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Enhancing Mediation Services to the Spanish-Speaking Community:Perceived Needs and Recommendations


The Hispanic/Latino population is growing at a faster rate than many other populations in the United States. Because much of this past and current population growth is due to immigration from Latin America, 1 conflict resolution providers are encountering, and are likely to continue to encounter, mediation participants who require Spanish-language mediation services. This Hispanic/Latino population growth is perhaps most pronounced in, though by no means unique to, Texas and the other states that border Mexico.

In order to study the impact of such growth on the conflict-resolution field, we conducted a survey of Texas Dispute Resolution Centers (DRCs)2 under the auspices of the Texas Association of Mediators. The complete results of the survey are recorded in a previous article. 3 In this article, we will discuss the DRCs’ perceived needs and our own recommendations for serving their Spanish-Speaking residents.

As Texas DRCs grew in number during the 1980s and 1990s, 4 the Hispanic/Latino population of the state also grew. 5 While all Texas DRCs provide some Spanish-language services, over 85% of them recognize a need to enhance at least some of those services. In an ideal world, DRCs would be able to provide a broad spectrum of Spanish-language services at every step of the mediation process. In the real world, budgetary and other constraints limit what every DRC can provide.

Perceived Needs

Our survey asked Texas DRCs to list and rank their future needs for serving the Spanish-speaking community. When asked about personnel needs, 69% of the respondents expressed some or an urgent need for Spanish-speaking mediators, 44% identified some or an urgent need for Spanish-speaking intake specialists, 38% noted some or an urgent need for Spanish-speaking receptionists, and 25% responded that they had some or an urgent need for Spanish-speaking interpreters. Less than 25% of respondents noted some or an urgent need for other types of Spanish-speaking personnel (i.e., directors/co-directors, assistant/associate directors, and program coordinators). Although five DRCs expressed some or an urgent need for Spanish-language training for their staff, and three DRCs saw some need for Spanish-language training for their mediators, most respondents saw little or no need for Spanish-language training for their staff and mediators. When asked about material needs, 75% of the respondents declared some or an urgent need for Spanish-language brochures and written information, and 44% expressed some or an urgent need for Spanish-language audio-visual materials and advertising of programs, and 38% expressed some or an urgent need for Spanish-language websites.


Our personal experiences at the Harris County DRC in Houston and the responses that all the other DRCs sent to the survey, supplemented by personal visits to some of the DRCs and conversations with their staff, have generated recommendations about steps that DRCs can take to serve their Spanish-speaking participants effectively. In an ideal world of unlimited resources, DRCs would be able to implement all of the recommendations listed in this article. In the real world, each DRC must balance budgetary and other limitations against the size and needs of its Spanish-speaking community before implementing any of the recommendations.

In an ideal world, a DRC would take steps, at every stage of the mediation process, to accommodate the needs of the Spanish-speaking community:

  • Beginning with outreach, a DRC would have Spanish-speaking employees and volunteers who would speak to groups within the Spanish-speaking community and disseminate brochures about the services provided by the DRC. At outreach activities, the mediation process would be demonstrated with live role plays conducted in Spanish, or with Spanish-language videos. The DRC would have a website that contained Spanish-language information about mediation and the DRC’s services. In a large city, the DRC would have satellite locations, some located within Spanish-speaking communities, to disseminate mediation information and provide mediation services.
  • At intake, Spanish-speaking receptionists and intake specialists would be able to welcome Spanish-speaking disputants, answer their questions, and record information about their disputes. The Spanish-language brochures and videos available for outreach would be available at all intake locations. In addition, information about referrals to other agencies would be available in Spanish.
  • In preparing for mediation of Spanish-language disputes, the DRC would recruit Spanish-speaking mediators and interpreters and provide them with appropriate training and support. The DRC also would authorize modifications in its mediation model(s), or develop new ones, to accommodate any cultural differences or needs of Spanish-speaking participants. 6
  • During mediation, Spanish-speaking participants would have access to the services of Spanish-speaking mediators and interpreters. Modified or specially developed mediation models would be used where appropriate. All documents used in mediation, whether rules or agreement forms, would be available in Spanish.
  • Following mediation, the Spanish-speaking participants would complete Spanish-language surveys of their impressions of the mediation process, and they would be encouraged to suggest improvements. If the DRC referred participants to other agencies for help, information about the agencies and their services would be provided in Spanish.
  • At every stage of the process, the DRC would keep statistics, not only about those who participated in mediation, but also about those who sought mediation information and those who declined to participate in mediation. By maintaining statistical data, the DRC would be able to demonstrate the need for Spanish-language services. Funding sources that had access to the statistical data would be more likely to provide support for the services would have information upon which it could base changes or improvements in its services.
  • A practical step that DRCs could take would be to share their expertise with each other. If, for example, one DRC had a good program or set of Spanish-language forms, that DRC could share its program or forms with the other Texas DRCs. Through open communication and sharing, Spanish-language services statewide could be enhanced.

