Howell (Livingston County) Model Court

Brief History

The city of Howell is nestled in Livingston County, Michigan, which has a population of approximately 185,000. Located in the county adjacent to four major population centers in Michigan (Metro Detroit, Lansing, Flint, and Ann Arbor), it is a combination of a commuter community, with suburban characteristics, and a rural community. Livingston County has a rich history of collaboration among organizations providing human services, and boasts one of the more effective and long-running approaches to pooling funding for certain child protection and juvenile justice services in the state.  

In 2008, when Judge Carol Hackett Garagiola learned of the NCJFCJ Model Court program, its focus on collaboration and systems improvement seemed to be an excellent fit with what was already going on in the community. Livingston County became a Model Court for Child Protection Court services in 2008, and then in 2010, also became a Model Court for Juvenile Justice Services. Under the leadership of Judge Hackett Garagiola, and with the leadership and support of Chief Judge David Reader, the Howell Model Court was formed in 2008 and has been successfully operating since that time. Since the inception of the Model Court, support from local community organizations has been supplemented and strengthened by participation from state organizations such as the University of Michigan Child Advocacy Law Clinic and School of Social Work, and the State Court Administrative Office Child Welfare program. The national perspective of NCJFCJ has also been supplemented by the Casey Foundation, which supported evaluation of the program in its initial stages. The Model Court team meets monthly and includes leadership and staff from the Court and Prosecutor, as well as local Department of Human Services (Michigan's Child Welfare Agency) Community Mental Health, the schools, local law enforcement, and numerous private agencies, attorneys and mental health practitioners.  

The Model Court has successfully guided the implementation of a broad range of improvements ranging from addition of programs such as CASA, Family Treatment Court and Multi-Systemic Therapy, to specific improvements in how court is conducted, how court and child welfare staff communicate, training of local professionals, communications with and involvement of parents and youth in the system, parenting time in Child Protection cases, and more. The Howell Model Court has been called upon to share its work with various statewide groups, including a presentation at a recent System of Care Conference, and to provide input to initiatives such as statewide Race-Equity Coalition and Juvenile Justice strategic planning initiatives. Recently, there has been a changeover in leadership in the primary organizations involved in Model Court, including retirement of the Lead Judge, Prosecutor, Community Mental Health Director, and Department of Human Services Director. The Model Court team responded to this challenge by orchestrating a transition meeting with the outgoing and incoming leadership in attendance, as well as all active members, providing for a smooth transition, clarifying the benefits of the program, and assuring that the collaboration and accomplishments of the process will continue.


Honorable Miriam Cavanaugh

Current Goals

Statewide Implementation of Best Practices

Prior to her departure, Hon. Carol Hackett Garagiola was the leader and catalyst in the statewide movement in beginning the implementation of the best practices set forth by the National Council and enhanced by local implementation and practice in Livingston County. Although in the beginning stages of implementation, the statewide implementation process is supported through a partnership with the Department of Human Services (DHS) and the State Court Administrator’s Office (SCAO), which includes the State Supreme Court. Though not part of the Model Court, Hon. Hackett Garagiola has since taken a position with DHS, which has continued, active involvement with making sure best practices are implemented throughout Michigan. The Howell Model Court continues its involvement and support under the leadership of newly appointed Lead Judge, Honorable Miriam Cavanaugh.

Racial Equity (CCC Components)

As an active proponent and practicing jurisdiction of Courts Catalyzing Change, Hon. Hackett Garagiola and the Howell Model Court offered its knowledge and practice experience to the Michigan Race Equity Coalition (REC). Under the direction of SCAO, the REC is charged with bringing together a multidisciplinary team of professionals throughout the State to reduce disproportionality and disparities for children of color. Not only does the REC focus on the child welfare system, it also has a targeted focus on improving outcomes for juvenile justice, education, tribes, diversion and early identification, family services, and first responder professionals and alternatives to custody. The REC members underwent a series of training modules to prepare them for discussion and solution oriented thinking. With REC’s workload being a consistent process of meeting its goal of reduction in disparate treatment and an enhancement and overall improvement in outcomes for children of color, Howell’s involvement is, too, ongoing.

ICWA Compliance and Meaningful Tribal Engagement

In November 2011, a cross-site visit was conducted to the tribal community and court of the Pokagen Band of Potawatomi in Dowagiac, Michigan. Hosted by Tribal Judge, Honorable Michael Petoskey, the visit was to establish meaningful relationships and build trust and understanding of tribal customs, culture, and court processes. Representatives from Casey Family Programs, NCJFCJ, SCAO, and the Model Court participated in the site visit and took part in various activities, to include prayer circle, smudging, visits of the courthouse and other community facilities, and a final gathering of the tribal community members and site visit participants.

Stemming from the cross-site visit, Hon. Hackett Garagiola and Hon. Petoskey attended and participated in NCJFCJ’s Lead Judges Meeting in December 2011. The meeting’s theme, ICWA and compliance of the law, set forth a two-day educational session and group discussion on understanding the history of ICWA and the law itself and determining best practices to ensure full compliance in each jurisdiction present. In the break-out sessions, Hon. Hackett Garagiola and Hon. Petoskey discussed and completed a strategic work plan to address effective methods to implementing best practices both locally and statewide, which included meaningful engagement with tribes and training on both the history of ICWA and why the law is necessary. Work surrounding ICWA continues in the greater Livingston County area and is linked up with their continuous involvement with the REC.