Friday, December 14, 2012

Reflecting on the CFCC Student Fellows Program

2012-2013 CFCC Student Fellows pose for a picture
after their final class.
With the end of the Fall semester at the University of Baltimore School of Law, we at CFCC would like to thank the CFCC Student Fellows for their superb contributions to class discussions, CFCC projects, and the CFCC blog.  Their blog posts on issues such as bullying, homelessness, mental health courts, and truancy asked important questions and highlighted areas where reform efforts are still very much needed.   The CFCC Student Fellows also served as important contributors to CFCC's Truancy Court Program (TCP), the experiential component of the Student Fellows Program.  Many participated as TCP team members, while others developed a curriculum for a school faculty presentation on attendance issues in the Baltimore City Public Schools.  Throughout the semester, all Student Fellows consistently demonstrated a clear understanding of how to apply and implement therapeutic jurisprudence, the ecology of human development, and a problem-solving approach to the practice of law.

One of the most rewarding aspects of teaching at an urban university with the history and quality of the University of Baltimore is the diverse backgrounds of our students. We have benefited from the insights of former teachers, a legislative auditor, an Air Force Officer, and more. You can review brief biographies of our Student Fellows here.   The Student Fellows also have proved repeatedly how deeply committed they are to CFCC’s mission to help families and children in the justice system.  We look forward to continuing to work with the eight Student Fellows who are returning next semester to participate in the CFCC Student Fellows Program II.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Addressing Truancy in High Schools: Modifying Early Intervention Models

The Center for Children, Families, and the Courts (CFCC) Truancy Court Program  (TCP) uses early intervention to address the problems that underlie truancy. Each week, TCP staff meet with students who are “soft” truants, having between five to twenty unexcused absences in a semester. The goal of the program is to prevent truancy and promote values, such as education, discipline and respect. By instilling these values, TCP staff hope to prevent students from leading a life of delinquency, crime, and violence. Thus far, the TCP has been successful as an early intervention program, particularly in elementary and middle schools. In the Fall 2011 session, the TCP saw an average reduction in unexcused absences of 71%.  The question remains, however, whether an early intervention model, such as the TCP, can achieve similar success in high schools.

This year, the TCP participates in three high schools.  One of these high schools is Patterson High School.  Patterson and TCP staff face a number of challenges as they seek to prevent truancy.  These challenges are not unique to Patterson but occur in countless Baltimore City public high schools.  Of those Patterson students participating in the TCP, many are ninth grade repeaters, who struggle with paying attention in the classroom, and who have more than twenty absences in a semester.  Like many Baltimore City students, they also cope with issues of violence, drugs, and poverty on a daily basis. It is undeniable that some intervention is needed to assist these students.  The disputed issue is exactly what kind. 

Many argue that high school students no longer benefit from the skills and techniques used in early invention programs. Some techniques used by the TCP include: providing students with resources, such as alarm clocks, organizers, or bus passes; completing character building exercises where students are encouraged to have a positive attitude; and engaging in discussions on basic life skills, such as organization and time management.  By high school, however, students often develop a serious history and pattern of truancy.  In addition, many suffer from behavior problems and lack respect for authority figures.   These are problems that go beyond what can be addressed in weekly TCP meetings.    

Early invention models may not be the answer to preventing truant behavior in high school students.  That said, the TCP is the only program of its kind in the Baltimore City Public Schools. As the TCP already has a long-standing history of preventing truancy and because TCP staff continuously study this issue, the best solution may be to modify the program to meet the needs of high school students.

One way to modify the program is to decrease the number of program participants in a given high school.  Often ten students from a school are selected to participate in the TCP.  By offering the program to fewer students, TCP staff can devote more time and attention to students’ needs.  Although the TCP may not impact as many students, it may influence those students with greater issues and those more likely to engage in delinquency, violence, or criminal behavior in the future.  Another option is to provide students with rigorous mentorship opportunities, where mentors take the time to speak with students regarding their academics, friends, home life, and problems.  The TCP meets weekly with ten students for one hour.  Thus, students are not given a great deal of one-on-one attention.  Mentors can visit students in school, commit to monthly outings, and communicate with students by phone on a weekly basis.  The TCP also must develop a plan of action to address substance abuse issues.  A majority of high school students are  substance abusers.  Bringing in substance abuse counselors, or perhaps former drug dealers or users, during TCP sessions may benefit students greatly.  Finally, active parent involvement should be required for high school students to participate in the TCP.  Although parents are required to sign a permission slip and consent to their child’s participation, it is equally important that parents attend at least one TCP session.  It is important that parents reinforce the values and skills taught during the program.  Without parental involvement, students could easily attend the TCP with little to no improvement.  Students must know their parents are also committed to their academic success. 

