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Court Improvement Program Overview

 

Nevada's Court Improvement Program Mission Statement

Nevada’s Court Improvement Program emphasizes and supports children’s right to protection from abuse and neglect.  It is committed to develop and implement data-driven, evidence-based, and outcome-focused best practices that advance meaningful and ongoing collaboration among court, child welfare agency, and other stakeholders to achieve safety, permanency, and well-being for children and families in the child welfare system in a fair and timely manner.

Origins of the Court Improvement Program:

To accomplish these goals, and pursuant to the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 (OBRA), the United States Congress appropriated funds to the states as part of a federal initiative to support reform in the handling of child abuse and neglect cases. The State Court Improvement Program (CIP) was enacted because courts had been under intensive pressure to implement a myriad of federal and state laws which imposed new duties on the courts, greatly increasing the complexity of cases.

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What is the Court Improvement Program:

CIP enables the courts and agencies involved in the child welfare system to develop systemic, statewide changes to significantly improve the handling of child welfare cases while ensuring compliance with state and federal laws regarding child dependency and child welfare matters.

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How Nevada Uses Its Court Improvement Program Funds:

Nevada Court Improvement Program projects encompass a myriad of activities at the state and local level with the primary purpose to assess and improve court processes related to child abuse and neglect and to ensure improved safety, permanence, and well-being for children. CIP funding has also been used to develop broad-based systemic reform of courts and court processes related to dependency cases.

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Impact of Court Improvement funds in Nevada:

The CICs have been so impactful that the time it takes for the courts to return children to their homes or find safe, permanent placements has been significantly reduced and now stands below the national average. For example, in its 2013 Annual Progress and Services Report, the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) reports that the median length of time it took for a child to be adopted in Nevada in 2012 was reduced to 30.7 months down from 36.3 months in 2010. Nevada courts and child welfare agencies have now outpaced the national median, which is 32.4 months.

READ MORE...

Origins of the Court Improvement Program:

To accomplish these goals, and pursuant to the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 (OBRA), the United States Congress appropriated funds to the states as part of a federal initiative to support reform in the handling of child abuse and neglect cases. The State Court Improvement Program (CIP) was enacted because courts had been under intensive pressure to implement a myriad of federal and state laws which imposed new duties on the courts, greatly increasing the complexity of cases. For example, in each case, courts must address a far wider range of issues than in earlier years. There are increasing numbers of hearings per case. More individuals are involved in the case process, and this has placed greater demands not only on judges, but on court staff, attorneys, and agencies in their dealing with the courts.

The Federal CIP grants have been channeled to the highest state courts, i.e., those with the responsibility for administering state court systems. It is expected that the supreme courts and their administrative offices will facilitate collaboration among the key stakeholders to identify and address barriers to achieve safety, permanency, and child and family well-being within the judicial, legal, and child welfare systems in a fair and timely manner.

CIP has existed in Nevada since 1995. It is overseen by the multi-disciplinary CIP Select Committee (Committee), chaired by Supreme Court Justice Nancy Saitta. This group is comprised of family court judges, a tribal representative, the three child welfare agency administrators, a deputy state attorney general, district attorneys, a public defender, legislator, the Director of the Administrative Office of the Courts, several attorneys who actively represent neglected and abused children, the president of the State’s Youth Advisory Board, and a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) program. As an ad hoc committee of the Judicial Council of the State of Nevada, the Committee serves in an advisory capacity to the Supreme Court.

What is the Court Improvement Program:

CIP enables the courts and agencies involved in the child welfare system to develop systemic, statewide changes to significantly improve the handling of child welfare cases while ensuring compliance with state and federal laws regarding child dependency and child welfare matters. The Committee oversees the application for and distribution of federal grant funds, sets minimum standards for program and funding criteria, and establishes policies and procedures to plan and develop these statewide changes designed to improve the quality of the court process for children and families involved in abuse, neglect, and dependency proceedings.

The AOC through its Court Improvement Program applies for and receives grant funds from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children and Families.

The CIP Select Committee has appointed a Grants Awards Subcommittee which strictly adheres to the federal grant requirements, and the approved Strategic Plan, when reviewing sub-grant proposals for recommendation to the full committee. Subgrants are provided to fund proposals that address Nevada’s federally approved strategic goals. The CIP Strategic Plan identifies goals that mandate that grant-funded activities and projects be evidence-based, policy driven, and data informed with a continual quality improvement component.

Funding from the three CIP grants target specific outcomes as outlined in the current CIP Strategic Plan

How Nevada Uses Its Court Improvement Program Funds:

Nevada Court Improvement Program projects encompass a myriad of activities at the state and local level with the primary purpose to assess and improve court processes related to child abuse and neglect and to ensure improved safety, permanence, and well-being for children. CIP funding has also been used to develop broad-based systemic reform of courts and court processes related to dependency cases.

CIP has funded such local best practices as juvenile dependency mediation, early resolution of cases, redaction for facilitated petitions, and start-up of local CASA programs.

CIP has provided training opportunities to the judiciary, legal community, child welfare community, and other stakeholders involved with NRS 432B cases, including Summits for all 10 CIC teams, web-based training for attorneys practicing in dependency court, and pro bono attorney training.

CIP funded the first computerized case management system in the Second Judicial District and underwrote a Judicial Benchbook for abuse and neglect cases (NRS 432B).

