Des Moines Mentor Model Court

Brief History

Established as a Model Court in 2000, Des Moines emerged as a champion of best practices and collaborative efforts throughout Polk County.  Under the leadership of the Honorable Constance Cohen, the Des Moines Model Court focused its systems change efforts on improving outcomes for children and families through initiatives, such as, Reunification Day, locating putative fathers, increased family time, and bench wide implementation of best practices.  In addition to the successes from the bench, Judge Cohen expanded her leadership role to the community through building collaborations with state and local agencies, private providers, and non-profit organizations.  Judge Cohen also fostered a strong relationship with Iowa CIP and continues to work closely with CIP Director, Gail Barber, on statewide issues and best practice implementation. 

Since becoming a Mentor Model Court in 2012, Judge Cohen and the Model Court Collaborative continue to be a leader in best practices on all levels: local, statewide, and nationwide.  Judge Cohen’s involvement in ICWA compliance and meaningful tribal engagement is further proof of her dedication, respect, and acknowledgment of the court’s responsibility to pursue positive outcomes for all children and their families.


Honorable Constance Cohen

Signature Initiatives/Best Practices

Reunification Day

With funding from the Department of Human Services, the Des Moines Model will hold its seventh Annual Des Moines Service Area Reunification Picnic on Saturday, June 15, 2013. The spirit of the Reunification Picnic brings families and communities together and raises awareness about the importance of family reunification to children in foster care. Along with featured speakers, the Middleton Children’s Rights Center and other community partners coordinate the event, secure the site and arrange the food and entertainment. Attendees enjoy picnic fare, live music and games.

Parent Partner Program

The Parent Partner Program is a mentoring program that seeks to provide better outcomes around re-abuse, and reunification. The goal of the Parent Partner Program is to help birth parents be successful in completing their case plan goals. This is achieved by matching a Parent Partner with parents who are currently in the Department of Human Services (DHS) system and have a child removed. Parent Partners are mentors who have had previous involvement with the department and have been successfully reunified with their child for at least a year. Parent Partners are paid to work with DHS clients who need mentoring and support. Parent Partners work with community based organizations to provide resources for the parents they are mentoring.

ICWA Compliance and Meaningful Tribal Engagement

Judge Cohen is an active leader in Polk County moving ICWA compliance throughout the courts. Her leadership in the judiciary has extended out to her engagement in meaningful collaboration with the Meskwaki Tribe and Tribal Judge Theresa Mahoney. They are currently in the beginning phases of the Compliance Collaboration Project through the Indian Child Welfare Program at the Minnesota American Indian Center, which will focus on the use of the QUICWA Performance Checklist Tool. Progress on the project will be updated as outcome data becomes available.