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November 2021Vol. 22, No. 10Six Ways That Court Processes Impact Decision-Making and Hearing Quality in Child Welfare Cases

A recent brief from the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation within the Administration for Children and Families of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services explores the impact of judicial processes on child welfare cases. The brief, How Court Practices and Resources Relate to Judicial Decision-Making and Hearing Quality in Child Welfare Cases, highlights the following practices that can affect child welfare cases:

  • Judicial continuity. Study findings suggest that having the same judge handle a case may improve how quickly a case is processed. This can reduce the amount of time it takes for children and youth to achieve permanency by reunification or adoption.
  • Frontloading cases. Devoting more time and resources early in a case can improve engagement and reduce the time it takes for a case to close. This can include providing parents with legal representation and involving them in court hearings early in the process.
  • Continuances. Continuances, or stopping and rescheduling hearings, can increase the time it takes to close a case and disrupt the hearing and court processes.
  • Calendaring/scheduling. Reducing the amount of time a family has to wait for a hearing can improve their perception of the court process. Scheduling hearings at a set time can also improve efficiency and prevent families from waiting for their hearings to begin.
  • Judicial staff time. High judicial workloads can negatively impact child welfare cases, as judges may have less time to devote to court hearings and preparation. Findings indicate that judges who had more time to spend on child welfare cases were more likely to meet timelines. 
  • Physical court environment. The physical court environment can contribute to the trauma families experience in court and affect their ability to prepare for hearings. Negative environmental factors include uncomfortable waiting areas, rules prohibiting parents from bringing food for children, and unclear information about hearing locations.