The Office of Family Mediation
Wendy L. Sawyer, Director
County Courts Building
401 Bosley Avenue, Room 515
Towson, MD 21204
What is the Juvenile Court Family Mediation Project?
The Baltimore County Juvenile Court Family Mediation Project offers parents who have children in foster care an opportunity to work together with social workers to plan for their children. The mediator is a neutral professional who helps the participants to reach agreements that are in the best interests of the children. Mediation services are provided at no cost to the participants.
When children come into the custody of the Department of Social Services, a mediated agreement will provide:
(1) What parents will need to do to have their child return home, and how their social worker can help;
(2) A visitation schedule for parents and children;
(3) A target date to return home, if that is the goal; and
(4) A back-up action plan, if the child cannot return home
When children cannot return home, a mediated agreement can:
(1) Allow parents an opportunity to participate in making an action plan for their family; and
(2) Increase the possibility for a parent to maintain some connection to their child that is agreeable to the agency, the approved relative or the adoptive family.
Who participates in mediation?
Participants may vary, depending on the issues. Birth parents and Department of Social Services social workers are primary participants, as are children when recommended. Foster or adoptive parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other relatives may also participate. Attorneys may also be present as observers and to approve of any agreement before it is signed.
How do families get referred for mediation?
When children are placed in the legal custody of the Department of Social Services, the Juvenile Court will order mediation. Parents will be provided with a mediation appointment date and are required to attend. Mediation may be ordered at future Juvenile Court hearings when requested by parents, attorneys, social workers, or children. Finally, when a child cannot return home, mediation may be ordered to help all parties decide whether an agreement can be reached on an action plan for that family. An action plan will promote the best interests of the child and may include various services aimed at assisting the family.
What if the parties do not reach agreement?
Mediation may not resolve all issues. Issues that cannot be resolved will be returned to Court for resolution.
What are the benefits of mediation?
(1) Provides parents a unique opportunity to be more involved in planning for their children;
(2) Builds on family strengths;
(3) Provides parents with a powerful tool to insure that their voice will be heard;
(4) Presents a different way to resolve disagreements between parents and social workers and/or parents and their children;
(5) Promotes open communication and cooperation among all parties;
(6) Allows for problem solving in a confidential setting with a neutral party; and
(7) Opens the door to creative problem solving and solutions.
Who are the mediators?
The mediators are trained professionals employed by the Court. They act as neutral parties dedicated to helping participants come to agreement on goals and services related to planning for children in foster care. The mediators have extensive experience in matters related to child custody and other family issues.
Revised June 25, 2012