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Dec/Jan 2010Vol. 10, No. 10Reforming Court Systems to Improve Outcomes for Indian Children

A new briefing paper examines efforts to implement recommendations made by the Pew Commission to improve State court processes as they apply to State and Tribal courts that hear cases involving American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) children.

Court Reform and American Indian/Alaska Native Children: Increasing Protections and Improving Outcomes explores State and Tribal court involvement in Indian child welfare matters, State Court Improvement Program grants, challenges and promising practices gleaned from Tribal-State collaborations around court improvement, and opportunities for progressing court systems for the betterment of AI/AN children. Intrinsic to this analysis is the recognition that AI/AN children have a unique political status as citizens of sovereign nations, and these nations are inherently best equipped to identify, understand, and respond to the children's needs.

The Pew Commission's report, Fostering the Future: Safety, Permanence and Well-Being for Children in Foster Care, which was released in 2004, provided many recommendations for strengthening and supporting the nation's dependency courts. This briefing paper gives a preliminary analysis of what has been accomplished since the release of the Pew Commission's recommendations. Separate sections discuss some of the identified challenges and promising practices from Tribal-State collaborations in four areas of court improvement: data collection, training and collaboration, improving legal representation, and court operation.

The briefing paper concludes with a discussion of supplemental recommendations that build upon those of the Pew Commission and add application possibilities specific to the needs of AI/AN children. The briefing paper was written by Ashley Horne, Timothy Travis, Nancy B. Miller, and David Simmons and published by the Permanency Planning for Children Department of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ), in collaboration with the National Indian Child Welfare Association.

Court Reform and American Indian/Alaska Native Children: Increasing Protections and Improving Outcomes is available for download on the NCJFCJ website: (871 KB)