Family mediation program encourages communication
by Nancy Ridgeway
Ted Chapin, Dr. Lori Russell-Chapin, and John T. Brady MA ’71, shown from left, are instructors in a new family mediation certificate program offered through Bradley.
Assisting parents with custody issues as they learn communication skills and conflict resolution is the ultimate goal for a new family mediation certificate program offered through Bradley University. The program was initiated at the request of Judge Jerelyn Maher ’74, 10th Judicial Circuit. Maher was named coordinator for a family mediation program after the Illinois Supreme Court mandated that each judicial circuit in Illinois establish a program for child custody cases. Maher sought the help of John T. Brady MA ’71, an attorney and experienced family mediator, and they came to Bradley to see if a program could be established. Dr. Lori Russell-Chapin, associate dean of the College of Education and Health Sciences, professor of education, and a licensed professional clinical counselor, agreed and began developing the curricula.
Instructors are Maher, Brady, Russell-Chapin, and Dr. Ted Chapin, licensed clinical psychologist and licensed family therapist. Brady says, “You won’t find another program in the United States with a practicing attorney, a sitting judge, a clinical psychologist, and a member of a university’s faculty, all working together.”
Participants include attorneys, social workers, clergy, licensed counselors, psychologists, therapists, and teachers. After successfully completing the 40-hour program, participants are designated as approved family mediators for the 10th Judicial Circuit in Peoria, Tazewell, Stark, Putnam, and Marshall Counties. As mediators, they work with couples to help resolve custody and visitation issues.
Skeptics become supporters
The course has met with high praise. Chapin comments, “We have been successful in taking skeptical lawyers and other professionals and making them advocates for mediation. Attorneys and therapists are in the course together, and they learn about each other.”
Russell-Chapin says, “We ask them to suspend their skills and biases and put on a new hat. A mediator is a neutral person who is an advocate for everyone.” She adds, “Mediation is in the best interest of the children. Our goal is no parental alienation. We want parents to view divorce as a business and conduct themselves in a professional manner.”
An advantage of the Illinois mandate is mediators do not deal in financial aspects of the divorce. “We focus on family dynamics and a co-parenting plan. We help people listen and understand what’s underneath the conflict,” Chapin comments.
Maher talks with participants at the beginning and end of the course, discussing the law from a judge’s perspective and answering questions. She comments, “Most of our problems are because two people do not have the communication skills to reach an agreement. The Supreme Court said courtrooms are not where children should be. It was easier to go to court and say the judge gets to decide Johnny comes home at 6:15 p.m. than it was to discuss it.”
Brady adds, “We focus folks on the future. Because the pain is great, it’s important for parents to look at the future apart from the pain. Mediation is very future-oriented. It helps people change so past mistakes are not repeated.”
Maher believes mediation will have long-term benefits in the judicial system. “Children see their parents trying to avoid a courtroom battle. My belief is 20 or 30 years from now, we will see fewer kids in delinquency court. If they can see their parents talking things out, they’re going to be less driven by impulse and more prone to thinking and talking things through. Mediation forces you to stop and think.”
This program will be offered again on November 2–4 and November 9–11 in the Caterpillar Global Communications Center. Visit bradley.edu/continue to register. Workshops for graduates of approved family mediation certification programs also are scheduled. Register for workshops by calling 309-677-2820.