The tribunal chair may offer the parties to a child welfare case the option of using a dialogue process as an alternative to a tribunal hearing. The dialogue process is a procedure whereby the tribunal chair invites the parties to engage in dialogue to see if they can agree on a solution that is in the best interests of the child. The tribunal chair can offer this option for as long as the case is under consideration by the Child Welfare Tribunal.
The purpose of the dialogue process is to improve cooperation between the parties and give you an opportunity to arrive at a full or partial resolution to the case that is in the best interests of the child. Even if you don't arrive at a solution, the dialogue process can help to improve communication between the parties.
All the parties (parents, children who have rights as parties and the child welfare service) must consent before the dialogue process can be used in a case. Should a party decide during the dialogue process that he or she wants the case considered in a tribunal hearing, that remains a possibility. The party in question will then withdraw consent to the dialogue process.
Decision regarding dialogue process
The tribunal chair decides whether to use the dialogue process in a case. The tribunal chair will consider the nature of the case, the relationship between the parties and whether the dialogue process would be in the child’s best interests. The tribunal chair can decide to use the dialogue process for as long as the case is under consideration by the Child Welfare Tribunal.
The role and responsibilities of the tribunal chair in the dialogue process
The tribunal chair will chair the dialogue meeting and facilitate dialogue between the parties. During the dialogue meeting, the tribunal chair shall remain objective and neutral. The tribunal chair has a particular responsibility for ensuring that considerations for the child's best interests and the due process protection of the children and parents are safeguarded in the process.
The dialogue meeting
The parties attend the dialogue meeting with their lawyers, the tribunal chair and the expert involved in the dialogue process. The parties are asked to describe their point of view in the case and what topics they want to discuss in the dialogue. Children who are not parties to the case can also take part in the dialogue process. The parties can invite other persons they believe are relevant to the case to participate.
The tribunal chair will focus on determining whether the parties have a shared understanding of the case and what opportunities there are for the case to be partly or fully resolved. The tribunal chair can allow the parties to try out temporary arrangements for a set period of time. The content of any temporary arrangements is agreed between the parties. They could include other forms of access and contact arrangements or different types of assistance measures. The child welfare service’s application for measures will be put on hold while the temporary arrangements are being tested.
The outcome of a dialogue process
The dialogue process may result in the parties agreeing on voluntary measures and the municipality withdrawing its application for coercive measures. Sometimes, the dialogue process concludes with the parties agreeing on a proposal for a decision and consenting to the case being decided by the tribunal chair alone, without a tribunal hearing (this is known as a simplified procedure).
What happens if the parties cannot agree?
If the parties cannot agree on a solution, the dialogue process is discontinued. The tribunal chair can also discontinue the dialogue process if he or she finds that continued dialogue is not in the child’s best interests or that the dialogue process is not working as it should. The case will then be considered through oral proceedings in a tribunal hearing or by the tribunal chair through written proceedings, or a combination of both. In that event, the case will be considered by another tribunal chair.
The dialogue process in appeal cases
Tribunal chairs may also offer the option of a dialogue process in appeal cases. The deadline for considering appeal cases is short. An appeal case must be decided within a week of being received by the tribunal. It may be challenging for the tribunal to make a decision within the deadline if the parties are also to go through a dialogue process.