Thursday, December 2, 2010

Families Matter: Reforming the Family Law Process

It is hard to believe it already has been almost six months since CFCC and the ABA Section of Family Law co-sponsored the Families Matter Symposium. We at CFCC are excited about the work that has been done since the symposium to expand the Families Matter initiative. Because of the partnerships that this initiative created – among CFCC, the ABA, the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC), and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ), to name a few – we are able to tackle the issue of family law reform from every angle, something that has been a struggle in the past.

In the coming months and years, we will work together with our partners to ensure that therapeutic reform touches legal and court structures, relevant service providers from across disciplines, and the lawyers and other legal actors who work so closely with families. It is our hope that family law horror stories – from cutthroat attorneys who seemingly care nothing for the havoc wreaked on their clients’ lives to disjointed, overtaxed systems that extend the time, agony, and unpredictability of already explosive situations – will dwindle and eventually become a thing of the past as this comprehensive, nationwide effort takes its hold.

CFCC currently is involved in many projects relating to the Families Matter initiative:

• In the coming months, CFCC plans to publish and share a final report from the Families Matter Symposium – complete with insights into the problems underlying family justice system dysfunction across the country, proposed solutions, and concrete action steps that interested parties can take to help ensure that the reform vision becomes a reality.
• In a similar vein, CFCC has devoted an entire issue (forthcoming in January) of its Unified Family Court Connection newsletter to the Families Matter Symposium, with select symposium participants writing in-depth about their involvement in and reflections about the symposium.
• CFCC will support the ABA Families Matter Committee in preparing a presentation for all state bar presidents on the goals of Families Matter and the steps they can take to support the initiative and be catalysts for change at the local level.
• CFCC will work with the ABA Section of Family Law to plan and prepare for its national Continuing Legal Education (CLE) conference in Amelia Island in April, 2011, which will approach each of its topics from the Families Matter perspective, training attorneys on how each aspect of family law practice can be handled in a manner that supports the resilience and well-being of families.
• CFCC will chair a working group with members from the ABA, AFCC, and NCJFCJ to generate and compile “best practices” in family law.
• CFCC is working with the ABA to explore funding streams for the creation of a national clearinghouse for family justice reform information.
• CFCC and the ABA will spearhead a national public awareness and education campaign centered on the need for and types of family justice system reform.

We at CFCC are always looking for new ways to support meaningful family justice system reform at the local, state, and national levels, and we encourage all of our readers to join us in this process. What changes would you like to see in the family justice system?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

CFCC Sets the Stage for “Kids and Theater:” A Student Fellow’s Personal Reflection on Arts Education

Attention actors, writers, stage managers, and directors. The Center for Families, Children and the Courts is proud to announce the première of the “Kids and Theater” project!! This project is part of CFCC’s broader initiative to promote arts education in the Baltimore City Public Schools. Currently, CFCC runs a “Kids and Cameras” project which has been very successful. “Kids and Theater” will be piloted in one lucky school next spring. The program will be a ten week course where students will learn how to write and perform their own plays. CFCC will be hiring a professional acting coach to direct the program, and I will be helping with producing the plays.

Our goal is to help students in our Truancy Court Program (TCP) become more engaged in their school through the arts. This program will help our TCP students develop their writing and acting skills and their team-working skills. These skills will enable our TCP students to become more confident with themselves and their academic abilities.

For me, the arts played a vital and integral part of my education and character development. When I first began school, my grades were terrible. I had trouble paying attention in class and learning basic concepts. When my parents got me involved in band and acting, my grades began to drastically improve. I moved from the Chapter I, a program helping slower students, to an honor roll student in the advanced class.

My problems in school stemmed from a lack of engagement. The arts allowed me to tap into my creativity which I was able to use in other subjects. For example, music involves rhythms and time signatures which are useful to mathematics calculation. Acting involves memorization and comprehending a character and storyline which are useful for reading comprehension.

The arts changed my life, but I'm not the only one. According to recent studies from the Dana Consortium , students who are engaged in arts education have enhanced brain cognition1. Students in the arts score higher on IQ tests than non-arts students. Tests also show that arts students have enhanced attention spans, greater aptitudes with language and mathematics, and are more empathetic than non-arts students.

The highlight of my artistic career was in my senior year of high school. I was a member of the DeMatha Wind Ensemble which had just won the WGMS “Young Artist in the Community Award.” As part of the award, we got to perform at the Kennedy Center. When I walked on that stage, I was in awe and disbelief. How did I get here? When I started school, I was a failure and now I was standing at the Kennedy Center – weeks before my graduation and about to go to college. Then, I realized something – I may never perform at the Kennedy Center, but the arts helped me realize that I can do anything I want.

Now, I am in my last year of law school enrolled as a CFCC Student Fellow. At our CFCC team meetings, I hear about students struggling in school and can't help but think that I was like they are a few years ago. With this new program, I hope the TCP students will be able to overcome their problems in school like I did. Perhaps one day, some of our students will go on to become actors, directors, producers, set designers, or writers. Perhaps some of our students will get the extraordinary experience like I had to perform at the Kennedy Center. What is certain is that this program will help every student realize that anything is possible and with hard work they can reach their dreams. “Kids and Theater” break a leg!
1 See Gazzangia, Michael, Learning, Arts, and the Brain: The Dana Consortium Report on Arts and Cognition, The Dana Foundation Press 2008.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Breaking the Cycle – Poverty, Truancy and Crime, Oh My

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation released a report entitled The Silent Epidemic: Perspectives of High School Dropouts in 2006. The report begins by stating

There is a high school dropout epidemic in America. Each year, almost one third of all public high school students – and nearly one half of all blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans – fail to graduate from public high school with their class....The decision to drop out is a dangerous one for the student. Dropouts are much more likely than their peers who graduate to be unemployed, living in poverty, receiving public assistance, in prison, on death row, unhealthy, divorced, and single parents with children who drop out from high school themselves.

