Perspective of a
Juvenile Court Judge
Judge Paul Boland
he intense public attention focused on the problem of alcohol-
and drug-exposed children is often too narrow. More than the
infants and their mothers are involved. This problem is also
having a severe impact on the public health, child welfare, and juvenile
justice systems. Any effective policy response must consider and meet the
needs of these systems as well.
The juvenile court judge occupies a unique position. Like all other
judges, the juvenile court judge must apply the law to resolve a dispute.
For juvenile court judges handling abuse and neglect cases, however, the
law requires a new type of role. The judge must monitor whether child
welfare agencies have provided services to individual children and fami-
lies sufficient to comply with federal and state requirements that reason-
able efforts be made to keep the family together. This means that the
juvenile court judge must know what services are available in the com-
munity to support the family and how well child welfare agencies are
performing in individual cases and generally.
In performing these duties, the juvenile court judge often confronts
at least three problems: (1) the court caseload is so high that efficient
and effective judicial decision making is extremely difficult; (2) the lack
of legal representation for the child and severely overloaded child welfare
caseworkers further hinder proper preparation and handling of these
cases; and (3) although mandated by law, the resources to assist families
are often simply not available in a given community. This third problem
often requires juvenile court judges to be active in their communities in
encouraging development and coordination of resources.
Judge Paul Boland
These problems are not unique to abuse and neglect cases involving
was the presiding
judge of the Juvenile alcohol- and drug-exposed children. Indeed, the increased pressure on
Court of Los Angeles juvenile courts results from twin scourges: poverty and drug abuse.
Court in 1989 and During 1990, 20,000 children entered the Los Angeles County juve-
1990. nile justice system as a result of allegations of abuse and neglect. The
majority of these cases involved poor families. Nearly one in four children
in Los Angeles County now lives in poverty. Over the last two decades,
poverty in this community has doubled from 12% to 24%. Poverty
introduces a whole set of stresses for a family, which, for some, leads to
abuse or neglect of their children.
This increase in poverty also significantly contributes to the problem
of alcohol and drug abuse within the family. Cases involving alcohol- and
drug-dependent families have also been on the rise. In 80% of the
petitions filed in Los Angeles County last year, parental drug or alcohol
abuse represented a critical element in the case. Moreover, the number
of cases involving infants exhibiting drug or alcohol withdrawal symp-
toms at birth continues to rise at an alarming rate. In 1988, 2000
drug-exposed infant cases entered the Los Angeles juvenile court system.
In 1990 that number rose to 4000 cases.
Future trends are even more disturbing. The Children’s Defense
Fund reports that families in the 1990s will be increasingly affected by
poverty and homelessness, and that 80% of poor and homeless families
will be abusing drugs and alcohol.
The Problem grams—alcohol and drug treatment and
testing, group counseling, parent skills
It is in the face of these twin scourges of training—as prerequisites to family re-
family poverty and parental drug and alco- unification. Yet, because of reduced
hol abuse that judges, social workers, and funding for traditional, public-sector
counselors must try to protect children, substance abuse programs; limited ex-
rehabilitate parents, and reunite families. pansion of private, outpatient, and resi-
New resources have not kept pace with dential programs; and a lack of
increased needs, and the widening gap is comprehensive family-oriented drug re-
having an extremely harmful impact on habilitation programs, the children and
both the system and the families. Consider parents seen in the juvenile court all too
the following: often confront long waiting lists or even
complete absence of services when seek-
n Each juvenile court judge in Los Ange- ing help.
les is asked to make difficult decisions
affecting the lives of 350 children a week.
With the number of cases on each day’s A judge now is able to devote an average of 10
court calendar, a judge now is able to
devote an average of 10 minutes to each minutes to each child’s case . . . by 1995 judges will
child’s case. With court caseloads ex- be allowed only 5 minutes to determine a child’s fate.
pected to double over the next 5 years, by
1995 judges will be allowed only 5 minutes
to determine a child’s fate.
n Social workers in Los Angeles are ex-
What Juvenile Courts
pected to closely supervise 100 children. Can Do
Yet, the Child Welfare League of Amer-
Full solutions to these problems will require
ica and other accrediting bodies dictate
legislative action to review the needs of
that caseloads not exceed 35 children.
courts and child welfare agencies and to
n Parents and children are required to appropriate sufficient funds. But there are
participate in various court-ordered pro- also some interim steps that juvenile courts
102 THE FUTURE OF CHILDREN – SPRING 1991
can take. The Los Angeles County Juvenile and understand the effects of substance
Court has undertaken five initiatives which abuse upon parenting skills, child welfare,
we believe will also help ameliorate these and family relationships. The judges also
problems: (1) supplemental training for had a better understanding of the family
judges; (2) provision of counsel for children; treatment needs in these cases. As a result,
(3) development of decision-making proto- judges now make more specific factual
cols; (4) adoption of court orders that make findings and more detailed court orders.
more clear the expectations of both child As they do so, their efforts are met head on
welfare caseworkers and families; and (5) with the child welfare system’s inability to
establishment of a countywide task force to provide even the most basic drug or alcohol
expand resources available for families. abuse treatment programs and services.
