Seattle Model Court (Contract)

Brief History

King County became the first Model Court site in Washington State in April of 2006, following recommendations by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) in the state Court Improvement Project (CIP) Reassessment which was conducted in 2005.  The report noted how the King County Superior Court could improve court oversight of child protection cases, the quality of hearings, case flow, and representation.   The report recommendations were presented to the State Superior Court Judges Association Family and Juvenile Law Committee, which selected King County to apply to NCJFCJ for Model Courts Project participation. 

The Lead Judge is a Superior Court judge. The advisory committee meets every month and includes the Judiciary (Judges and Commissioners), court staff, Clerk’s office, Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) court liaison, NCJFCJ Model Court Liaison, representatives from the Attorney General’s Office, Public Defense, Dependency Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), Department of Social and Human Services, Casey Family Programs, Children’s Home Society (CHS), and Partners for Our Children and Court Improvement Training Academy (CITA). The Family and Juvenile Court Improvement staff is assigned as lead staff and responsible for scheduling meetings, convening ad-hoc and sub-committees and reporting out on projects, etc.

Leadership

Current Lead Judge(s):  Judge Patricia Clark

Past Lead Judge(s):  Judge Ronald Kessler

Court Website - http://www.kingcounty.gov/courts/JuvenileCourt/dependency.aspx

Successfully Implemented Signature Best Practices

1.  Mediation

In February 2009, the Seattle Model Court implemented a pilot project that uses formal mediation to resolve dependency and dispositional issues.  The pilot became a formalized program in 2011 with funding from DSHS.  The goal of mediation is to resolve dependency cases earlier than they are currently and in a manner that gives all parties the opportunity for more thoughtful collaboration and discussion so as to encourage families to engage in services and thereby achieve earlier permanency for children.

Dependency mediation is a confidential process in which specially-trained neutral mediators help the family, social worker, attorneys and others involved in the case to discuss and resolve issues of dispute so that a resolution can be achieved.  Social workers from Superior Court Family Court Services are utilized to provide mediation.  The hope in conducting mediation is that the participants will develop a plan that they all agree is safe, addresses the needs of the parents, and is in the best interest of the children.  The participants in mediation include the parent(s), attorney(s) for the parent(s), CASA, social worker, assigned Assistant Attorney General, mediator, and other interested parties.

In early 2010, NCJFCJ completed a preliminary assessment of the mediation pilot project. The Phase I assessment included data collection on a sample of 50 cases (22 mediated and 28 non‐mediated cases) that had progressed through adjudication. The results of Phase I of the mediation pilot program study demonstrated that mediation is a useful tool for improving the efficiency of case processing.  Phase II of the study expanded upon Phase I findings by adding additional cases to the sample and following cases through the permanency and case closure (when applicable) in order examine the long‐term effects. 

The benefits of the mediation program include:

●      Decreases the length of the process, thus finding permanent placements for children occurs more quickly than when litigated.

●      Produces agreements that are acceptable to all parties, does not sacrifice child safety, and are more effective and longer lasting than court orders after contested hearings.

●      Enables everyone to complete the process with a sense of accomplishment – a feeling that their combined efforts have produced something of value for the child and family as well as a stake in the outcome they had a hand in creating.

●      Saves valuable time and resources for the parties and the court.

●      Is considered less injurious to the family by decreasing the trauma to the child and utilizing the parents’ motivation to seek help during a family crisis situation.

The NCJFCJ’s research studies can be found here.  

2.  Parent to Parent

Parent to Parent is a program designed to lend support to parents who have had children removed from their care by Child Protective Services (CPS). The program utilizes parents who have successfully navigated the CPS system and have reunified with their children, to help support parents who are currently involved in dependencies. The Parent to Parent Program refers to these successfully reunified birth parents as veteran parents (VP’s). There are two main elements of the program: Support from VP’s at the shelter care hearings as well as a two-hour educational class called Dependency 101.

Parents typically come to court for their 72-hour shelter care hearing feeling scared, confused, angry, and alone. A VP will meet with parents before they go into court. In engaging the parent, the VP provides someone the parent can relate to and share hope that reunification can happen. This, in turn, helps diffuse some negative feelings and attitudes and helps parents be more open-minded and engage in the process of working with the professionals in the system. The VP will also talk to the parent about the Dependency 101 class and the benefits of attending. The VP will gather contact information from the parent, sign him or her up for the Dependency 101 class, and stay through the court hearing to provide moral support. During the court hearing it is helpful when the parent’s attorney mentions to the court that their client has signed up to attend the Dependency 101 class, and the judicial officer strongly encourages parents to take advantage of the opportunity to attend the class.

Dependency 101 is a two hour class designed to educate parents about the dependency system they must navigate in order to have their children returned, as well as to provide tools and resources that help empower them to be successful during their dependencies. VP’s and Stakeholders collaborate in presenting to the parents. During the class, the parents:

●      Fill out “Before” and “After” surveys to measure the effectiveness of the class

●      Receive a packet of information that includes: a calendar to document appointments, a phone list for numbers pertinent to their dependency, an “Attitude” sheet, a “Words of Encouragement” sheet, a Family Treatment Court (FTC) pamphlet, a list of current Community Resources, and other tools for successful reunification

●      Watch an education video about the dependency process

●      Listen to three VP’s stories about their experience going through the system

●      Hear a CASA, an AAG, a social worker, a Family Treatment Court representative, and a parent’s attorney share about their roles and responsibilities and how they interact with parents, children, and the court.

●      Receive a Certificate for completing the class.

The NCJFCJ conducted an outcome evaluation to examine the effects of the Parent to Parent Program on engaging parents in the dependency process and on case processing timeliness. The evaluation found that participation in Dependency 101 was related to: increased compliance in the court‐ordered case plan by both mothers and fathers; significant increases in parents’ compliance with court‐ordered visitation at the review hearing; increased participation by the mother at key court events. Researchers found no differences in timeliness of case processing. More information is available here

Additional Best Practices and Initiatives Implemented

Geo-districting

Enhancing existing system to collect court performance measures

Coordination with family law cases

Dedicated ICWA docket

Improve timeliness of court events

Developed and updated court rules and procedures to be consistent with promising practices

Current Goals

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

The Model Court Advisory Committee thoroughly reviewed the NCJFCJ’s ICWA Implementation Discussion Guide and gained support from the Chief Justice to partner with a tribal court judge in establishing a tribal court-state court consortium and conducted a cross-site visit to learn more about tribal court-state court collaborations.  In addition, the Model Court is participating in research with the University of Washington, the Minneapolis American Indian Center (MAIC), Casey Family Programs, and NCJFCJ to utilize the QUICWA Performance Checklist developed by the MAIC to obtain ICWA performance measures in child abuse and neglect hearings and to develop targeted initiatives to improve compliance.

Washington, and the Lead Judge of the Seattle Model Court, have led the nation in bringing attention to disproportionate representation and disparate treatment of children and families of color through legislation and implementation of the NCJFCJ Courts Catalyzing Change (CCC) Initiative. 

STATE GOAL:  Statewide Implementation of the Best Practices

The Model Court works closely with the Court Improvement Project (CIP) to share experience in implementing practices such as mediation.  With assistance from the state CIP, the Model Court has also led the state in collecting and analyzing data related to court events and outcomes for children in foster care.

LOCAL GOAL: Child Well-Being

The Model Court has been working to improve the well-being of older children in the foster care system by initiating a benchmark hearing conference practice, similar to that of other Model Courts such as Chicago and New Orleans.  This practice will target older youth of color who experience longer stays in foster care and are at risk of aging out without permanent supportive relationships.