Last week, shortly after arriving at the Baltimore City elementary/middle school where I serve as the Truancy Court Program's Student Fellow, I learned that three of our students had transferred to other schools. One of the students was a 7th grade girl who had allegedly disrupted a class and verbally threatened a classmate. This young lady had our attention from the first day of TCP. She began the first 45 minutes of orientation with her head down for no apparent reason other than disinterest in what was going on. But there's always a reason. We later learned that she doesn't eat regular meals during the day, usually only breakfast. The lack of nutrition and energy causes her to drag and get regular headaches. She's more mature than many of her classmates and often feels like an outsider among her peers. She's had opportunities to be in modeling and accelerated programs, but either wasn't ready for the responsibility or failed to show up. She consistently comes to school out of uniform, because it's not clean or she doesn't feel like following the rules. She does well in school when she puts in the effort, but would rather do nothing. She wants to be a model, but that goal seems so far away that taking steps in that direction at this point seem futile. It appears as though most of these instances of acting out are this young lady's means of exercising control over her life, while living in an environment where she might feel she has none. From our conversations with this student, I was not under the impression that she desired to transfer. Now she finds herself in yet another unfamiliar situation in which she has no control. Was this the right answer?

The other students who transferred were siblings; a girl in kindergarten and a boy in 2nd grade. Apparently, the boy got into an altercation with another male classmate and ended up beating him up to the point of blood being drawn. As a result, our TCP student and his sister both had to leave the school. He's 7 years old! He was always very shy and quiet at the table. Where did this aggression come from, and why wasn't he given a second chance? How will changing schools resolve this child's emotional and anger-management problems? It seems as though the action taken sends the message that while his behavior will not be tolerated, no one cares enough about this child to help him – just as the criminal justice system removes “problems” from the street, locking them away without attempting to solve or fix them, this little boy was removed from the environment he was accustomed to in order to “protect the rest of the student population.” There is absolutely no way to guarantee that he will not run into the same problems at his new school, and ultimately in life.

All of the TCP students at my school are living in poverty. The link between truancy, poverty, and crime is a vicious cycle: children living in poverty, due to a number of external factors, are more likely than other children to exhibit truant behavior. Some causes of truancy are directly related to living in poverty, including inability to pay for transportation to school, not having enough school uniforms or money to wash clothes, children working to help feed their families, and homelessness, to name a few. Unfortunately, a common result of truancy and dropping out of school is that children will likely live in poverty as adults. And that’s not the worst-case scenario. Often, when students are not in school, there is a greater potential for substance abuse, juvenile delinquency, and involvement in gangs. In his October 2009 NY Times Article, Study Finds High Rate of Imprisonment Among Dropouts, Sam Dillon reminded us that “[o]n any given day, about one in every 10 young male high school dropouts is in jail or juvenile detention, compared with one in 35 young male high school graduates, according to a new study of the effects of dropping out of school in an America where demand for low-skill workers is plunging.”

Moreover, truancy can potentially serve as a gateway to the juvenile justice system. In her 2006 article about CFCC and the Truancy Court Program, Professor Barbara Babb elaborates, “[R]esearch has demonstrated that truancy is an early indicator of more serious potential delinquent behavior, social isolation, substance abuse, teen pregnancy, educational failure, and school dropout.”1 School provides structure and consistency for students; they go to classes at particular times, see the same classmates and teachers every day, and are presumably in an environment that fosters learning and growth. Truant students are more likely to get into trouble while they are skipping school, and inability to find employment forces youth to resort to illegal activities and crime including dealing drugs and burglary, among others.2 The more school they miss, the further students fall behind. It becomes harder to pay attention, grades drop, and then they no longer even see a reason to come to school. The cycle of poverty has a detrimental effect on self-esteem and forces students to look for alternative options to school. As a result, habitually truant students and high school dropouts are unable to become productive members of society.3 Is this what the future looks like for our TCP students? Hopefully not.

1.Barbara Babb, “A Truancy Court Program to Keep Children in School,” 39-JUN MDBJ 45, 45-49 (2006).

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Rising Issue of Cyber-Bullying

Due to the rise in popularity of social networks over the past ten years, cyber-bullying has been on the increase, and some social scientists believe bullying may be one of the most prevalent causes of teen suicide. As a result of cyber-bullying, teens’ personal, private situations are becoming public for the world to see, and some teens see no other way out. Imagine being a fifteen years old and your friends have been collecting pictures of you on the weekends. One evening the pictures are posted to Facebook and every picture displays you making intimate physical contact with male classmates. Each friend comments under the pictures making references about your sexual reputation. At fifteen this would be extremely embarrassing. The thought of showing your face in school Monday morning would be impossible. Your private, extra-curricular conduct is now the talk of the school. Seemingly, the only way out at such a vulnerable age is suicide.
Recently, Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers University, took his own life after his roommate streamed a video on the internet revealing an intimate encounter between Tyler and another man. As a result of the video being leaked onto the internet, Clementi took his own life by jumping off the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River. This story, sadly, is one of many.
In a recent class discussion, one of the CFCC Student Fellows mentioned that one of the Truancy Court Program participants was being bullied by her fellow peers, and the school seemed to brush off the situation. When situations like this occur, the school needs to play an active role in extinguishing the problem as soon as it is presented. The bully needs to be reprimanded for his or her actions, because if the problem persists, the bully will soon realize he or she can continue to bully his or her peers, fulfilling a sense of power and entitlement.
Bullying has been around for ages. It is nothing new; however, with the rise of social networks, the scope of bullying has broadened from merely in-school, to out of school, and children and young adults are being affected in a whole new way. This reaction may be due to a lag between school policies and new technology. Education begins with the students. Teens need to be educated on what is and what is not appropriate for the internet. The internet is a very powerful tool. Teen girls might not think the consequences a Myspace hoax played on their thirteen year old friend would ultimately lead to her taking her own life. Teenagers need to be supervised both at home, in the neighborhood, and at school. Parents need to get involved and speak to their children about both how to deal with a bully and the consequences of bullying. Schools need to implement strict policies on how to deal with bullying, including counseling sessions, providing protection for the victims of bullying, and providing for sanctions for bullies, whether or not their conduct falls within the scope of their education.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Empowering Our Youth to be Agents for Change in their Home, School and Communities

I am also a CFCC Student Fellow this fall participating in the Truancy Court Program at Violetville elementary/middle school. I agree with the previous blogger that it is important that we all work together to see that our students our successful. I wanted to focus my blog on ways community members can reach out to empower youth to be more proactive about their education, their school and their community, especially where the youth lack sufficient encouragement and motivation at home.

