Long-term outcomes of child protection mediation on permanency for children in foster care
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During the past two decades, court and child welfare agency officials have begun to view the use of mediation in child protection cases as a logical and cost-effective approach to finding safe and mutually agreeable solutions to cases in a timely manner so that permanency can be established more quickly for children. While those who support the use of child protection mediation generally believe that the mediation process has a positive influence on permanency outcomes; few studies have attempted to examine the accuracy of these claims. Utilizing participant survey data from an evaluation of a pilot child protection mediation program implemented in 43 Texas counties, as well as case-level administrative data from Child Protective Services (CPS), the present study sought to address gaps in the existing literature by more closely examining the association between child protection mediation and permanency outcomes for children in foster care. In addition, this study examined the impact of parental engagement with the mediation process on permanency outcomes. Propensity Score Matching (PSM) was used to match 315 mediated cases with 315 non-mediated cases that were resolved through the traditional adversarial process (N=630). Descriptive bivariate analysis indicated that mediated cases varied significantly from non-mediated cases on several of the observed characteristics. Furthermore, the findings of this study indicate that neither participation in mediation nor parental engagement in the mediation process had a discernable effect on whether permanency was achieved or on children’s final placement outcomes. Interestingly, the use of mediation, as well as higher levels of parental engagement were both found to be associated with increased time to permanency. While the findings were somewhat counterintuitive, the results of this study suggest that the phenomena of permanency may be better explained not by one or two specific factors, but rather a combination of child, family, agency, court, and community factors that work together, and in some instances against each other, to influence the final permanency outcome. The findings of this study underscore the difficulty in measuring the impact of a single intervention on outcomes likely affected by a multitude of competing factors.