by New Zealand's Maori. Kim James, the DCFS employee who manages the program, says they've had good results so far: "Everybody starts becoming more supportive." Five families have gone through the process to-date.

A new method of protecting children is being embraced by Dufferin Child and Family Services. The agency, as part of the province's 2006 Transformation Agenda, needed to accept an "alternative dispute resolution process"; the one DCFS has chosen is called family group decision making.

Kim James, an 11-year veteran at DCFS, is managing the process. While it may be new to Dufferin, she says it was developed more than 25 years ago by Maori in New Zealand as a method of getting extended family involved in issues facing parents and children.

According to James, family group decision making brings together family, relatives, even friends and professionals familiar with the situation, to brainstorm solutions.

The child protection agency will convene the conference on a specific day with the goal of developing a workable solution that same day (it usually takes from five to seven hours). Child protection services will have their own bottom lines that must be met -- conditions put in place to ensure the safety of a child. But the gathered group is encouraged to think collectively about ways of meeting those conditions. Information is shared, but commitments are also made, with participants banding together to come up with concrete steps they can take to relieve the situation that's threatening the child.

Five sessions have been held by DCFS so far, says James, and all have succeeded: the families developed a plan and the mandated "non-negotiables" were met, she says. James says the five that have been held have averaged about 15 participants.

Meetings with caregivers have presumably been a staple part of CAS activities for decades. But this method seems to differ in a couple of ways. The first is that it broadens the circle a bit. "As the ancient proverb states, it takes a community to raise a child," says James. The second is that the meeting is structured to invite conversation.

"Everybody starts becoming more supportive," says the manager. She feels that there is a positive perception that the plan is "not coming down from authority figures."

"It becomes more of a respectful [relationship]," says James. The improved interaction is also being promoted by providing family members with the opportunity to hear the caseworker's summary report of the situation and ask questions about the findings. The message James says she wants to convey to families is: We believe you can do it, and we want to support you.

The program manager says extended families have been positive about participating. When asked if it's an emotional process for families, she responds, "Oh yes."

Source: Orangeville Banner

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