Schools and community organizations must reach out to these youth and provide them with

opportunities for youth leadership and community involvement. Schools can provide student leadership opportunities by having a student government and other student clubs where the students are put in leadership positions. Community Groups can promote youth leadership by having youth led groups in religious communities, YMCAs, community associations, neighborhood watch groups and other similarly situated groups in the community.

By getting youth more involved in leadership positions in the school and larger community they will be empowered to act as positive agents for change. For this to be effective the positions must come with actual responsibilities, accountability and be set up in a way that the students feel that their peers and adults are listening to them. This framework will give youth greater incentives to continue to do well because they will want to hold their positions and they will not want to disappoint their peers, teachers and other community members. Personal accountability and an understanding of consequences for bad actions is one area where poor parenting has left many youth lacking, but leadership opportunities for youth that incentivize good behavior and hold them accountable could supplement the inadequate training at home.

I recently researched Youth Courts for our CFCC class. Youth Courts are an excellent example of a structure in place that empowers youth to address the problem of juvenile crime in their community.[1] Youth Courts are diversion courts that are led primarily by youth who have been trained as judges, lawyers, clerks, bailiffs and jurors to hear cases about delinquent conduct committed by their peers. There are various Youth Court models but in all programs the youth are actively involved in the process and are given the responsibility of deciding the best way of holding the delinquent offender accountable for his or her conduct. The program focuses on restorative justice requiring the offender to make amends for their actions and getting them involved in the community. The Youth Court participants serve as positive role models for the young offenders, who see young people their own age who are responsible, socially engaged and respected by the community.

I think that the success of the youth courts demonstrates that youth are capable of acting as agents for positive change in their school and community when given the opportunity to assume leadership positions.

[1] Goodwin, Tracy. Peer Justice and Youth Empowerment: An Implementation Guide for Teen Court Programs. Chapter 1 pg 3. U.S. Department of Transportation,1996.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Where are the parents?

I have been a volunteer and student fellow in the CFCC’s Truancy Court Program for over the last year. From my tutoring in math to my observations as the student fellow, I have been introduced to a world I did not know and it is nothing like the one I grew up in. I never had to worry about my clothes being clean in the morning or if I would have breakfast. My homework was done after school and my parents always made time to sit down and talk with me about my day. There was no one I was afraid of, no gangs, no bullies and no fighting. There was also no internet, no cell phones and news only traveled as fast as your neighbors could talk. The world was an easier place to grow up in.

Not going to school was never an option. My mom never kept me home because she had a disagreement with my dad. We didn’t move each year. There was consistency and a connection with my school, my teachers, my friends and my life. This is not the case today. As the economy fell apart, families split, communities broke down and the children have suffered almost silently. Parents are no longer at home, having to work 2 jobs or extra hours just to pay the bills. So, the kids can just stay at home if they feel like it. They skip their homework assignments with no one checking on them. The television or video game system has become the babysitter and they are falling behind. If they are having trouble with another student, there is no one to talk to so they keep it to themselves.

Today’s children have to worry about everything. Along with a lack of parental support and parental supervision, social media has exploded. Style is everything and reputations can change in an instant. Being the cool kid has replaced being the smart kid. I have been told on more than one occasion that, “I couldn’t come to school because my hair wasn’t done.” This came from a 7th grader. In 7th grade my biggest worry was getting from class to class in the 5 minutes we were given and remembering my lunch each morning. Style wasn’t much of a thought and my hair was a curly mess.

There were no web-pages dedicated to hating me, pictures of me half dressed being text to everyone in the school or an aunt driving up to me in a McDonald’s parking lot to threaten me for disrespecting their 13 year old niece. Yet, these are the stories I have been reading about and hearing from my students. Each story more horrific then the last and each with one glaring consistency, the parent never knew or the parent wasn’t there. Where were the parents?

We are so quick to blame others in our society. We can never accept that our own inaction could have been at fault. So we blame the school and the teachers. Why didn’t they know? Why didn’t they act? They should have known and they should have done something. It’s everyone else fault and could not have been my own. Then the media portrays the parents as the victims and rests the blame squarely on the schools. They should know better.

Parents need to get back to being parents. Their children need them, the schools need them and the communities need them. In a time of economic unrest and social change, we need to be better parents, active parents. Parents build the bridges between school and home, between the children and teachers. Parents are the only ones who can do this.

When we all work together, our children succeed and we all share in their success.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Law School and What I Want to Be When I Grow Up

I am a CFCC Student Fellow this fall, participating in the Truancy Court Program at a Baltimore City elementary/middle school. I returned to law school mid-life after working from home for my children’s younger years because I hoped to take my professional life into a new direction. I wanted to work with people, make a difference in my community, and try to harmonize my work and ideals.

During my first year of law school I often found myself crying and wondering what I had done to myself. The often inscrutable and abstract material of Contracts, Civil Procedure and Property was just not resonating with me. For Property class one day, I had to go to Baltimore City rent court; the gritty, mundane reality of that court seemed very far removed from my law school experience thus far. When I was finally able to choose my courses, I took Interviewing, Negotiating and Counseling, and was somewhat shocked to remember that lawyers deal with real human beings who are often struggling with emotional issues.

Academics often complain about the disconnect between the law and the everyday people the law affects. The bureaucratic institutions that craft laws and policy often don’t or can’t envision how their rules and regulations will play out in the day-to-day lives of everyday people. Legal scholars debate the question of how much social work should be required of legal institutions. Many believe the courts and judges aren’t social workers. But I think that’s wrong: social work’s focus on preventive, non-adversarial measures should take precedence in the practice of law, particularly in the area of family law.

