New FSHS project helps students become state-approved mediators, develop conflict resolution skills
Thursday, December 4, 2014
The College of Human Ecology's School of Family Studies and Human Services has started offering opportunities to assist students in becoming state-approved mediators by working on real cases.
Terrie McCants, clinical associate professor in family studies and human services — along with Nancy O'Conner, director of the university's Marriage and Family Therapy Clinic, and Art Thompson from the State Advisory Council on Dispute Resolution — proposed the Riley/Geary Domestic Mediation project.
Riley and Geary counties have been identified as counties where Kansas courts could not find mediation services for families who are unable to afford the price of private mediation, which often ranges from $100 to $300 per hour. The new program provides affordable and high-quality mediation services to local families by offering services on a sliding-fee scale.
The project has three goals: To provide students with real-life experiences and mentorship from seasoned mediators; to develop the local capacity of well-trained, state-approved mediators; and to fill a void for mediation services in the communities comprising the 21st and 8th judicial districts.
The college already offers an undergraduate and graduate certificate in conflict resolution, but McCants wanted to help students develop their skills by transitioning theory into practice.
"Our students benefit from these real-life experiences and the mentorship that comes from the supervised co-mediations with veteran mediators," McCants said. "We also are helping to create future jobs for our students as lead mediators."
Mediation is one form of alternative dispute resolution and mediators help clients develop strategies to constructively and productively engage in conflict. The university's program addresses several areas of mediation, including divorce and child custody, parent/adolescent, workplace and elder mediation.
"When you're embroiled in conflict and you're feeling victimized and confused, it can be really hard to create positive options for resolution," McCants said. "A good mediator can help with that. The process can help people see things differently so that collaborative problem-solving occurs."
As part of the program, students take the appropriate coursework in core conflict resolution and domestic mediation. Additional courses focus on violence prevention and intervention, culture and conflict, and organizational conflict. Outside of the classroom, students have the option of co-meditating with state-approved mediators on real cases.
"Our veteran mediators work with our students and mentor them to build up their skills and knowledge, which can help prepare them for becoming state-approved mediators," McCants said. "It is important for our students to be mentored by a variety of mediators so that each students' own mediation style can emerge."
The pilot mediation program received support from several local judges, including District Judge David Stutzman and Chief Judge Meryl Wilson of Riley County and District Judge Martiza Segarra of Geary County. The judges often refer local families to try mediation as a way to resolve conflict.
"After 18 years of hearing contested custody cases I came to the conclusion there had to be a better way to resolve the conflict between parents," Wilson said. "Custody issues will arise years after the final divorce hearing. I have found that mediation is a first step towards developing a respectful relationship between the parents. This allows for the parents to resolve future issues in a positive way."
"This program is good economic development — the project has helped increase the local capacity of well-trained, state-approved mediations, and has provided needed and affordable services for families in our communities," McCants said. "Our students at K-State benefit, the community benefits and the district courts benefit."
Written by Jennifer Tidball, Division of Communications and Marketing at Kansas State University