“Hearings” is a series of stories from a corner of the law that is not reported on enough – America’s child welfare courts.

Across the country these tribunals – often called juvenile dependency or family court – are routinely witness to some of the most high stakes legal proceedings in American jurisprudence. While criminal courts and their most severe punishments – the death penalty, life in prison – are widely known and debated, how many Americans pause to consider the commonplace legal practice of forever severing parents from their children?

3/11/2019

Hearings: Stories from Inside America’s Child Welfare Courts

On Wednesday, The Imprint will publish its first installment of “Hearings,” a series of stories from a corner of the law that is not reported on enough – America’s child welfare courts.

3/13/2019

Hearings: Nadia Wants to Go Home

Nadia* stared down at the floor more or less throughout the pretrial hearing, blocking out the family members and the lawyers around her at the table in a small Wayne County, Mich.,

3/20/2019

Hearings: The Window is Closing

Early on a cloudy February morning, streets slick with the steady drip of rain, a few figures are starting to make the climb up the hill to the teeming nerve center of family crisis in Los Angeles County.

3/27/2019

Hearings: What’s Happening in Brooklyn Child Welfare Court? These Days, It’s Domestic Violence Cases

One of the busiest family courts in the nation occupies a hulking 32-story administrative tower in downtown Brooklyn. On a recent Thursday, I visited to observe the child abuse and neglect hearings on the eighth floor.

4/3/2019

Hearings: From a Journalist to a Child Welfare Judge – Let Us In

The rules around media access in child welfare courtrooms vary widely state by state and even county by county. In California, members of the media are generally considered parties with direct and legitimate interest in courtroom proceedings and granted access on those grounds.

4/10/2019

Hearings: Young, First-Time Parents Face ‘Civil Death Penalty’ in a Ventura Child Welfare Court

200 Beats a Minute

It was the week before Christmas 2018. Sometime around noon that day, the 1-year-old baby girl ingested methamphetamines and opioids she had found in her mother’s purse.

4/17/2019

Hearings: In One Michigan County, Native American Rights are Often Claimed But Rarely Apply

There was an uncommon lag in the action in Courtroom 3B of the Lincoln Hall of Justice, the building where most of Wayne County’s child welfare and juvenile justice decisions are made.

4/24/2019

Hearings: Emergency Removals to Foster Care Have Surged in New York. Here’s One Case.

Emergency removals of children from their parents by the child welfare system have increased in New York City. According to Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), New York City’s child welfare agency, nearly half of all cases where children were placed in foster care were emergency removals — involving a total of 1,699 children in 2018.

5/1/2019

Hearings: A Delay on Education Plans Stalls Hopes for Permanency

It did not take long for the March 14 docket in Judge Tracy Green’s small third floor Detroit courtroom to go sideways.

In the first case of the morning, Judge Green checks on the case of a 10-year-old child named Ricky* living with a foster parent, Rashida Witt, who is moving toward adopting him.

5/8/2019

Hearings: The Day I Became a Family Defense Lawyer

This week, a forthcoming major study will demonstrate that high-quality, legal representation of parents by institutional providers in New York City got children with their families four months faster than those parents represented by solo practitioners.

5/14/2019

Hearings: The Era of Closed Courtrooms Should End

For more than a century, there has been a tradition of maintaining confidentiality in the juvenile and family courts, where abuse, neglect, juvenile delinquency, and even paternity cases are held. In various forms, virtually every county or jurisdiction in every state has a specific court or judge designated to hear issues related to children and families.

5/16/2019

Hearings: How to Responsibly Open the Child Welfare Courtroom

Part one of this series discussed the historical nature of confidentiality, followed by a discussion of the societal forces that have changed including technologic advances, public and private communication such as social networking, increasing pressure on openness and transparency in government, and the growing need for support for resources including funding, staffing and leadership.

5/22/2019

Hearings: Fathering from Jail, Rehab and Home

The first person to speak to me is a young Latino man. He asks if his name was just called over the crackling loudspeaker.

I am standing in front of J-4, one of two Riverside, Calif.,

5/29/2019

Hearings: More Money for Legal Counsel Won’t Fix Broken Court Processes

A recent policy change at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services now allows for child welfare systems to draw federal funds to help pay for the legal counsel of all children and birth parents involved in the child welfare systems.

6/5/2019

Hearings: With Mom Absent, an Education Plan Stalls

Alex* was 5 years old when he was removed from his home and entered Arizona’s foster care system. Alex was often left alone in his home, went days without a solid meal, and hadn’t yet started school.

6/12/2019

Hearings: In One Georgia County, the Indifference to Foster Parents Stings

When children are unable to remain safely at home with their parents or guardians, a state’s child welfare agency must step in and place the children in a home where they can be protected from abuse and/or neglect.

6/19/2019

Hearings: A Rural Judge Talks About Small Town Child Welfare Courts

In the least populated state with many expansive miles between communities, Wyoming faces some unique challenges when it comes to meeting the needs of its kids in foster care. In a state that spans almost 100,000 square miles, there were just 1,247 youth in foster care in the entire state in 2018.

6/25/2019

Hearings: A Faithful Supporter in Alameda County Court

As a community pastor ministering to foster and probation youth in Northern California, I know how important it is for teachers, family friends, clergy, mentors and others to support these youth at dependency and delinquency juvenile court hearings.

7/9/2019

Hearings: In Child Welfare Court, Customer Service is Key

As a social worker with the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), I face a lot of situations that are disheartening and tough to deal with. But few moments in my career have left me more disillusioned than a recent experience at the Los Angeles County courthouse in Lancaster.

8/7/2019

Hearings: The Changing Footprint of Marijuana in Dependency Court

It’s 3:30 on a Friday afternoon at the Alfred J. McCourtney Juvenile Justice Center in Lancaster, California, when the last case of the day begins. This is the dependency courtroom that serves the Antelope Valley, a remote high-desert community that has been marked by a string of child fatalities in recent years, including 4-year Noah Cuatro last month.