VIEWS: 0 PAGES: 5 POSTED ON: 7/23/2012
Perspective of a Juvenile Court Judge Judge Paul Boland T 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. County Superior 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 101 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 Association Cen- 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- sent children. 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 ation component. to a family. Court Findings, Orders, and Progress Not surprisingly, Children’s Services Hearings 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- tywide plan. 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.