Publication Improves Court Practice in Child Abuse and Neglect Cases
The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) has announced the release of the Enhanced version of the Resource Guidelines to improve court practice in child abuse and neglect cases, 20 years after the original publication.
“The Enhanced Resource Guidelines will serve as the NCJFCJ’s blueprint for training on child abuse and neglect practices, and is monumental in shaping the way courts handle cases to best serve the children and families involved in the court system,” said Melissa Gueller, NCJFCJ program director for child abuse and neglect. The Enhanced Resource Guidelines covers all stages of the court process, from the preliminary protective hearing until juvenile and family court involvement has ended, which leads to the child safely being returned home or placed in a new, secure and legally permanent home.
In the 1980s, with the implementation of the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 (P.L. 96-272), juvenile and family courts judges became responsible for fulfilling the growing need to ensure that a safe, permanent, and stable home was secured for each abused and neglected child coming before the court. Originally published in 1995, the Resource Guidelines detailed effective dependency court hearing practices, provided options for improved practice and guided juvenile and family courts in assessing and implementing improvements in the handling of child abuse and neglect cases. Since then, the Resource Guidelines has served as the blueprint for NCJFCJ’s efforts to provide training and technical assistance to judges presiding over child abuse and neglect cases in courts across the country. To date, approximately 40,000 copies of the original Guidelines have been distributed.
In addition to training, the NCJFCJ obtained funding support from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) to select Model Courts; courts across the nation ranging from large urban centers like New York City to smaller communities like Alexandria, Va. These courts used the Resource Guidelines to take a critical look at their practices and institute reforms where needed to improve court performance and enhance outcomes for children and families. The NCJFCJ’s Model Court initiative has since then grew to involve more than 80 jurisdictions nationwide.
“The original Resource Guidelines has had an enormous influence on child welfare systems reform in this country. The new Enhanced version incorporates 20 years of changes in the law. They are shaped by the experiences of the many courts and judges that have implemented the best practices of the original Guidelines,” said the Honorable Stephen M. Rubin (Ret.), who helped author the Enhanced Resource Guidelines.
Much has been learned from the successes experienced by these courts that have implemented the original Resource Guidelines that needed to be incorporated in the Enhanced version. For example: increased adoptions, safe reductions in the number of children in foster care, and the amount of time a child remains under the jurisdiction of the court. In addition, an increased amount of research demonstrated the benefits of key strategies such as time-certain calendaring, judicial continuity, and early and effective legal representation in child abuse and neglect cases. Other new key principles in the Enhanced Resource Guidelines include:
- Keeping families together
- Ensuring access to justice
- Cultivating cultural responsiveness
- Engaging families through alternative dispute resolution techniques
- Ensuring child safety, permanency, and well-being
- Ensuring adequate and appropriate family time
- Providing judicial oversight
- Ensuring competent and adequately compensated representation
- Advancing the development of adequate resources
They also include a judicial bench card for each stage of the court process that makes recommendations for preparation for the hearing, case management during the hearing, and preparation for the next hearing. Currently, practices from the Enhanced Resource Guidelines are being applied in eight court sites nationwide as part of the NCJFCJ’s Implementation Sites project, which fulfills the goal of improving the outcomes for children in care. “The Enhanced Resource Guidelines is a valuable teaching tool and a practical everyday guide to assist judges, attorneys, child welfare workers, court appointed special advocates (CASAs) and others in achieving timely safety, permanency and well-being for the children who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in court,” said Judge Rubin.