What is a dialogue process?
In child welfare cases, the chair of the county social welfare board may offer the parties to the case a chance to use a dialogue process as an alternative to a negotiation meeting. The dialogue process is a method where the board chair invites the parties of a case to engage in a dialogue to determine whether they can reach an agreement on a resolution that is in the best interests of the child. The board chair can offer a dialogue process as long as the county social welfare board is hearing the case.
The purpose of the dialogue process is to improve interactions between the parties and give them the opportunity to arrive at a complete or partial resolution to the case, in the best interests of the child. Although you may not be able to arrive at a resolution to the case, the dialogue process may help improve communication between the parties.
All parties (parents, children who are a party to the case, and child welfare services) must consent to the dialogue process. If, during the dialogue process, a party decides they wish to have the case heard at a negotiation meeting, this would be possible. The parties would then withdraw their consent to the dialogue process.
Decision to initiate a dialogue process
It is the chair of the county social welfare board that determines whether to initiate a dialogue process in the case. The board chair will give weight to the nature of the case, the parties’ relationship, and whether a dialogue process would be in the best interests of the child. The board chair can offer a dialogue process as long as the county social welfare board is hearing the case.
The role and responsibilities of the board chair during the dialogue process
The board chair leads the dialogue process and facilitates a dialogue between the parties. During the dialogue meeting, the board chair must remain objective and neutral. The board chair has a particular responsibility to ensure that the process considers the child’s best interests and ensures the legal rights of the parents and children.
Conducting the dialogue meeting
The parties attend the meeting with their lawyers, the board chair and an expert member in the dialogue process. Each party is asked to explain their side of the case and what topic they wish to discuss during the dialogue meeting. Children who are not a party to the case may also be permitted to participate in the dialogue process. The parties can also invite other persons who they believe are relevant to the case.
The board chair will focus on whether the parties have a shared understanding of the case and on the opportunities for a whole or partial resolution in the case. The board chair can give the parties the opportunity to try a temporary arrangement for a specified period. It is the parties themselves who jointly determine the content of the temporary arrangement. This may, for instance, involve trying other forms of visitations and contact, or other types of assistance measures. While the temporary arrangement is in place, child welfare services’ petition for intervention measures will be put on hold.
Results of the dialogue process
The dialogue process may result in an agreement between the parties on voluntary measures, which means that the municipality would withdraw the petition for mandatory measures. Occasionally, the dialogue process ends with the parties agreeing on the same proposal for a decision, where they consent to allowing the board chair to make a decision without a negotiation meeting. This is known as a simplified process.
What happens if the parties do not reach an agreement?
Should the parties not reach an agreement for the resolution of the case, the dialogue process will be discontinued. The board chair may also discontinue the dialogue process if they believe that a continued process would not work, or would not be in the best interests of the child. The case will then be heard orally at a negotiation meeting, or in writing by the board chair, or by a combination of these methods. The case would then be handled by another board chair.
Dialogue process in appeal cases
The board chair can also offer a dialogue process in appeal cases. There is a short case processing deadline for appeal cases. A decision in an appeal case must be made within a week after the appeal has been received by the county social welfare board. It may therefore be challenging for the county social welfare board to make decisions in the case by the deadline if the parties also wish to attempt a dialogue process.