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September 2008Vol. 9, No. 7From the CFSR Team: Court and Agency Collaboration

By Bill Stanton, Federal CFSR Team

The second round of reviews is an exciting time for the Children's Bureau. The National Review Team has worked diligently since the first round of CFSRs ended in March 2004 to improve the review and program improvement processes. We have worked closely with State child welfare agencies and courts to ensure that the courts are an integrated part of the review process. Two consultant judges, Judge Rideout and Judge Jones, have been visiting the chief justices, child welfare directors, and presiding judges in the largest metropolitan areas to discuss the importance of court involvement. In addition, I have become more involved in assisting Children's Bureau staff and States with ensuring courts are more effectively involved throughout all stages of the CFSR process. The following are some examples of improved processes:

  • Statewide Assessments. In one State, after the Statewide Assessment was developed, the agency and courts determined what they would need to improve and formed a committee to start working on the Program Improvement Plan (PIP). They reported that they did not need to wait for the Onsite Review to inform them where to start planning for improvements. They felt that children and families in their State were too important to wait for the CFSR Final Report.
  • Onsite Review. A chief justice in one State instructed the State's Court Improvement Program (CIP) director to find at least three judges who would be willing to be onsite reviewers for the CFSR. In another State, judges who had been onsite reviewers presented their experience at the State's annual judicial conference. These judges noted that the process opened their eyes to the challenges that the child welfare agencies face each day. So far in the second round of CFSRs, we have seen 11 judges, 28 CIP staff, and 18 other court-related staff participate as onsite reviewers.
    In each State that has had an Onsite Review, the CIP director has worked closely with the Children's Bureau to develop a State court summary. This summary is given to the onsite reviewers prior to the review so that they have an understanding of how the court system operates in that State. This enables the reviewers to have a rich discussion with court personnel during the stakeholder interview.
  • PIP Development. We also have seen a dramatic increase in collaboration between courts and agencies during the PIP development process. In many States, the CIP is co-leading focus groups with the agency staff for PIP development. In other States, judges, attorneys, and staff from the Administrative Office of the Courts participate in the development of PIP goals and strategies. In addition, members of the Collaborative (made up of representatives from the National Center of State Courts, National Council of Juvenile Court Judges, and the National Resource Center on Judicial and Legal Issues) pool their resources and expertise to provide technical assistance to a limited number of States in development of State PIPs.

Increasing State agency collaboration with the courts runs through much of our work at the Children's Bureau - the CFSRs, the CIP, our training and technical assistance efforts, and through our work with the Collaborative. The Children's Bureau is proud and honored to see the increased level of collaboration between the courts and the agencies throughout the CFSR process and looks forward to this continued partnership.