Few things speak to the desire to do a great job more than a willingness to accept criticism. Nothing speaks to that desire like actively seeking it out.
Last week, Allen Superior Court’s Family Relations Division did just that, inviting the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges behind the scenes to review its operations, make suggestions and offer criticisms that will let the court better serve children and families.
Referred to as a “trauma audit,” the review dissected every aspect of court operations, from how visitors are greeted at the front desk through the courtroom experience. Ten focus groups gave a variety of court users, from foster parents and CASA volunteers to court staff and service agencies, an opportunity to offer their take on how best to serve the community.
Families and children often enter the family court system suffering from the after-effects of a variety of negative experiences. Of particular concern is mitigating the effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES), which can result in health problems later in life. ACES include witnessing or otherwise experiencing events including physical, psychological and sexual abuse, death, domestic violence and even divorce. As the trauma of such experiences multiplies over years, emotional, behavioral and physical harm can result.
“If we’re serious about helping families and children, the court needs to understand how its operation might complicate or appropriately address those issues,” said Judge Charles Pratt. “To become trauma informed and better meet the needs of our community, we need to know what we’re doing right – and where we can improve.”
The Allen Superior Court study is the first trauma audit undertaken of an Indiana court. Professional consultants were provided to the local courts by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges at no cost. The consultants will follow their review with a detailed report on how Superior Court can better serve those who require the court’s services.
The audit took place Feb. 20 and 21. Results of the audit are expected no sooner than late March.
Allen Superior Court has made promoting awareness of trauma-informed care a priority. The first training offered by its Great Kids Make Great Communities Leadership Academy, conducted last fall, was on trauma and its impacts on the development of youth. The court also recently announced the launch of a Family Recovery Court for families in CHINS matters involving substance abuse.
“It’s hard for someone who hasn’t experienced trauma to know on their own how to navigate these situations,” Judge Pratt said. “Ultimately, we want people to get help. But if we do things in a way that’s not informed, they might not. This is really about building trust and understanding.”