Because communication and sharing information enhances judicial efficiency and is in the best interest of the child, CIP has funded video-conferencing in most of Nevada’s dependency courts and is working on data exchange projects among the courts, child welfare agencies, and district attorneys in both the 2nd and the 8th Judicial Districts (Washoe and Clark Counties).

To help ensure compliance with federal mandates allowing Nevada to continue to receive Title IV-E funds, the National Center for State Courts, with input from our judiciary, is developing court order templates/bench guide containing required federal language.

In 2011, Justice Saitta requested that each judicial district create a Community Improvement Council (CIC) with the express purpose to identify barriers to terminating parental rights and adoptions. Each CIC also identified solutions to these barriers and action plans to implement the solutions. As a result each judicial district has informed the Court Improvement process from the grassroots up to develop seamless systems committed to safe, healthy, and thriving children and families in Nevada. These solutions are designed to:

  • Protect the rights of the parties, while determining the best interests of the child to safely avoid unnecessary separation of children from their families, 
  • Make reasonable efforts to enable a child’s return to the family, if removed, 
  • Increase the timeliness of 432B hearings and permanency for the children, and 
  • When reunification is not possible, ascertain the availability of safe, alternative, permanent homes for children.

Impact of Court Improvement Funds in Nevada:

The CICs have been so impactful that the time it takes for the courts to return children to their homes or find safe, permanent placements has been significantly reduced and now stands below the national average. For example, in its 2013 Annual Progress and Services Report, the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) reports that the median length of time it took for a child to be adopted in Nevada in 2012 was reduced to 30.7 months down from 36.3 months in 2010. Nevada courts and child welfare agencies have now outpaced the national median, which is 32.4 months.

By funding cutting edge pilot projects, providing training to all constituents involved in the child welfare process, or helping fledgling CASAs; CIP has helped improve the safety, timely permanency, and well-being of children and families in the child welfare system.

For example, the Early Resolution Program piloted in Clark County by the Legal Aid Center for Southern Nevada has worked with 87 cases in which services and support were provided very early in the process. Forty-seven of these cases were compared to a control group which followed the usual case-flow process. It was found that simply by facilitating at the front-end of the case, the Early Resolution cases closed or were dismissed an average of 36.8 days earlier than the control group.

In another example, the Clark County District Attorney reports that the CIP funded Facilitated Petition Pilot Program resulted in a reduction in the number of days to process discovery by 2.67 days or 18.2%. Every case in the pilot project resolved and the average number of days to resolution was 23.66 days. None of the cases in the control group resolved and all were set for trial at the time of the study.

The Nevada Revised Statute Code Section 3.225 (1) encourages family court to use alternative dispute resolution wherever appropriate. The 2nd Judicial District (JD) Court implemented a juvenile dependency mediation program in 2011 with the intention of developing a model program with protocols easily transferable to other jurisdictions. Using these protocols, the 5th JD implemented a mediation program in 2013. Mediation has expanded into the western, rural judicial districts and the Washoe Tribe. The 9th JD’s Family Mediation Services is mediating dependency cases.

As part of the CIP continual quality improvement efforts, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges completed a process evaluation of dependency mediation in the 5th Judicial District (JD) and an outcome evaluation of the dependency mediation program in the 2nd JD. The results of the process evaluation demonstrate that the dependency mediation program in the 5th JD has had a successful start. Although only 8 mediations have been held, all eight have resolved with agreements. There is a general perception from both parents and stakeholders that mediation is a helpful tool to move cases forward. Parents felt that they were listened to, their opinions were respected, and that they were part of the decision-making process. The stakeholders found mediation increased parental engagement and provided an alternative to litigation while not increasing their workload.

Key findings in the assessment of 2nd JD’s mediation program indicate that mediated cases are more likely to result in reunification of the children with their families when compared to non-mediated cases (88% for mediated cases compared to 50% for non-mediated cases). Findings show that fathers who participated in mediation were more engaged and were present at more hearings compared to fathers who did not participate in mediation (72% to 50%).

CIP assisted with the start-up of CASA programs in the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 10th Judicial Districts. The 5th Judicial District is our newest CASA program that is fully operational. The Pioneer Territory CASA trained 30 CASA volunteers who are serving 53 of the approximately 71 children in foster care in Nye County. With CIP’s help, the 6th and 10th Judicial Districts are developing their CASAs.

In July 2011, at the CIP “Focus on Kids” Summit, 126 representatives from the judiciary, child welfare, the legal community, tribal courts, and CASA were trained by state and national experts on such vital issues as child safety, engaging children in the process, the interstate compact on the placement of children (ICPC), dependency mediation, and co-occurring disorders.

In September 2012, the ten judicial districts’ Community Improvement Councils (CIC) attended training on child safety decision-making and dependency court timeliness measures. During the two day conference, each CIC created two action plans to further improve processing of child welfare cases through their dependency courts and to measure this improvement.

In October 2013, all ten judicial districts CIC teams attended the two day training, team building, and action planning summit. They learned how the courts and the legal community can assist the child welfare agencies’ implementation of the Child Safety practice model to ensure safety, well-being, and timely permanency for children. The CICs developed action plans to improve court timeliness and implement child safety decision-making.

Thank you for visiting our webpage.

If you have comments or questions with regard to CIP or the information on this site, please contact Kathie Malzahn-Bass directly at kmalzahn-bass@nvcourts.nv.gov.