Can you share some resources about best practices in juvenile court caseloads and dependency court timeliness?

The courts play an essential role in keeping children safe from harm once they come to the attention of the child protection agency and in promoting timely permanence. The efficiency and effectiveness of court hearings determine how quickly the child and the parent(s) receive the services they most need and as a result impact whether and when a child is safely able to return home or whether a child must be placed in another legal permanent home that best meets the child’s needs. It is for these reasons that the Department of Justice, the Department of Health and Human Services and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) created guidelines and benchmarks for court caseloads and dependency court timeliness, which are highlighted briefly in this resource list.   

Dependency court performance measures

In 2009, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, in partnership with the Children’s Bureau, American Bar Association, National Center for State Courts (NCSC), and NCJFCJ, created the Toolkit for Court Performance Measures in Child Abuse and Neglect Cases. The toolkit provides detailed guidance about court performance measures for child abuse and neglect cases, as well as a roadmap to assist dependency courts in successfully implementing a performance measurement process. It offers guidance on best practices related to calculating judicial workload, as well as indicators of case timeliness, and is organized into five sections:

Toolkit for court performance measures in child abuse and neglect cases

Court Performance Measures in Child Abuse and Neglect Cases: Key Measures
Outlines nine measures identified as key to determining court performance in child abuse and neglect cases

Court Performance Measures in Child Abuse and Neglect Cases: Technical Guide
Describes all 30 court performance measures for child abuse and neglect cases and explains the goals and purpose of each measure

Court Performance Measures in Child Abuse and Neglect Cases: Implementation Guide
Provides practical advice on how to set up a performance measurement team, assess capacity, prioritize among measurement needs, and plan data collection activities

Court Performance Measures in Child Abuse and Neglect Cases: User’s Guide to Nonautomated Data Collection
Explains how to use nonautomated data collection methods to enhance performance measurement

Court Performance Measures in Child Abuse and Neglect Cases: Guide to Judicial Workload Assessment
Presents a method for obtaining data on judicial workloads in abuse and neglect cases, including an assessment of what is required for best practice in these cases

Dependency court case timeliness

In 2011, the NCSC issued Model Time Standards for State Trial Courts. According to the NCSC:

The time to disposition standards set forth in this document, based on a review of the experience of state courts, are intended to establish a reasonable set of expectations for the courts, for lawyers, and for the public. They reflect a review of the case disposition times currently being achieved in selected jurisdictions around the country as well as consideration of the various time standards adopted by states, local jurisdictions, and national organizations. These are “Model Time Standards.” They are intended to unify the current sets of disparate national time standards to the greatest degree possible. The model standards are designed for use by the judicial branch of each state as a basis for establishing its own time standards covering general and limited jurisdiction courts, regardless of the source of funding for those courts (pp. 1–2).

The Model Time Standards for dependency cases are listed below:

Model time standards for state trial courts (2011)

Neglect and Abuse

  • Adjudicatory Hearing:
    • 98 percent within 90 days of removal
  • Permanency Hearing:
    • 75 percent within 270 days of removal
    • 98 percent within 360 days of removal

Termination of Parental Rights

  • 90 percent within 120 days after the filing of a termination petition
  • 98 percent within 180 days after the filing of a termination petition

Caseload/Workload of dependency court judges

In 2012, NCJFCJ created a judicial workload tool for courts to use in determining the workload of dependency court judges.

This Technical Assistance Brief: Calculating Juvenile Dependency Judicial Workload provides a workload calculation that can be used to answer two questions:

  1. How can jurisdictions fully account for the time that judicial officers dedicate to juvenile dependency cases?
  2. How many judicial officers does a jurisdiction need to implement best practices?

The tool follows a seven-step process:

  1. Judicial commitment
  2. Assessment preparation
  3. Data collection
  4. Data analysis
  5. Calculation of judicial workload
  6. Evaluation of resources needed
  7. Development of recommendations

Additional resources

A number of other related articles are provided below for further review and consideration:

Select resources: timeliness and workload

Boes, Collins-Camargo, and Thomas, Evaluation of Implementation of the Kentucky Court Rules of Procedure and Practice: An Approach to Assessing the Impact of Court Reform Efforts (2015)
This article describes a Supreme Court of Kentucky court improvement initiative designed to promote uniformity and improved court practice, and the results of court case file review related to indicators of due process and timeliness.

Summers, Macgill, Gatowski, Russell & Wood, New Method of Assessing Judicial Workload in Juvenile Dependency Cases (2013)
This article describes a new method for calculating judicial workload in dependency or child abuse and neglect cases. The article reviews commonly used judicial workload methods, outlines the new method, and uses a pilot of the method as an example of how the method works in practice.

Summers & Shdaimah, Improving Juvenile Dependency Case Timeliness Through Use of the One Family, One Judge Model (2013)
This study examined the effect of One Family, One Judge implementation on timeliness of case processing, showing a trend toward improved timeliness, with every additional judge on the case increasing time to permanency (i.e., case closure) by 31 days.

Summers & Shdaimah, One Family, One Judge, No Continuances (2013)
The study found a relationship between the number of judicial officers per case and the number of continuances: when there is only one judicial officer per case, the majority of such cases have no or only one continuance.

Washington State Center for Court Research, Dependent Children in Washington State: Case Timeliness and Outcomes (2016)
This ninth annual report provided to the state legislature since 2007 offers stakeholders information regarding the timeliness of court processes to ensure cases are heard expeditiously yet thoughtfully and carefully.

Washington State Supreme Court, Commission on Children in Foster Care, Washington State Dependency Best Practices Report (2012)
This report provides an overview of the dependency court strategies and best practices employed in Washington state.

Wood, Russell, Macgill, and Summers, The Effects of Judicial Personnel on Hearing & Outcome Timeliness in Juvenile Dependency Cases (2014)
This article examines how the number of judicial personnel work hours available for each juvenile dependency case in a county may be related to the percentage of cases reaching key decision hearings in a timely manner.


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