Alternative Mechanisms: How have alternative dispute resolution mechanisms been used to provide access to justice for children?

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Alternative Mechanisms: How have alternative dispute resolution mechanisms been used to provide access to justice for children?

In this discussion topic, we would like to explore how non-judicial complaints mechanisms and alternative dispute resolution mechanisms have been used to provide access to justice for children and teens. Share your thoughts, experiences, questions, challenges and ideas by replying to the comments below.

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ADR can be a helpful tool for cases!

Often Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is overshadowed by other “priorities.”  For example, criminal matters or family law issues have their own processes - which may be more urgent and are often mandated by law.  But ADR should not be overlooked - at a minimum to ensure that the parties are talking.  I’d like to hear others’ experiences with ADR to promote justice for children.

 In my experience ADR is a very useful tool.  In all cases that I’ve engaged ADR in childrens’ justice matters it has helped.  Admittedly it may not resolve all of the issues - but what seems most important to me is that it keeps (forces?) the parties to talk with eachother.  Particularly when there is guidance, such as from a mediator or facilitator, these conversations help the parties identify what is really needed for the child at issue.

ADR methods can range from very formal to informal - and this latitude may also increase the opportunity to engage the child in the process.  The New Tactics topic (in this forum) "What are the specific Challenges children and teens face when accessing justice?" raises important points about engaging the child in the process.  ADR may offer many avenues to increase the child’s participation (where appropriate, especially based on the child’s age).

I’d particularly like to hear examples that you thought ADR was particularly helpful - or maybe not so helpful.


Hi Stu,

Hi Stu,

I'm glad you opened up this discussion.  I'm curious to hear more about how you used ADR in criminal matters.  I can see the advantages to the child of not having to go through a formal, exhausting and often re-traumatizing criminal process, but I wonder what happens to the adult offender.  I'm sorry to be so uninformed about this (as you say ADR is often overlooked!) but is it used mainly in family situations, where there's a chance of rehab and reintegration?



I think we are talking about two scenarios in which ADR might be used.  First, is when the child is the offender. In that case, I think restorative ADR models that give the child an opportunity to accept responsibility and participate in a process of healing for the victim and community can be very constructive. I admit it's been a while since I looked at examples in depth, but I recall that there were a number of promising examples in New Zealand. Has anyone looked at restorative justice work in New Zealand? I'll see what I can dig up.

The second scenario is when the child is the victim, and the offender is either a child or an adult.  I don't know of models in which criminal acts by adults against children have been processed through ADR. I suspect it would be more common to use ADR approaches when both the victims and offender are juveniles. In that case, it's critical to ensure that the child who has been victimized agrees to and is comfortable with the process. Otherwise, ADR, like traditional processes, can run the risk of retraumatizing the victim.  That said, I think they are a promising avenue.

I'll be interested to hear if others know of examples involving children either as the offender or victim or both.

Non-criminal v. criminal

Jonathan is spot-on about the scenarios that seem likely to fit with ADR. Child as offender seems the most ripe for restorative, positive outcomes. I've seen it applied very effectively in non-criminal (non-judicial) settings for school policy violations (and disputes between students) and its yielded great results. I'm interested in what you (Jonathan) find from NZ, particularly if it was a criminal situation, because the juvenile-to-juvenile results here in Montana were impressive (practical application but no associated scientific study). 

Darlene, your comments seem to hone-In on what Jonothan said about limits where the child is the victim. In a case where a child was sexually abused I'd proposed ADR to get the perpetrator to change his defensive strategy but the child's counselor said that the benefits didn't outweigh the re-trauma-risks of involving the child. 

I'd like to reiterate interest in whether others know of examples involving children either as the offender or victim or both, especially in the criminal setting.

Here are two sources that are

Here are two sources that are useful starting points for discussion of New Zealand's approach. Both are written by judges in New Zealand and provide a good overview. A book by Howard Zehr, who is recognized as one of the pioneer's of restorative justice, is mentioned for further reading. The first provides much more detail and discusses statutory requirements.

Youth Justice in New Zealand: A Restorative Approach to Reducing Youth Offending:

Twenty Years of Restorative Justice in New Zealand,

One of the interesting aspects is the Maori influence over this move to more restorative approaches -- another reminder of the value of including all viewpoints in designing and constructing systems for children and adolescents.