Baltimore City Public Schools face an up-hill battle in the challenge to educate high school students.   Many high school students have developed negative behaviors that are very difficult to break.  Currently, Baltimore City Public Schools are not equipped to deal with some of the profound and complex issues students face.  It would be a disservice to our children, however, not to at least try. Communities, parents, grandparents, churches, and other organizations must work together to combat this challenge.  Moreover, early invention programs, such as the TCP, must use their knowledge about truancy and the behaviors that underlie it to help save our youth. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Therapeutic Jurisprudence and Problem-Solving Courts: From a Maryland Perspective

Through the CFCC Student Fellows Program, I was afforded the opportunity to learn how the integration of therapeutic jurisprudence, the ecology of human development, and problem-solving courts work together to impact children and their families. Problem-solving courts attempt to address the underlying problem that is responsible for the immediate dispute and to help the individuals before the court to effectively deal with the dispute in ways that will prevent reoccurrence with court involvement. Problem-solving courts use principles of therapeutic jurisprudence to enhance their functioning, which translates to rehabilitating the offender and the transformational use of the legal process (role of judge, multidisciplinary involvement, close monitoring of the offender). These problem-solving courts typically deal with individuals who need social, mental health, or substance abuse services. By utilizing the therapeutic jurisprudence approach in problem-solving courts, an offender’s likelihood of recidivating significantly declines due to the court system’s approach of interacting with the offender in a non-punitive manner.

There are various types of problem-solving courts that have been implemented in the United States. In Maryland, we have several types of these courts, including: drug courts (adult, juvenile, and family), mental health courts, and truancy reduction courts. 1 The drug courts in Maryland typically entail a court team working together in a non-adversarial setting with a goal of restoring the defendant as a productive member of society. 2 According to the National Drug Court Resource Center, the average graduation rate for the programs is 53%. 3 In addition, those who participated in the juvenile drug treatment court programs had lower recidivism rates (53%) and lower numbers of new arrests 18 months (70%) after completion of the program compared to those who did not participate in the program. 4 In Maryland’s mental health courts, participants are identified through mental health screening and mental health assessments, and they voluntarily participate in a treatment plan developed by a team comprised of court staff and mental health professionals. According to data collected by The Institute for Governmental Service and Research (IGSR), University of Maryland-College Park, for the Baltimore City mental health court participants, the most severe arrest charge is assault (32%), with drug related charges (19%) following right behind. 5

Lastly, the truancy reduction courts in Maryland were created to improve school attendance and the offenders’ views of education by establishing a bond among the family, school, and juvenile master or judge. According to a national May 2012 report, "The Importance of Being in School: A Report on Absenteeism in the Nation's Public Schools,” 10% to15% of students in the United States are chronically absent from school. This translates to least 5 to 7.5 million students missing at least 10% of the school year.6Such startling statistics are the reason why the Maryland judiciary has implemented several truancy reduction courts. Apart from the Maryland judiciary, other truancy court programs, such as the Center for Children, Families, and the Courts school-based Truancy Court Program (TCP), have been implemented in order to attack this problem. During the 2011- 2012 school year, there was a 71% average reduction in unexecused absences for Baltimore City TCP participants in Fall 2011.

I hope the Maryland judiciary continues the trend to utilize problem-solving courts, as these courts are effective at resolving underlying issues to prevent offenders from recidivating.

1 Maryland Judiciary Office of Problem Solving Courts,
2 Office of Problem Solving Courts Drug Treatment Courts,
3 Maryland Problem-Solving Courts Evaluation, Phase III Integration of Results from Process, Outcome, and Cost Studies Conducted 2007-2009,
4 Id.
5 Process Evaluation of Baltimore Coty Mental Health Court,
6 New Report on Absenteeism: Millions of Students Are Missing At Least 10% of School Year,

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Volunteering with the Truancy Court Program

Last year, I volunteered as a tutor with CFCC’s Truancy Court Program (TCP) and it was a wonderful experience.  I believe this is a great opportunity for all law students.  Many of us come to law school with some vision to serve the public interest.  Because law students are limited in their amount of free time, the one-hour weekly time commitment with TCP is manageable and worthwhile.  In addition to tutoring students, law students can interact with school administrators, staff members from the Center of Families, Children, and the Courts (CFCC), and local judges and attorneys, who are all involved in the TCP with the goal to improve students' attendance and behavior.

