Approximately 437,300 abused and neglected children live in foster care in the U.S. Every day, judges are faced with difficult decisions affecting these children, continually challenged to find the right solutions in each of their cases.
The NCJFCJ supports the active engagement of children and their families in the court process, and it has adopted a policy regarding the importance of opening juvenile courts to the public unless the court finds good cause to the contrary on a case-by-case basis. The NCJFCJ, through its policy acknowledging tribal courts as equal and parallel systems of justice, works to improve collaboration between state and tribal court systems and comply with the Indian Child Welfare Act.
The Enhanced Resource Guidelines: Improving Court Practice in Child Abuse and Neglect Cases is the update to the NCJFCJ’s landmark publication and the NCJFCJ’s official policy on effective court intervention in child abuse and neglect cases. The NCJFCJ has established a framework for reform in the courtroom and throughout the child welfare system through the implementation of the Enhanced Resource Guidelines.
With the continued support of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and other public and private partnerships, the NCJFCJ has built a network of more than 90 state and tribal Model Courts to improve the courts’ handling of child abuse and neglect cases. These courts, for the most part, are self-sustaining and are ready laboratories for issue identification and system change initiatives.
Through the Model Courts, the NCJFCJ identified the need to build more broadly competent courts to provide timely, fair, and coordinated justice to families presenting a multitude of issues across case types, resulting in the NCJFCJ’s next-generation Model Court initiative – Project ONE (One family-one judge, No wrong door, Equal and coordinated access to justice). The NCJFCJ currently works with five identified Project ONE sites.
The Implementation Sites Project, supported by OJJDP funding, was developed to replicate the infrastructure pioneered by the NCJFCJ Model Courts Project. Designated sites have committed to develop and implement a judicially-led collaborative seeking to implement system change efforts to improve the child abuse and neglect case process with the goal of improving safety, permanency, and well-being outcomes for children. These sites strive to adhere to and implement all aspects of the best practices outlined in the Enhanced Resource Guidelines while adopting the Key Principles of Permanency Planning for Children. Each designated site leads local systems reform through the selection of short-term improvement goals based on the Enhanced Resource Guidelines practices, measures implementation of its goals, partners with statewide court improvement efforts, and informs national dependency system improvement. Led by a designated lead judge, sites are dedicated to assessing their child abuse and neglect case processing, continually focusing on barriers to timely permanency and developing and instituting plans for court improvement while working collaboratively with system stakeholders to effect systems change.
Research and evaluation efforts are a critical piece of the NCJFCJ’s commitment to partnering with judges and court system stakeholders to improve outcomes for children and families. The NCJFCJ’s annual Child Abuse and Neglect Institute (CANI), which has trained juvenile court judges for more than 20 years, underwent an evaluation to determine its effectiveness. Results found several statistically significant positive improvements in practice post-CANI: judges increased their engagement with the mother of the family; increased their use of specific engagement strategies with the father; increased their level of judicial inquiry of issues overall as well as the level of discussion of specific issues; and were more likely to make clear, verbal reasonable efforts on the record.
The NCJFCJ envisions judges who engage families, professionals, organizations, and communities to support effective child safety, permanency, and well-being. The NCJFCJ envisions judges who recognize that cases involving children and families are complex and require judges to exercise leadership and judicial skills that go well beyond the traditional role of the judge. The NCJFCJ envisions judges who encourage the court system to respond to children and their families with both a sense of urgency and dignity while focusing on these key principles to provide a foundation for courts to exercise the critical duties entrusted to them by the people and the laws of the land.
The NCJFCJ recommends setting aside federal court improvement funds to help support implementation and education efforts for national or regional nonprofit training organizations.