If the Ministry of Children and Family Development (the ministry) or a delegated Aboriginal agency contacts you about a child protection concern, you can ask for a mediator right away to help you work through the social worker's concerns.
A child protection mediator is a trained, neutral person who can help you and the social worker, and sometimes the Band Representative, reach an agreement about your child's safety, well being, plan of care, and services and resources for the family.
Child protection mediators have special training to create a safe space to have these difficult and emotional discussions. The mediator will want to speak to you in a confidential, one-to-one meeting before the mediation to discuss how to make the mediation more comfortable and less stressful for you. Your lawyer, a support person, or other family members can also be at the mediation if you want.
Mediators help both sides:
- listen to and understand each other
- try to come up with a solution that everyone can agree on
Mediators don't judge who's right or wrong. They don't take sides, make decisions, or tell parents or the social worker what to do. Instead, they guide the discussion to help people find things they agree on and then work toward a solution everyone can accept.
How mediation can help
If you and the social worker disagree on the best way to meet your child's needs, mediation might help. Mediation is a type of collaborative (shared) planning and decision making you can use to decide what's best for your child's care.
The child protection law in BC says parents, children, social workers, or anyone else involved in a child protection case can ask for mediation to help solve problems. Mediation gives you a chance to have your voice heard.
How to find a mediator
Mediators are available across BC. They can travel to remote communities. How you get a mediator might be different in every community. Ask your lawyer or social worker how to get one. You can find also find a list of approved mediators on the Mediate BC website.
You can ask for an Aboriginal mediator. Aboriginal mediators come from a variety of Aboriginal cultures across BC and Canada. They come from urban (cities) and rural (country) communities, and are respected members of their home communities.
Mediators aren't experts in all Aboriginal cultures. But the mediator works with you to meet your family's unique needs. For example, you can ask the mediator to:
- involve your family, band, First Nation, or Aboriginal representative in decision making
- involve an Elder you're comfortable with, or help you find an Elder who can support you
- incorporate traditional practices, such as smudging, cedar brushing, offering prayers, or including traditional foods
- use a space that meets your family's cultural needs, such as your local Aboriginal agency, friendship centre, or a traditional setting
If you'd like to work with a mediator from a particular culture or Nation, ask your lawyer or social worker for help.
How mediation works
Mediation can help make a plan for your child that builds on your strengths and the strengths of your family and community. You can use mediation to work through a number of issues such as:
- what services and supports the ministry can give you and your child, including culturally appropriate plans and community services
- conditions and terms of a consent order or supervision order
- how long someone else will care for your child
- how and when can you can visit your child
- making a plan for your child to be returned to you, your family, or community
You can't use mediation to decide:
- whether your child needs protection
- why your child needs protection
When to ask for mediation
You can ask for mediation at any stage of the child protection process, including:
- as soon as a social worker contacts you to ask questions about your family — you don't have to wait until the social worker takes your child from your home
- if you have to go to court
- if your child is in foster care (temporary care or permanent care), or if the ministry placed them in the care of a family member or friend
- if your court date is already set and you ask for court to be adjourned to give you time to go to mediation — if you don't reach an agreement, you can still go to court after mediation
- after the court hearing
How to get started with mediation
Both you and the social worker have to agree to use mediation.
- Then you have to agree on a mediator.
- Once you agree on a mediator, they meet separately with you and the social worker. This meeting is sometimes called an orientation session or a pre-meeting. It can be in person or on the phone. You can talk about your needs, concerns, and your child's interests, and ask questions.
- The mediator then sets up the mediation session.
What happens at mediation
The mediator works with you and the social worker before the mediation session to decide who'll be there.
- Usually, you, the social worker, and the mediator are at the mediation session.
- Your child, other family members, your advocate or lawyer, and representatives from your Aboriginal community might also be there.
A mediation session can take from two to seven hours, depending on the issues. Sometimes more than one meeting is needed.
If you have concerns about the mediation process, you can ask to meet privately with the mediator or your advocate or lawyer at any time.
The goal is for everyone to meet and work together, with the mediator's help, to find solutions in your child's best interests. Everyone involved must agree to any agreements reached in mediation.
It's okay to take a break during a mediation if you need more time to think or calm down.
It's normal to feel nervous at meetings. Remember, your family and friends are there to support you.