During my first month of law school, I received an e-mail from CFCC, which was looking for volunteers to assist with the Truancy Court Program.  I attended a one-hour training at the Family Justice Building, a few blocks away from the University of Baltimore School of Law’s main building.  A few weeks later, I began attending the weekly morning sessions at New Era Academy in Baltimore.  I chose New Era because I did not have classes on Tuesday mornings, but I knew there was flexibility because other programs met on other days of the week.  The weekly sessions took place in the school cafeteria and on some occasions, I sat with the judge when he met with individual students.  It was interesting to learn the underlying reasons why students were absent from their classes.  There were several reasons, including not being able to wake up because the student didn't own a clock, not having the proper uniform, and simply not wanting to attend school.  Regardless of the reasons, however, everyone around the table provided assistance and incentives to the students so they could improve their attendance and classroom behavior.  There was always something positive that the judge would recognize for each student, and it was clearly important for the student to understand that.  This shouldn't be a surprise, but by the end of 10-week program, many of the students graduated from TCP.  I think an important part of the success of the Truancy Court Program is the individualized attention given to each student, providing them with direction during the course of the program.  Law students can help in this process by volunteering to tutor these students.

 There are also other ways for law students to be involved with the Truancy Court Program.  A UB law student can enroll in an experiential learning course called the CFCC Student Fellows Program and can participate as a law clerk in the Truancy Court Program at various local schools to assist the TCP  judge in the weekly sessions.  Student Fellows learn the concepts of therapeutic jurisprudence and preventive law and how they are incorporated into the Truancy Court Program. The 3-credit course is offered in the fall semester and offers opportunities to visit various courts, such as the Family Division of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, drug treatment court, and the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center.

I encourage all law students to take a look into volunteering with the Truancy Court Program and/or enrolling in the CFCC Student Fellows Program because the students and families in the community need our help.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Investing in Children’s Mental Health As a Preventive Law Approach to Juvenile Delinquency

Courts struggle with effective ways to deal with individuals whose mental health issues lead to criminal behavior. This is especially true for courts responsible for adjudicating juvenile delinquency. Childhood exposure to violence can impact children’s social and emotional development. It has been linked to poor social functioning and mental health issues, including depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. Some children repeatedly exposed to violence, particularly violence in the home, develop PTSD with symptoms such as re-experiencing, avoidance, numbing, attachment issues, and impulsivity and inattentiveness that mimic the symptoms of AD/HD1. Children involved in the court system, both the delinquency and abuse and neglect systems, have higher trauma exposure rates than other children. They need access to mental health services and treatment programs that can provide appropriate intervention, and they need a trauma-informed court system that can work in tandem with these providers.

Yet as a CFCC Student Fellow examining Maryland’s delinquency system, I find myself wondering how effective our system is at meeting the needs of these children. The Maryland Department of Juvenile Services is charged with providing “individualized care and treatment to youth who have violated the law or who are a danger to themselves or others2.” DJS treatment programs include Functional Family Therapy and Multi-systemic Therapy that provide services in both clinical settings and in the home. These interventions have the potential to help to positively impact children and their family unit as they address some of the underlying issues, including trauma, that lead to the child’s delinquency.

The problem with this model, however, is that children have to be adjudicated as delinquent before they have access to these services. This is especially problematic for poor families who cannot afford to pay for services on their own. Where middle and upper income families can afford to pay for private therapy programs to help their children who are acting out, families without these means must wait for the behaviors to worsen and the consequences to become more severe before intervention is available. By then, the intervention may be too little too late.

Perhaps it is not DJS’s role to provide access to mental health and family therapy services before youth are adjudicated as delinquent. The agency is after all charged with the care and rehabilitation of juvenile offenders. If DJS cannot provide these services, I think the state should provide access through another agency. While it is true that in the current economic climate funding for such programs is scarce, the state ends up paying the price down the road in the form of juvenile detention. Maryland spends $22.6 million each year to detain youth.3 According to one study, 2/3 of young people in juvenile detention would meet the requirements to be diagnosed with a mental disorder.4 Furthermore, Maryland continues to move forward with plans to spend $70 million building a 120-bed jail to house youth who have been charged as adults. Juvenile detention is expensive and arguably ineffective. Looking at these statistics, I believe that more investment at the front end to provide children and families with better access to mental health services could lead to lower rates of offenses. Our current system is reactionary. A proactive preventive approach would likely be a better use of the state’s limited resources.

