Judicial Leadership and Improving
Child Protection Outcomes


The National Impact on Outcomes Committee asks judicial leaders to take child protection improvement efforts to the next level by fostering outcome-driven courts.  This Framework is intended as a plan for change management; one that relies on critical reflection on data and current practices to achieve measureable improvements on child and family outcomes. 

Child Protection Outcomes image

Judicial leadership has contributed to a child protection environment where collaboration with social services, attorneys, service providers and others has resulted in better service to families and a safe reduction in the number of children and youth in care.  (See the Children's Bureau Child Welfare Outcomes Report Data.)

Yet any judge presiding over a child protection docket today can attest to pervasive challenges, such as limited child and family service dollars and resources and disparate outcomes.  Answers to these issues emerge by critical analysis of the performance and outcomes data. 

Seven Strategies for Creating an Outcome-Oriented Court

1.     See the big picture.  Establish a vision for improved outcomes that relies upon a holistic approach to improving the legal and social service delivery system.  For example, a number of states have established judicial commissions intended to create a new normal for child protection. (See also NCSC's listing of Judicial Commissions on Child Protection by state.)  

2.       Focus on the children and families coming before the courts.  Viewing improvement efforts through the eyes of a child or the family can refine the quality of existing processes and service delivery.  (See NCSC's Courts Fact Sheet: Child Welfare Title IV-E Waiver Demonstration Projects, 2012-2014.)

3.     Emphasize collegial discussion.  Working with tribes, child welfare agencies, attorneys and other partners, outcomes-driven courts seek common understanding of the data and shared solutions. (See OJJDP's Toolkit for Court Performance Measures in Child Abuse and Neglect Cases.) 

4.       Acknowledge judicial discretion.   Collaboration and even solidarity with the child welfare agency is conducive to improved outcomes.  However, the child welfare agency and the Judiciary have distinct roles, responsibilities and organizational cultures.  (See NCSC's Court Culture Resource Guide.)

5.        Own the data, own the outcomes.  Outcome–driven courts routinely review performance metrics. A number of courts such as Colorado, Illinois, Nevada, New Mexico, Minnesota, and New York lead jurisdiction-specific caseflow workshops for child welfare stakeholders to talk about child welfare cases from a data-driven perspective.  (See examples from six states.)

6.      Share results.  A number of courts have developed mechanisms for sharing data with partners as well as for engaging community support at the local, state, and national level.  (See the Child Welfare Dynamic Report System, a collaboration between the California Department of social Services and U. of Calif. at Berkeley.  
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania provides the demographics of the state’s abused and neglected children under court supervision on its Research & Statistics page.)

7.    Use the quality cycle. By using these tools, judicial leaders establish an environment of continuous quality improvement -- identifying, describing, and analyzing system strengths and problems and then testing, implementing, and revising solutions. (See a framework for implementing Continuous Quality Improvement
to Improve Child Welfare Practice