Calgary Judges Discuss New Ways for Families®

© 2013 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. On June 6, I met with 14 judges in Calgary, Alberta, Canada (before all the rain and flooding!), to discuss the status and procedures of the New Ways for Families program in Calgary. This program has been funded for 3 years by a Ministry of Justice grant (under their “Safe Communities Initiative”) by the Province of Alberta. The two goals are to reduce the number of high conflict court hearings regarding parenting matters and to reduce conflict in the community – ideally, reducing divorce conflict that often spills over. The grant has been managed by the YWCA of Calgary, with Allan Rosales as the Program Coordinator. I was accompanied to this presentation by Allan and also by Cassidy Sheehan, New Ways for Families Program Coordinator in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada. They presented some information about the 120 families who have been involved in their combined programs over the past 1 ½ years. Hopefully, early next year we will publish full research results about this method. The preliminary results are very encouraging (see blog posted June 20). The judges raised several important concerns. One was whether it was desirable to order families into the New Ways skills building method if there has been serious child abuse. For example, in cases of child sexual abuse would it be advisable for the abusing parent to meet in 3 parent-child counseling sessions with the abusing parent. This is a concern I also have had – having dealt with several child sexual abuse cases, as well as false allegations cases, as a social worker and family law attorney.  I explained two approaches: One is that some of these families are inappropriate for the New Ways program, as there will always be a few families that should be excluded. But the second approach I suggested is that in some cases it is appropriate for a parent and child to meet together with a counselor to supervise them and structure the conversation. There may always be supervised access/visitation for such a parent and child. The benefit of them having contact is that children in these situations create fantasies of what the abusive parent thinks and the power that person has over them. By having direct contact under the counselor’s supervision, the child can raise issues at his or her own pace, and the parent can respond to them – with the intervention of the counselor when necessary.  Also, it’s not uncommon for sexually abused children to have individual therapy after court decisions have been made, which may at times include an abusive parent. In short, it depends on the case. Also, we discussed how New Ways is structured for cases involving domestic violence.  This program does not in any way prevent the court from issuing Restraining Orders at the start of a case and supervised access/visitation, when necessary. At no point do the parents need to have any direct contact. With six individual counseling sessions and three parent-child counseling sessions each, they are never together unless both parents choose to have a joint session at the end. In many D.V. cases, the parents are unlikely to have direct future contact, but focusing on their individual roles and time as parents can be very helpful for the children. In reality, children almost always have contact with a parent who has engaged in domestic violence. The question is whether the contact will be supervised, limited in terms of time or other restrictions. But given the reality that there will be contact, New Ways focuses on teaching both parents the four skills to help their kids throughout their lives: flexible thinking, managed emotions, moderate behaviors and checking themselves. Several of the judges said that they really liked the purpose and structure of the program, and we hope that all of the judges will order more cases into it now that we have explained it further. It is up to each judge to decide in each case. However, we suggested that they order New Ways for Families for any case which has an application by a parent for court orders restricting the other parent. Right from the start, they can contain the case by ordering both parents to learn the skills provided in this short-term program. After all, it’s designed to help the children regardless of the personal issues of one or both parents. Children of high conflict divorce really need all the help they can get! We think New Ways helps provide that. The cases over the next year in Calgary will help us study its effectiveness. I enjoyed speaking with these judges and I really respect the difficulty of the job they have. (I also hope they can bail out of the flooding of Calgary soon, including their court buildings, which had to be closed last week!) Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, and mediator. He is the co-founder and Training Director of the High Conflict Institute, a training and consultation firm that trains professionals to deal with high conflict people and situations. He is the author of several books and methods for handling high conflict personalities and high conflict disputes with the most difficult people.

Guardians ad Litem, Parental Defense Lawyers and Mediators in Utah

© 2012 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. Yesterday, I gave a keynote presentation and several workshops for about 150 lawyers representing parents and children in child abuse cases. The emphasis, of course, was Working with High Conflict Clients. They seemed to really grasp the methods that I call “Talking to the ‘Right’ Brain” in a conflict, which can apply to any professional in any setting. I emphasized that we can’t control other people’s behavior, but we can influence them by our own responses, including: Accepting that we are not responsible for the outcome of our clients’ disputes – they are – but that we are responsible for the process of assisting them. We need to avoid “hammering out” agreements with them, because this simply triggers their heightened defensiveness (right brain) and reduces their ability to think logically (left brain), and they may undermine the agreement soon afterwards. Working with patience – understanding that it often takes high conflict people 2-3 times as long to settle their disputes, but that they can settle them. When there is limited time for a decision, this means coaching clients sufficiently in advance of settlement meetings. Talking to the ‘right brain,” by using E.A.R. Statements®: Speaking with Empathy, Attention and Respect for clients, opposing parties and even high conflict lawyers. This tends to calm them down, which is necessary before discussions of logic, facts, laws and future actions can take place productively. Providing structure to our conversations, so that clients and others are expected to accomplish small tasks with our guidance, rather than simply telling them to stop misbehaving, criticizing them or expecting them to accomplish big things that they do not have the skills to accomplish – especially as fast as we want. Emphasizing learning skills for conflict resolution, including how to make proposals, respond to proposals, communicate in writing with BIFF Responses® (Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm), give yourself encouraging statements, and other small skills with lots of repetition. Repeating information and requirements frequently, because they often are unable to absorb new ideas or tasks as quickly as we can as professionals. Often professionals become irritated at having to answer the same questions over and over again, but this is a reality when you are working with high conflict clients who can’t absorb information when they are emotionally distracted. It is best to accept this and patiently repeat information which they may absorb after the third or fourth explanation. They need to be calmed down first, in order to learn new skills and understand new realities, rather than being criticized or told how frustrating they are. This doesn’t have to take much time at all. The Utah lawyers indicated that this focus on What To Do was very helpful.  I also met with child welfare mediators, who assist in settling many of the cases in this area. They don’t mediate child abuse, but they mediate what can be done now, in terms of parent treatment, legal consequences, and sometimes termination of parental rights in extreme cases. They have a high success rate, settling about 80% of their cases in mediation. Yet they were very interested in further understanding the causes and dynamics of personality disorders and how to work with parties who may have these disorders in the short period of time they have for their mediation sessions. This was a very dedicated group of lawyers and mediators, and we all realized how much impact this work can have on the future of children in abusive families. Personality disorders seem to be increasing in society and I think they agreed with me that helping abusive parents can have a positive effect on helping their children in the long run. Otherwise, children tend to repeat their parents’ behavior and we often see a cycle of abuse, academic and economic failure in their future – and all of our futures – if we don’t intervene effectively to help these families as early as possible. As a closing note, this conference was held in the beautiful green and snow-capped mountains of Utah, which looked like the Swiss Alps. Inspiring for dealing with such a difficult subject! Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, and mediator. He is the co-founder and Training Director of the High Conflict Institute, a training and consultation firm that trains professionals to deal with high conflict people and situations. He is the author of several books and methods for handling high conflict personalities and high conflict disputes with the most difficult people.