At my Truancy Court Program orientation, the fifteen or so elementary and middle school participants were instructed to fill out fairly detailed forms asking for contact information and information about themselves. I spotted an adorable nine-year-old boy who looked a little lost. I bent down on my knees and guided him through the forms. When he got to “What career would you like to have after you graduate from college?” he looked up at me with blank eyes. I clarified by asking him, “What would you like to be when you grow up?” He blurted out, “How do you spell scientist?” I spelled the word for him and a hardness that has grown around my heart these past three years of law school softened a bit. That simple question has been the most humane moment of my law school career.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Ecology of Human Development - an Invaluable Approach to Family Justice

By Lesley Kamenshine

The ecology of human development that we have learned about in class is most exciting. The concept was first applied to the legal system – specifically family law - by Prof. Barbara Babb, Director of the Center for Family, Children and the Courts, in her groundbreaking blueprint for unified family courts.1

Developed by psychologist Dr. Urie Bronfenbrenner2 who founded Headstart, the ecology of human development seeks to understand how the complex interrelationships people develop in different settings affect individuals' lives. How do parents and children function with each other, with and within the school, the community – and even the culture? How much impact does a parent’s employer have on a child? These are examples of questions an ecological approach seeks to answer.

As applied to the legal system, Prof. Babb has provided a systematic way for judges, attorneys for litigants, and the parties themselves to explore - separately or together - the connections and relationships between various facets of a person’s life. The ecology of human development makes a person more three-dimensional. A case is no longer just about a plaintiff's claim or a juvenile delinquent’s record. Through the ecology of human development approach that Prof. Babb has fostered in her work with unified family courts, a legal actor now has the informal legal blessing to explore connections with other facets of a person's life - relationship to the job, the community, school, etc.

While legal actors often do explore such relationships, incorporating the ecology of human development into unified family courts ensures that such relationship exploration is not just random or implicit, but becomes part of the problem-solving process. This would appear to make the legal actor's investigation, interview and/or interrogation more thorough, and provide more opportunities for problem resolution.
1. Barbara Babb, “Fashioning an Interdisciplinary Framework for Court Reform in Family Law: A Blueprint to Construct a Unified Family Court,” 71 S. Cal. L. Rev. 469, 507-508. Content defining the ecology of human development (paragraph 1, above) comes primarily from p. 507.
2. Id., n. 31, Urie Bronfenbrenner, The Ecology of Human Development (1979).

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Relationship between Truancy Court and Law Enforcement

Like another CFCC Student Fellow, I also come to the CFCC Student Fellows Program with a perspective largely from law enforcement. The area of the law that has interested me the most has been criminal law (with family law a close second). Most of my internships/clerkships have been in the criminal area of the law. At first glance, it may seem as though the concepts of therapeutic jurisprudence and preventative law would be at odds with a pro-law enforcement viewpoint.

While interning in various offices dealing with criminal law, it is not uncommon to accompany attorneys to court. While observing, it is hard not to notice an alarming trend when criminal defendants are accepting a plea. The defendants are subjected to many questions that help the judge determine whether or not the defendant is fit to take a plea, understands the consequences, etc. One of the questions a judge asks to assess a defendant's capacity is "what is the highest level of education you have completed?" Quite often, the responses fall short of "twelfth." Therein lies my interest in the Truancy Court Program and the concepts of therapeutic jurisprudence and preventative law.

Just yesterday I attended the Truancy Court Program orientation at the school I will be assigned to for the next 10 weeks. While the children ranged in age from lower elementary students to middle school students, all brought their own personality and it was clear within minutes. These children, who are often identified as at risk of becoming truant, show that they are often intelligent and/or talented in a variety of ways. The problems behind their school attendance are not necessarily a competency issue, lack of interest, or willingness to break attendance laws. Some truancy issues are addressed by simply giving the child an alarm clock, setting goals for them, etc.

The issues in society and their underlying causes that are most vexing should not be ignored. Especially at such an early age when data supports the proposition that high school dropouts are more likely to engage in illegal behavior. It seems rather inappropriate, and counterproductive, to punish a child who may want to be in school but can't the same way as a child who flagrantly breaks the rules. All too often, problems such as these are compounded and/or reinforced by systemic flaws. Therapeutic jurisprudence, rightly, recognizes that applying a one size fits all approach may ultimately backfire not only on the rehabilitation of the individual, but on society as well. In fact, one study found that just one high school dropout costs the public more than $200,000 in social programs and criminal justice expenses over the course of the dropout's lifetime.1

For a more local example, it cost Maryland taxpayers an average of $38,654 to house an inmate in the Department of Corrections just this past year. This figure, which is 26% higher than the national average, does not even include social programs, court costs, or other expenses. It is not unreasonable to think how things could have been different for school children left behind in the years before the concept of therapeutic jurisprudence, preventative law, and the Truancy Court Program. Maybe more children would have succeeded in school if there had been someone to reach out to them and give the child an item as simple as an alarm clock.

Personally, I look forward to the weeks ahead in the CFCC Student Fellows Program. I would expect that some of my fellow bloggers may share some of their experiences as well. After learning about therapeutic jurisprudence and preventative law, it will be a fantastic opportunity to see the concepts take hold in meaningful 'real world' applications.

1.Colorado Foundation for Families and Children, “Youth Out of School: Linking Absence to Delinquency,” September 2002.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Student’s First Impression of Therapeutic Justice

Therapeutic Justice (“TJ”), a novel concept to myself and probably most law students, is the brain child of Professors Bruce Winick and David Wexler that posits that, “other things being equal, positive therapeutic effects are desirable and should generally be a proper aim of law, and that antitherapeutic effects are undesirable and should be avoided or minimized.”1 Additionally, in describing TJ’s role in law, its founders maintain that it is simply a factor to consider along with all of the other meaningful goals our justice system intends to purport.