End Notes

1 Steven A. Camarota, “Immigration from Mexico: Assessing the Impact on the United States,” Center for Immigration Studies, at (last visited July 18, 2002) (finding that in 2000, Mexican-born immigrants represented 28% of the foreign-born population in the United States, that 73.6 percent of Mexican immigrants living in the United States had arrived in the country in the last 20 years, and that Texas accounted for 18.5 % (1.5 million) of all Mexican immigrants living in the United States); William H. Frey, “The United States Population: Where the New Immigrants Are,” 4 ELECTRONIC J. U.S. INFO. AGENCY 1 (June 1999), at (stating that most immigrants to the United States during the 1990s were from Latin America and Asia); Steve H. Murdock, “Texas Population Growth Leads Nation,” Texas State Data Center, at http:// (last modified Oct. 1, 2001) (attributing 23% of Texas’s population growth between 1990 and 1996 to international immigration); “Census Figures Show Dramatic Growth in Asian, Hispanic Populations,” at 08/30/minority.population (Aug. 30, 2000) (observing that in 1999, 51% of U.S. immigration came from Latin America).

2 The terms “Dispute Resolution Center” and “DRC” refer to the publicly funded dispute-resolution centers in Texas. Some Texas DRCs include the words “Dispute Resolution Center” in their names, others do not. Nine DRCs are nonprofit corporations, three are organized under Councils of Governments, two are integrated into county governments, and two are located within universities.

3 Clara I. Gómez et al., Spanish-Speaking Participants in Mediation: Past, Present and Future at Texas DRCs, TEX. MEDIATOR, Fall 2002, at 16.

4 At present, there are sixteen DRCs in Texas: Bexar County Justice Center (serving San Antonio), DRC of Central Brazos Valley (serving seven counties between Houston and Dallas), Dispute Mediation Services, Inc. (Dallas), Center for Dispute Resolution of Denton County (Denton), El Paso County DRC (El Paso), Fort Bend County DRC (Sugar Land, Richmond, and Rosenberg), DRC of Harris County (Houston), DRC of Jefferson County (Beaumont), DRC of Lamar County (Paris), South Plains DRC (seven counties in West Texas), McLennan County DRC (Waco), DRC of Montgomery County (Conroe), Nueces County DRC (Corpus Christi), DRC of Potter and Randall Counties (Amarillo and Canyon), Dispute Resolution Services of Tarrant County (Fort Worth), and DRC of Travis County (Austin).

5 See ECONOMICS & STATISTICS ADMIN., U.S. DEPT. OF COMMERCE, 1990 CENSUS OF POPULATION: GENERAL SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC CHARACTERISTICS-TEXAS at Table 1 (1993); BUREAU OF THE CENSUS, U.S. DEPT. OF COMMERCE, 1980 CENSUS OF POPULATION: GENERAL POPULATION CHARACTERISTICS-TEXAS at Table 14 (1982); BUREAU OF THE CENSUS, U.S. DEPT. OF COMMERCE, 1980 CENSUS OF POPULATION: GENERAL SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC CHARACTERISTICS-TEXAS at Table 59 (1982). The 2000 U. S. census has not yet appeared in print. To obtain our data for the 2000 census, we went to the “Census 2000 Gateway,” which is maintained by the U. S. Census Bureau and located on the Internet at . In 2000, 4,160,640 of the 6,669,666 Hispanic/Latino residents of Texas lived in the areas now served by the sixteen Texas DRCs.

6 For a discussion of the cultural assumptions contained in United States mediation models and the need to adjust existing models or devise new ones when people of different cultures are involved in a dispute, see John Paul Lederach, PREPARING FOR PEACE: CONFLICT TRANSFORMATION ACROSS CULTURES (1995).


Clara I. Gómez

Clara I. Gómez is a microbiologist turned attorney turned mediator. She is heavily involved in community and bilingual mediation issues. She is a trainer with the Harris County DRC and serves as an instructor on negotiation and conflict resolution in a variety of forums. MORE >


Josefina Rendon

A mediator since 1993, Judge Josefina Rendon has mediated over 1,500 disputes in a variety of areas including family, employment, personal injury and many other areas of law. For almost 4 years, she taught negotiation and mediated for the U.S. Air Force, Army, and Navy. She has been a Municipal Court Judge,… MORE >


Walter A. Wright

Walter A. Wright is a mediator based in Texas, USA. ------------------------------------------------------- Walter A. Wright es un Profesor de Derecho y Métodos Alternos de Resolución de Conflictos en Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas, EE. UU. Estudia, investiga, y escribe sobre la utilización de la mediación en los EE. UU. y… MORE >

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