The Third Branch
Milwaukee Children's Court visits NCJFCJ Des Moines Model Court
By Amy Roehl, CCIP Policy Analyst
Members of the Milwaukee Model Court Team and staff from the Children's Court Improvement Project (CCIP) traveled to Des Moines in June to learn about the successes and challenges that jurisdiction has encountered as its Model Court has evolved over the past 13 years.
On the first day, Judge Constance Cohen, lead judge of the Des Moines Model Court, joined Mimari Hall, senior policy analyst for the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ), and other members of the Des Moines Model Court Team set up a full day of activities including a tour of the Department of Human Services, a tour of the Blank Children's Hospital Regional Child Protection Center, a tour of "R House," a house available for parents to visit with their children in a home-like setting, and meals where the Milwaukee team and the Des Moines team could discuss stakeholder collaboration, sustainability, and model court structure.
On June 13, after touring the Polk County Courthouse and observing various child welfare court proceedings, the Milwaukee Model Court Team joined the Des Moines Model Court Team for their monthly team meeting. The Milwaukee Team had the six-hour journey back to Milwaukee to discuss the lessons learned and methods to translate those lessons into practice at Children's Court. Judge Joseph M. Donald noted, "I really liked the concept of a visitation home and I think it something that we could easily do in Milwaukee. I also think that the collaboration between the various partners said a lot about their commitment to the model court process.
"In this age of intense external societal pressures on families, it was a real delight to visit a jurisdiction that isn't just blaming certain members of the community for their personal shortcomings but instead is actually looking at ways of strengthening and enhancing families so that families can do a better job at addressing their own inadequacies. As a result, the Des Moines Model Court Team is making a stronger, healthier community for all of us," Donald added.
The Milwaukee Model Court Project was created in May 2012 through a partnership between the Milwaukee County Children's Court, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) and CCIP in order to improve outcomes for children and families. The project is co-led by Judge Marshall B. Murray, former Children's Court presiding judge, Judge Joseph M. Donald, current Children's Court presiding judge, and Mary Pat Bohn, deputy director of the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare.
Over the past year, the Milwaukee Model Court Team has met to discuss and develop practices in order to achieve their three primary goals:
- reduce the number of children entering out-of-home care;
- increase court case processing efficiency;
- empower social workers in court, which includes establishing a common understanding and definition of safety decision-making based on the publication,Child Safety: A Guide for Judges and Attorneys.
In addition to the co-chairs, members of the Milwaukee Model Court Team who traveled to Des Moines include:
- Elizabeth Finn-Gorski, Milwaukee Children's Court coordinator
- Michelle Jensen Goodwin, CCIP director
- Duke Lehto, private bar attorney
- Amy Roehl, CCIP policy analyst
- Mary Sowinski, Milwaukee County assistant district attorney – Children's Court Center
- The trip was funded with a federal grant.
For more information about the Milwaukee Model Court Project, please contact Amy Roehl, Children's Court Improvement policy analyst at firstname.lastname@example.org or (608) 264-6905.
The Milwaukee Model Court Team with Judge Constance Cohen in Des Moines. Back row: Michelle Jensen Goodwin, Judge Joseph M. Donald, Mary Pat Bohn, Duke Lehto and Amy Roehl. Front row: Elizabeth Finn-Gorski, Mary Sowinski, Judge Constance Cohen, Judge Marshall B. Murray and Mimari Hall.