The Office of Mediation and Arbitration (the “Office”) is statutorily tasked with developing and administrating alternative dispute resolution programs for the state of New Hampshire. The Voluntarily Mediated Agreements process (VMA) occurs in an open child protection case after the court has awarded a state agency, the Division for Children Youth and Families (DCYF), legal custody of the child and DCYF has filed petitions to terminate the parental rights of the birth parents. A VMA is an opportunity for birth parents, prospective adoptive parents (pre-adoptive parents), and DCYF to discuss and agree upon the parameters of communication that a birth parent can have with their child after the child is adopted into another family. Recently, the Office has become aware of concerns around practices that were impacting the VMA process’s efficacy. The Office has asked the DSD Clinic to evaluate the current protocols for VMAs and offer recommendations for improvement of the use of mediation in this context.
- Identify what the Voluntarily Mediated Agreements process looks like at present
- Suggest improvements to the use of mediation in the abuse and neglect context based on best practices, and suggest improvements to the VMA process based upon the gathered interests of the stakeholders;
- Present for key stakeholders on the evaluation of VMA protocols, and prepare an Executive summary of key findings and recommendations.