Stephanie Senuta

Mediator, Cook County Child Protection Mediation and Facilitation Program

Stephanie’s story starts at a young age.  Her path to becoming a full time court mediator started in high school as a peer mediator. The concept of empowering peers to resolve their own disputes intrigued her and she ended up volunteering as a peer mediator for two years.  After college, Stephanie worked for a short while as a community organizer/advocate for underserved populations in New York City.  But in 2000, Stephanie moved to Chicago and began working with the community mediation center The Center for Conflict Resolution (CCR). She worked there for five years and moved up in the organization working first as a Manager of Mediation Services, then Director of Mediation Services, and finally Director of Volunteer Development.  While at CCR she mediated hundreds of cases, developing her skills as well as her dedication to the field.

Stephanie decided to go back to school and received her graduate degree in Human Resources and Organizational Development.  When she talked with others about her goal to become a fulltime, paid mediator, she was continuously told

it was very difficult (if not impossible) to do and that the best way to get there was through obtaining experience as a volunteer mediator.  She had gained a lot of this experience as a staff member at CCR, but took the advice to heart and maintained an active volunteer presence at CCR even while in grad school.  She says, “The years that I spent at CCR as a volunteer mediator (and training other mediators) allowed me to further develop the skills and confidence necessary to do this work fulltime.”

After graduate school, Stephanie worked at the Cook County Family Mediation Services mediating parenting disputes and facilitating the state-mandated parenting education program, Focus on Children, for the Domestic Relations Division.  Today, she works as a fulltime mediator for the Cook County Child Protection Mediation and Facilitation Program.  Stephanie says, “Through this program, we provide a venue and process to address conflict that may occur at any stage during the life of a child protection court case.  We utilize a co-mediation model as we mediate between parties that may include biological parents, foster parents, attorneys, case workers, therapists, extended family members, etc.”

If Stephanie were to give advice to an individual thinking of starting their career in ADR, she would give similar advice as she received - to gain experience as a volunteer mediator.  She would also recommend getting involved with the Association for Conflict Resolution, which is a professional organization for those working in the field of dispute resolution.  She says, “Involvement in ACR, on the local and national level, allows for educational, skill-building and networking opportunities that are invaluable.”

Stephanie enjoys working in the mediation field because of her fundamental belief in the power of helping individuals and groups develop their own solutions to their conflicts.  The work she does as a mediator allows for open communication, creative problem-solving, , and self-determination in a process that focuses on getting to the root cause of conflict and crafting solutions that meet the needs of the individuals involved.  And she says, “these are all things that appeal to me and that I believe are incredibly important in human relationships.”