Quality Hearing Workgroup
All three subcommittees (Attorney Training & Standards, Multidisciplinary Representation, and Pre-Petition Representation) within the Quality Legal Representation are in the beginning stages of drafting each group’s toolkit product.
The Multidisciplinary Representation subcommittee is working closely with Summit County and its multidisciplinary representation team pilot. The pilot began in early 2021 and team members include social worker James Warner, parent advocate Veronica McNair, and attorneys John Alexander, Emily Hete and Aviva Wilcher. In April of 2021, the team had four active cases. To increase the public’s awareness of the pilot, a story about the effort was recently featured in Summit County Juvenile Court’s community newsletter, The Court Reporter. The publication was electronically shared with representatives (high ranking executives and front-line staff) from a multitude of area child & family serving agencies. Team members reported that two of the four parents are very engaged with their case plan objectives and express statements of repeated gratitude to the team for their ongoing support. The subcommittee will continue to partner with Summit County team members to develop best practices and guidance for similar programs to begin throughout the state.
The Quality Hearing Project workgroup began as a direct result of feedback received from the CFSR process to explore current practice in statewide abuse, neglect, and dependency cases and identify strengths and opportunities for improvement.
Through a partnership with CIP and CJA, the CIP Coordinator contracted with Dr. Alicia Summers to conduct a review of shelter care and permanency/annual review recorded hearings, for the same case, if possible, and evaluate them based on a structured court observation tool. The court observation tool included examination of parties present, judicial engagement, attorney advocacy, party participation, topics discussed, findings made on the record, and whether or not additional scheduling matters were addressed during the hearing.
The 12 participating sites were asked to submit between 10 and 30 recordings; 341 total hearings were reviewed. Each participating site received a county-specific Summary of Findings describing current AND practice in these hearings. The workgroup convened on March 6, 2019 to attend Dr. Summers’ presentation of Ohio statewide data.
Following this presentation, the workgroup turned to the next step of its work: creating a court report and accompanying bench guides. The workgroup’s first task was to draft a Court Report to be used as an enhancement to testimony provided during annual review hearings or at the court’s discretion or request for other hearings. The goal was to create a Report to provide the judicial officer with the information needed to make all required findings in one place and to help increase parental engagement during the court hearings. Keeping this in mind, the workgroup also worked to limit the amount of required new information from caseworkers. The final draft of the Court Report includes entirely self-generated information from existing SACWIS documents with the exception of one new, short narrative section focusing on the agency’s reasonable efforts. The group’s next work product was an accompanying Bench Guide to mirror the court report; the Bench Guide includes meaningful questions to help prompt the hearing to get the judicial officer needed information to make required findings. The workgroup created both a long and short version of this Bench Guide.
Presently, the final draft of the Court Report is being reviewed by additional stakeholders. Once a final Court Report is approved and the Bench Guides are updated as needed, the workgroup’s next steps will be developing an implementation plan and associated training.