Application of mediation and negotiation to child protection work in the field

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Hutton, W. John
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In July of 1996, I was hired by Winnipeg Child and Family Services for a 1 year term as Coordinator of the Mediation Expansion Project. With the agency's permission, I used part of this work as a practicum in order to complete the requirements of a Master of Social Work degree. The principle objective of the practicum involved the application of mediation and later negotiation--a related skill, to child protection work, in the agency's Central and Northwest Areas. Research for the practicum included an examination of problem-solving versus transformative mediation, issues of culture, the use of mediation with Aboriginal families, and mediating in conflicts where there has been violence. Research was also undertaken in order to develop a process of conflict resolution for use when one is a disputing party in a conflict (negotiation). The overall goal of the practicum was to expand the use mediation within the two areas specified, while utilizing existing staff. The strategy chosen to realize this goal was toenable child protection workers to apply mediation or negotiation as an intervention with clients in the field. To implement the strategy, a 1 day training in mediation or negotiation was developed and offered to line staff, and a set of formal guidelines was developed--the Field Mediation Model and the Field Negotiation Model. The practicum demonstrated that mediation and negotiation can be used as an intervention in the field as part of child protection work, and gave workers models for doing so. In this way, the practicum has moved the practice of mediation away from those designated as mediators into the hands of general practitioners, and has increased the profile of mediation as a social work intervention.