Alternative Dispute Resolution


Alternative Dispute Resolution

What is ADR?

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.


Why use ADR?

Alternative Dispute Resolution is beneficial as it:

  • supports families and allows them to have an active and vital role in planning/decision making;
  • respects and values the voices of all parties;
  • is voluntary;
  • is often faster and less complex than court;
  • is assisted by an impartial third party;
  • strives to preserve and improve communication and relationships;
  • is receptive to the uniqueness of each family; and
  • is confidential.

According to the Child, Youth and Family Services Act of Ontario, Children’s Aid Societies must consider Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) when appropriate for the child protection cases. Specifically,

  • if a child is or may be in need of protection, a children’s aid society must consider whether ADR could assist in resolving any issue related to the child or a plan for the child’s care;
  • a judge, with the consent of the parties, may adjourn the court proceeding to permit the use of ADR for any issue in dispute; and/or
  • on applications to vary or terminate an openness order before or after an adoption, the court may, with the consent of parties, adjourn the proceeding to permit the use of ADR for any disputes related to the proceeding.

Further, according to Ontario Regulation 496/06, the alternative dispute resolution:

  • must be undertaken with the consent of all participants;
  • must be one that can be terminated at any time by any of the participants to it;
  • must be conducted by an impartial facilitator who has no decision-making power;
  • must comply with regulations concerning confidentiality of and access to records and information; and
  • must NOT be arbitration.

The Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services funds court-related ADR services in the child protection context.


What is the Children's Community Network's ADR program?

The CCN ADR Program connects Children’s Aid Societies (CAS) with ADR practitioners in the Sudbury and Manitoulin Districts. When a child protection case qualifies for ADR, the CAS contacts the CCN ADR Coordinator who will match the case with a qualified professional who accepts cases within that geographical area. CCN maintains a roster of qualified ADR professionals accepting cases in any part of its catchment area. Those professionals are all accredited or certified through either or both of these bodies:


What are the ADR options offered by the Children's Community Network?

The two methods of ADR offered are:

  • Child Protection Mediation (CPMed)
  • Family Group Decision Making (FGDM)

What are the steps in the referral process?
  1. Determining if the case qualifies for ADR and selecting the ADR method most amenable to the case. (CAS does this)
  2. Securing consent of all key parties for the referral to CCN ADR Program. (CAS does this)
  3. Consulting the Band if the case involves a First Nations family. (CAS does this)
  4. Notifying the Office of the Children’s Lawyer. (CAS does this)
  5. Making a referral to the CCN ADR Program. (CAS does this)
  6. Matching an ADR professional. (CCN ADR Program Coordinator does this)
  7. Setting up and conducting the ADR process. (ADR Professional does this)
  8. Gathering feedback about the process. (CCN ADR Program Coordinator does this)

CP Mediation

Child Protection Mediation (CPMED)

Child Protection (CP) Mediation is one of the prescribed methods of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) contemplated in the Child, Youth & Family Services Act of Ontario. Like other types of ADR, CP Mediation could be used in many cases. However, there must be a clear decision made by a Children’s Aid Society that a court intervention is being considered, is pending or is in process. The family and a representative of the CAS meet together in the presence of a CP Mediator, who is an impartial person with no power to make decisions.


What does a CP Mediator do?

First, let’s be clear about what the CP Mediator does not do. The Mediator does not decide what happens. The Mediator’s job is to help the family describe the parts of the plan they oppose and explain why. The CAS representative — usually the worker assigned to the case — presents the CAS viewpoint. Maybe by having this discussion, they can find a new plan that is acceptable to the CAS and to the family.


Do the children attend?

No. Some teenagers may want to attend but this is not common. The Mediator helps you decide who will be at the mediation table.


Does the family require a lawyer?

Everyone who uses CP Mediation should have a lawyer or at least ask a lawyer to review any mediated agreement before signing it.


What is a mediated agreement?

This is a document written by the CP Mediator outlining what everyone agreed to during the mediation. Each person takes a copy of the agreement for review by a lawyer.


Is there a cost for the family?

No. Costs associated with the mediation process are covered by the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services.


What issues can be mediated?

Many things including conditions of a supervision order, length of a court order, specifics of the service plan, child’s placement, client/worker conflict, custody or access, and features of an adoption.


What issues cannot be mediated?

You cannot use Mediation if one or more key parties does not agree to mediation or feels forced into it. It also cannot be used to determine if a child is “in need of protection.” In other words, all parties must want to try Mediation and all parties must accept that the CAS should be involved with the family.


Why use CP Mediation?

