Los Angeles Model Court

Brief History

The Los Angeles Children’s Court is the largest dependency court in the nation with an average of 1400 new petitions filed each month and a total of 20 judicial officers.  The majority of cases are heard in the Edmund D. Edelman Children’s Court, the nation’s first dependency courthouse designed as a child-sensitive facility.  During the time the court has participated in the Model Courts Project the number of children in foster care has declined by fifty percent.  The Los Angeles Model Court continues to be a source of innovation for courts around the country.  The Model Court is co-led by Judge Margaret S. Henry, Supervising Superior Court Judge of Dependency and Judge Michael Nash, Presiding Juvenile Court Judge and NCJFCJ President. Judge Nash has been the Lead Judge since the Model Court’s inception in 1999. 

Leadership

Current Lead Judge(s): Judge Michael Nash, Judge Margaret S. Henry

Court website - http://www.lasuperiorcourt.org/locations/ui/location.aspx?loc=CCJ&

Successfully Implemented Signature Best Practices

1.  Adoption Saturdays and Reunification Celebrations

Recognizing the number of children awaiting adoption, Judge Nash instituted Adoption Saturday which has become a nationwide celebration.  The Los Angeles Adoption Day Program started in 1997 as a partnership between the Alliance for Children’s Rights, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, the Department of Children and Family Services and Public Counsel Law Center.  On Saturdays throughout the year attorneys, court staff, and judges volunteer their time to complete hundreds of foster care adoptions.  According to the Alliance for Children’s Rights, the still-active program boasts the completion of over 20,000 adoptions to date.

In 2010, the Model Court applied a similar model to celebrating reunifications between children and their parents.  Parents that reunify are recognized throughout the year by judicial officers and a week-long celebration is held each year to honor Reunification Heroes.  These heroes include parents as well as professionals that have been instrumental in bringing children and parents back together. The County Board of Supervisors presents Reunification Heroes with an award and hosts a reception for honorees. 

2.  Psychotropic Medications

The Model Court developed a protocol to monitor children taking psychotropic medication.  This protocol has been revised and refined over several years as new research emerges on medications and the well-being of children.  The Model Court was instrumental in drafting the state court rules and forms related to psychotropic medications.  The protocol calls for collaborative relationships among judicial officers, child welfare supervisors and caseworkers, psychiatrists and medical professionals; training for caregivers; and judicial inquiry regarding therapy, medication management, diagnosis, and the child’s understanding of his or her condition; among other items. 

The most recent addition to the protocol defined steps judges and other professionals should take prior to a youth reaching the age of majority.  These steps are intended to ensure that each youth is equipped and empowered to manage their mental health needs prior to leaving foster care. Judge Nash and Judge Amy Pellman are members of NCJFCJ’s Psychotropic Medications Committee and are contributing to a guide for judges that can be used nationwide.

Additional Best Practices and Initiatives Implemented

Children in court

One Family-One Judge

Courtroom teams

Geographic case distribution

Drug courts

Dual status protocol for juvenile justice and dependency involved youth

Health and well-being protocols

Teen and unplanned pregnancy

Courts Catalyzing Change Preliminary Protective Hearing Benchcard implementation and Research

Parent Representation

Current Goals

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

The Children’s Court has a dedicated Indian Child Welfare docket and and the Department of Children and Family Services has an ICWA unit.  This model provides intense oversight of cases involving Native families and ensures that one judicial officer will hear the majority of a case.  In collaborative Case Law Update meetings, which are held nearly every month, the court discusses the requirements of the federal and state laws.  The Los Angeles County Counsel’s Office adapted its case management system and collaborated with the California Administrative Office of the Courts’ Tribal Projects Unit and the Cherokee tribe to do e-noticing for ICWA cases.  This project has now become a national project of the National Center for State Courts.  

STATE GOAL:  Statewide Implementation of Best Practices

The Model Court developed a dual status protocol to allow youth who are both dependent and delinquent to be simultaneously under the juvenile court’s jurisdiction.  Prior to the passage of Assembly Bill 129 (AB129), which became effective in 2005, California law did not allow simultaneous dependency and delinquency jurisdiction.  AB 129 allowed California counties to develop a dual jurisdiction process with the concurrence of each county’s Child Welfare Director, Chief Probation Officer, and Juvenile Court Presiding Judge.  The Los Angeles Model Court created a process for youth who have simultaneous involvement in the dependency and delinquency court systems.  The goals of the process were to allow a youth to be under the jurisdiction of both systems at the same time, to reduce a youth’s time in the system, to continue, without interruption, services for the youth and the family, and to improve permanency outcomes for youth.  Despite being available to counties across the state, few counties have taken advantage of the opportunity provided by AB129.  The court serves as a technical assistance resource, advocate, and mentor for other courts in the state interested in pursuing a similar model.

LOCAL GOAL:  Child Well-Being on Education and Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy

Education

Judge Nash and a multidisciplinary task force drafted school attendance protocols and guidelines.  In developing the protocols the task force found that a number of California statutes—found in penal, education, and municipal codes—criminalize student tardiness and attendance issues, making it harder for students to get back on track after an incidence of truancy.  The task force did not find any evidence that criminalization is an effective response, and therefore, developed a graduated system that provides assessments, referrals, and suffi­cient sup­ports to ensure that students and families can access services and resources to address the underly­ing conditions or reasons that caused the attendance issue.  The protocol requires data sharing among youth serving agencies such as the court, school districts, child welfare agency, law enforcement, etc.

Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy

The court is also participating in the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy’s TA project to test judicial benchcards.  The court designed a research study, similar to the study conducted for CCC, to examine the use of the teen and unplanned pregnancy benchcards.  Information from the study will be forthcoming.