The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) recommends that the court should do all that it can to encourage and support the meaningful engagement of children, youth, and families in the child welfare process and proceedings.1 Positive parental, child, and family engagement is seen as critical to successful outcomes in the case. This is particularly true at the beginning of a case, which follows almost immediately upon the trauma of the child’s removal from the parents’ custody. Emotions run high, the parents’ ability to understand the court process and make good decisions may be compromised by substance abuse or mental illness, and the anger they may experience toward the caseworker may undermine their ability to work cooperatively toward reunification. The judge has an important role to play in gaining the confidence of the parents, children and youth and families in hearings, and reassuring them that the proceeding will be fair and that their voices will be heard.
This issue in the think tank series summarizes the lessons learned and engagement strategies employed by judges who lead court improvement initiatives. Our aim is to tap into their expertise to provide guidance to other judges who may struggle with how to effectively engage parents in the hearing process.