Similar steps may be appropriate for many Representation of Children
of the juvenile courts across the country.
Judicial Training It is axiomatic that judges have full infor-
mation about a child in order to make an
In 1990, 50 of the 60 Los Angeles County informed decision. This often requires
Juvenile Court judges participated in a day- representation for the child. Until 1990
long Juvenile Court Institute designed to there were no Juvenile Court rules regard-
improve their handling of cases involving ing representation in Los Angeles County.
drug- and alco- The County Counsel’s Office routinely
hol-abusing fami- represented both the Department of Chil-
Independent attorneys for children lies. The Institute dren’s Services and the child in 85% of the
was funded by a cases, despite the risk of conflict of interest
can perform a critical role in urging grant from the in dual representation.
that essential services be provided to A m e r i c a n B a r Independent attorneys for children
meet a child’s special needs, ter on Children can perform a critical role in urging that
especially in drug abuse cases. and the Law and essential services be provided to meet a
was co-sponsored child’s special needs, especially in drug
by the Juvenile abuse cases, where the infant’s custodial,
Court and the ABA. ABA Center staff and medical, and developmental needs often
local judges planned the program, devel- are great. In recognition of that role, the
oped the materials, and coordinated the Juvenile Court adopted a statement of
day’s events. policies and a set of procedures for ap-
pointment of counsel for children. As a
The Institute focused on the following: result of these rules, independent counsel
n The role of juvenile court judges in drug for children is now provided in 95% of
and alcohol abuse prevention, interven- dependency cases.
tion, and treatment; Representation of children is provided
n Judicial perceptions and attitudes regard- by Dependency Court Legal Services
ing drug- and alcohol-abusing families; (DCLS) attorneys and by court-appointed,
private practitioner DCLS attorneys who
n Medical, psychological, and social effects contract directly with Los Angeles County
of alcohol and drug abuse upon pregnant to provide legal services. Private attorneys,
women, newborns, parenting ability, child on the other hand, are paid by the court
welfare, and family interaction; on a case-by-case basis. Attorneys in each
n Factors in assessing the risks to children group are required to participate in a
of drug- or alcohol-abusing families; and training program to equip them to repre-
n Elements of effective treatment strate-
gies for dealing with the causes and effects Decision-making Protocols
of family drug and alcohol abuse.
In recognition of the substance abuse
Substantive material at the Institute problem and the increasing time pressures
was provided by pediatricians, psycholo- on judges, the Juvenile Court issued deci-
gists, drug treatment counselors, social sion-making protocols to assist judges in
workers, and judges. It was presented making risk assessments and in formulat-
through a lecture, audiovisual, and inter- ing treatment plans and orders in alcohol-
active discussion format. and drug-abuse-related cases.
Following the Institute, the judges Under the protocols, at the initial
could better identify symptoms of alcohol court hearing the Department of Chil-
and drug abuse in cases presented to them dren’s Services is required to provide an
Perspective of a Juvenile Court Judge 103
evaluation of the full range of services recognition that, in certain cases, workers
available to the drug- or alcohol-using will be required to take affirmative action
family, the feasibility of permitting chil- to assist families in arranging for alcohol-
dren to remain in the family home if serv- and drug-related services.
ices are provided, and the ability of When drug- or alcohol-abuse-related
extended family members to care for a findings and orders are made, cases are
child in the event that out-of-home care is continued 60 days for a progress report on
required. The protocols recommend that the court’s nonappearance calendar. The
judicial officers make their own risk assess- 60-day progress reports submitted by Chil-
ment in determining whether to remove a dren’s Services workers must describe the
child, and outline risk factors for their parent’s and child’s participation and pro-
consideration. gress in court-ordered programs. If a par-
The disposition hearing, which occurs ent is not enrolled in previously-ordered
later, is especially critical in alcohol- and programs, workers are required to de-
drug-related cases. That hearing provides scribe the Department of Children’s Serv-
the court an opportunity to involve fami- ices’ efforts to facilitate parental
lies in counseling, treatment, and testing enrollment.