Upon reading and then discussing this approach to the legal field I could not help but think of TJ as an overly obvious goal that would meet a minimal amount of opposition. However, upon further reflection, the key questions that I seemingly cannot answer are what role, and how much influence, should TJ have in our justice system? Granted, as mentioned above, TJ is claimed to be only a factor to consider, yet this answer seems far too amorphous for an approach that, depending upon the answers to those two questions, could have modest or significant ramifications on how law is practiced everyday.

It seems apparent to me that there are two major ways that TJ can affect our legal system. First, it can affect how laws are made and perhaps more importantly how they are applied in various jurisdictions. In this respect, the questions posed in the previous paragraph need to be answered to determine how strong of a factor our society wishes TJ to play in conjunction with other goals of our justice system. Second, TJ can affect how judicial officials interact with individuals who are thrust into the system for various reasons. This naturally poses its own problems, as it is more determinative on every judicial officer to act and communicate in a fashion that is socially beneficial to clients, plaintiffs, defendants, etc., who, in turn, are all very different. Perhaps TJ’s strongest impact will be made by those who promote this philosophy by bringing it to the awareness of all of the various court actors and hoping that they will act and communicate, consciously or unconsciously, accordingly.

In conclusion, though TJ seemingly raises more questions than it answers, it still is the noble, overly obvious goal that should at the very least be considered in the legal profession. How much consideration? One has to hope that over time TJ will find its proper role.

1. Bruce J. Winick, The Jurisprudence of Therapeutic Jurisprudence, in LAW IN A THERAPEUTIC KEY: DEVELOPMENTS IN THERAPEUTIC JURISPRUDENCE 649 (David B. Wexler & Bruce J. Winick eds., 1997).

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Meshing Therapeutic Jurisprudence and Law Enforcement

Hello CFCC Bloggers. I am currently a CFCC Fellow at UB School of Law. I was posed an intriguing question last week in class that I have been thinking about throughout the weekend. Last week’s class discussion was about Therapeutic Jurisprudence (TJ) and Preventive Law. At the end of class, I was asked my opinion on TJ. My answer was the following: I believe that TJ is a great concept that should certainly be “applied” (for lack of a better term) by every attorney practicing law. I followed that with my reasoning.

Now, one would think, “Well that’s not a very peculiar answer.” I did not think so either, UNTIL after class when one of my fellow classmates told me that she was interested to hear my response considering what I want to do for a living. I was very thankful for this thought-provoking question. After thinking about it throughout the week and weekend, I got the idea to write this blog to explain my position of why it is that an aspiring FBI Agent would believe in Therapeutic Jurisprudence. My hope is that the “take-away” from my blog will be that even a person on the law enforcement side believes in TJ. Thus, Mr. Winick and Mr. Wexler’s idea has even persuaded those individuals who work to capture criminals.

I guess that most people think that someone who wants to spend the rest of their life arresting suspects for the awful crimes they commit would not believe there is justice in therapy. YES, I want to arrest criminals and YES, I do believe in punishment. However, just because I want to bust them and cuff them does not mean that I want them to serve significant amounts of time in our over-crowded prisons. I do believe in jail terms, but I also believe in therapy and rehabilitation and see it being successful for some, not all, criminals. In my opinion, a defendant who walks into a courtroom and is convicted of a drug charge, should be sent through rehabilitation. Depending on the severity of the drug charge and if there was violence or other crimes involved, maybe rehabilitation and a jail sentence are both beneficial.

My point is that as an FBI Agent I can only plan to do my job bringing suspects into the legal system. My hope then is that the attorneys and judges that they come before, will apply TJ so that the next time that individual crosses my path, I do not have to put handcuffs on them. Rather, I can devote my time to another criminal and I can smile confidently and thank the justice system and therapeutic jurisprudence for a successful rehabilitation.

I applaud and thank the CFCC professors, Mr. Winick, and Mr. Wexler for making me, who once thought that prison was the only therapy, believe that there are other ways in which our law can be therapeutic.

Monday, August 23, 2010

CFCC Student Fellows – the Next Generation of CFCC Bloggers

Where has the summer gone? The law school semester has begun! We at CFCC are looking forward to another great year; we take utmost pride in teaching the next generation of lawyers about family law and our major tenets, therapeutic jurisprudence and the ecology of human development. We also ensure that our students personally engage with the things they learn in the classroom through their enrollment in the CFCC Student Fellows Program.

Our Student Fellows engage in an in-depth examination of the policies and theories surrounding court reform and cutting edge issues in family law, including unified family courts. They also become involved with one of our projects, which can include research, writing, or field work. Last year, six Student Fellows supported the judges at CFCC’s Truancy Court Program (TCP) sessions by taking notes, distributed rewards for goal achievement, and discussed strategy with the TCP team. One Student Fellow led a “Kids and Cameras Program” class to teach children about photography, and three Student Fellows created and implemented workshops for TCP parents covering legal issues ranging from truancy to school discipline to schooling options for children with chronic health conditions.

We look forward to a wide variety of research and practice projects this year, including a research project on the impact of cultural factors on children of immigrants, experiential projects with the Truancy Court Program, and more. Additionally, because our instructional philosophy for the Student Fellows Program centers on reflection, application, and discussion, we plan to use this blog as a new element of the course. We are going to allow each Student Fellow an opportunity to write about the topics they are learning, both in the classroom and through their experiential component.  We believe that this web integration can be a valuable part of our Student Fellows’ learning experience, and we encourage our readers to join in this process by responding to our student posts.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Character Matters

My name is Anthony Green and I am a mentor - I teach character-building classes for the University of Baltimore School of Law Center for Families, Children and the Courts (CFCC) Truancy Court Program (TCP). Dr. Andres Alonso, Superintendent of Baltimore City Schools, was recently quoted in the Baltimore Sun, emphasizing the importance of attendance if we want our children to achieve academically. At the TCP, we recognize the importance of and connections among attendance, character, and academics, and we work with our TCP students to change their life paths.

