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NCJFCJ Model Court Coordination with Court Improvement Programs

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

Thanks to PPCD Model Court Liaisons Martha-Elin Blomquist, PhD, Mimari Hall, MA, Gina Jackson, MSW, and Crystal Soderman, MPA, for their assistance with this article.

Summary: The author provides an overview of collaboration between NCJFCJ and Court Improvement Programs designed to improve outcomes for children in foster care.


Serving all foster children in the United States, the Model Courts Project strives to reduce the number of, and achieve better outcomes for, foster children by improving dependency court practice through judicially-led system reform. Developed, managed and guided by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ), and funded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) in the US Department of Justice, the project provides tailored training and technical assistance to model court jurisdictions; engages in cutting-edge national program, policy and initiative development; and coordinates local and statewide model court initiatives with state Court Improvement Program (CIP)[1] work. Model courts work toward creating better outcomes for children and families through measuring implementation of their goals; partnering with their state CIP efforts; and informing national dependency system improvements, including the long-term national model court goal to reduce disproportionality and disparate treatment of minority children.

Collaboration between model courts and state CIPs can benefit children and families through:

  • Systems-change goal alignment
  • Shared systems-change framework using the Resource Guidelines
  • Model courts as pilot sites for CIP programs and initiatives
  • Efficient use of resources: coordinated trainings, strategic planning meetings
  • Statewide model court implementation with CIP

Systems Change Goal Alignment

Coordination between model courts and their respective state CIPs allows the good work on behalf of children to be coordinated and avoids duplication of efforts, or worse, efforts which might be at odds. The Model Courts Project’s “Model Courts: The Next Generation” initiative, kicked off at the Model Courts All-Sites Conference in 2007, incorporated among other concepts,[2] the “one plan to rule them all” idea of goal alignment between model courts and state CIPs.

Shared Systems Change Framework Using the Resource Guidelines[3]

Each model court leads local system reform through selection of short-term improvement goals based on Resource Guidelines practices. These guidelines serve as a blueprint for court-based systems change and set minimum requirements for careful, complete and fundamentally fair hearings at all stages of court proceedings. The guidelines focus on the need for comprehensive and timely judicial response in child abuse and neglect cases and, among other things, encourage courts to understand the child welfare system and what community services are available for at-risk children and their families. Not only do the guidelines serve as a blueprint for model court implementation of systems change, they also serve as an existing framework for CIPs to implement systems change statewide.

Model Courts as Pilot Sites for CIP Programs and Initiatives

Model courts collaborate with CIPs in a number of different ways, tailored to the needs of the model court and the needs of the state. Model courts operate in an ongoing systems-change mode, with established stakeholder collaborative structures, consistent examination of court practice, and willingness to to model new practices and open the court to critical analysis and feedback. After implementation of a program or initiative in the model court on a pilot basis, a Court Improvement Program can evaluate the impact of the program or initiative and use evaluation findings to guide statewide implementation.

Efficient Use of Resources—Coordinated Trainings, Strategic Planning Meetings

Model court project activities include the following:

  • Training and technical assistance provision
  • Cross-site and evaluation site visits
  • Project-related meetings
  • Training and faculty provision
  • Strategic planning meeting facilitation
  • National best-practice dissemination
  • Provision of professional staff and consultants to support each court’s performance

Through collaboration between model courts and their respective state CIPs, the resources of both projects can be coordinated and maximized to better serve children and families.

Statewide Model Court Implementation with CIP

Successful statewide implementation of model courts and Resource Guidelines best practices have common elements: coordination with the state CIP; support of state the supreme court and administrative office of the courts; and statewide judicial trainings and local and regional judicially-led collaborative meetings. In support of this goal, some CIPs choose to contract with NCJFCJ to bring courts into the model courts project.

Read examples of model court-CIP collaboration in the second part of Elizabeth Whitney Barnes’s article. (link to examples article)

[1] As each state’s Court Improvement Program may be housed in different state offices with differing names, the acronym “CIP” is used throughout as a generic descriptor of the Court Improvement Program in each state referenced.

[2] The five “Model Courts: The Next Generation” foci are: statewide Model Courts; bringing in new Model Courts; designating senior model courts; performance measurement; and goal alignment.

[3] Resource Guildelines: 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.

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