The Honorable David B. Katz, presiding judge, Superior Court of New Jersey, Essex County
Thirty-four years ago in 1981, April was declared National Child Abuse Prevention Month by Presidential proclamation. It is fitting during National Child Abuse Prevention month that we pause from our daily routines to acknowledge all of the participants in our child welfare system who are committed to promoting the social development and well being of children and families.
In New Jersey, through the cooperation and commitment of numerous stakeholders, community partners and service providers, our courts are at the forefront of programming and initiatives aimed at strengthening families in an effort to address and minimize child abuse. In this regard, we have made great strides in the development or our Model Court program, a project of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges; the adoption of initiatives aimed at giving children a voice in their case and in planning to achieve permanency; and with statewide trainings, including on-going judicial education.
Specifically, in Essex County (Newark and its surrounding communities), the well being of children subcommittee of our Model Court is actively engaged in developing programs to increase visitation by creating new visitation sites, such as community centers and places of worship. Our education subcommittee has developed programs to ensure that every child’s educational needs are being met by having their Individualized Education Plans and quarterly report cards attached to the court reports. Our policies and procedures subcommittee has developed numerous protocols to ensure that court procedures are uniformly adopted to reduce delays in reunification and permanency. The equity and fairness subcommittee has arranged for our members to receive critical training such as Undoing Racism. Finally, our community engagement subcommittee is convening a conference centered on housing issues, which will address temporary rental assistance, housing for individuals with disabilities, and training, and employment opportunities.
New Jersey has also adopted a state-wide initiative whereby we ensure that children’s voices are heard by requiring the child’s participation whenever possible at all permanency hearings. Stakeholders are required to make every effort to assist youth in attending the proceedings.
Our child placement review boards, staffed by volunteers, also meet with parents within 45 days of a removal to discuss family needs, objectives and available resources in an effort to facilitate reunification.
In Essex County, we hold an annual community aging-out event attended by more than 100 youth and young adults ages 15 to 21 who have the goal of independent living. The youth can participate in an Information Fair where they learn about job opportunities, SAT preparation, scholarships and college admissions. This has now become a statewide best practice in New Jersey.
We are also committed to annual trainings and continuing education. Each year, New Jersey holds statewide multidisciplinary trainings on issues that arise in child welfare cases. At least 500 participants will partake in more than 15 seminars at this year’s annual conference directed to remove the barriers to permanency. Judges, stakeholders and participants in the child welfare system will have the opportunity to learn about the opioid epidemic, assisting undocumented children and families, behavioral health sciences, treatment of childhood trauma, promoting a more civil approach to child welfare law, housing as a preventative and reunification tool, and engaging families.
Our hard work and commitment to our children through some of these initiatives and programs has enabled New Jersey to see many positive outcomes in our child welfare matters. What better time than National Prevention of Child Abuse Month for us to acknowledge the efforts and dedication of our incredibly committed stakeholders, community partners and service providers!
David B. Katz is the Presiding Judge of the Family Part, Superior Court of New Jersey, Essex County. He Chairs the Conference of Presiding Judges subcommittees on Children in Court and on Domestic Violence. He is Co-chair of the Essex County Domestic Violence Working Group, and Vice-chair of the State-wide Domestic Violence Working Group. Judge Katz sits on the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges’ Family Violence and Domestic Relations Steering Committee (previously known as Family Violence and Domestic Relations Advisory Committee) and the Legislative Committee.