We are gearing up to operate the TCP in eight Baltimore City schools starting in September, and this is the time of year when I evaluate my curriculum and reflect on my experiences over the year with TCP. At this time, I consider a number of questions, and I would like to share my answers to them and ask you for your own answers.

1. What is Character?

I have been working with students, parents, school administrators and faculty for many years. I have found that the character of a student is not only a reflection of the parent; at times, it can also be a refection of the administration and culture within a school.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Families Matter Symposium: Working Toward a More Therapeutic Family Justice System

The invitation-only “Families Matter” Symposium was held last Thursday and Friday, June 24 and 25, at the University of Baltimore.  Co-sponsored by CFCC and the American Bar Association Section of Family Law, the symposium promises to be a powerful catalyst for change.  It was exhiliarating to participate in the exchange of groundbreaking ideas that emerge when you put together some of the leading professionals from a range disciplines to discuss how to improve the experience of children and families in the family justice system.  More exciting, however, is the fact that this group of high-powered experts is committed to move from theory to action by implementing many of their recommendations for changing the family law system.

Maryland’s Chief Judge Robert Bell’s inspiring keynote reminded participants to keep those families who are less fortunate in mind while developing a roadmap for the future, and Georgia’s retired Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears, in her heartfelt concluding address, urged us to focus on the preservation of stable families when possible, even while considering the divorce process.

A small group led by CFCC Senior Fellow Gloria Danziger
discusses the availability and use of services for family
court litigants. (Photo by Chris Hart)
In between these powerful speeches, participants worked in small, interdisciplinary groups, identifying some of the most urgent problems facing the family justice system, analyzing solutions to those problems, and creating action steps for implementation.  In each small group there were some of the country’s top family lawyers, judges, mental health professionals, accountants, academics, and  domestic violence experts, each offering his/her perspective on how the current family justice system hurts children and families and what each discipline can offer to alleviate the harm.   After each small-group session, participants gathered in a plenary to  report on progress and to bounce ideas off of the larger collection of over 60 participants. 

At the end of the two days, not only did we have a rich, multidisciplinary understanding of the effects of the current system on children and families, but we also had practical action plans covering the gamut of relevant issues, from family resources to an overtaxed judicial system and many more. 

We at CFCC look forward to working with the ABA, all of the symposium’s sponsors and participants, and the wider community to implement these action plans.  The symposium has set in motion a movement toward real change, based on a holistic and therapeutic approach to family law.  Although the Families Matter Symposium accomplished so much in such a short period of time, the real work lies ahead of us.  The Families Matter initiative – a multiyear project – is just beginning.   I encourage you to become involved as we move forward.  Check back often and please check the links on CFCC’s website for recordings of both keynotes and pictures from the event.  CFCC and the ABA Section of Family Law hope to publish the proceedings shortly.   We also encourage you to join in this critical discussion on this blog and in your communities.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Youth are Different

One of the Center for Families, Children and the Courts’ (CFCC) fundamental premises is that the law must consider the realities of human development when acting upon people’s lives. Children are especially vulnerable to harm, and they also differ from adults in their capacities, understanding, and judgment. Once again, the Supreme Court has recognized this fact.

We at CFCC applaud their recent decision in Graham v. Florida, No. 08-7412, 560 U.S. (2010). Graham categorically prohibits a life without parole sentence for juveniles in non-homicide offenses. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy (joined in the opinion by Justices Stevens, Breyer, Ginsburg, and Sotomayor, and in the decision by Chief Justice Roberts) has relied heavily on Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005), the case prohibiting the death penalty for crimes committed while a juvenile. Justice Kennedy wrote:

Roper established that because juveniles have lessened culpability they are less deserving of the most severe punishments. 543 U.S. at 569. As compared to adults, juveniles have “a lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility; they “are more vulnerable or susceptible to negative influences and outside pressures, including peer pressure;” and their characters are “not as well formed.” Id., at 569-70. These salient characteristics mean that “[i]t is difficult even for expert psychologists to differentiate between the juvenile offender whose crime reflects unfortunate yet transient immaturity, and the rare juvenile offender whose crime reflects irreparable corruption.” Id., at 573. Accordingly, “juvenile offenders cannot with reliability be classified among the worst of offenders.” Id., at 569. A juvenile is not absolved of responsibility for his actions, but his transgression “is not as morally reprehensible as that of an adult.” Thompson, supra, at 835. (plurality opinion). (Slip opinion, p. 16.)

Justice Kennedy goes on to explain that theories of punishment such as deterrence and incapacitation operate differently when applied to young people, and rehabilitation is an especially important goal. “A life without parole sentence improperly denies the juvenile offender a chance to demonstrate growth and maturity.” (Id., p. 22). Graham does not force states to parole youth, but it does require that they give young people a “meaningful opportunity” for release, “based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.” (Id., at 24).

Justice Roberts agreed with the Court’s decision because of the particular facts, but he was not willing to establish a categorical rule.

CFCC commends the Court’s recognition that children deserve special consideration and its willingness to preserve hope for youth who might previously have faced a sentence without end. Not decided in Graham was the validity of the sentence for young people found guilty of homicide.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A CFCC Truancy Court Program Perspective on Bullying in Schools

The local news has focused on bullying after a young girl reportedly attempted suicide in a Baltimore City School as a result of this torment. Even Dr. Alonso, the CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools, has written an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun weighing in on the topic. It is a subject with which we at CFCC are all too familiar, as it often is identified as a cause of truancy for a number of children in our Truancy Court Program.

Truancy does not always involve the act of “playing hooky.” A child may also stay home from school in order to stay safe and avoid harassment at school. For decades, researchers have warned schools, families, and communities that bullying can lead to truancy. One student (or more) constantly physically and/or emotionally harasses another student and, as a result, the targeted child develops a complex. In response to lower self-esteem, confirmation of insecurities, fear of harassment at school, and/or concern for physical safety, the targeted child does what s/he can to stay home from school.