1 Lisa Pilinik & Jessica R. Kendall, The Safe Start Center Series on Children Exposed to Violence Issue Brief #7: Victimization and Trauma Experience by Children and Youth: Implications for Advocates (2012) available at
2 Maryland Department of Juvenile Services, DATA RESOURCE GUIDE FISCAL YEAR 2011 (2012)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Who Should Be Held Responsible?

Every Wednesday afternoon, mentors, professors, and Student Fellows from the Center for Families, Children, and the Courts at the University of Baltimore School of Law meet to speak about our weekly Truancy Court Program (TCP) sessions. We discuss ways in which we can prevent truancy. Over the past few weeks, a question has been raised as to who is responsible for the students' truant behavior. Should parents or teachers be held responsible for their students’ absenteeism and academic performance? Parents are the ones caring for the children at home and making sure they attend school each morning, while teachers ensure that students learn at the appropriate grade level and are in class each day. If a teacher realizes that a student has been absent excessively, perhaps they should report that to a higher authority who could contact the student's guardian. In our weekly meetings, some have argued that teachers should not be held responsible. Teachers should be concerned only with teaching the students who are present that day. I believe, however, that if parents do not encourage their children to attend school, the teacher is the next best person to look out for a student's education and future.

In the New York Times article "Whose Failing Grade Is It?," Lisa Belkin explains how several bills have been proposed in Florida that would punish parents when their children had excessive absences. Belkin believes that parents should be targeted for their child's absences. By looking at schools that have success rates for students in both attendance and graduation, it is clear that parents are a contributing factor. Belkin suggests that schools with low success rates should focus on gaining parent involvement. One bill proposed in Florida requires parents to spend three hours volunteering throughout a semester at a school-related function. Based on my experience with the TCP, I do not believe parents would be willing to take three hours a semester to devote to their child's school. We encourage parents to attend our ten minute session once a week to discuss their child's truant behavior, and I have yet to have one parent attend one of my sessions. Another bill introduced in Florida has parents receiving a letter grade depicting the parent's involvement that semester on their child's report card. If parents are not interested from the start, I do not believe placing a grade on their child's report card will change their mentality.

Parents are the best role models for students. Rather than punish parents, we need to find ways to instill in parents an interest in their child's education. I do not believe we should have to force parents to play a role in their child's education, but it should be something they choose to do. The TCP provides parents with that exact opportunity--the chance to meet with judges, mentors, school personnel, a social worker, and Student Fellows to provide the family with appropriate resources to ensure their child receives a proper education and has the opportunity to succeed in the future.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

October is Bullying Prevention Awareness Month

Last week during my Truancy Court Program (TCP) session at Walter P. Carter Elementary/Middle School I met a third grader who had recently been bullied.  She said that a boy in her class had been teasing her lately and had even spit on her.  She said that she told her teachers but that one of them did nothing.  This immediately sparked anger inside of me.  I thought back to the previous week when I had first met this elementary school student and remembered that she had been smiling and telling stories.  Just one week later she was depressed and quiet.

Right after my TCP session I read the news about 15-year-old Amanda Todd, another teen who took her life after being bullied. The teen posted a YouTube video, "My story: Struggling, bullying, suicide, self harm," on September 7 and was found dead in her home town of Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, just over a month later.  Bullying also made headlines in Maryland this week when a 15-year-old in Frederick County was charged with assault after his act of bullying was caught on camera. 

It is fitting that October, 2012, is Bullying Prevention Awareness Month.  It should be brought to everyone’s attention that studies have shown that children who have been identified as a bully by age eight are six times more likely to have a criminal conviction by age 24. Children who are bullies may continue to be bullies as adults, and are more prone to becoming child and spouse abusers.  Thus, it becomes even more apparent that bullying needs to be stopped so that cycles like these can be stopped.
I hope by the time I see my third grader from TCP next week that her situation has been addressed and that the bullying has been stopped.  Baltimore City schools do have a system in place for bullying; that is, the parent can first call and report it to the school verbally, followed by filing a Bullying & Harassment Form.  If the parent is still unsatisfied, they can then contact the Office of Student Support through the Safety Hotline at 410-396-SAFE, which ensures that the incident is investigated within 2 school days.

