Session: Family Court Roles and Resources: Improving the Adjudication of Child Maltreatment Cases (Society for Social Work and Research 22nd Annual Conference - Achieving Equal Opportunity, Equity, and Justice)

53 Family Court Roles and Resources: Improving the Adjudication of Child Maltreatment Cases

Friday, January 12, 2018: 8:00 AM-9:30 AM
Marquis BR Salon 9 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
Cluster: Child Welfare
Symposium Organizer:
Vicki Lens, PhD, Hunter College
Child maltreatment is both a social problem and a legal one, with the Family Court at the fulcrum of both, with a mission to rehabilitate families. Such cases blend the legal and the social, from judges directing rehabilitation efforts from their perch in the courtroom, to various other actors and organizations whose role is to provide assessments and services and resources to families, many of whom are struggling to meet basic needs. This symposium brings together these various strands to examine how judges adjudicate child maltreatment cases, the assessment of children's needs, and the availability and accessibility of resources and services, all of which are key to successful court outcomes.

The first paper - The Intersection of Race, Gender and Class in Family Court- sets the stage, drawing from ethnographic observations conducted in an urban Family Court. It examines courtroom dynamics, with a focus on how intersectionality operates on the ground, as judges, attorneys, social service workers and parents – joined often by gender but split by race and class – engage in the adjudication of child maltreatment cases. It illustrates the ways in which implicit bias permeates court room interactions, providing examples and also guidance as to how to ameliorate its worst effects.

The next two papers focus on an important institutional actor- the Court Appointed Special Advocate- who advocates for abused and neglected children, including speaking up for their needs within the courtroom. Operating in 49 states, there is little systematic data on the nature and effect of the services CASA provides. In the paper “Context-Specific Service Provision of CAA New York City” the authors, drawing from several years of data collected by CASA in New York City, describes the service needs of two distinct groups, ages 6-15 and 16-21, and how it changed over time. In the second paper, “CASA's Role in Promoting Well-being”, the author reports on the development and piloting by CASA and an academic partner of a well-being assessment tool. The tool systemizes the collection of information about a child, providing the judge with crucial information on the child's well-being and service needs. Both papers together inject much needed information about service needs and assessment tools into the adjudication of cases, improving the likelihood of better outcomes.

The fourth paper, “Housing and Reunifying from Foster Care”, addresses an understudied aspect of service provision for abused and neglected children- housing. Unstable housing can be a barrier to reunification, and is a strong consideration for judges when deciding whether to return a child to his or her home. Drawing on qualitative interviews this study explores what supports parents need to obtain and maintain stable housing. Taken together, these papers illustrate what ingredients are needed, from good judging to good assessments, to the provision of key services and resources, to increase the likelihood of better outcomes when adjudicating child maltreatment cases.

* noted as presenting author
Context-Specific Service Provision of CASA New York City
Colleen Katz, PhD, Hunter College; Kerry Moles, MSW, Court Appointed Special Advocate
What Are We Telling the Judge?: The Development and Piloting of a Foster-Care Specific Well-Being Assessment with a CASA Agency
Megan Feely, PhD, University of Connecticut; Steve Moergen, Voices for Children, St. Louis
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