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New mediation program aims to help families reach agreement on child placement

In the event that a family is faced with adverse circumstances and a child or children is taken into county care and there is more than one possible placement option, how is that situation resolved without bitter contention while maintaining as many positive permanent connections for the child as possible?

Thanks to a new program at Adoption Network Cleveland: The Ohio Family Connection, those interested parties will have an opportunity to sit together and evaluate their options to create a placement outcome that best meets the needs of the child. Adoption Network Cleveland's Permanency Mediation program launches Aug. 1 with the aim of guiding families to reach an agreement that all the adults can support without isolating the child from positive relationships with additional family or caring adults.

"When there is an opportunity for more than one placement option for a child and, for example, a prospective foster family and interested family members cannot come to a decision, we are able to sit down with them together and encourage them to talk through the process, and help them work toward a mutual agreement," said Director of Programs Jennifer Zisk-Vitron.

Mediation is an informal, private problem-solving process. In terms of how our organization will use mediation, a neutral party from our staff will bring the caring and supportive adults to speak collaboratively and reach an agreement that, ideally, maintains as many positive permanent connections for a child as possible.

The Permanency Mediation program was developed at the request of Cuyahoga County Division of Children and Family Services, which asked the organization to meet a need in assisting potential placement families to collectively discuss possible solutions in the best interest of a child or children.

Adoption Network Cleveland has two trained mediators who can facilitate group decision-making, Zisk-Vitron and Youth Services Program Services Donikea Austin. "Our intent is to help people work together and plan what is best for a child," Austin said. "We act as neutral third parties, not as attorneys or judges, and we'll guide those involved to come to an agreement."

Findings from a permanency mediation pilot project have found:
• Heightened family engagement and empowerment;
• Increased information gathering and sharing;
• Joint decision-making;
• Creation of comprehensive and creative agreements/service plans;
• Increased family and service provider compliance

Learn more about Permanency Mediation at Adoption Network Cleveland