Last week Baltimore held the Third Annual Bullying Prevention Conference where participants discussed the latest research and worked to develop solutions to tackle bullying in local schools.  I hope that throughout this month communities all over the country meet to discuss how they can best address the issues that bullying presents.  It may be helpful to look at the bullying situation through a therapeutic jurisprudence lens.  TJ looks at the law itself as a social force that can produce therapeutic or anti-therapeutic consequences.  By looking at bullying with a therapeutic jurisprudence perspective, insight might be shed on how to best implement anti-bullying tactics.  That is, it may be helpful to look at the bullying policies and rules in different schools and see how each one affects the students and the rates of bullying.  Through Therapeutic Jurisprudence it would be possible to analyze the different bullying laws utilized by each school and see how they may be affecting the children’s psyche in a negative or positive way, and how each rule effectively works to prevent bullying.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Different Approach to Addressing Truancy

The Truancy Court Program run by the Center for Families, Children, and the Courts uses therapeutic jurisprudence and preventive law to address the issue of truancy. Through this approach, teachers (and/or other school officials), judges, volunteers, mentors, and parents work together to help students overcome obstacles that lead to excessive absences.  When we punish students, we don’t eradicate the reason behind their truancy, thus setting them up for an endless cycle of absences and punishments.
            Truancy programs are in effect in other states. However, the programs are run differently within each state to address the underlying problems that are unique to every school, district, or county. For example, Kanawha County, West Virginia has taken a very different approach, where a student who refuses to attend school can be removed from his or her home and put in a shelter. Placement in a shelter is a last resort, only used when a student refuses to attend school. Prior to that step, the circuit court system, school officials, social agencies, and parents work together to help students overcome attendance issues. In Kanawha County, after a student has had five unexcused absences, parents receive a legal notice from the school system, and a meeting is scheduled with the student, parents, and the County Magistrate. Then, the student has a court hearing and is put on probation. The student is only put in a shelter after all these steps are taken and the student has still refused to attend school.
            Not all students will benefit from the Truancy Court Program. Many might disregard the effort that others, such as parents, teachers, judges, etc., are putting in for them. Kanawha County’s answer to these students is taking them from their homes and putting them wherever space is available. Many problems can arise out of this situation: children who are in more need of shelters can be left out because truants are taking over the shelters’ resources, which is an issue within itself. Other problems occur when the truants are taken away from their families, communities, and schools and put in an unfamiliar environment. They may also fall behind in schools because of different curriculums – which may lead to more absences, placing the student in a never-ending cycle of truancy.
            Students who have excessive absences may fall behind in school or drop out altogether. Those who drop out of school can end up becoming involved in illegal activities or in jail.  Therefore, truancy programs are important and helpful to students in most situations. Unfortunately, there are students, such as the ones being addressed in Kanawha County, West Virginia, who will not want to or be able to benefit from truancy programs. Placing them in shelters may scare them into changing their habits, but doing so may also harm other children (who are in need of shelter services), as well as put more obstacles in the truants’ paths, preventing them from attending classes and undermining the objectives of the truancy program.

West Virginia has implemented a statewide effort to battle truancy. A 2012 survey report from the state (link below) shows that the truancy initiatives have resulted in a reduction in the number of absences from school and an improvement in school achievements, among other successes.

Read about West Virginia’s Truancy Program & the survey report:
Read about Kanawha County’s truancy initiative:

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Using Therapeutic Jurisprudence to Protect the Rights of Homeless Children and Their Families

A few days ago NPR profiled a young woman named Tierra Jackson, now a junior in college, who had struggled in high school as her family experienced homelessness. She recalled being frequently punished by school administrators for her tardiness, but being too embarrassed to tell them that her lateness was caused by a long bus ride from a homeless shelter across town.  Ms. Jackson's story is a prime example of how therapeutic jurisprudence and the Truancy Court Program can help homeless children.

The U.S. Department of Education estimates that there are nearly 1 million school-aged children in this country who are homeless, and the National Center on Family Homelessness believes even that estimate is low. The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987 provides special protections for these children, with the goal of ensuring minimal disruption to a child’s education during a time of family crisis.  For example, if a child’s family loses their housing mid-year and moves into a shelter across town, the parents have the right to enroll the child in a local school or keep the child enrolled in the school of origin. If the family feels it’s in the child’s best interest to stay in the original school, the school system is required to arrange and pay for transportation to and from school.

But how do we identify homeless children to ensure that their rights are protected and that their needs are being met?

