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Dec/Jan 2011Vol. 11, No. 10Judicial Strategies to Reduce Disproportionality

Research has demonstrated that children and families of color are disproportionately overrepresented in the child welfare system. Steps that judges can take to reduce disproportionality are the focus of a new technical assistance bulletin developed by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ). Right from the Start: The CCC Preliminary Protective Hearing Benchcard: A Tool for Judicial Decision-Making describes the development process, contents, and implementation of a benchcard designed to assist judges in asking the right questions when conducting preliminary hearings that decide the placement of children in dependency cases.

The benchcard is built around two types of inquiry: internal and external. The internal inquiry contains questions designed to help judges examine potential biases that may affect their decisions. The external inquiry covers due process-related considerations as well as the actual judicial inquiry of hearing participants. Some of the determinations that should be made at hearings include:

  • Whether the Indian Child Welfare Act applies to the case
  • If the child has been removed from home, whether the agency met the legal threshold for removal
  • Whether reasonable efforts were made to prevent removal
  • If the child has been removed from home, whether anything prevents the child from immediately returning home
  • Whether the current out-of-home placement meets the needs of the child and family
  • Whether kinship care has been fully explored
  • Whether the placement is culturally and linguistically appropriate
  • What services, interventions, and supports would allow the child to safely return home

The benchcard was developed as part of the Courts Catalyzing Change: Achieving Equity and Fairness in Foster Care (CCC) initiative. The CCC initiative is a project of NCJFCJ's Permanency Planning for Children Department as part of its Model Court national goal to reduce disproportionality and disparate treatment.

The bulletin was written by Nancy B. Miller and Candice L. Maze. The CCC initiative was funded by Casey Family Programs and the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. The bulletin is available on the NCJFCJ website: (1.33 MB)