Research indicates that engaged parents are more likely to attend hearings, visit with their children and comply with their case plan, which increases likelihood of reunification. However, engaging parents in the dependency court process is often a challenge. This report focuses on a multi-method approach to examining parent engagement in dependency court. Working with the Milwaukee Model Court, NCJFCJ researchers observed dependency court hearings, focusing specifically on how judges engage parents during the hearings, and surveyed parents immediately after hearing to assess their current satisfaction, sense of voice, and perceived fairness of the proceedings.
The findings from this study illustrate that parent engagement is complex. Judges often made eye contact with parents, treat them with respect and give them an opportunity to be heard. There was a relationship between judicial engagement behaviors and mothers’ perceptions of the hearing in that higher levels of engagement by the judge were related to more positive perceptions by the mother. This relationship was not true for fathers, indicating that fathers might need to be engaged differently in the process.
More information on the study methods, a full list of findings, and implications of this work can be found in the full study report.