Juvenile Dependency Mediation

As presented by Judge Diane Price in last month’s Courthouse Corner article, mediation is an alternative dispute resolution tool available for many types of civil cases. Napa Superior Court has offered a Juvenile Dependency Mediation program through Family Court Services with specifically trained experienced professional mediators since 1999. When a judge has made a determination that a child has been neglected or abused, the child may become a dependent of the Juvenile Court on a temporary basis.

The formal legal process may not be the preferred method of resolving disputes that arise in the context of child protection proceedings, where difficult and emotional issues are addressed. At any point during the case process, any party may ask the Court for a referral to mediation, or the judge may request mediation.

Juvenile Dependency Mediation as defined in the California Rules of court is a confidential process conducted by specially trained neutral third-party mediators who have no decision-making power. Dependency mediation provides a non-adversarial setting in which a mediator assists the parties in reaching a fully informed and mutually acceptable resolution that focuses on the child’s safety and best interest, as well as the safety of all family members. Dependency mediation is concerned with any and all issues related to child protection. Dependency mediation is based on a very simple premise: A confidential discussion among the parties may lead to positive results.

The referral to mediation takes place during one of the court hearings and is scheduled with Family Court Services from the courtroom. Dependency mediation may involve multiple participants beyond the parents and social workers. The judge may order the attorneys representing the parties, support persons, the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) representative, other individuals with relevant involvement, and when appropriate, the child, to participate.

On the day of mediation the participants are provided with the basic ground rules and sign a confidentiality agreement. The mediator facilitates a discussion among the participants giving them each an opportunity to share with and listen to others regarding the issues for which they were referred to mediation. By providing a safe, confidential setting open to questions from any participant, the mediation allows for all parties, especially the parents, to have a greater and full understanding of the court process.

When the parties are able to reach an agreement on any of the issues, these results are presented to the court for consideration. The mediator does not make any recommendations to the court if the parties are unable to reach an agreement and may not be called as a witness.

The benefits of dependency mediation include: confidentiality, which protects and empowers the participants; agreements that are focused on the specific needs of the child and family; quicker and higher rates to permanency and stability for the child; overall reduction in time spent in court and contested hearings; and a reduction in judicial workload. The parties generally feel more satisfied when they have a hand in resolving the dispute and creating the agreement, and are more likely to adhere to their agreements.

Participants have remarked that the mediation process helps to improve relationships between all parties, and in particular between the parents and the social worker. The emotions may be reduced because the parties have a full opportunity to express their grievances and concerns. Finally, mediation produces better results for children. When all of the adults in their lives, including the professionals who have been assigned to work on their cases, come to an agreement on the best plan for the children, this means that everyone will be working together toward a common goal. The bottom line is that everyone is truly on the “same page” when a successful dependency mediation is completed.

As summarized by Judge Price in the last Courthouse Corner, “Parties who participate in court mediation programs are usually very satisfied with the mediation process. Studies have shown that court mediation programs save the parties time and money, improve satisfaction with the courts’ services, and reduce future disputes.”

June is National Reunification Month, which celebrates the important accomplishments of parents and the many professionals who support them in getting their children home safely. Juvenile dependency mediation is one of the tools that may be used to help parents reunify with their children.



By Kathleen O’Neill, with Maria Mihm, Mediators
June, 2015


Connie Theron, Practising Attorney - UCT Law Clinic
“While working at the University of Stellenbosch Legal Aid Clinic and later at the UCT Law Clinic, I found the pro bono mediation services of Gerrie van der Watt of the Mediation Centre to be highly professional and extremely effective in our divorce matters. It is fantastic that our clients, with little or no financial means, can benefit from such an excellent programme.

The mediators are able to provide a non-threatening environment in which the clients are able to talk openly about issues that matter most to them, but which the Court in a divorce matter may choose not to entertain. Through the mediation sessions, the clients are able to reach an agreement together which ultimately they are both happy with. In cases where mediation did not yield the result of a settlement, the process was still extremely valuable, giving the parties better perspective and highlighting the key issues in dispute.”