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Alternative Dispute Resolution in the Office of Safeguarding

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is a new service designed to resolve tertiary complaints that involve or impact on children.  ADR is a collective term for processes in which a trained impartial person (ADR practitioner) assists those in dispute to resolve the issues between them.

ADR will be available in 2020 to select schools and gradually rolled out thereafter.

Most ADR cases will involve disputes between two or more adults where the damaged relationship is having an adverse impact on the provision of services to a child. 

The ADR service in OoSG:

  • is child-focused
  • values the investment of a child not only in their relationship with the respective adults in their lives, but in the relationships between those adults
  • provides a forum in which the purpose of communication is to understand (not reply)
  • recognises that worthwhile relationships between people can be hard work
  • restores a sense of welcome to promote longevity in the relationships central to a child’s life.

The parents of a Catholic school student have made one or more complaints against a teacher’s manner in interactions with their child and his/her peers. No other parents have made complaints against the teacher. The complaint(s) are not “reportable conduct”, nor “ROSH” (risk of significant harm), nor do they involve alleged criminality, that is, the nature of the complaint(s) do not require an investigative response. The school has endeavoured to resolve the complaint, as has the CSO, however the parents have formed the view that the school and CSO are biased towards the teacher, and their complaint(s) remain unresolved. The level of disputation is adversely affecting the ability of the school student to gain the benefits of a Catholic education.

Benefits of Alternative Dispute Resolution

ADR may be an alternative process to conducting an inquiry (investigation) into the dispute between the parties.  Comparative to an investigative process, ADR:

  • is more flexible and responsive to the needs of the individuals involved
  • provides an opportunity for concerns to be resolved more quickly than most investigations
  • is less formal, and an individual’s participation in the resolution process promotes commitment to the outcomes
  • is more likely to preserve goodwill between the individuals involved, or at least not escalate the conflict, which is especially important where the individuals have a commitment to a continuing relationship
  • has a restorative focus, it is not a process for testing facts and making findings.

Eligibility for Alternative Dispute Resolution

For a complaint or dispute to be eligible for entering the ADR process:

  • one of the adults involved in the dispute must be a diocesan employee, a cleric incardinated to the Diocese or has been granted faculties to minister in the Diocese, or a religious acting as an agent of the Diocese
  • the dispute involves, or the adverse consequences of the dispute adversely impacts on, a child who is a part of a diocesan faith community or in receipt of a diocesan service
  • the dispute relates to a ministry the Diocese conducts or a service a diocesan agency provides.

Disputes ineligible for consideration for resolution by ADR include those that involve alleged conduct by a diocesan employee, cleric or religious that may amount to conduct defined in Schedule 1 or Schedule 2 of the Child Protection (Working with Children) Act 2012.

For more information about what constitutes child abuse:

In consultation with the Director of Safeguarding, the ADR co-ordinator may apply their professional discretion to include or exclude particular disputes.

Referring a dispute to Alternative Dispute Resolution

In the first instance a concern should be raised with the relevant diocesan entity to allow an opportunity for resolution locally. 

Any person who does not consider their concern to have been resolved via the local processes may contact the Office of Safeguarding (OoSG) and seek to have their concern referred for further management within the Diocese, including to ADR. 

Any member of the Diocese who receives a concern for management that has been unresolved at the local level may contact OoSG for referral to ADR.

A referral may be made to OoSG through the Intake process
P:  02 4979 1390 available during normal office hours Monday to Friday
E:  child.protection@mn.catholic.org.au

Obligations when participating in Alternative Dispute Resolution

There is no obligation to participate in ADR.

If you are involved with a concern that is eligible for ADR you will receive an invitation to participate.

Timeliness is an important feature of the ADR process. You will be asked to offer your consent to participate within five working days of the invitation being made.

Consent must be offered by each participant to a concern for ADR to be adopted.

Should consent be withheld by one or more participants the concern may be referred back to the originating diocesan agency for management.

If you choose to participate in ADR, you should be acting in good faith, that is, you are genuinely seeking to resolve a dispute between you and the other party. That means you are prepared to make some compromises.

Each participant to the ADR process, and any support people, will be required to sign a confidentiality agreement.

The ADR practitioner is required by law to report certain information to Family and Community Services (FaCS).  Reports to the Child Protection Helpline must be made where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that a child or young person is at risk of significant harm and the concerns are current. Risk of significant harm (ROSH) may occur from a single act or omission or a series of acts of omissions.

As an employee of the Diocese, the ADR practitioner must report concerns that may arise in the course of ADR in accordance with the Diocese’s Safeguarding Framework.

Process of participating in Alternative Dispute Resolution

In general the ADR process will be a joint conference in which the participants, with the assistance of the ADR practitioner, identify the issues in dispute, develop options, consider alternatives, and try to reach an agreement that is in the best interests of the child/ren or vulnerable adult(s) involved.

Before a joint conference being held, the ADR practitioner will consult with each participant separately to hear his or her story and provide information about the joint ADR conference.

The ADR practitioner is responsible for convening a joint ADR conference that responds to the needs, and enhances the contribution, of each individual involved. 

ADR works best when the participants are prepared to adopt a co-operative and outcomes-focused approach to problem solving.  ADR may not be the best option in circumstances where one or more participants are not able to frankly outline their needs and interests.  Should the practitioner form a concern about the appropriateness of ADR, this will be raised with the participants before any joint conference being held.

While participating in ADR, you will be asked to:

  • put forward suggestions to resolve the matters of concern
  • be willing to listen to the experiences of the other people involved
  • remain co-operative and calm.

The ADR practitioner may stop the ADR session if a participant finds it difficult to listen or participate calmly.

Voice of the child

As children get older, closer to adulthood, the ADR process affords them a greater level of independence in stating their positions.

A child 16 years or older may elect to participate in ADR as an individual participant.

A child younger than 16 years may request to participate in ADR as an individual participant. This request will be assessed by the ADR co-ordinator or the Director of Safeguarding and be determined on the merits of each individual case.

With parental/guardian permission the ADR practitioner may meet with a child under 16 years to receive information about their experience of the unresolved concerns.  The ADR practitioner may include the experience of the child in the ADR joint session.

Whether to involve a child in the ADR process, and the appropriate means for this involvement, is a discretionary matter for the ADR practitioner.

Likely outcomes of Alternative Dispute Resolution

At the conclusion of the joint ADR session the ADR practitioner will prepare a report for submission to each participant in the ADR and executive staff of the referring diocesan agency.

The ADR report may address:

  • whether the ADR practitioner formed the view that the participants acted in good faith
  • the length of the ADR session
  • the matters identified for resolution
  • the agreement reached
  • any matters identified for resolution where agreement was not reached
  • a recommendation on whether further ADR at OoSG may be beneficial
  • in the event further ADR is not recommended, where the unresolved matters may be referred for resolution.

At the conclusion of the joint ADR session the ADR practitioner may prepare a report for submission to executive diocesan staff to offer systemic or operational recommendations.