Honolulu Model Court

Brief History

The Family Court of the First Circuit was designated a Victims Act Model Court of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) in November 1997.  Prior to the designation, it was an observer court, working with the other Model Courts on implementing improved court practice in child abuse and neglect cases following the principles of the Resource Guidelines.  The Model Court has always been supported by the current and past Family Court Senior Judges including Judge Francis Wong (ret.), Judge Sabrina McKenna, and Judge Robert M. Browning.


Current Lead Judge(s):  Judge Bode Uale, Judge Paul Murakami

Past Lead Judge(s):  Judge Michael Town, Judge John Bryant, and Judge Linda Luke. 

Court website -  http://www.courts.state.hi.us/courts/family/family_courts.html

Successfully Implemented Signature Best Practices

1.  Ohana Conferencing

In August 1996, the Family Court of the First Circuit initiated efforts to safely divert families from formal child protective services to community-based programs by partnering with the NCJFCJ.  These efforts led to the development and implementation of the Ohana Conferencing Project.  This project was a collaborative effort of the Family Court of the First Circuit, the Department of Human Services’ (DHS) Social Services Division, and the local Wai’anae community.  Positioned as a court diversion initiative, the Ohana Conferencing Project utilized family conferencing as an intervention strategy only after child abuse or neglect reports had been confirmed.  Support from the NCJFCJ and a separate grant from the Edna McConnel Clark Foundation made this initiative possible. 

Effective Planning and Innovative Communication (EPIC), a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, facilitates all ‘Ohana conferences and trainings.  The stated goals of the ‘Ohana Conferencing are:

To help DHS/Child Protective Services (CPS) and families to reach an agreement that will keep the child safe with as little uprooting of, and trauma to, the child as possible;

To partner family, community, and DHS to strengthen the protection and safety of children;

To enhance the decision-making process among families, community service providers, and legal representatives for parents and children;

To increase communication;

To build family and community capacity for problem-solving and child safety;

To develop a support team to keep children safe;

To support family reunification, or finding safe permanent homes for children; and

To increase the involvement of parents and families in the decision-making process.

‘Ohana Conferencing was designed to honor the cultural traditions of the Hawai’ian people, recognize and maximize families’ strengths and resources, and build upon and support families’ hopes and dreams for their children.  The conferencing process is intended to build relationships among family members, social workers, and other service providers in an effort to promote positive and proactive discussions concerning the children’s safety and care.  It is hoped that these relationships provide a mechanism for the sharing of fundamental information that is needed for making informed decisions that are in the best interests of the children. 

Additional Best Practices and Initiatives Implemented

Child protection mediation

Youth Circle

One Family-One Judge

‘Ohana is Forever conference

AHA Conferences

Annual Child Welfare Law Update conferences

Zero to Three specialty court

Family Drug Court

Current Goals

NATIONAL GOAL:  ICWA Compliance & Tribal Engagement

The Honolulu Model Court continues to lead the efforts to reduce disproportionality and disparate treatment of minority children, particularly the Native Hawai’ians and Pacific Islanders.  While Native Hawai’ians and Pacific Islanders are the primary ethnic group for the reduction of disproportionality, the Model Court heightened the priority of ICWA compliance.  This is in part the national attention and efforts to improve ICWA compliance and in part more cases are identified as Native family involvement. 

The Honolulu Model Court implemented the Courts Catalyzing Change (CCC) Preliminary Protective Hearing Benchcard in July 2011.  The baseline assessment showed that ICWA inquiries were made in 80% of cases, while ICWA findings were made in 26% of cases at temporary foster custody hearings (TFC hearings).  The CCC Benchcard study is an ongoing project to analyze the impact of the Benchcard use.  Improvement on the ICWA compliance may be analyzed in the future.

STATE GOAL:  State-wide Implementation of Best Practices

The Hawai’i Court Improvement Project, with the leadership of the Honolulu Model Court, strives to implement the Resource Guidelines best practices statewide.  This is to ensure the successes, capacity, and lessons learned from the NCJFCJ Model Courts Project are shared and replicated with all Circuits of the state. The current assessment is expected to assist in this effort. In 2012, the CIP contracted with the NCJFCJ to assess the quality of dependency hearings statewide.

LOCAL GOAL:  Educational Well-Being

The Honolulu Model Court’s goal of improving educational well-being of children who come under the Family Court’s jurisdiction began with development of a pilot program aimed at improving educational stability for foster youth in three schools on the island of O’ahu. Hawai’i previously did not have a formal mechanism for making best interest determinations regarding children in foster care and school changes. The Education Collaborative was established, which includes representatives from DHS, Department of Education (DOE), a resource caregiver, guardian ad litem, and the CIP Coordinator. Evaluation plans are being developed and data will be collected during the pilot phase.