Parents and teachers may be unaware of such bullying because children may fear an increase of harassment if it is discovered that they have tattled.  As a possible result, a bullied child may play sick for many days in a row to avoid school.  A parent may not understand the real reason the child is staying home from school.  The school, on the other hand, may think the parent negligently is allowing his or her child to miss too much school.  While the parent gets frustrated by the school’s questioning and telephone calls, and the school loses faith in the parent’s intent to send his child to school, the child holds this secret close to his heart and continues to suffer in fear of attending school.

First Lady of Maryland and District Court Judge Catherine
Curran O'Malley (left) and law student fellow Stacy D.
Copeland (top right) listen to a TCP student during a
session at Barclay Elementary/Middle in Baltimore
The question arises: What can be done?

There is no one answer to this question, but CFCC successfully has identified, addressed and resolved numerous bullying cases in its over six years of operating the Truancy Court Program.

With everyone at the table and the calm, caring, and confidential nature of the TCP, students can divulge the real reason for their absences.  This often comes to the complete surprise of the parents and/or schools.  Once this secret is revealed, the volunteer District or Circuit Court judge places the burden on the schools to investigate and address the situation.

In one instance, the school police have addressed the bullies directly, describing possible legal ramifications of bullying.  Though removal through suspension may seem like a plausible provisional fix, Dr. Alonso correctly points out that it is not a permanent solution because it does not address the root cause of the bullying.  The impetus behind the bully’s actions may reveal a need for further guidance and intervention, so a holistic approach, with confrontation and mediation among the students, the families, and the school, is essential.  Of course, as the Gilmor Elementary School third-grade student highlighted in the news could probably tell you, schools and parents must first listen to students.  The TCP is the type of setting in which such conversation occurs – where the parents and school officials listen to the students.  A resolution that all parties have had a role in crafting is the most effective way to stop bullying now and to prevent bullying in the future.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

CFCC and the ABA Family Law Section Co-Sponsor “Families Matter” Symposium

In the face of the daily barrage of news about celebrity divorces, bitter custody battles, and the fortunes that must be divided, we at the Center for Families, Children and the Courts (CFCC) are reminded of the millions of people who face an adversarial and divisive family law system during the most difficult periods of their lives. In an unprecedented collaboration, the American Bar Association (ABA) Family Law Section and CFCC are co-sponsoring an invitation-only symposium on June 24-25 at the University of Baltimore to address how to change family law practice and theory to minimize the harm done to families as they navigate the family justice system. The pairing between the ABA and CFCC is a natural partnership, given that CFCC’s mission and work focus on family justice system reform aimed at finding ways to resolve these family conflicts in a more therapeutic, holistic, less adversarial manner.

Many parents and children enter the family justice system already dealing with serious issues – drug and alcohol abuse, family violence, mental illness, poverty, debilitating illness, and grief, to name a few. The acrimonious nature of family law litigation, exacerbated when children are involved, compounds families’ existing problems. Any remnants of a family’s strength and cohesiveness are damaged irreparably as lawyers engage in protracted and divisive litigation.

The “Families Matter” symposium is a significant step forward to attempt to minimize these destructive consequences – a well-timed and much-needed response to the often insurmountable negative outcomes experienced by families and children involved in the justice system. Over the course of two days, attorneys, judges, academics, accountants, social workers, mediators, and others are convening to engage in an interdisciplinary, facilitated discussion about the practice of family law and its impact on families. Planners expect these conversations to result in a number of innovative ideas and plans to form the basis for a multi-year initiative.

We at CFCC are delighted and excited to partner with the ABA Family Law Section for this influential initiative. As we work together to change the practice of family law from an adversarial and divisive process to one that focuses on methods that aim to improve the lives of families and children, we plan to develop solutions to some of the most difficult problems facing our justice system today. All of us – families, children, communities, schools, employers, businesses – stand to benefit from this initiative.

We welcome and encourage your thoughts and contributions to this blog! Please join the conversation.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Childhood Nutrition and Obesity: Moving from a National Concern to Coordinated Policies

Obesity in the United States has not always been at the levels we see currently. Whenever I return from an international flight, even at the airport I sense that I have returned to the land of the big. And nowhere is this more glaring than with our children.

Beginning in approximately the mid-1980s, the levels of obesity and excess weight in the US has been a monotonically increasing function.
 These averages, however, hide regional and socio-economic differences: for some sub-populations this is a medical crisis. One of 7 low-income, preschool-aged children is obese, but the obesity epidemic may be stabilizing at this alarming level. Low-income two to four year-olds’ obesity prevalence increased from 12.4 % in 1998 to 14.5 % in 2003 but rose to only 14.6 percent in 2008.

Keeping the Discussion Going after CFCC's Urban Child Symposium on Health and the Urban Child

CFCC’s second Urban Child Symposium, “Health and the Urban Child:  Diagnosing Problems and Prescribing Solutions,” was held last Thursday, April 1, and drew a crowd of approximately two hundred people.  A wide array of people from all professions and walks of life, including doctors, lawyers, judges, activists, academics, mental health professionals, services providers, parents, and other community members, attended and participated.  The audience filled the School of Law’s Moot Courtroom and also watched the action from monitors in the law school lobby.  Our panelists gave thoughtful presentations that covered the gamut of problems and solutions for the health of urban children.  Extensive audience participation created a vibrant conversation about the practical realities of urban child health and some of the steps needed to make improvements.  Congressman Cummings’ keynote luncheon speech was a call to action, encouraging all of us to increase our expectations and work to ensure that all children have what we want for our own children.

CFCC would like to thank all who participated – both as speakers and as audience members, and we encourage everyone interested to keep this lively and important discussion going-- on this blog and in your communities.

One of our conference panelists, Dr. Alan Lyles, will take the lead on continuing the discussion by writing his own blog post about childhood obesity, a topic that he also discussed at the symposium.  Be on the lookout for his guest post!
Also, be sure to check out the discussion on our post about the Health Care Reform Legislation, which includes a comment from another of our conference panelists, Janice Cooper.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Health Care Reform Legislation: What Does it Mean for Children and Families?