When contested cases go to court, they take a long time to finish and can cost a great deal of money, time, and emotional pain. Children may be left in limbo, not knowing what the future holds for them. Also, the process becomes a competition where only one side can “win.” When a judge decides the outcome after a trial, someone always walks away unhappy with the outcome. Mediation helps the parties “have their say” and may result in a workable plan for the children to keep them safe. It can also improve the relationship between a CAS worker and the family which, in turn, benefits the children.


Is the process fair to families?

To ensure fairness, these are important points:

  • the Mediator is an independent professional who does not work for the CAS;
  • the Mediator has no power to make decisions about the case;
  • the Mediator is not paid by the CAS and the Mediator assigned to the case is not selected by the CAS;
  • all Mediators listed on the roster are trained in Child Protection Mediation and accredited by the Ontario Association for Family Mediation;
  • accredited CP Mediators agree to follow the Code of Professional Conduct of the Ontario Association for Family Mediation and they carry liability insurance;
  • any party can stop the Mediation at any time (or withdraw his or her participation); and
  • all parties are encouraged to review any mediated agreement with their lawyers before signing it.

Also, if you believe the Mediator has a bias or conflict, you can ask for a different Mediator to be appointed.


How long is the process?

The CP Mediator needs time to arrange a meeting with all parties. Next, all parties come together for one or two meetings. If an agreement is reached, each party reviews the draft agreement with a lawyer. Finally, everyone returns to sign the agreement. Ask the CP Mediator for an estimate of how long this process may take.


Can my lawyer attend?

No, in most cases lawyers will not attend. That means neither the lawyer who acts for the CAS nor any lawyers who act for family parties. One purpose of CP Mediation is to help everyone have an open discussion outside the court environment. However, a lawyer from the Office of the Children’s Lawyer who represents the child or children may be asked to attend. If an agreement is reached, each party is given a written copy to show their lawyers.


Can I say "No" to mediation?

No one can be forced to participate in mediation. You are free to decline the option.


What if I change my mind?

It is important that all parties at the mediation table want to be there. People may think that once you start mediation, you are required to keep going until everyone agrees; that is not true. It is your right to stop at any point, even if that means standing up and leaving the mediation meeting.


How do I refer?

Anyone can suggest a case for CP Mediation, including lawyers and family parties named in the court application. However, the referral to CCN ADR comes from the CAS.


What are the steps in the mediation process?
  1. Determining if the case qualifies for CP Mediation. (CAS does this)
  2. Securing consent of all key parties for the referral to CP Mediation. (CAS does this)
  3. Consulting the Band if the case involves a First Nations family. (CAS does this)
  4. Notifying the Office of the Children’s Lawyer. (CAS does this)
  5. Making a referral to CP Mediation. (CAS does this)
  6. Matching a CP Mediator from the roster. (CCN ADR Program Coordinator does this)
  7. Setting up and conducting the mediation. (CP Mediator does this)
  8. Gathering feedback about the process. (CCN ADR Program Coordinator does this)

What if CP Mediation does not end in agreement?

If no agreement is reached, the case continues through the court system, just as it did before it was referred for mediation. Sometimes the parties agree on a few issues in mediation and the others will be presented to the judge for resolution.


What if I have a complaint about the process?

The CCN ADR Coordinator asks for your opinions and feedback when the process ends. Having your feedback helps us to continually improve the process for users of the service. Some participants may want to voice their concerns directly to the CP Mediator. If you believe the CP Mediator violated the Code of Professional Conduct of the Ontario Association for Family Mediation, you may write to the President of that organization. You may also ask your lawyer for advice.


Family Group Decision Making

Family Group Decision Making (FGDM)

Family Group Decision Making (FGDM) is one of the prescribed methods for Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) contemplated in the Child, Youth & Family Services Act of Ontario. FGDM is a process used for many purposes. FGDM is a decision-making process for resolving disputes between a Children’s Aid Society (CAS) and the family of children who are (or may be) in need of protection. Funding from the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services supports CAS’ use of ADR if a court intervention is being considered, is pending, or is in process.


What is Family Group Decision Making?

Family Group Decision Making (FGDM), is a way to work with and engage families who are involved with child protection services offered by the Sudbury and Manitoulin District CAS. The main goal of FGDM is to give the extended family group (i.e., nuclear family, extended family and friends) a leadership role, in partnership with the Children’s Aid Society, in the decision making process to ensure the safety and well being of children who are at significant risk of, or are in need of protection from, abuse and neglect.

FGDM is based on the premise that families want to plan for their children and want to ensure that the children’s needs are met. FGDM also believes that every family has abilities and strengths and it is these positive attributes that families can build upon when planning for their children’s well being.

