Virginia's Judicial System

Grant Funding for Mediation Program Assists Teenage Parents in Arlington Public Schools

In order to improve non-custodial parents' access to and visitation with their children, the Arlington Public Schools Teenage Parenting Program staff is in the third year of Virginia Access and Visitation program grant funding. The program functions to facilitate family communication for at least 120 teen parents and family members per year through access to mostly informal mediation services, parental rights education, and/or counseling.

Over 85% of those receiving these services are Hispanic and many have limited English proficiency. Participants in these programs are served by bilingual staff seeking to overcome the barriers of language and cultural differences. Referrals are made to the staff certified mediator when disputes near the certainty of court involvement related to child custody, financial support, and access/visitation.

In the July 2001-June 2002 period of the Virginia Access and Visitation Program grant funding alone, 201 informal mediation sessions were held affecting 86 young mothers, 70 young fathers, 39 grandparents, and 105 infants and toddlers born to teen parents in the Teenage Parenting Programs (TPP) of the Arlington Public Schools (APS). During initial grant start-up, all relevant TPP staff were trained to conduct informal mediation by Certified Mediator Karen O'Connor Brazell. In the second grant year of the funding, there was a dramatic increase in total numbers of mediations as awareness and trust levels were built.

There are monthly Young Fathers educational and personal/family support workshops and weekly Outreach gatherings for the young mothers where mediations may take place. Due to the ever-changing enrollment, quarterly, the staff certified mediator informs the young parents of the fathers' rights to access and the fathers' responsibilities because many mothers and grandmothers believe fathers are not entitled to access and visitation.

Young parents who receive services under this grant receive interventions at crucial times early in the pregnancy and following childbirth while the teen mother and her partner are still bonded and while a new father's interest in the child is often highest. Some of the mediations resolve relationship issues between the parenting partners, increasing the chances for them to remain a couple and co-parent as an intact family or at least cooperate if not living together. Many of the obstacles to the young fathers' involvement in their babies' lives created by the mothers and/or grandparents were removed through methodical and consistent interventions because staff can access participants in the school setting and at Outreach sessions daily and are available as conflicts arise.

In the last year, staff members have given the presentation, "Keeping Young Fathers Involved" at three national conferences in order to foster replication of such programs and services. Reporting forms and evaluation forms as well as ideas for replication of such a project are available through the Arlington Teenage Parenting Program's Access and Visitation Project Director, Marilyn Faris Scholl, at (703) 228-7214.

[In addition to providing grant writing, mediation, and training services part-time for Arlington Public Schools Teenage Parenting Programs, Karen O'Connor Brazell, Virginia Certified Mediator, has a 25-year background in education and prevention program coordination.]

This page last modified: December 9, 2002