As the case of Ms. Jackson shows, the stigma and embarrassment of being homeless can be a significant barrier to school attendance for children and teens. Therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ), combined with a holistic approach to problem solving and emphasis on empowering individuals, may be the best way to break down these barriers. A TJ mindset calls on lawyers and other actors in the legal system to look at the big picture.  For homeless children who fail to attend school, we have to look at both the psychological effects on the child and a host of other reasons why a homeless or unstably-housed child misses school. It could be due to a lack of clean clothes, inadequate transportation, or staying home to take care of younger siblings. Homeless children who do attend school may be frequently late or have trouble concentrating because they didn’t have breakfast. These issues can affect any school-aged child, but they impact homeless children the most.

CFCC’s Truancy Court Program (TCP) is proof that this approach can yield results in identifying the root causes of truancy (and homelessness is just one of the many). By providing an opportunity for an entire team of caring adults - a judge, a TCP coordinator, a CFCC Student Fellow, a TCP mentor, and school representatives – and giving the student the personalized attention he or she needs, we can create a safe, non-judgmental  environment where students can talk more freely about their problems than they otherwise might with their teachers or peers. Once we understand the full spectrum of a child’s barriers, we then can take the necessary steps to help that child succeed.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Law in a Vacuum: How Exposing Students to the Theory Behind CFCC’s Mission Might Be the First Step Toward Reform

The Center for Families, Children and the Courts’ focus on promoting court reform is based on the belief that families would benefit most from a legal system which addresses underlying issues (such as substance abuse, domestic violence, mental illness etc.) as part of an effective and therapeutic judicial process1 In a state where half of court filings involve family law cases, the notion of a “user-friendly” court shouldn’t seem so far-fetched, since research has shown that “the very processes of the family and juvenile justice systems inadvertently create and inflame problems for adults and children alike.”2 Treating complex family problems like a string of separate incidents litigated in different venues causes unnecessary delay and cost, duplication of effort, and often results in conflicting orders from judges.3 Many of these decisions are made with little regard for their therapeutic outcome on participants or their impact on other pending cases or hearings; perhaps just as importantly, these experiences negatively impact participants’ view of the legal system.4

CFCC’s Student Fellows Program offers UB law students an opportunity to work on projects addressing court reform and truancy issues in Maryland.  Studying therapeutic jurisprudence5 and preventive law6 lets students view the law as a peacemaker, a significant departure from the adversarial model we are constantly reminded of. It puts the law in a broader context by showing how it can be combined with insight from other disciplines (like psychology and sociology) to produce more effective outcomes while staying true to principles of justice and other constitutional values. It also teaches us that the legal system will inevitably have a lasting effect on the people who walk through its doors, thereby increasing the importance of considering how effectively our current processes address not only the matter that brought the family to court but also any underlying non-legal issues as well as access to services and alternative dispute resolution.7

But what is also magnified by the study of the scholarship advocating family court reform is the lack of exposure of law students to these realities of the profession. A curriculum which focuses almost entirely on providing the “correct” answer to theoretical disputes or debating the virtues of controversies long-since settled provides law students with little practical training in problem-solving or unearthing our clients’ underlying problems. It does not teach us how to tailor solutions to a family’s legal and emotional issues, or how to ensure that issues relating to the well-being of children receive proper attention in our courts.  It doesn’t prepare us for the lack of interest some colleagues or judges may have in family law, the lack of attention to the needs of poor and unrepresented litigants, or how to explain the time-consuming, expensive, cumbersome, and duplicative court process to our clients. And yet as a third year student, I can honestly say that the classes with the most impact are the few that put the law in a greater context because they speak to the profession’s more noble values while also acknowledging its limitations. This, in turn, requires us to either take part in a system we know is flawed, or to play a role, no matter how small, in reforming it. While certainly not every student who is exposed to some of the flaws of our legal system will turn into a zealous advocate for change, it is nearly impossible to imagine these changes occurring without some prodding from the profession’s rank and file.

1.What is the Center for Families, Children and the Courts?
The University of Baltimore School of Law, index.cfm (last visited September 18, 2012).

2. Catherine J. Ross, The Failure of Fragmentation: The Promise of A System of Unified Family Courts, 33 Rev. Jur. U.I.P.R. 311, 314 (1999) (quoting Barbara A. Babb, An Interdisciplinary Approach to Family Law Jurisprudence: Application of an Ecological and Therapeutic Perspective, 72 IND. L.J. 775, 798 (1997)).

3. Id. Ms. Ross argues that these delays are compounded by the fact that legal proceedings which drag on a year or more represent a significant part of a young child’s life, resulting in a “multiplier effect” when measuring the impact on a toddler. Id. at 315.