FGDM allows the family group a voice in making decisions for their children that is greater than in the traditional child welfare process. It is through this inclusive process that families and professionals alike find creative and meaningful solutions to addressing the children’s needs.

Families want to be and can be in charge of their lives, they recognize and accept the risks to their children, and they will make good decisions and arrangements for the protection, care and supervision of their children.

FGDM involves a meeting of a child’s entire family, family friends, and other supporters, which is organized by an FGDM Coordinator. All participants freely consent to attend the meeting, knowing that they can change their minds and leave at any time. The hope is that by having this discussion, the family and support network can develop a plan that is acceptable to both the CAS and to the family.

There are three parts to the FGDM meeting:

  1. Information Sharing
    The FGDM Coordinator arranges a meeting so that the family can hear the CAS’ concerns for the children’s safety. Other professionals and service providers may also be present to give information and share how they are willing to help. Family members are encouraged to ask questions about what they have heard.
  2. Family Time
    In this phase, all of the service providers leave the room. Family members and their support network meet alone to discuss what they have heard and to develop their own plan to keep the children safe. The family time can include having a meal together and engaging in other rituals important to the family. The length of family time varies according to the family’s preference.
  3. Review Plan
    Lastly, the FGDM coordinator, the CAS worker(s) and other professionals return to hear and discuss the plan developed by the family. All parties must agree that the plan will keep the children safe.

What does a FGDM Coordinator do?

First, let’s be clear about what the FGDM Coordinator does not do. The FGDM Coordinator does not decide what happens. The Coordinator is an impartial person with no decision-making authority. He or she helps the family hear the CAS’ concerns and opinions about how to keep the children safe. The Coordinator also helps the family decide who attends the meeting and prepares everyone on what to expect.


Do the children attend?

In most cases, yes. The FGDM Coordinator helps you decide who will attend.


Is there a cost for the family?

No. Costs associated with the mediation process are covered by the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services.


What issues can be addressed through FGDM?

Many things including conditions of a supervision order, length of a court order, specifics of the service plan to be addressed, the child’s placement and/or living arrangements, custody or access, and features of an adoption can be developed through the FGDM Coordination process.


What issues cannot be addressed through FGDM?

You cannot use FGDM if one or more key family member does not agree to FGDM or feels forced into it, if one or more key parties would not feel safe in a family meeting and no protections could be put into place, or if there are no supports or extended family to assist in developing a plan. In addition, FGDM cannot be used to determine if a child is “in need of protection.”


Why use Family Group Decision Making?

When contested cases go to court, they take a long time to finish and can cost a great deal of money, time, and emotional pain. Children may be left in limbo, not knowing what the future holds for them. Also, the process becomes a competition where only one side can “win.” When a judge decides the outcome after a trial, someone always walks away unhappy with the outcome. Family Group Decision Making helps the parties “have their say” and may result in a family-designed, workable plan for the children.


Is the process fair to families?

To ensure fairness, these are important points:

  • the FGDM Coordinator is an independent professional who does not work for the CAS;
  • the FGDM Coordinator has no power to make decisions about the case;
  • the FGDM Coordinator is not paid by the CAS and the Coordinator assigned to the case is not selected by the CAS;
  • all FGDM Coordinators are trained and mentored in FGDM coordination through the George Hull Centre and carry liability insurance; and
  • any party can stop the FGDM process at any time (or withdraw his or her participation).

How long is the process?

The FGDM Coordinator needs time to consult with all of the participants and must arrange a time for everyone to meet. Once all participants are assembled together for the meeting, the FGDM meeting could take only a few hours or last an entire day.


How do I refer?

Anyone can suggest a case for FGDM, including lawyers and family members. However, the referral to CCN ADR comes from the CAS.


What are the steps in the FGDM process?
  • Determining if the case qualifies for FGDM. (CAS does this)
  • Securing consent of all key parties for the referral to FGDM. (CAS does this)
  • Consulting the Band if the case involves a First Nations family. (CAS does this)
  • Notifying the Office of the Children’s Lawyer. (CAS does this)
  • Making a referral to FGDM. (CAS does this)
  • Matching a FGDM Coordinator from the roster. (CCN ADR Program Coordinator does this)
  • Setting up and conducting the FGDM conference. (FGDM Coordinator does this)
  • Gathering feedback about the process. (FGDM Coordinator does this)

What if I have a complaint about the process?

The CCN ADR Coordinator asks for your opinions and feedback when the process ends. Having your feedback helps us to continually improve the process for users of the service.


How can I find out more about FGDM?

The George Hull Centre has additional information on its web site. You can also view this interactive flash video from the Family Group Conferencing Forum of Northern Ireland, a helpful tool for children and adults alike.

"The staff [are] very informative, patient, helpful and courteous."