Model Courts: The Next Generation
The New York Statewide Model Court

Judge TownsendHon. Sharon S. Townsend, Chair, Child Welfare Court Improvement Project of New York
Lead Judge, New York Statewide Model Court

Summary: The author describes changes in administrative structure and developments of partnerships that are allowing New York State’s Family Courts to make strides towards improving their capacity to ensure the safety, permanency and well-being of children in the child welfare system.

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New York State has taken a significant step towards becoming a statewide model court by aligning the technical assistance of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) with the resources of the Child Welfare Court Improvement Project (CWCIP), and by institutionalizing this structure within the New York State Office of Court Administration.

In 2006, day-to-day administration of CWCIP was transitioned from the Permanent Judicial Commission on Justice for Children to the Office of Court Administration. The administrative transition was designed to institutionalize court improvement activities; focus on court operational issues; and promote statewide coordination with other units in the Office of Court Administration, such as the Division of Technology and the New York State Judicial Institute. The highest levels of court administration are involved in planning and decision making through the newly formed Family Court Leadership Team, comprising Hon. Michael Coccoma, deputy chief administrative judge for courts outside New York City; Hon. Edwina Richardson-Mendelson, administrative judge of the New York City Family Court; and Hon. Sharon Townsend, vice dean of the Judicial Institute for Family and Matrimonial Matters. This administrative leadership structure ensures effective coordination of available technical assistance resources and creates a partnership with the Judicial Institute—the statewide training facility for all judges—and the CWCIP, which provides grants, training and data. Collaboration with state child welfare agency leadership has also been formalized.

With Hon. Sharon Townsend serving as the chair of the CWCIP Advisory Committee and as lead judge for the statewide model court, a partnership has been created between the child welfare and judicial education systems that provides training for judges in child welfare best practices. CWCIP, the Judicial Institute and the Model Courts Project of NCJFCJ pooled resources to underwrite the participation of 30 New York judges at the Child Abuse and Neglect Institute (CANI), held in October 2009 at the New York State Judicial Institute. CWCIP was designed to strategically support family courts’ efforts to enhance court practices in child welfare proceedings around the state by building on the New York City and Erie County experiences as NCJFCJ designated model courts. The project aligns the goals of the statewide CWCIP with the New York City Family Court Child Protective Plan and the NCJFCJ Model Court Project. The Enhanced Court Practices initiative, developed under the direction of the statewide Family Court Leadership Team, initially targeted the five boroughs of New York City and an additional 16 counties outside of New York City1 to focus energy on the courts that serve nearly 90% of the foster care population in New York State. Three of the counties in New York State are also pilot sites for the NCJFCJ’s Courts Catalyzing Change initiative to reduce the disproportionality of minority representation of children in foster care.

CWCIP liaisons play a key role in coordinating training programs and helping groups make effective use of data. In addition, CWCIP staff is a crucial resource in facilitating the development of strategic plans tailored to the needs of the locality. CWCIP staff is actively involved in a partnership with Office of Court Administration’s Division of Technology, the Center for Court Innovation and Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago to improve our capacity to collect, analyze and share child welfare data. As a result, New York State’s family courts are making significant strides towards improving their capacity to ensure the safety, permanency and well-being of children in the child welfare system.

The development of a statewide model court provides the infrastructure to foster coordinated judicial education and county-based collaborative efforts among courts, child welfare agencies and related professions, and to implement projects to address identified needs based on a thorough analysis of county-specific data. NCJFCJ provides important technical assistance to support this statewide effort.

1 Counties with significant foster care populations (based on the 2007 OCFS Foster Care Data Packets) were invited to participate.

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