A new Whitehorse-based pilot project is aiming to get families going through separations where children are involved out of the courts and talking to each other instead to reach parenting agreements.
The Yukon Family Mediation Service, run out of the Law Centre building in downtown Whitehorse, officially launched back in April and is scheduled to run until March 2020, funded by a $299,000 grant from the federal government’s Canadian Family Justice Fund. The service, which is free and depends on the voluntary participation of all parties, hasn’t been widely promoted yet. Regardless, its lone staff member, longtime counsellor and mediator Pat Bragg, said she’s already had a number of people come to her for help.
“I got hired April 10. I had a client walk in the door on day two, and I have, now, 23 mediations started,” Bragg said in an interview June 19, adding that even though she’s offered a family mediation service in the Yukon since the mid-’90s, she’s been surprised at the response.
As the service’s name suggests, Bragg can assist families going through conflicts or separations get together and create childcare and financial plans — sorting out debts, assets and pensions, for example — via sessions spaced out over several weeks. The resulting agreements can then be quickly formalized via court order, saving court time and legal fees, reducing the caseload of Legal Aid lawyers and also teaching clients communication and conflict-resolution skills they can continue to use in the future.
“People have more time in mediation to say what’s important to them, to share what their concerns are, to talk about what they hope for, what they want for their children and to try to build a co-parenting relationship,” Bragg said.
“A courtroom is not the place for a thorough discussion about the best way for kids to spend their birthdays with their parents, you know?”
Divorcing or separating couples immediately come to mind as people who could use the mediation service, but Bragg said grandparents who are having troubling seeing their grandchildren, for example, are also eligible candidates.
“Our big focus is to affect the lives of children in a positive way and by helping out their parents to come up with a good parenting plan and have a more peaceful separation or divorce…. We are trying to keep people out of court, that’s our big hope, that we can have people resolve things sitting at a table with me rather than taking it forward to court,” Bragg said.
Although the service has received a number of referrals from organizations like Victim Service, the Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) and lawyers, families are also welcome to reach out directly to the mediation service themselves.
“They can just walk in the door. In fact, I had a fellow walk in the door on Friday and just happened to be sitting at my desk, and we were able to phone up his … ex-wife in another town and get her on the phone call and we finished the agreement right there and then,” she said, adding that it’s unusual for cases to wrap up that quickly.
While Bragg is the only person working hands-on with clients, the pilot project is also being backed by an advisory committee with representatives from Family and Children’s Services, the Yukon Child Development Centre, the Skookum Jim Friendship Centre, CYFN, Mediation Yukon, the Yukon Supreme Court, the Yukon Legal Service Society, the Law Society of Yukon and Victim Services.
Lindsay Roberts is the coordinator for Project Lynx, a branch of Victim Services that offers supports for children and youth affected by crime. The family mediation pilot project helps to fill the “grey area” that exists within the territory’s support system for families and children, she said.
“Lots of times, it’s just people trying to figure out what their options are and what to do next, and it often comes down to communication, right?” Roberts said, adding that there hasn’t been a free, accessible mediation or family communication program offered in the Yukon before.
“I think this (pilot project) fills that void of people who are kind of in that grey area before there’s a need for a criminal response or in situation where you don’t necessarily need to go to court.”
Roberts added that she supports Bragg’s desire to offer the mediation service in the communities as well, something that Victim Services also does.
As the project moves along, Bragg will be handing out anonymous feedback sheets for clients to fill out. The project will also be collecting data like the number of people who use the service, what communities they come from and how many children are in the families seeking mediation.
Bragg said she was grateful for the “tremendous support” the project has received from the legal and legal support community so far.
“I really encourage people to come and try it out,” she said. “There’s no commitment, it’s confidential, it’s private and anyone who’s struggling with family issues, even if they went through a separation years ago but they’re struggling with their co-parenting, they can still come.”
People interested in using the family mediation service can get more information by calling 867-667-5753 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact Jackie Hong at email@example.com