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Report: most states do not have judges or courts dedicated to juvenile cases

August 3, 2022

By Bill Raftery

Only a few states have any specific expertise or experience requirements for juvenile court judges, and judges can often take on delinquency cases without ever receiving any orientation or training on case law or best practices.

That is one of the key findings from a report issued in April 2022 by The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ). Their report, Courting Judicial Excellence in Juvenile Justice: A 50-State Study, examined the issue of how family and juvenile judges are selected and trained in the United States. Among their other findings:

  • Most states do not have dedicated family court judges, and only a handful of states have judges exclusively dedicated to delinquency cases outside of large metro areas.
  • In most states, judges who oversee delinquency cases are not required by law or court rules to ever receive any training on juvenile justice research or best practices.

Those findings are consistent with data collected by the National Center for State Courts. For example, only 14 states have courts organized and structured as separate from all other courts and specifically dedicated to juveniles or families, as opposed to being divisions of some other court (e.g., “Superior Court – Juvenile Division” or “Circuit Court – Juvenile Court Department”):

  1. Colorado (Denver Juvenile Court only)
  2. Delaware Family Court
  3. Georgia Juvenile Court
  4. Kentucky Family Court
  5. Massachusetts Juvenile Court & Probate and Family Court
  6. Nebraska Separate Juvenile Court (3 counties only)
  7. New York Family Court (NYC and outside NYC)
  8. Rhode Island Family Court
  9. South Carolina Family Court
  10. Tennessee Juvenile Court
  11. Utah Juvenile Court
  12. Vermont Family Court
  13. Virginia Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court
  14. West Virginia Family Court

NCSC has also looked at the needs of juveniles in the context of mental health as part of the National Judicial Task Force to Examine State Courts' Response to Mental Illness. In March 2022, NCSC released Juvenile Justice Mental Health Diversion Guidelines and Principles. In  August 2022, NCSC will continue hosting a series of six webinars on What Juvenile Courts Need to Know to Support Kids in the Post-Pandemic Era. Topics include The Impact of the Pandemic on Youth Development and Policy Trends in Juvenile Justice, Diverting Youth from the Justice System, and Supporting and Strengthening the Structure of Juvenile Courts.

Is your state considering having court or judges specifically dedicated and trained to oversee juvenile cases? Share your info with us at Knowledge@ncsc.org or call 800-616-6164. Follow the National Center for State Courts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Vimeo.