4. Id. at 314-16.

5. “Therapeutic jurisprudence is the study of the role of law as a therapeutic agent. It is an interdisciplinary enterprise designed to produce scholarship that is particularly useful for law reform. It proposes the exploration of ways in which, consistent with principles of justice and other constitutional values, the knowledge, theories, and insights of the mental health and related disciplines can help shape development of the law.” See Dennis P. Stolle et. al., Integrating Preventive Law and Therapeutic Jurisprudence: A Law and Psychology Based Approach to Lawyering, 34 Cal. W. L. Rev. 15, 17 (1997).

 6. “Preventive law provides a framework in which the practicing lawyer may conduct professional activities in a manner that both minimizes his or her clients' potential legal liability and enhances their legal opportunities. In essence, preventive law is a proactive approach to lawyering.”  Id. at 15.

7. Ross, supra note 2, at 314-18.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Center for Families, Children and the Courts Student Fellows Program: A Unique Experience to Develop Lawyers as Problem Solvers

The Center for Families, Children and the Courts Student Fellows Program I (SFP) is now underway.  The course provides students with a unique perspective on the law, instructing them on policies and theories that underlie family justice system reform.  The SFP includes classroom discussion, lectures, and guest speakers about cutting edge issues in family law, including unified family courts, therapeutic jurisprudence, and the ecology of human development. 

Student Fellows have the opportunity to see firsthand how theory informs practice during visits to the Family Division of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, a drug court, a teen court, and the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center.  They also are actively involved in CFCC’s projects, including its Truancy Court Program (TCP).   For example, as part of their TCP involvement, Student Fellows serve as law clerks to the TCP judges, collaborate with public school faculty and administrators, work with service providers, and develop workshops for teachers, parents, and students on issues relating to school attendance.   Interested Student Fellows can continue their involvement for a second semester in the Student Fellows Program II, which has no seminar component but includes a weekly team meeting.

Throughout the semester, the CFCC Student Fellows will be posting blogs about their experiences with some aspect of the SFP.  Click here to view and engage with past and current blogs by Student Fellows and to learn more about the Student Fellows Program. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Stepping Back from Solitary Confinement

One recurring theme during the CFCC’s fourth annual Urban Child Symposium was that youth in the juvenile justice system are best served by community- and family-based treatment options, not incarceration. My colleague, Dana Shoenberg, helped explain why in her presentation on the needs of youth who get in trouble with the law. Incarceration is not only expensive, it’s actually associated with higher recidivism rates than other cheaper, more effective approaches to holding youth accountable for their behavior. When youth are locked up, they’re also exposed to a range of possible negative outcomes, including disengagement from school, severed connections with family members, deteriorating mental health conditions, and physical and sexual victimization by youth and staff.

Many jurisdictions are moving away from their reliance on incarceration for these very reasons. Yet we’re a long away from a world without secure facilities. Until then, we must take steps to ensure the safety of youth in our nation’s juvenile detention facilities and juvenile prisons. That means working to end the dangerous practices that take place behind those walls.

                                   © Richard Ross
Congress recently raised public awareness of one such practice: the excessive and inappropriate use of isolation. On June 19th, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights convened the first ever congressional hearing on solitary confinement. Although the hearing focused primarily on solitary confinement in adult prisons and jails, many youth advocates attended and submitted pages of written testimony that outlined the particular dangers of isolating children in juvenile and adult facilities.  

One needs to look no further than the Special Litigation Section of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division to find numerous examples of the inappropriate and excessive use of solitary confinement in juvenile facilities. For example, at the Oakley and Columbia Training Schools in Mississippi, staff punished girls for acting out or being suicidal by stripping them naked and placing them in a cell called the “dark room,” a locked, windowless isolation cell cleared of everything but a drain in the floor that served as a toilet. Other Justice Department investigations have documented the routine use of solitary confinement on mentally ill children and children with disabilities.

Professor Richard Ross of the University of California has spent the past few years photographing the inside of juvenile facilities around the country, taking pictures of cells used for solitary confinement of children along the way. The images are striking, conveying the sense of hopelessness and isolation that youth experience when placed in these settings. It’s no surprise that a recent study of suicides in juvenile facilities found a “strong relationship” between suicide and isolation, with approximately half of the study’s victims being in solitary confinement at the time of their death.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Celebrating Success with the Truancy Court Program

Proud TCP Graduate Aaliyah Grimes poses with
Mrs. O'Malley (Photo by Tom Nappi). To view
more photos from the event, click here or here

"This has always been my dream," remarked Aaliyah Grimes, a third grade student at Margaret Brent Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore City. Aaliyah, a 2012 graduate of the Center for Families, Children and the Courts (CFCC) Truancy Court Program (TCP), was referring to the annual First Lady of Maryland’s reception for all the TCP graduates and their families.

