Washington, D.C. Mentor Model Court

Brief History

The Washington, D.C. Model Court joined the Model Courts Project in 2001.  The Family Division of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia was renamed as the Family Court of the Superior Court of the

District of Columbia as a result of the passing of the District of Columbia Family Court Act of 2001 by Congress in 2000.  The overarching goal of the Act was to improve child abuse and neglect case processing, to improve outcomes for children and families, and to bring the Court’s practice into compliance with the Adoption and Safe Families Act.  In 2011, the Washington, D.C. Model Court has been promoted to Mentor Model Court status and recognized its efforts to implement positive and sustainable systems’ change. 

Leadership

Current Lead Judge:  Judge Zoe Bush

Past Lead Judges:  Judge Zinora Mitchell-Rankin, Judge Reggie B. Walton, Judge Lee F. Satterfield, Judge Anita Josey-Herring, and Judge William Jackson.

Court website - http://www.dccourts.gov/internet/superior/org_family/main.jsf

Successfully Implemented Signature Best Practices

1. One Family-One Judge

In December 2001, the Family Court Implementation Committee was created in anticipation of the enactment of the District of Columbia Family Court Act of 2001.  The anticipated result of the Family Court Act was the selection of trained and experienced judges and magistrate judges who would serve longer terms in Family Court and would better serve children and families in DC.  Under this Act, the court was able to promote consistency and efficiency in the assignment of judges to the Family Court and in the consideration of actions and proceedings in the Family Court.  The organizing principle under the Act was the implementation of the One Family-One Judge case management concept.  Under this approach, one magistrate judge or one judicial team (magistrate judge and associate judge) handles all cases related to one family or household, including dissolution of marriage, paternity, child support, custody, juvenile delinquency, civil domestic violence cases, mental health and retardation, and abuse and neglect proceedings, including termination of parental rights, adoption, custody, and guardianship.  Effective 2002, each judicial team is responsible for all case management in new abuse and neglect cases following the child’s initial hearing.  This includes any subsequent actions arising out of the child’s abuse and neglect case such as guardianship, termination of parental rights, custody, adoption, as well as the coordination of all cases involving siblings.

2. Attorney Practice Standard

To ensure quality representation in abuse and neglect cases, the Chief Judge established the Family Court Panels Committee in April 2002.  The Committee was charged with developing procedures for evaluating attorneys appointed to represent children and parents in Family Court proceedings.  The four panels were established for appointment of attorneys in juvenile proceedings, as GALs, as special education advocates, and as counsel to parties in neglect and termination of parental rights proceedings.  The Family Court Panels Committee completed its work, and on March 26, 2003, the Chief Judge issued Administrative Order No. 03-11 establishing lists of qualified attorneys eligible for appointments in the referenced categories.  The designation and approval of panels of attorneys in the Family Court will assist the Court in acting in the best interests of children, providing effective assistance of counsel, performing its oversight responsibility to promote the appointment of attorneys with a high level of advocacy skills, and improving the administration of justice.

On February 28, 2003, the Chief Judge issued Administrative Order No. 03-07 adopting attorney practice standards for attorneys appointed in the cases of abused and neglected children.  These standards were intended to define the role and responsibilities of counsel in the child abuse and neglect system in the Family Court and improve the quality of representation for all parties in that system.  The standards apply to parents’ counsel, guardians ad litem (GALs), attorneys for children, and the Office of the Attorney General (OAG).  Under these standards, attorneys only accept an appointment or otherwise appear in child abuse and neglect proceedings if they are knowledgeable of substantive and procedural child abuse and neglect laws and have participated in the required training programs.  The fundamental obligations of an attorney identified in the standards are based on the District of Columbia Rules of Professional Conduct and the Superior Court Rules.  The standards also address the role of individual counsel and responsibilities of an attorney to his or her client.

As a follow up to the Administrative Order No 03-07, on June 30, 2004, the Chief Judge issued Administrative Order No. 04-13 adopting attorney practice standards for attorneys appointed to represent juveniles charged with delinquency or as persons in need of supervision.  These standards, developed by the Juvenile Subcommittee of the Family Court Implementation Committee, defined the role and responsibilities of counsel in juvenile proceedings in the Family Court of the District of Columbia, and the overall objectives that counsel should seek to achieve and improve the quality of representation for all parties in that system.

In August 2003, the Court entered into a contract with the Children’s Law Center to provide GAL services in cases needing court-appointed counsel.  In addition to representation, the Center provides training and technical assistance to other attorneys providing legal representation to clients.  Center staff have expertise in representing the interests of abused and neglected children, and in cases involving child welfare, adoption, guardianship, special education, and domestic violence issues.

The Counsel for Child Abuse and Neglect (CCAN) Office, a branch of the Family Court of the District of Columbia Superior Court, maintains a list of qualified attorneys who are available for appointment in child abuse and neglect cases. The office also processes the orders appointing counsel in both new and ongoing cases. The CCAN Office provides initial and ongoing training to attorneys who represent children, parents, and caretakers in child abuse and neglect cases. The Office screens adult parties for financial eligibility for court appointed attorneys and assists attorneys who have legal and social work questions regarding child abuse and neglect cases.

Additional Best Practices and Initiatives Implemented

Safe and Sound (Pre-petition court-involved diversion program)

Central Intake Center

Child Friendly Courthouse

Family Treatment Court

Court Performance Measures

Child Protection Mediation

Current Goals

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

To reinforce and improve ICWA compliance, the Family Court Attorney Advisor helped revise all court orders in early 2011 with technical assistance provided by the NCJFCJ and the National Resource Center on Legal and Judicial Issues.  The newly revised court orders including Native American/Indian heritage inquiry were implemented in four courtrooms for piloting the orders.  Following the 3-month pilot period, the orders are revised based on the feedback from those who participated in the pilot, then were implemented in all courtrooms.

STATE GOAL:  Court-wide Implementation of the Best Practices

The Washington, DC, Model Court continues to implement best practices court-wide.

LOCAL GOAL:  Child Well-Being on Education

The DC Superior Court Education Sub-Committee has been looking at ways to capture data on school stability and entering/re-entering of foster care.  Action teams within the Education Sub-Committee are being developed to address this goal. 

Short- and long-term goals were developed to improve education stability and outcomes for youth in foster care at the 2011 Education Summit.  The DC Model Court’s short-term goals are to increase education information sharing between the child welfare agency and school system and to increase judicial awareness of education stability.  The long-term goals are to prepare children and youth entering school and to improve school stability for children and youth entering or re-entering into foster care.  Since October 2011, CFSA has referred or independently screened all children entering or re-entering care for developmental delays utilizing the Ages and Stages Questionnaire.  Between October 2011 and December 31st, 2011, CFSA referred all children entering/re-entering care to the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), Office of Special Education, Early Stages Center.  In January 2012, CFSA assumed responsibility for screening all children entering/re-entering care, except children who remain in care for less than 30 days.  Children who remain in care for less than 30 days are referred by CFSA to DCPS for a screening. The findings from all screenings completed by CFSA are sent to DCPS Early Stages for review and consideration of further evaluations.  In addition, in May of 2012, CFSA established the Office of Well-Being.  This Office is focused on ensuring the developmental and educational needs of children in care are met.  Presently, the Agency is considering policies, procedures and services that will assist young people in care meet educational benchmarks and be career-ready by age 24.