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May 2000Vol. 1, No. 3Model Courts Are Models for Change

The handling of child abuse and neglect cases by the nation's Child Victims Act Model Courts continues to improve. The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) recently issued a status report of the 20 courts involved in this project. Covering the time period from October 1998 to October 1999, the profiles of each Model Court include:

  • Lead judge contact information
  • Court and social demographics
  • Child abuse and neglect processing timeline
  • Background information and past accomplishments
  • Processes and activities by which the court achieved its goals in the reporting period
  • How the court overcame stumbling blocks
  • Lessons learned
  • Advice to other courts
  • Goals for 2000.

An analysis of common activities and accomplishments found that the Model Courts focused on improvements in court practice, recognition of the need for improved data management and case tracking ability, alternative dispute resolution methods, foster youth in transition, and continuation and enhancement of collaborative relationships. In implementing the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA), the Model Courts were most concerned with resource needs, impacts, and training needs. The courts also identified their need for training that addresses systems change, mediation and family group conferencing, and kinship care, among other topics. Multidisciplinary and skill-building trainings were found to be the most effective formats. The Model Courts learned that effective reform efforts include:

  • Designating a lead judge
  • Promoting leadership and collaboration
  • Including judicial colleagues
  • Establishing a team of major stakeholders
  • Developing a mission statement
  • Holding regular meetings with stakeholders
  • Assigning a project coordinator
  • Assessing current practices
  • Planning for improvement
  • Providing NCJFCJ's Permanency Planning for Children Department resources other forms of expertise
  • Establishing an evaluation process.

The report concludes with a process for facilitating systems change in the courts. The report emphasizes that the Model Courts are "modeling a process for systems change," which should not be taken as the ideal but which other courts can tailor to fit their own jurisdictions. The Model Courts have followed a similar path to systems change that includes the following elements:

  • Cultural readiness for change
  • Transformational leadership
  • Ideological vision and commitment
  • Collaboration and collective action
  • Problematizing everyday practice
  • Strategic planning
  • A systems focus
  • Self-reflection and organizational learning.

The Child Victims Act Model Courts Project Status Report 1999 is an NCJFCJ Technical Assistance Bulletin (Volume IV, No. 1, January 2000). Additional information about the Model Court Project and NCJFCJ's Permanency Planning for Children Department can be found in the appendix or by contacting the Department Director Mary Mentaberry at 775-327-5300. For copies of the Status Report, contact Kim Taitano at 775-327-5303 or order online at: The price is $20, including shipping and handling.

Related Item

Read "National Videoconference Examines Model Court Practices in Abuse and Neglect Cases" in the March issue of the Children's Bureau Express.