Conceptual Model of Judicial Decision-Making and Hearing Quality in Child Welfare

Publication Date: July 16, 2021
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  • Pages: 20
  • Published: 2021

Introduction

The child welfare court process seeks to achieve safety, permanency, and well-being for all families with abuse or neglect court cases. With these goals in mind, judges make decisions across the different hearings of a case that greatly impact children and families. Judges decide if children must be temporarily separated from their parents, for example, and what services parents and children receive. This brief presents a conceptual model that displays components of judicial decision-making and hearing quality and how they relate to case processes and outcomes for children and families.

Purpose

This brief presents a conceptual model that describes how components of judicial decision-making and child welfare hearing quality relate to the case process and outcomes for children and families. It also summarizes available research for each component and its related subcomponents. Readers may find the information useful when thinking about potential improvements to research and practice.

Key Findings and Highlights

The conceptual model identifies eight components of the child welfare court process:

  • Judicial characteristics
  • Hearing quality
  • Judicial decision-making process
  • Judicial decisions in hearings
  • Case process and progress
  • Case outcomes
  • Pre- and between hearing communication and activities
  • Jurisdiction context, court resources, practice, and culture

The brief then describes the components, related subcomponents, and available research supporting their associations. Associations that lack evidence are also noted.

Methods

The team conducted two main activities to complete the conceptual model and narrative brief. We first scanned the literature using a structured review of citations from a start set of key articles, electronic database search, and referrals from the project team and the field. We ultimately reviewed 71 articles.

Second, we presented the draft model for feedback during an in-person meeting with child welfare court experts and researchers. Federal partners also played a valuable role shaping the model.

Citation

Richards, T., Summers, A., Gatowski, S., Fromknecht, A., & Ruben, J. (2021). Conceptual model of judicial decision-making and hearing quality in child welfare (OPRE Report 2021-86). Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Glossary

Components:
Distinct parts of the child welfare court process
Conceptual model:
A visual representation of how components are related
Child safety:
Absence of further neglect or abuse of the child
Permanency:
Reunification with parent or permanent caregiving arrangement for the child established within time periods set by federal, state law
Child well-being:
Skills, capacities, and characteristics that enable young people to understand and navigate their world in healthy, positive ways
Family well-being:
Skills, capacities, and characteristics adult family members need to provide for themselves and their children’s needs in healthy, positive ways