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BC Facilitated Planning Meetings Program (FPMP)

Year: 
2001
Description: 

Mediated meetings between parents and social workers to resolve issues in child custody cases in a collaborative manner.

Status: 

Permanent implementation

Jurisdiction: 

British Columbia

Body Responsible: 
  • Ministry of Children and Family Development - Child and Family Development Division
  • Ministry of Attorney - General Dispute Resolution Office
Timeline: 
2001 Pilot project initiated in Surrey
2002 Project continued past expiration of the pilot period
2003 Evaluation of the pilot project released
Development: 

Facilitated Planning Meetings were introduced in 2001 as part of the the Surrey Court Project pilot program, which was continued as a permanent program with Facilitated Planning Meetings now available in some areas of the province. 
 

The Surrey Court Project was an initiative of theChild, Family and Community Service Act (CFCSA) Caseflow Study Committee. The committee was established at the recommendation of the Ombudsman, Dulcie Macallum. In her 1998 report "Getting There: Response to the Recommendations of the Gove Inquiry into Child Protection," the Ombudsman recommended that the Ministry of Attorney General and the Ministry of Children and Family Development strike a committee to explore the reasons for delays in court decisions regarding children and youth.

Backgrounder
 
Purpose: 

The prime objective of the Facilitated Planning Meeting is to make effective decisions for children as soon as possible. It provides an opportunity, early in the court process, for parents and social workers to meet and, with the help of an independent mediator, resolve as many issues as possible in a collaborative manner. The social worker is accompanied by a Court Work Supervisor who has the authority to agree to a service plan and approve allocation of resources.

Backgrounder
 
Description of Reforms: 
The basic steps of the Facilitated Planning Meeting process are:

  • Step 1: Invitation/referral. Parents are invited to participate in the project
  • Step 2: Setting up an orientation session for parents
  • Step 3: Orientation session for parents and a separate meeting with the social worker
  • Step 4: Information exchange prior to the Planning Meeting
  • Step 5: The Planning Meeting
  • Step 6: Where all or some issues are agreed to, formalizing the agreement.
    Backgrounder

Step 1: Referral Process

A referral to the project may be made by a social worker on one of the participating teams, the FPMP Court Work Supervisor, a parent, the lawyer of a parent, MCFD Director's Council, or a Judge. The aim of FPMP is to make such referrals as early in the court process as possible.

Report at 3

Steps 2 & 3: Orientation Session

Orientation sessions are held between the mediator and social worker (including the court work supervisor) on the one hand, and parents on the other. Depending on the relationship between the parents, their sessions may be held together or separately. Sessions with other parties are possible as well. Legal counsel may attend these meetings.

The purpose is to prepare parties for the planning meeting by discussing logistics and clarifying parties interests, issues and concerns. Information relevant to the safety of the child(ren) is also exchanged. An Agreement to Participate in the planning meeting may be signed at this stage.

Orientation sessions and planning meetings (as discussed in the next section) are scheduled by the FPMP Administrative Coordinator.

Report at 3

Steps 5 & 6: Planning Meeting

The planning meeting is a mediated session which includes one mediator, the immediate parties (e.g. parents and social worker), and the Court Work Supervisor, and can include parents' counsel, counsel for the child(ren), Director's counsel, and other relevant parties. The original expectation was that the meeting would take about 2 hours, and that in some cases a second meeting may be necessary.

When all or some issues are agreed to, a written agreement is created and signed. In some cases this agreement becomes the basis of a consent order. If no issues are resolved, the mediator confirms that the matter will proceed to a hearing.

This meeting is also scheduled by the Administrative Coordinator.

Report at 4

Comparison with Section 22 Mediations under the CFCSA

Section 22 of the CFCSA allows child protection disputes to be referred to mediation for resolution. A Child Protection Mediation Program was established in 1997. The main differences between the FPMP process and other Section 22 mediations are:

