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Examples of Model Court-CIP Collaboration Systems Change Goal Alignment

Elizabeth Whitney BarnesElizabeth Whitney Barnes, JD, Assistant Director, Permanency Planning for Children Department, National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ)

Summary: The author offers examples of collaborations between NCJFCJ and Court Improvement Programs.



In the Austin Model Court, the model court lead judge is the vice chair of the Supreme Court of Texas Permanent Judicial Commission on Children, Youth and Families. The executive director and assistant director of the commission attend model court trainings and have brought trainings previously offered to the model court, such as Implicit Bias in Judicial Decision Making with Rita Cameron Wedding, PhD, to a statewide audience.

Similar to the Austin Model Court, the Washington, DC, CIP director is a member of the Washington, DC, model court collaborative team. This ensures that the model court's goals and initiatives are aligned with CIP's initiatives and helps to measure the court’s performance.

Hawaii CIP and the Honolulu Model Court also collaborate regularly. The co-coordinator of the state CIP is a member of the Honolulu Model Court team, attending monthly team meetings and the annual Model Courts All-Sites Conference. In September 2010, utilizing this collaborative framework, the model court and CIP co-sponsored two training events for judiciary and systems stakeholders on implicit bias in decision making.

The Salt Lake City Model Court, a senior model court, has seen its collaborative team evolve with the state CIP Committee over the years of the model court’s existence. The two have now become the same entity. This structure facilitates the flow of information and best- practice implementation strategies to jurisdictions around the state.

For the last two years, the San Jose Model Court’s All-Sites Conference team has included a CIP liaison as one of the model court team members funded to attend the conference. The conference includes educational opportunities and time for the teams to connect their reform goals to specific outcomes and plan for the upcoming year. At the 2010 All-Sites Conference, the lead judge, with the support of the CIP liaison and a prominent tribal judge from California, developed a plan to appoint attorneys to represent tribes in cases coming under the Indian Child Welfare Act.

Shared Systems Change Framework Using the Resource Guidelines[1]

The Los Angeles Model Court has coordinated with the CIP liaison who attends the model court’s monthly Resource Guidelines Committee meeting. The committee was established in 2008 to thoroughly review the guidelines and conduct a self-assessment of the court’s implementation of best practice. Recently, the committee completed a disposition case plan format for the model court. It was lauded by the CIP liaison for its concrete, practical nature, and as something which can be used in other California counties as an example of how to make the process better serve children and families.

The California Center for Families, Children and the Courts has assigned liaisons to each county in the state. The liaisons serve to further the recommendations of the California Blue Ribbon Commission on Children in Foster Care. Many of these recommendations are aligned with those found in the Resource Guidelines. The work of the California Model Courts provides a framework for what best practice implementation looks like on the ground, practice which can be replicated throughout California.

Model Courts as Pilot Sites for CIP Programs and Initiatives

In the Concord/Franklin (NH) Model Court, a CIP liaison is an active member of the Concord/Franklin Model Court’s executive committee, and has assisted the model court in revising protocols for permanency hearings, adoption and termination of parental rights intended to reflect Resource Guidelines best practices. The protocols are being implemented in the model court for a two-year period on a pilot basis. CIP will then evaluate the impact of the protocols, and the evaluation findings will guide statewide implementation of the protocols.

Efficient Use of Resources—Coordinated Trainings, Strategic Planning Meetings

The Mississippi CIP liaison and the lead judge of the Hattiesburg Model Court worked closely together to develop a statewide training on the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). The model court and CIP coordinated with the National Resource Center of Legal and Judicial Issues, the National Resource Center for Tribes, and a Choctaw Tribal Youth Court judge to develop the ICWA training. The concept included a day-long multidisciplinary training on Choctaw cultural heritage and a training on the interface of social services and ICWA. Designed specifically for state judicial officers, attorneys, child welfare workers working with Choctaw families, and Choctaw tribal leaders and members, the goals included building relationships between the state and the tribe.

The Louisiana CIP liaison serves as a member of the collaborative for each of the two model courts in Louisiana (Lake Charles and New Orleans) and has initiated outreach to Casey Family Programs and Georgia CIP to help the model courts learn about the Georgia Permanency Roundtable practice for finding permanent placements for “cold cases.” The model courts have an interest in adapting the “cold case” methodology for use in Louisiana, especially to work with cold cases that require cultural sensitivity and multicultural expertise to find placements for children of color who have been in foster care for a prolonged period.

In support of the Indianapolis Model Court goal to implement an alternative dispute resolution program, CIP funded participants’ travel to the Tucson Model Court to learn about its mediation program. CIP funded the Indianapolis Model Court Mediation Program established thereafter.

Some common themes have emerged from model court–CIP collaborations related to reduction of minority disproportionality and disparity[2] through examination of institutional racism and implicit bias, and through closer adherence by dependency courts to the provisions of ICWA. In the Indianapolis Model Court, CIP has supported trainings related to the disproportionate number of families of color in the child welfare system.

Arizona CIP is working with the Tucson Model Court to provide a statewide ICWA training. The court improvement coordinator for the Dependent Children's Services Division attended the first National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges Tribal Judicial Leadership Gathering in December 2010, hosted by the Gila River Indian Community Model Court. The event brought tribal and state court judges together to develop vision and priorities for collaboration. Arizona CIP has included the Gila River Indian Community Tribal Model Court lead judge on the Court Improvement Program Advisory Committee.

Statewide Model Court Implementation with the CIP

Oregon CIP holds an annual Statewide Model Court Day, a conference at which state courts attend with a team of stakeholders from each jurisdiction. Oregon CIP has supported the Portland Model Court in providing statewide training on disproportionality and family engagement and the new Courts Catalyzing Change Preliminary Hearing Benchcard, which was piloted in the Portland Model Court. CIP has recently brought together a multidisciplinary team that includes judges and stakeholders (both tribal and state court) to take the lead on developing plans and strategies for state court ICWA compliance, including tribal engagement.

Some CIPs choose to contract with tNCJFCJ to bring courts into the model courts project. The Seattle Model Court is supported by Washington CIP, with the goal of replicating model court systems change statewide. In Maryland, the Baltimore City Model Court is supported by federal funding of the Model Courts Project, and the Prince George's County and Charles County model courts participate in the project through the support of Maryland CIP. The three model courts communicate with CIP regularly with regard to the progress of their model court project participation and goal achievement. In addition, CIP funds a statewide annual training to bring all the state jurisdictions together for ongoing systems-change development, networking and exchange of ideas.

[1] Resource Guidelines: Improving Court Practice in Child Abuse & Neglect Cases (1995), National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, Reno, NV, and the Adoption and Permanency Guidelines: Improving Court Practice in Child Abuse and Neglect Cases (2000), National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, Reno, NV, collectively referred to herein as “Resource Guidelines.” See for more information.

[2] The Courts Catalyzing Change: Achieving Equity and Fairness in Foster Care Initiative (CCC), funded by Casey Family Programs and supported by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), brings together judicial officers and other systems’ experts to set a national agenda for court-based training, research, and reform initiatives to reduce the disproportionate representation of children of color in dependency court systems. See for more information.


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