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Child Protection Mediation Team Awarded

posted Oct 19, 2012, 10:54 AM by Annette Wells   [ updated Feb 1, 2013, 10:43 AM ]


Cheboygan County Child Protection Mediation Team awarded the Honorable Robert E. Weiss Award for Excellence in Working as a Team

Jackson, Michigan -September 27, 2012

The Honorable Robert J. Butts leads the Cheboygan Count Child Protection Mediation Team made up of the 53rd Family Court-Patti Hansen, Department of Human Services Director Julie Sproul, and with the Protective Services Case workers- Donna Appold, Borbra Johnston, Brooke Dell, Caroline Beltz and the Foster Care workers- Annette Keogh, Wendy Orsini, Dana Holcomb, Kristi Mclary, Prosecutor-Anthony Damiano , Attorneys for the parents, Attorney for the child or children- Nancy Dean, Bill Keogh, Donna Hansel, George Tschirhart, and Melissa Goodrich,  involved families and parents, and Community Mediation Services- Annette Wells, Judi Doan and volunteer mediators.


                On September 27, 2012 The Michigan Supreme Court presented The Honorable Robert E. Weiss Award to four Michigan judges during the Adoption & Permanency Forum in Jackson Michigan. The Honorable Robert J. Butts, Chief Judge, Cheboygan County Probate Court and his team members were awarded the Honorable Robert E. Weiss Award for Excellence in Working as a Team.

The goal of the Child Protection Mediation Program Team is to utilize the mediation process so together they can determine a safe, permanent home for children in a timely manner for Cheboygan County Child Protection Cases.

The Cheboygan Child Protection Mediation Program Team came together in 2001, since that time over 311 cases have been court ordered to participate in the mediation program. Of the cases ordered, 90% agree to participate in the program, the other 10% are settled prior, dismissed or a party refuses to participate.  The benefits of the program are fewer contested hearings, increased compliance with service plans, less time spent in foster care, parents feeling they have more of a voice in the proceedings, more cooperative relationships in the child welfare system and high rates of agreement. The 279 cases that have participated in the mediation program between 2001 and 2011 had TEAMS that successfully reached agreements in 84% of the cases.

This innovative approach starts with the TEAM mediating the prevention services and plans developed by the Department of Human Services in partnership with the other team players allowing the parents an opportunity to voluntarily begin services, understand the services, make a commitment to the services and agree to the placement of the child or children. The entire team works together through the mediation process, providing the families an opportunity to have a voice, gain an understanding and to make an agreement that is created and agreed upon by all the parties at the table including the parents. This “TEAM” process keeps the case moving forward, utilizes mediation as needed throughout the court process, allowing everyone to state why they are involved and what needs to be done at one time. This ensures that all parties have the necessary information in a timely manner to meet the needs of the child and/or children as quickly as possible. The process continues as needed with agreements to wording of the petition, placement or guardianship and visitation issues. It even continues to work with the families to terminate parental rights in cases where the service plans were not met or service plans were not an option for the families. Together as a TEAM they work together with the parents, so the parents have an understanding of what is in the best interest of the child or children, allowing parents to voluntarily terminate their parental rights with the knowledge and understanding of their role in the court process of Child Protection.

This TEAM has worked effectively over the last 11 years, ensuring that all the parties understand the goal, have a voice, provide understanding, and respect everyone’s needs. The dynamics of this team are unique, for the number involved, the organizations represented, the parents participating, all of them working together for the need of the child…it’s amazing!

The team is lead by the Honorable Robert J. Butts, Chief Judge of the Cheboygan County Probate Court.

Judge Robert John Butts attended Central Michigan University, Oakland University, and Thomas M. Cooley law School. In 2000, after 18 years in private practice including 5 years as assistant prosecutor, he was elected Cheboygan County Probate and Family Court Judge and was reelected in 2006. Judge Butts currently serves as the secretary to the Michigan Probate Judges Association and is involved in many groups and committees for that organization and for the Michigan Judicial Institute and State Court Administrative office, including being a trainer for the Child Protection mediators in 2004 and 2007. Locally the Judge is involved in many groups related to the children and adults the court serves including Child Advocacy Council, Human Services Coordinating Body, Cheboygan Adult Service Advocates, Cheboygan Housing and Homeless Coalition, Junior Achievement, and St. Jude’s /Cystic Fibrosis Bike-a-Thon.

The team players over the last eleven years have rotated positions and/or moved out of the area, but all the positions have always been filled with members from the Department of Human Services, Protective Services Case Workers, Foster Care Workers, the local Prosecutor, local attorneys for the parents and children and Community Mediation Services. Together this TEAM, truly achieves the TOGETHER EVERYONE ACHIEVES MORE!

Babe Ruth stated "The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don't play together, the club won't be worth a dime". This team has effectively worked together on 279 cases over the last 11 years; together they have reached and made agreements on 84% of those cases...all with the goal of making sure the children are in a safe, permanent home in a timely manner!