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November 2012Vol. 13, No. 10Court-Driven Child Welfare Reforms

Examples of how State courts can take the lead in reforming child welfare practice and improving outcomes for children and families are highlighted in a new report from First Focus. In the report, author Elizabeth Thornton, a staff attorney with the American Bar Association (ABA) Center on Children and the Law, discusses several approaches to reform that have resulted in various positive outcomes, such as shorter stays in foster care, higher rates of family reunification, and cost savings for State and local agencies.

Strategies explored in the brief include family treatment courts, improved legal representation for child welfare cases, and mediation and restorative justice practices. For example, the report highlights the Family Treatment Court (FTC) program in Jackson County, OR. The program, which began in 2001, serves parents with substance abuse disorders whose children have become involved with child welfare. It provides housing coupled with 12-step programs to allow families to stay together during treatment. The FTC team includes child welfare staff, case managers, domestic violence and housing advocates, attorneys, treatment providers, and the judge. The team meets regularly to discuss the family's progress, setbacks, and treatment plans, including recommendations for the judge.

Common features of all promising approaches discussed in the brief include strong judicial leadership, dedicated professionals, and cross-system collaboration. In addition to evidence-based reforms that yield positive outcomes, the paper also includes practices that, according to initial data and anecdotal evidence, show promise.

The publication of this paper resulted from a collaboration of First Focus with the ABA Center on Children and the Law and the State Policy Advocacy and Reform Center (SPARC). Court-Based Child Welfare Reforms: Improved Child/Family Outcomes and Potential Cost Savings is available on the First Focus website: (172 KB)