February 17, 2021
Like other courts throughout the United States, the Marion County, Indiana court system wanted to create a unified family court. To do so, they engaged with The National Center's Children, Families, and Elders Team to assist in the design and creation of a family division operational model. The result was the report Unifying Juvenile and Family Matters in Marion County which has two main objectives. One is to give recommendations in terms of how the court could implement. Released in 2020, the report includes information gathered to a) build a family division and b) advise on a family court model that serves families efficiently.
Specific recommendations include unifying juvenile, family, and probate proceedings and moving to a team structure for judges and judicial officers for better outcomes for families. In addition, case management is needed to coordinate cases and services using the one-family, one-judge concept wherein a single judge can become familiar with the case and the parties involved. This concept can reduce the number of continuances.
Another key recommendation from the report is the need for staffing for self-represented litigant services. As the report indicates, self-help is "a rapidly growing need, despite (and maybe even because of) increased staffing." This includes the creation of at least one full-time dedicated coordinator to maximize resources to the greatest extent.
Finally, the report recommends that all judges, court staff, and court-related professionals who interact directly with parties receive training in recognizing the signs and dynamics of critical issues, including domestic violence, child abuse, and substance abuse. This includes training in understanding the effects of trauma and how they may present in typical court and court-related processes (e.g., mediation and parental education programs), as well as reasonable measures taken to promote a trauma-responsive process and environment.
Those interested in improving their court may want to pay special attention to Appendix 5: Courts with Identified Best Practices.