Allen Superior Court’s Court Improvement Program
In 1998, Judge Charles F. Pratt established a task force to review evidence based court initiatives for child abuse and neglect cases. The task force included Assistant Chief Juvenile Probation Officer Kathleen Rusher and then CASA Director, Rex McFarren. The research considered by the team included:
- Resource Guidelines – Improving the Court Practices in Child Abuse and Neglect Cases, National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges
- A Framework for Understanding Poverty, Ruby K. Payne, Ph.D., aha! Process, Inc., Highlands, Texas
- Bridges Out of Poverty, Ruby K. Payne, Philip DeVol, and Terie Dreussi Smith , www.ahaprocess.com
- The 40 Developmental Assets and the research of the Search Institute
- Family Group Decision Making practices, National Center on Family Group Decision Making The Kempe Center
- Model Court Projects in Tucson, Arizona and San Jose, California (See also National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges)
Based on successful national models, Judge Pratt initiated the following court improvement projects funded by Court Improvement Program grants from the Indiana Supreme Court.
- Child in Need of Services Facilitation
- Family Group Decision Making practices in Child in Need of Services cases
- Mental Health Specialty Track in Child in Need of Services cases
The GOAL of the Allen Superior Court’s Court Improvement Projects is to
- Regard all families and children with dignity and compassion
- Ensure that the child, the parents, and the child’s extended family have a voice in the resolution of the causes that brought about Court’s intervention
- Empower the extended family to work together for the child’s safety, protection, and permanency plan
- Provide a collaborative process through which the parties can identify issues and needs for the safety and protection of the child and the rehabilitation of the family
- Communicate court orders more effectively
Family Group Decision Making
The Allen Superior Court’s Facilitation (mediation) process is based on Family Group Decision Making practices and is modelled after several national Model Court Practices. The Journal of the American Academy of matrimonial Lawyers (Vol. 16, 1999) recognized that mediation practices are rooted in the founding principles of the juvenile court. “Although perhaps not foreseen by its Illinois founders in1899, ADR..[Mediation] ..was essential to the foundation upon which the juvenile court movement was based.” The journal authors recognized that the traditional adversarial legal processes common in most court proceedings are not the most appropriate means to derive that which is in a child’s best interests. “Therefore, it is natural that the court would begin to look for a process that benefits the court, but also continued to serve the best interests of the children”
Through facilitation, parents and family members gain ownership in problem identification and solution development. As a result, there is a greater likelihood of meaningful participation in the services that are ordered.
Facilitation is governed by the Allen Circuit and Allen Superior Court Family Law Local Rules736 and 737.
An Overview of the Facilitation Process
The Court appointed Facilitator convenes the meeting immediately prior to the Additional Initial Hearing. The following may participate:
- The Department of Child Services attorney and caseworker
- The parents and their legal counsel
- The child is age appropriate and the child’s Guardian ad Litem and/or Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA)
- Extended family members
- Other person who lend a positive support for he family
- Service providers
- The Facilitator leads a discussion toward an agreement on:
- The allegations (statements) in the Department’s petition alleging the child to be a Child in Need of Services. The parties may agree to amend the petition.
- The child’s placement and, if relevant, visitation
- The services that should be provided to the family
- Other issues relevant to the safety and wellbeing of the child
Mental Health Specialty Track
The Allen Superior Court established a special procedure for Child in Need of Services (CHINS) cases involving a child or a parent who is suffering from chronic mental illness. Developed through a Court Improvement Grant from the Indiana Supreme Court, the Mental Health Specialty Track is a CHILD CENTERED collaborative effort between the Court, the Allen County Office of the Department of Child Services, Allen County Court Appointed Special Advocate Program (CASA), and Park Center, Inc.
The purpose of the Mental Health Specialty track is to provide additional case management services and additional case oversight for CHINS cases in which the mental illness of a child or parent is a significant contributing factor to the adjudication.
In many instances the mental illness of a parent or child may be such that communication with the case manager or legal counsel is adversely affected and/or additional services are required for the family. Often extended family members lack information about mental illness or the stigma that is often attached to mental illness inhibits a family form embracing services. Family members may not understand the important contributions they can provide in protecting the child. Sometimes a child is caught on a rollercoaster that follows the ups and downs of a parent’s illness. Under traditional practices the roller coaster is not stopped. Stability in placement is not secured. Cases gain a life of their own and the child’s childhood is lost.
The Mental health Specialty Tract provides that the attorneys, the Guardian ad Litems and the CASA volunteer assigned to the case have received training on issues related to mental illness. Services are tailored for the diagnosis of the child or parent and more case review conferences and/or Child Family Team meetings are held. Members of the child’s extended family are requested to become more involved in the case.
The primary goal is to achieve reunification. However, a concurrent plan for relative placement is also sought. The goal is to achieve an expedited safe sustainable permanency without resorting to the termination of parental rights.