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ADR/Mediation in Abuse Neglect Cases

Since the Through the Eyes of the Child Initiative was created in 2006, particular attention has been paid to alternative dispute resolution (ADR) practices within the context of the abuse/neglect court system. As the best interests of the child are of primary concern, ADR practices have been shown to be particularly useful in placing the child at the forefront of the parties' issues and in creating plans that are best for the family.

In Nebraska, the development of ADR practices in abuse/neglect cases began with the development of Pre-Hearing Conferences which are held prior to the Protective Custody Hearing, the first hearing after the child is removed from the home. The purpose of the Pre-Hearing Conference is three-fold: (1) to gather information about the family at the beginning of the court process, (2) to include the parents in decision-making process and improve their buy-in, and (3) to identify and initiate necessary services as soon as possible. The majority of the local teams developed a process for Pre-Hearing Conferences. In most cases, the Pre-Hearing Conference was led by a neutral, trained facilitator from one of the six ODR-approved mediation centers. In 2006, a Protocol Development Committee was convened to develop and approve a statewide protocol.

Initial Pre-Hearing Conference Protocol

Although not required, the majority of teams have adopted this protocol for their Pre-Hearing Conferences. In 2007 and 2008, an informal study of Pre-Hearing Conferences was conducted in the counties of Adams, Clay, Dawson, Fillmore, Madison, Nuckolls, Seward, Webster and Scotts Bluff. Click here for more information on the study.

Family Group Conferencing has also often been an integral part of abuse/neglect cases. For more information on Family Group Conferencing, click here.

In 2009, local teams began further expansion of ADR practices in the timeline of their abuse/neglect cases. The southern Panhandle team led by Judge Randin Roland began piloting Permanency Pre-Hearing Conferences (PPHCs). Permanency Pre-Hearing Conferences are facilitated meetings held up to six weeks prior to the Permanency Hearing, which occurs 12 months after the child is removed. The purpose of the Permanency Pre-Hearing Conference is to bring the parties together to gather information and determine what information is still needed prior to the Permanency Hearing so that (a) the Court has sufficient detailed information to make a permanency decision that is in the child's best interests regarding the child's safety, well being, and timely permanency and (b) the parties have the opportunity to discuss what permanency plans will be proposed to the Court and what steps need to be made to accomplish the plans. View the powerpoint presentation presented by Judge Roland's team at the 2009 Children's Summit.

Permanency Pre-Hearing Conference Protocol

Concurrently, the Sarpy County team led by Judge Bob O'Neal collaborated with the Concord Center and DHHS to develop a mediation pilot that would include Permanency Pre-Hearing Conferences and Pre-Hearing Termination of Parental Rights Conferences (PHTPRs) to be held in a number of abuse/neglect cases. Read more about the Sarpy County pilot. The purpose of the Pre-Hearing Termination of Parental Rights Conferences is to bring the parties together to gather information and determine whether the case is ready for trial regarding terminating parental rights and to provide the parties an opportunity to explore non-trial alternatives, all with the primary focus on the need for permanency for the child that are in the child's best interests.

TPR Pre-Hearing Conference Protocol

For more information about ADR in abuse/neglect cases, contact Kelli Hauptman at khauptman2@unl.edu or 402-472-3927, or Debora Brownyard, Director of Nebraska Office of Dispute Resolution, debora.brownyard@nebraska.gov or 402-471-2766.