 Maryland's First Lady, the Honorable Catherine Curran O'Malley, has served as a volunteer TCP judge since the program's inception seven years ago and has hosted the reception for the past six years. Two hundred TCP graduates, parents, school principals, staff, and teachers – the greatest number since the receptions began– participated in the festivities at the Governor’s Mansion and attended the graduation ceremony at the Senate Office Building.

The TCP has enjoyed unprecedented success this year. Over 75% of the program participants graduated, based on a minimum two-thirds decrease in unexcused absences and tardies and improved classroom behavior and academic performance. Participants overall averaged a 64% decrease in unexcused absences and an additional 43% decrease in tardies during the program. The data also indicate a 54% reduction in absences by participants in the ten weeks after the program concluded, as compared to the ten weeks prior to their participation in the TCP.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Juvenile Justice Reform: CFCC’s Urban Child Symposium, The Beginning or the End? The Urban Child’s Experience in the Juvenile Justice System

Professor Bernardine Dohrn opened CFCC’s fourth annual Urban Child Symposium with a powerful presentation on the Supreme Court’s recent consideration of juvenile justice cases.    Over 200 people attended “The Beginning or the End? The Urban Child's Experience in the Juvenile Justice System,” which included interdisciplinary panel discussions of issues such as the psychological, social, and emotional characteristics of juveniles; whether juveniles can and/or should be tried as adults; racial disparities/disproportionate minority representation; and the school-to-prison pipeline, among others.

You can view the agenda here and listen to some of the panelists discuss juvenile justice issues on WYPR’s Midday with Dan Rodricks here.

Professor Dohrn spoke about positive changes in the juvenile justice field in the past decade. She discussed recent Supreme Court decisions that have banned capital punishment for juveniles and life-without-parole for non-homicide juvenile offenses.  She urged symposium participants to pay attention to the Supreme Court’s recognition that children experience the world differently and that there must be a more accurate understanding of children’s interactions with the law.

Several ideas emerged during the course of the symposium:

     Juveniles should be directed toward community and family-based treatment rather than incarceration. Speakers urged consideration of evidence-based, non-residential programs as the single most important alternative to sending juveniles to detention facilities, many of which are characterized by violence and poor conditions.  Speakers described a number of alternative and diversion programs that are proven to be more effective in addressing juvenile crime and recidivism.  The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Bart Lubow and other speakers discussed the massive financial burden of juvenile incarceration (including Maryland’s proposed $100 million juvenile prison facility), which could be used instead to support widespread diversionary prevention and treatment programs.

     Racial and ethnic disparities (“Disproportionate Minority Contact”) must be addressed on a system-wide basis and across all decision points in a juvenile case.  Special populations, like girls; trauma victims; children with special needs; and lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender youth must also be protected and considered.  Many presenters, including Professor Odeana Neal, attorney and reform advocate Dana Shoenberg, and Assistant State’s Attorney George Simms encouraged the expansion of best practices in this area to combat current differences in outcomes based on race, ethnicity, gender, and other characteristics.  

     Laws requiring or allowing juveniles to be tried as adults should be abandoned because they hurt children and endanger society.  Professor Dohrn and other presenters reported that juvenile involvement in the adult criminal justice and prison systems is counter-productive.  Juveniles are often victimized by adults in the prison system, and recidivism (re-offending) increases for juveniles who come out of adult prisons. 

     All stakeholders – including families, schools, prosecutors, departments of juvenile services, social workers, employers and more – should be involved in reform efforts.  Parent Advocate Kimberly Armstrong spoke poignantly about her experience as the parent of a child in the juvenile justice system.  Instead of finding support and collaboration in the juvenile justice system, she encountered multiple barriers when seeking help for her son and often felt alone in advocating on his behalf.  She now encourages all stakeholders in the juvenile justice system to enlist the support of parents and to treat them as valuable partners in addressing their children’s problems.

For more information, you can watch a podcast of the symposium proceedings and access many of the Powerpoint presentations here.  We hope that our presenters and participants will blog about the issues discussed during the event, and we welcome comments from our readers.