Alternative Dispute Resolution

Section 1.6

Judicial, Legal, Law Enforcement, Justice, Social Service and School Professionals Should Utilize Alternative Dispute Resolution Strategies to Resolve Youth and Family Conflicts Outside of the Court System

Youth charged with status offenses may enter the system as a result of significant family conflict where disputes may result, for example, in a youth running away or being charged as “incorrigible.”  In many instances, the court system is not well suited to resolve these high conflict situations utilizing an adversarial process that may only worsen the fragile parent-child relationship.  Introducing alternative dispute resolution (ADR) strategies, like mediation, before court involvement and/or before an adjudicatory hearing can empower families to resolve conflicts internally with professional guidance and may limit child and family exposure to court and deeper justice system involvement.  ADR strategies seek to reach an agreement between the youth and his/her family in ways that encourage harmony, rather than punish the youth for actions that are often rooted in family dysfunction.  ADR also helps to alleviate congested family or juvenile court dockets and can reduce the number of youth who are removed from their family’s care.

Parent-child mediation offers the family and youth an opportunity to mutually identify and agree to resolve family problems.  It is a practice that many jurisdictions have begun to use with success in status offense cases.  It is incumbent upon professionals working with families to assess whether ADR approaches are appropriate and to ensure that the youth is willing to participate.  In instances where there is evidence of violence between the youth and parent, professionals should determine how ADR processes could be altered to assure youth safety and well-being, recognizing that in some circumstances, ADR approaches may not be appropriate.