Portage County is part of national effort to improve court cases involving child abuse

The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges has selected Portage County Juvenile Court as one of 11 Implementation Sites in the entire country. Such sites are committed to developing and implementing judicially led collaboratives meant to implement systemic change in court cases involving child abuse and neglect.

Led by a designated lead judge, Implementation Sites are dedicated to assessing how child abuse and neglect cases are processed, continually focusing on barriers affecting timely foster care placement, developing and instituting plans for court improvement and working with other agencies to achieve systemic change.

To earn the distinction, Portage County Common Pleas Court Judge Patricia Smith, who oversees the county’s probate and juvenile courts, proposed establishing a formal communication plan between the court, Portage County Job & Family Services, Portage County Board of Developmental Disabilities, OhioRISE and other community treatment partners. Together, the groups may more effectively establish how information should be presented to the court.

OhioRISE (Resilience through Integrated Systems and Excellence), launched statewide in 2022, is Ohio’s first highly specialized program to meet the needs of children who have complex behavioral and multisystem needs.

Smith also set a goal of implementing and using child protection mediation, a process meant to reduce the amount of time children spend in foster care, decrease the amount of time necessary to place children in safe, permanent foster homes, and improve parental buy-in.

Child protection mediation is a collaborative problem-solving process involving an impartial and neutral person who facilitates constructive negotiation and communication among parents, lawyers, child protection professionals and others, leading all parties to agree on issues of concern when children are alleged to be abused, neglected or abandoned.

The child’s voice in the decision making process is essential and is typically presented either directly by the child or their advocate.

NCJFCJ is committed to supporting judges who want to systemically address the child abuse and neglect case legal process. By implementing change, the hope is that the youths’ safety, quick placement in safe, permanent foster homes and well-being will be improved.

Portage County Juvenile Court is the first court in Ohio to be deemed an Implementation Site.

Phase 1 of the two-year project lasts four to five months and ends with an on-site visit during which NCJFCJ will observe judges conduct court hearings, provide court staff with multi-disciplinary training, and work with the court to develop an action plan tailored to the court’s goals.

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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.