Florida Statewide Model Court

Brief History

The Florida Statewide Model Courts Initiative was implemented on July 27, 2010, with its first All-Sites event taking place in January 2011. The Statewide Dependency Court Improvement Panel, chaired by Judge Katherine Essrig, assists in determining initiatives, trainings, and the overall direction of the Model Courts Project. The initiative consists of 43 judges and magistrates statewide representing 17 of Florida’s 20 judicial circuits. The mission of Florida’s Statewide Model Courts Project is to improve safety, permanency, and well-being outcomes for children involved in Florida’s court system. Judges hearing cases involving child abuse and neglect employ cutting edge court practices and provide off-the-bench judicial leadership to build strong, community partnerships. The project envisions Florida as a national model for family-centered practice consistent with mandates outlined in the Child and Family Services Review. Judges and magistrates promote the stability, physical safety, and emotional well-being of children involved in court, so children will be safe, have a permanent place to live, and thrive in stable and permanent homes.


Current Lead Judge:  Judge Jeri Beth Cohen

Court website - http://www.flcourts.org/gen_public/family/familycourts.shtml

Successfully Implemented Signature Best Practices

1. Increased Family Time

Florida’s Office of the State Court Administrator (OSCA) has coordinated several statewide training opportunities, and seven Model Court circuits have received local training on promising practices. In addition to these two signature initiatives, Model Court circuits have selected other initiatives to implement specific to their needs.

2. Implementation of the American Bar Association’s Child Safety Guide

Florida CIP coordinated two statewide training events on the Child Safety Guide, and nine of the 17 participating Model Court circuits have received technical assistance locally to implement the Guide.  Four additional Model Court circuits are interested in implementing the guide.

Current Goals

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

Representatives from the Seminole, Miccosukee, and Poarch Band of Creek tribes are included in the membership of the Statewide Dependency Court Improvement Panel to ensure they have an ongoing voice in the work of the panel. Panel members have worked with CIP staff to develop ICWA considerations for the 2011 Florida Dependency Benchbook.  Among these considerations are inquiries in each of the hearing benchcards regarding tribal membership and the applicability of ICWA.

STATE GOAL:  State-wide Implementation of Best Practices

The Florida Department of Children and Families data unit reported that there are currently 19,669 children in out of home care.  OSCA’s present initiatives of increased family time and implementation and statewide use of the Child Safety Guide, the Florida Statewide Model Court anticipates the number of children in care to reduce significantly. 

Increased family time has resulted in increased parental engagement and positive bonding with the child.  Though statistics are not readily available at present time, Circuits around the State are reporting a decrease in time spent out of home and an increase in reunification. 

The implementation of the Child Safety Guide serves as a front-end practice in evaluating the safety of the child, developing a safety plan, and reducing out of home placements from the beginning of the process.  The practice of safety planning has ignited a systems change in the culture of practice in child welfare in Florida.

LOCAL GOAL:  Child Well-Being

Currently, 17 of the 20 Florida Judicial Circuits are participating in the Statewide Model Courts Project and are working on various well being initiatives.  Initiatives vary from improving educational outcomes, pregnancy education and prevention, early intervention services, and trauma-centered care.  Florida CIP collaborates with each Model Court circuit, provides technical assistance, and develops a plan for information sharing to other circuits in the state to promote statewide implementation of best practices.  A comprehensive outline of well-being initiatives and measures will be available later in 2013.