Charlotte Mentor Model Court

Brief History

Charlotte, North Carolina, became a Model Court in 1998.  The Charlotte Model Court has successfully managed leadership transitions and sustained system reform efforts in order to become a Senior Model Court.  Currently, there are six state certified juvenile judges who hear dependency and delinquency cases that are assigned based on the residence of the family in one of four geographic districts.   The Lead Judge directs a Model Court Advisory Committee that meets bi-monthly.  The committee consists of representatives from many agencies, including: Department of Social Services (DSS), Guardian ad Litem Program, school system, police department, district attorney’s office, division of juvenile justice and delinquency prevention, Children’s Law Center, Metrolina Native American Association, Area Mental Health Authority, and Charlotte School of Law.

In 2011, the Charlotte Model Court was promoted to Mentor Model Court.

Leadership

Current Lead Judge:  Judge Elizabeth Trosch

Past Lead Judge(s):  Judge William G. Jones, Judge Louis Trosch, Jr., Judge Lisa Bell, and Judge Rickey McKoy-Mitchell. 

Court website - http://www.nccourts.org/County/Mecklenburg/Courts/Family/Default.asp

Successfully Implemented Signature Best Practices

1.  Dependency Mediation Program

The Mecklenburg County Dependency Mediation Program was initiated in 2001 to help the court achieve timely permanence for children in DSS custody.  Mediation is intended to provide the opportunity for parents, family members and the professionals involved to resolve issues early on in a case, articulate expectations, and engage parents.  The Model Court conducted a three-year evaluation of cases mediated in the Dependency Mediation Program compared to non-mediated cases in the juvenile court system.  The stated research objectives of the mediation program were to:

●      Reduce the amount of time from removal to permanent placement;

●      Improve quality of case plans;

●      Achieve increased compliance with case plans;

●      Reduce the number of court hearings;

●      Reach full or partial agreement on at least 60% of cases; and

●      Increase participant satisfaction with the process of the permanency mediation program.

Evaluation results for all three years show that significantly more children were placed in permanent homes when their cases were mediated; more children achieved reunification with a parent; professionals rated mediated case-plans as significantly superior to non-mediated case-plans; the number of court hearings was cut down both on the front and back end of the process; and the cost savings were significant.  Based on the Model Court’s implementation of mediation, the Alternate Dispute Resolution Committee of the Administrative Office of the Courts of North Carolina recommended that dependency mediation be approved statewide.

2.  Geographic Districting

The Model Court created a subcommittee that evaluated the feasibility of dividing the county into four balanced geo-districts.  Each judge and courtroom team would be assigned to a particular district, which was intended to increase efficiency of court proceedings by ensuring that all parties will be available when their case is called; increase knowledge of service providers and the breadth of services available in specific parts of the community; promote a system of care approach among agency representatives and service providers; and increase accountability among court participants.  The subcommittee met throughout 2006 and benefited from numerous consultations with the NCJFCJ, including a conference call with the Chicago Model Court.  Geographic assignment was adopted by the Model Court in 2007 and the subcommittee developed a process of assigning cases geographically.  Over the first six months challenges were identified, such as maintaining equitable distribution of cases and getting buy-in from all stakeholders. 

Additional Best Practices and Initiatives Implemented

Child friendly courthouse including onsite child care center

Family drug treatment court

Establishment of a community based collaborative

Race Matters for Juvenile Justice to reduce disproportionate minority representation and disparate treatment in child welfare and juvenile justice systems

Management information system

Parent handbook

Implementation of independent trauma specific clinical assessments for all children with substantiated allegations of abuse or neglect

Mentoring program for youth in foster care

Current Goals

NATIONAL GOAL:  Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) Compliance & Tribal Engagement

The Charlotte Model Court has sustained attention on tribal issues since attending the 2010 All-Sites Conference.  Recently, the court has begun collecting court observation data for an ICWA compliance study.  The NCJFCJ Research Associate trained Guardian ad Litem interns on the use of the NCJFCJ/QUICWA instrument and data collection began in June, 2012.  NCJFCJ will assist the court in analyzing and interpreting the data to develop strategies for full compliance.  In November 2012 the court hosted its annual Abuse and Neglect Conference and plans to invite Judge William Thorne to present.  At a previous Abuse and Neglect Conference the Lead Judge invited the director of an urban Indian organization to present on local tribes and resources available to Native people. 

STATE GOAL:  Statewide Implementation of Best Practices

The Model Court has been instrumental in advocating for the expansion of Model Court practices throughout the state by reaching out to judges in other counties and participating in CIP committees.  In 2013 Guilford County (Greensboro), North Carolina will join the Model Court project as a result of the Lead Judge’s and CIP Director’s persistence. 

LOCAL GOAL:  Child Well-Being - Education

Through a joint project between the NCJFCJ, Casey Family Programs and the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), the Model Court received onsite technical assistance from the NCSC on collecting and sharing education data.  The committee developed a list of potential interventions and will assess these along with baseline data.  The court is currently receiving and evaluating baseline data on the NCSC outcome measures.  The court has already implemented the following:

●      Signed a Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) between the DSS and the school district to maintain a child’s school assignment regardless of residential placement.

●      Developed a protocol for school district education liaisons in each of four geo-districts to prepare quarterly education status reports for all kids in custody who are enrolled in school.  These reports will be reviewed in a team staffing with workers and supervisors to develop intervention plans.

●      Included in court reports going forward will be information on education assignment decisions, report cards and school intervention plans.

The state will evaluate the process developed by the Model Court to improve outcomes on a statewide level.