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Model Courts Strive for Measurable Improvements in Well-Being

Authored by staff from the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges Permanency Planning for Children Department (PPCD)

Summary: Staff at PPCD share information about the efforts of model courts to impact social and emotional well-being of foster children and youth.


The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges’ model courts[1] lead local system reform through selection of short-term improvement goals and focused attention on court practices. Over the two decades during which the Model Courts Project has evolved, positive outcomes for children and families, including decreases in the number of children in out-of-home placements within model court jurisdictions, have resulted after Resource Guidelines practice implementation and successful collaborations between courts, child welfare agencies, system professionals and local communities.

Model court collaborations have addressed a range of issues related to child well-being while also implementing basic promising practices such as those outlined in the Resource Guidelines. In 2012, the Permanency Planning for Children Department formalized this commitment and focus on well-being by asking each model court to select an area of well-being as one of their three goals. Model courts selected their innovative strategies with guidance from their assigned model court liaisons and stakeholders. The model courts are currently working to improve well-being outcomes in several areas impacting social and emotional functioning, as evidenced by the following chart.

Strategies/Focus Areas


Improve compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act to ensure Native children and families receive culturally appropriate services[2]


Courts Catalyzing Change Initiative[3]


Improve outcomes for older youth

Austin, Baltimore City, Chicago, Cincinnati, Des Moines, Honolulu, Gila River Indian Community, Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, Newark, New Hampshire, New Orleans, New York City, New York Statewide, Portland, Prince George’s County, Seattle, Tucson, Washington DC, Yurok

Reduce teen and unplanned pregnancy

Los Angeles, Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, New York City

Psychotropic medications

Austin, Kentucky Statewide, Los Angeles

Children in court

Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas, Baltimore, Honolulu, Indianapolis, Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, Prince George’s County, New Hampshire, Reno, Salt Lake City

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder



Austin, Baltimore City, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Dallas, Des Moines (literacy of older youth), Indianapolis, Kentucky Statewide, Salt Lake City, San Jose, Washington DC

Improve outcomes for children 0-3

Honolulu, Hattiesburg, New Orleans, Prince George’s County, Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians

Trauma-informed systems of care

Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas, Austin, Charlotte, Gila River Indian Community, Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, Portland, San Jose, Tucson, Yurok

Throughout 2013, the website of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges will highlight specific courts’ activities. Excerpts from these highlights are included below.

Kids in School Rule! (KISR!) began in 2008 as a program for school-aged youth in the custody of Cincinnati Job and Family Services (JFS) or under JFS supervision who attend one of the 22 participating schools in the Cincinnati Public School (CPS) school district. Under this pilot program, six public and private partners signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate on the design and implementation of a cutting-edge project to support the educational needs of these children. In October 2011, after being awarded a Discretionary Grant from the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the program expanded to eligible students in all CPS schools. Through the program, a CPS liaison was identified in each school to work collaboratively with two JFS education specialists supporting KISR! students. Together, the CPS liaisons and the JFS education specialists (along with JFS caseworkers) monitor and attend to the educational needs of each student, arranging additional supports as needed. Juvenile court magistrates utilize a judicial checklist and receive a KISR! court report, which ensures a focus on educational issues when KISR! students are in court. The Legal Aid Society provides advocacy for students in the program who are proposed for school discipline or who have issues related to enrollment, special education or other legal rights. NCJFCJ is assisting the court with evaluating the program. Success of this program led to the formation of a supreme court committee to improve educational stability and outcomes of children and youth who are in the child protection system in Ohio.

New Orleans Model Court-Benchmark Conferences

In 2007, the New Orleans Model Court began benchmark conferencing by developing and piloting protocols in one court. The practice has since been implemented in all dependency courtrooms within the model court. A key provision of the Benchmark Conference Program is its active-efforts component. Each teen is asked to identify and involve a responsible adult who will serve as the teen’s “Child-Identified Advocate.” Through signing a formal “pact” filed with the teen’s record, the advocate commits to having a supportive and ongoing relationship with the youth.

Both the model court’s Benchmark Conference Program and the child welfare agency’s youth transition plan are important methods for implementing the federal 2008 Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act. The Benchmark Conference Program is also an important vehicle for implementing Resource Guidelines best practices of having youth attend court and of engaging youth with the court in services and goal planning. With this information, the judge is able to monitor key well-being indicators, such as school and placement stability, educational achievement, and youth access to and relationships with siblings and other people important in her life. The model court also holds an annual “Teen and Judge Day.” This event provides additional attention and support to teens and connects them with community programs, as well as educational and employment opportunities.

NCJFCJ continues to develop resources for court systems to improve well-being for children in the foster care system, and the model courts serve as support to other courts around the country. If you are interested in more information about the above courts or their work, please contact the National Council at Model court liaisons working directly with each court are available to answer questions and provide resources. Improving well-being outcomes for children involves long-term commitments from all system partners, including CASA volunteers, who are critical to helping courts understand the needs of each child.


[1] For more information on the NCJFCJ Model Courts and a list of participating courts visit

[2]Training videos and other resources are available at

[3] 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.

The US Department of Justice has supported CASA advocacy since 1985 through its Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
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