The new health care reform legislation, signed into law by President Obama yesterday, is sure to be discussed at next Thursday’s Urban Child Symposium; in the meantime, here’s a short overview of the law’s major effects on children and families:

*Insurance companies will be prohibited from denying health coverage to children with pre-existing conditions. For example, children suffering from asthma who don’t have insurance coverage will now be able to get coverage.
*CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program), which provides public health care to lower-income children, will be expanded to reach more families (up to 133% of the federal poverty line) and protections will be in place to prevent CHIP reductions in the near future.
*Beginning in 2014, people who make up to 400% of the federal poverty line will be eligible for government subsidies for health care they purchase, with the amount based on their income.
*The law authorizes new programs for preventive health, including School-Based Health Clinics, oral health education, and substance use disorder and mental health problem prevention.
*Co-pays for many preventive services, like immunizations, will be eliminated from most health plans.
*Medicaid will cover an annual well-visit, assistance for pregnant women to quit smoking, and other preventive services.
*Young adult dependents will be eligible for coverage on their parents’ plan through age 26.
*Beginning in 2014, families who currently do not get employer-provided health care coverage will be able to purchase health care at a reasonable price from state-run “exchanges” (insurance marketplaces with built-in consumer protections designed to pool risk and provide affordable individual or small group policies).
*Individual, small group, and new Medicaid health plans will be required to include substance use disorder and mental health services in their basic packages and to treat these benefits the same as all others.

We’d like to hear from you--on this blog and at next week’s conference. Does the law do enough? Does it do too much? Which health problems will the new law address and which are not addressed? What role will the law play in the day-to-day health issues of urban children? How can new funding best be used to tackle the most pressing problems? How should legislators prioritize the different health challenges that exist in urban environments? How can advocates and citizens ensure that legislators prioritize correctly? What else can be done to address urban child health issues?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

My Views on Anti-Gang Legislation and Information-Sharing Between Court and Schools

House Speaker Michael Busch recently has proposed legislation to combat gang presence in Maryland schools. The bill intends to use federal funds to provide schools in all Maryland counties with gang prevention programs and to increase information-sharing between the courts and schools, allowing schools to identify better youth at risk of recruitment or involvement with gangs. Under the bill, courts are required to inform schools anytime a child is removed from the home under a Child in Need of Assistance (child abuse or neglect) proceeding or is convicted of any juvenile offense.

I recently appeared on WYPR’s Maryland Morning with Sheilah Kast in support of the information-sharing, and here is why: from my experience directing the University of Baltimore School of Law Center for Families, Children and the Courts' Truancy Court Program, I have learned time and time again how a lack of information about the child’s living situation and how the child spends out-of-school time can prevent schools from adequately serving the student. Everyone loses. I believe that schools need this kind of information in order to keep children safe and to make sure that schools are solving problems for children instead of augmenting them.

For those who have experience working with or studying youth or schools (and we have all been students at school), do you think the sharing of information is beneficial, or do the risks of stigmatization outweigh the benefits? What protections, if any, must be in place to ensure that this bill has a positive effect on the lives of children?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

CFCC to Testify on Compulsory Attendance and Corporal Punishment Bills

The legislative session is in full swing, and the CFCC is weighing in on two bills.

SB239/HB723 would raise the age of compulsory attendance in Maryland schools from 16 to 18. In an era when education is increasingly important to prepare children for their futures, this measure sends the right message, and is the right complement to our anti-truancy efforts.

CFCC also has submitted testimony on SB689, a bill that extends prohibitions on corporal punishment. We stand with an array of other groups committed to preventing violence against children.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

UB's Symposium on the Health of the Urban Child: Diagnosing Problems and Prescribing Solutions

With child health issues in the news so much lately, we thought we'd use our first substantive post to discuss CFCC’s work with urban child health. CFCC’s annual Urban Child Symposium this year is entitled  Health and the Urban Child: Diagnosing Problems and Prescribing Solutions. It takes place at the University of Baltimore School of Law on April 1st. We have an impressive roster of experts, practitioners, and policymakers who plan to discuss the unique, acute health challenges faced by urban children and to brainstorm potential solutions.

Two matters important to urban child health have made headlines in Maryland recently - disparities between suburban and urban health and the growing obesity problem. Both of these issues are on the agenda for this year’s symposium.

Disparities Between Suburban and Urban Child Health

The inspiration for making urban child health the focus of the symposium is an understanding of the exceptional health challenges that urban children face as a direct result of living in urban environments. For example, many urban children lack the basic resources necessary to stay healthy, including affordable and nutritious food, safe areas where they can exercise, and high quality medical care. At the same time, they confront problems such as poverty, lead paint poisoning, pollution, substance abuse, and violence.

Our three panels of doctors, professors, advocates, and policymakers are slated to lead discussion on how these unique features of the urban child’s environment can cause large health disparities between urban and suburban children and what we can do to help.

Obesity and Nutrition-Related Conditions

Obesity is an increasingly serious health problem for urban children, partially as a result of a lack of access to nutritious food and a lack of safe areas where children can exercise. Two speakers on our “Nutrition and Environmental Conditions” panel are going to address exactly these issues, one of whom is quoted in the nutritious food article.  Click on the links above to read recent articles from the Baltimore Sun about these issues.

CFCC would like to invite and encourage you to join the conversation to address and propose remedies for some of these daunting issues, either by registering for the symposium or commenting on this and any future posts.

Friday, February 5, 2010


Welcome to the University of Baltimore Center for Families, Children and the Courts blog! We are excited to introduce this forum for the exchange of ideas, discussion, and news about CFCC.

Check back often for up-to-date information regarding CFCC’s activities, including Unified Family Courts (UFCs), the Truancy Court Program , the Urban Child Symposium and other conferences and symposia.

We also plan to use this blog to foster discussion related to CFCC’s mission and projects, including the application of therapeutic jurisprudence and the the ecology of human development to improve outcomes for families and children in court.  We hope to engage and interact with our readers.  Together, we can create a deeper understanding of systemic influences on the lives of families and children and can bring about meaningful change in communities, families, and the family justice system.