programs which may be central to the goal
of child protection, parental rehabilita-
tion, and family reunification. Under the All too often in the past, neither the case
protocols, Department of Children’s Serv- plan nor the court’s orders were effectively
ices workers are required to detail the fam-
ily’s drug or alcohol abuse problem and to communicated to parents, social workers,
identify the parent’s need for participa- or counsel.
tion in various drug programs. The studies
also are required to describe any special
Based upon the information furnished
rehabilitation and treatment needs of the
in the report, the court determines
child, particularly in infant drug exposure
whether the Department of Children’s
and withdrawal cases; to identify the need
Services made or failed to make the re-
for parent-child counseling; and to indi-
quired reasonable efforts to provide sub-
cate the need for a parenting skills evalu-
stance-abuse-related reunification services
to a family.
Court Findings, Orders, and Progress
Not surprisingly, Children’s Services
workers regard the court’s new require-
All too often in the past, neither the case ment as a further imposition upon them.
plan nor the court’s orders were effectively Workers feel that judges are endeavoring
communicated to parents, social workers, to dictate specific casework activity in a way
or counsel. As a result, given the workload that invades their professional prerogative.
of both the court and the child welfare Moreover, they feel that the court has im-
agencies, aspects of the case plan, particu- posed additional responsibilities upon
larly in the areas of drug and alcohol them without regard for their own time
abuse, frequently were not implemented, constraints or the limited resources which
and compliance with court orders was exist.
found wanting. Drug Treatment Resource
A multiple-page order form was devel- Development
oped to implement the protocols. The Even when drug or alcohol abuse re-
form findings and orders are designed to sources are available, most agencies
articulate clearly both the case plan and provide only single-service programs.
the action expected of parents, workers, Currently, to the extent they exist,
and counsel. The additional requirement treatment, parenting education, mental
of nonappearance progress reports to the health counseling, and vocational training
court is intended to motivate adherence to programs are each offered at separate lo-
the court’s orders and to measure the ex- cations. Thus, families may be required to
tent of compliance. travel significant distances from agency to
The protocols contemplate that child agency in order to access needed services.
welfare workers will perform an active role Further, because drug- and alcohol-de-
in implementing and monitoring the pendent parents often lack the financial or
court-ordered case plans. The form find- emotional resources to negotiate access to
ings and minute orders reflect a further these various programs, many troubled fa-
104 THE FUTURE OF CHILDREN – SPRING 1991
milies go unserved and unsupported. A parents and children. The results of this
tragic consequence of this fragmented study will be presented to the Drug and
service delivery system is that, in too many Alcohol Abuse Task Force, which will re-
cases, children are removed unnecessarily view and present the recommendations to
from their parents’ homes. the county for incorporation into a coun-
In order to address this problem,
which has reached crisis levels, a Drug and
Alcohol Task Force was formed in Los Conclusion
Angeles County in early 1990. The Task
Through increased awareness of familial
Force is comprised of public-agency and
drug and alcohol abuse, juvenile court
private-sector representatives from child
welfare, health services, mental health, law judges in Los Angeles County are making
more informed decisions and more
enforcement, education, and community
specific findings and orders in these cases.
groups. The Task Force meets monthly to
However more appropriate the court’s or-
examine further the problem of perinatal
ders may be, their force and effectiveness
addiction within the county and to de-
is limited in the absence of adequate re-
velop a plan for improving services to this
sources. Certainly the juvenile court can
special-needs population on a countywide
basis. be an instrument of change in families by
monitoring compliance with the reason-
able efforts requirements and by giving
diligent attention to the resources of the
However more appropriate the community and the operation of the child
court’s orders may be, their force welfare system. Meaningful results will
occur, however, only if adequate public,
and effectiveness is limited in the private, and community-based, alcohol-
absence of adequate resources. and drug-related rehabilitative resources
are created for alcohol and drug abuse.
As the Los Angeles County experience
After extensive hearings and study, the has demonstrated, the public and private
Task Force has recommended that a study child and family service agencies must
investigate the feasibility of establishing, come together to develop an awareness
within several regions of the county, that familial drug and alcohol abuse is an
model, community-based centers that interagency problem and requires a coor-
would offer an array of comprehensive and dinated response. But a proposal for com-
integrated services needed for effective re- prehensive, community-based programs
habilitation of families with drug and alco- requires a financial commitment that ex-
hol problems. Services provided at each ceeds the current funding capacities of
location would include residential and the public and private agencies. It is ap-
outpatient treatment, alcohol and drug parent that new funding sources—fed-
testing services, parenting education, eral, state, and private—must be sought to
mental health services, and a wide array of provide resources for families with drug
other health and education services for and alcohol problems.