  • The role of the Administrative Coordinator is unique to FPMP and provides critical, time-consuming scheduling services to mediators. In Section 22 mediations, mediators are responsible for scheduling all mediation services. (See note concerning the impact of the reduction of this role in Section 2.4.1.) (Note: the Administrative Coordinator position was full-time throughout the life of the demonstration project, and was essential to the timely completion of cases. It also allowed mediators and the Court Work Supervisor time to prepare for the meeting. The Court Work Supervisor reports that the reduction of this position to half time in April 2003 has seriously impacted her preparation time.)
  • The role of the Court Work Supervisor is essential to the FPMP, but is not a feature of Section 22 mediations. This role is described in Section 6.3. The Court Work Supervisor is an experienced social worker whose position is dedicated solely to the FPMP process. She participates in both the orientation meetings with the social worker and in the planning meetings, acts as a mentor or "process interpreter" to the social worker, and is knowledgeable about and has authority to approve services.
  • Section 22 mediations are strictly voluntary. While participation in FPMP is also voluntary, the Court Work Supervisor systematically reviews all eligible cases for referral.
  • Orientation sessions are optional in Section 22 mediation, but are an essential component in FPMP cases.
  • Section 22 mediations can occur at any time when MCFD is involved with a family under the CFCSA, even before a child is removed or after a hearing. The original conception of FPMP cases was that they would normally begin shortly after the court process has been initiated. However, a significant percentage of cases were referred to the project at more advanced stages in the court process.
  • Section 22 mediations can occur anywhere in the province, while the FPMP is restricted to the South Fraser Region offices identified in Section 2.1.2

While these differences are true in general terms, in the Section 22 mediations discussed in Appendix 2 of this report, the mediations were conducted by the same players and in the same manner as FPMP cases.

Report at 4
 
Criteria and Methods of Evaluation: 

The final evaluation report of the Surrey Court Project's Facilitated Planning Meeting was released on November 2003. "The methodologies for [the] report consisted of analysis of a range of quantitative data extracted from the FPMP database, and a comparison between FPMP cases and a baseline set of protection cases from the same offices, in terms of the time for cases to reach various milestones and a final disposition" (Report at v).

Results: 

The final evaluation report contained the following conclusions:
 

Data and feedback gathered for this report indicates that the FPMP has been a highly successful demonstration project. It is now an ongoing project within the Fraser South Region of MCFD and has expanded to the Simon Fraser Region. It is being actively considered in other areas of the province as a way of expediting child protection cases, reducing court, MCFD and Legal Aid costs, and contributing to more satisfying outcomes for parents, children and social workers.

The primary conclusions that can be drawn at this point are as follows:

  • The planning meeting process achieves a very high resolution rate, whether considered by overall case (83% fully resolved) or by issues involved (92% resolved). These high rates not only held up throughout the study period but actually improved. Considering the stakes involved and the highly charged nature of these cases, this is a highly significant achievement.
  • Although mediation to achieve consent on a continuing care order was not an original objective in the demonstration project, preliminary evidence concerning post-demonstration period cases clearly points to the effectiveness of mediation of CCOs. These showed similarly high resolution rates to non-CCO cases.
  • When provided with a dedicated administrative assistant to schedule orientation meetings and planning meetings the FPMP process is extremely efficient both in involving a large number of parties (average 5.4) and in expediting cases (69% of cases completed in less than 40 days from referral).
  • Whereas all the baseline cases (47/47) went to a protection hearing, only 14% (5/37) of FPMP cases did so. Instead, in the vast majority of cases where agreements were reached in a planning meeting, the social worker needed only to appear in court for a few minutes on the originally scheduled date, in order to confirm the agreement. This outcome clearly represents a savings in court and social worker time in FPMP cases.
  • Preliminary data suggests that FPMP cases take longer than comparable court cases to reach the presentation hearing and commencement of protection hearing stages; this is simply because FPMP cases involve orientation and planning meetings whereas court cases do not. However, over the longer term (i.e. to a temporary order and, especially, to final disposition) it appears that the FPMP process contributes to an overall reduction in case duration. It will be necessary to await completion of all FPMP cases before the extent and significance of the time reduction can be determined. The main reason for this time efficiency is the FPMP's ability to resolve most matters up to the temporary order stage in the same meeting. This ability in turn springs from the fact that the planning meeting is not just another "milestone event" to be managed, as court appearances often tend to be. Rather they are mechanisms whereby all relevant issues and parties are addressed in a comprehensive and non-confrontational manner.
  • Satisfaction of all major participants in the planning meetings - parents, social workers, lawyers - was very high in interviews conducted in the first half of the demonstration project. Given continued high resolution rates, it is likely that this level of satisfaction has been sustained.
  • Although this study did not involve a cost analysis, data collected by MCFD and reported in Appendix 1 suggests that this process results in costs savings to MCFD. The fact that trial dates are vacated when cases are mediated also suggests that there can be significant savings to both the Court and Legal Aid systems.
    Report at 34

Revision History:
This summary was last reviewed in Jan 17, 2014:custom:F, Jan 17, 2014:custom:Y.