Improving Outcomes for Tribal Children and Families in the Dependency Court System
National Council of Juvenile and Family Courts Judges logo.

For more than a decade, OJJDP has supported the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges' (NCJFCJ's) Model Courts project, which strives to reduce the number of, and achieve better outcomes for, foster children by improving dependency court practice through judicially-led system reform. The project provides tailored training and technical assistance, coordinates local and statewide court improvement initiatives, and engages in the development of innovative policy. In 2007, NCJFCJ expanded the Model Courts project by launching the Courts Catalyzing Change: Achieving Equity and Fairness in Foster Care initiative (CCC initiative). Funded by OJJDP and Casey Family Programs, the project supports the efforts of model courts to reduce disproportionate representation and disparate treatment of children and families of color in the welfare system.

Two years ago, the CCC initiative's goal of reducing disproportionate representation and disparate treatment evolved to include a specific focus on children and families in Indian country. The goals of the tribal initiative include working with tribal communities to create and disseminate judicial tools, policy and practice guidelines, and associated action plans for dependency. NCJFCJ is actively working to establish model courts in tribal jurisdictions.

The plenary speakers at NCJFCJ's 2010 Model Courts All-Sites Conference included (from l. to r.) Doreen Day, Jerry Dearly, and Sandy White Hawk of the First Nations Repatriation Institute
The plenary speakers at NCJFCJ's 2010 Model Courts All-Sites Conference included (from l. to r.) Doreen Day, Jerry Dearly, and Sandy White Hawk of the First Nations Repatriation Institute.
On October 5–7, 2010, tribal representatives attended NCJFCJ's Model Courts All-Sites Conference as guests of model court teams from across the country. Supported by OJJDP, the conference provided a national forum for presentations by tribal leaders and indepth discussions with model courts teams and other judicial experts. The presentations included a focus on implementing model courts in ways that are respectful of the history, culture, and values of tribal communities.

Since the launch of NCJFCJ's initiative in tribal communities, the Gila River Indian Community, located in Sacaton, AZ, has become an active model court. Additional tribal courts are expected to join the Model Courts project in the coming months. NCJFCJ has also partnered with the National Indian Child Welfare Association on publications focusing on child abuse and neglect in tribal communities and with the National Child Welfare Resource Center on Legal and Judicial Issues to improve tribal engagement efforts under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Court Improvement Program.

Tribal Leadership Group To Develop Recommendations for Improving Courts

left quote Approaching tribes respectfully, seeking to learn, and honoring the long history of intergenerational trauma suffered by American Indian and Alaska Native people are but a few of the driving principles of our work. right quote

—Nancy Miller
Director
Permanency Planning for Children Department
National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges

In partnership with OJJDP and Casey Family Programs, NCJFCJ plans to convene a Tribal Leadership Group made up of tribal judges, state court judges who are members of tribal communities, NCJFCJ judicial leadership, and other tribal and judicial experts. The Leadership Group will incorporate tribal recommendations from across the country for improving dependency courts. Specifically, the group will focus on how to—

  • Improve state court compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act.
  • Build the capacity of tribal courts and tribal social service systems to implement child welfare system improvement.
  • Advance recommendations made by NCJFCJ and the National Indian Child Welfare Association.
  • Ensure meaningful tribal involvement in NCJFCJ's soon-to-be-launched Multi-Court Collaboration project, which will implement cooperation across court systems on issues that span all aspects of family law, including dependency, delinquency, and family violence.

In carrying out its objectives, the Tribal Leadership Group will use as a foundation the recommendations outlined in the OJJDP-funded Technical Assistance Brief, Court Reform and American Indian and Alaskan Native Children: Increasing Protections and Improving Outcomes, published in 2009 by NCJFCJ in partnership with the National Indian Child Welfare Association. An important component of this project is effecting systems change in a way that is respectful of tribal culture and addresses the specific needs of tribal communities.

Resource:

For more information on the Courts Catalyzing Change initiative, go to NCJFCJ's Web site.