Reno Mentor Model Court

Brief History

The Reno Model Court, led by Judge Deborah Schumacher, was selected as a Model Court in September 1995.  In 2008, the NCJFCJ designated the Reno Model Court a Mentor Model Court for its outstanding commitment to the RESOURCE GUIDELINES’ best practices. The Reno Model Court has consistently maintained frequent stakeholder meetings, generally monthly, throughout its existence.  As a result, the Court and its partners are able to identify issues, problem-solve, collaborate, and respond to change and implement new processes efficiently.

Leadership

Current Lead Judge: Judge Deborah Schumacher

Court website - http://www.washoecourts.com

Successfully Implemented Signature Best Practices

1. Children’s Counsel

When the Reno Model Court first started, children were not represented by attorneys.  Some of the children were represented by CASAs, although there were not, and still aren’t, enough CASAs to appoint one for every child or family.  The Reno Model Court team assisted in securing a reliable source of funding to establish the Child Advocacy Program through the local legal aid program, Washoe Legal Services. As of 2007, there were three full time attorneys representing 197 children.  Currently, there are five and half full-time equivalent attorneys who exclusively represent children in dependency cases and those attorneys represent 332 children out of the approximately 750 children who are in foster care.

2. Time-Certain Calendaring and the speedy issuance of court orders after each hearing

Early in the Model Court process the Reno Model Court implemented several changes to the court process to incorporate best practices, including time specific hearings with set amounts of time depending on the type of hearing, preparing orders at each hearing and distributing them to the parties before they leave, and setting the next hearing date at the conclusion of the hearing.  Another component of the court process was the development of an ASFA computer system maintained by the court to track the timeliness of hearings.  The judicial officer and staff receive an alert from the system if a hearing is outside of a required timeframe.  These process changes have continued and have become second-nature to the court and to the stakeholders.

Additional Best Practices and Initiatives Implemented

Current Goals

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

January to May 2012 data was collected from the Reno Model Court for an ICWA compliance baseline assessment.  NCJFCJ research staff captured the courts’ current practices related to working with Native families and complying with the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).  NCJFCJ research staff observed and coded in all permanency custody hearings they were present for.  Despite having a small number of federally recognized tribes in the state, the Lead Judge is committed to identifying Native American children and families so that they may be served in a culturally respectful manner.  Asking about Native heritage in open court and on the record is the first step toward better serving Native families and is the focus of the baseline assessment.

STATE GOAL: Nevada Initiative to Reduce Long-Term Foster Care Service

The Reno Model Court and the Washoe County Department of Social Services (WCDSS) were awarded an Administration of Children and Families (ACF) Permanency Innovations Initiative (PII) grant for a proposal titled the Nevada Initiative to Reduce Long-Term Foster Care.  The goal of this initiative is to reduce the number of children in long-term foster care by implementing a Safety Intervention Permanency System (SIPS) based on two innovative intervention strategies (SAFE & Family Connections) to keep children safe, prevent them from coming into care, and to improve permanency outcomes for subgroups of children that have the most serious barriers to permanency. Using implementation science to guide the process, the Department Director, Project Management and Implementation Team, and the Community Advisory Committee will work together to design a structure that will be enhanced with partners from the community and two national organizations. The first year of the initiative was dedicated to data collection and establishing a detailed implementation plan. We are now in year two of the initiative and beginning implementation.  Effective August 2012, the Department has been reorganized.  750 families with in-home safety plans and 900 families with out-of-home safety plans will be randomly assigned to receive SIPS versus routine safety management services. Implementation in years one to five will follow the Stages of Implementation Science using Core Implementation Components.  Goals of the initiative include: (1) reduce the number of children who enter care; (2) reduce the length of time that children remain in care; and ultimately (3) reduce the number of children in long-term foster care. Additionally, evidence will be developed about the effectiveness of SIPS, translating knowledge for potential replication by other CPS agencies.

LOCAL GOALS: Reduce Barriers to Permanency

The Reno Model Court is continuing to work with the Court Improvement Program (CIP)to implement recommendations related to the most recent Child and Family Services Review (CFSR) and specifically to eliminate barriers to timely permanency.

Shielding Core Best Practices from Budget Reductions

The Reno Model Court has been effective in speaking with a collective voice of the dependency system to reduce negative effects of ever shrinking budgets.  Among the successes is educating County leadership regarding the need for and effectiveness of qualified parents’ and children’s attorneys.

Family Mental Health Court:

The Family Mental Health Court has now been fully implemented following a pilot project.  The Family Mental Health Court has expanded our stakeholders to include a partnership between the Court, Child Protective Services and the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services to provide coordinated services, accountability and oversight to parents whose mental health issues impact their ability to safely parent.

Educational Liaison:

The Reno Model Court continues to achieve successes with its Educational Liaison.  Over the past seven years, the Educational Liaison has facilitated the exchange of information regarding a child’s educational needs early in the case process.  Through the Educational Liaison, the Reno Model Court is able to facilitate improved coordination and communication with Washoe County Department of Social Services and the Washoe County School District.  The Educational Liaison has also trained many CASA’s to be better educational advocates.