While the need to address disparities in care is well known, few strategies for reducing disparities have been studied systematically.
From November 1996 through June 1999, the American Bar Association (ABA) developed six Unified Family Court (UFC) systems in three U.S. states and one territory and created a network of national groups to help educate the public about Unified Family Courts.
UFCs combine the functions of family and juvenile courts to provide a comprehensive approach to treating and educating young drug offenders and their families. This approach recognizes that substance abuse results from a combination of problems related to health, family structure, economics and community support. UFCs offer an effective alternative to a justice system that frequently treats substance abuse solely as a legal problem.
After the Grant
The ABA continues to work with the six sites and has provided technical assistance to eight other states. It also is involved in a project funded by the Scripps-Howard Foundation to examine literacy as a way to address substance abuse in four family courts.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) launched a national program, called Reclaiming Futures: Communities Helping Teens Overcome Drugs, Alcohol & Crime®. It is building community solutions to substance abuse and delinquency by developing the systems infrastructure necessary to deliver comprehensive care within the juvenile justice system. See the program's Web site for more information.
RWJF provided a $481,605 grant to the ABA for its work on UCF systems.
Substance abuse is a combination of problems related to health, family structure, economics, and community support. The criminal justice system, however, frequently treats it only as a legal problem.
The ABA has recognized that many substance abuse problems are best addressed by treatment, prevention, and education, and it has sought to encourage reforms that move the justice system away from an adversarial, punitive approach to one that incorporates community solutions.
From 1992 to 1996, RWJF funded the ABA Standing Committee on Substance Abuse's Community Anti-Drug Coalition Initiative to mobilize lawyers, judges, and justice system leaders to help create new justice systems and structures to solve the substance abuse problem (see Grant Results on ID#s 019838 and 023195).
The ABA was also instrumental in persuading legal community leaders to support drug courts for juveniles, which link juvenile justice and community treatment resources to juvenile drug offenders and their legal caretakers. The ABA then helped cities nationwide set up drug courts for adult offenders, which offer defendants who have been charged with a drug offense (typically first-time, non-violent offenders) court supervised substance abuse treatment in lieu of incarceration. Drug courts can motivate drug users to enter rehabilitation programs and reestablish productive lifestyles. These courts have dramatically decreased recidivism rates and drug use among participants.
UFC's complement the work of the drug courts. UFCs combine the functions of family courts (which handle family-related legal issues) and juvenile courts (which handle cases in which minors are involved) into one entity and provide a comprehensive approach to helping families in crisis. UFCs incorporate treatment for young substance abuse offenders into the wide range of cases heard in civil court involving family matters.
According to the project director, UFCs can produce better results than other court systems by intervening earlier in a child's exposure to substance abuse, and treating and educating a defendant's entire family. The family is assigned to one judge and one social services team throughout its relationship with the court. Judges coordinate treatment for the family with mediators, social workers, court personnel, case managers, and attorneys. In addition, administrative, legal, counseling, and enforcement services are available in or near the court building.
In 1994, ABA adopted a resolution calling for the promotion and implementation of UFC systems to make the courts more responsive to family problems. By 1996, six states had established versions of UFCs statewide, and four states had some UFCs operating on the county level.
This RWJF grant funded the ABA to develop five demonstration UFC sites in the United States and Puerto Rico. At the start of the project, sites were planned for San Juan, PR; Baltimore, Md.; Atlanta, Ga.; King County, Wash.; and Washington, D.C. Shortly after the project began, a sixth site was added in Cook County, Ill.
The goal of the project, called "Communities, Families, and the Justice System" by the ABA, was to foster reforms in the judicial system by demonstrating to the legal, judicial, and service communities that UFCs provide an effective and comprehensive approach to substance abuse and its related issues.
The project's objectives were to:
The Communities, Families, and Justice System Advisory Board provided guidance, expertise, technical assistance, and direction to the project. (See the Appendix for a complete roster of board members.)
In March 1997, the ABA held a three-day symposium, entitled "Communities, Families, and the Justice System Symposium," for judges, lawyers, and administrators from each site to train them on the essential components of a UFC and to guide them in drafting an 18-month action plan. Project personnel also convened meetings and conferences at each site to orient judges and staff, provide technical assistance, and build support among judges, local attorneys, bar association leaders, social service providers, and legislators.
ABA staffers and volunteers also provided ongoing on-site and phone technical assistance to each site. The ABA evaluated the training sessions and monitored the progress of each site, and assisted in the development of evaluation techniques for determining the effectiveness of a unified approach in Seattle (King County). The ABA also conducted outreach to other states and counties about the advantages of UFCs, and worked to form a network of national groups to help educate the public about justice system innovations such as UFCs and drug courts. Other states requested ABA technical assistance and guidance on UFCs (see After the Grant).
The ABA solicited and obtained additional project funding from the private sector and government, including the US Department of Justice ($100,000), the ABA's Standing Committee on Substance Abuse ($90,000), CIGNA Corporation ($30,000), Monsanto ($10,000), and Ford Motor Company ($5,000). Other in-kind support was provided by the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT) of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, the Administrative Office of the Courts in Maryland, and ABA volunteers.
Project results were disseminated in two dozen articles in legal journals, including special issues devoted to UFCs in the journals Family Law Quarterly and Journal of Health Care Law & Policy. Eight articles were also published in the mass media (including The Atlanta Constitution and The New Day [Puerto Rico]).
Six issues of the ABA's newsletter Unified Family Court Chronicle were published, and one report, Unified Family Courts: A Progress Report, was distributed to 400 judges, lawyers, and justice system leaders.
A chapter of the forthcoming book, America's Children at Risk: An Update, published by the ABA, will be devoted to UFCs. The ABA sponsored two major conferences to convey the strategies and lessons learned in this project to other states.
Presentations also were made at the Children's Law Institute and the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts. Information about UFCs is posted on the ABA's Web site, which includes a discussion group on UFCs. (See the Bibliography for complete details.)
The ABA continues to provide technical assistance to the six UFC sites, providing its own funds for this work. The ABA has also provided technical assistance on establishing UFCs to Arizona, Alabama, Colorado, Louisiana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Utah.
In addition, it is discussing the joint establishment of a UFC center with the University of Baltimore Law School; this center would collaborate with other national organizations to hold workshops and conferences offering technical assistance and education involving UFCs.
In February 2000, the ABA began a one-year project, funded by the Scripps-Howard Foundation, to examine literacy as a way to address substance abuse in four family courts: Baltimore, Md., Memphis, Tenn., Phoenix, Ariz., and Covington, Ky./Cincinnati, Ohio.
RWJF recently launched a national program, called Youth Intervention Networks, which is designed to develop comprehensive and coordinated systems within the juvenile justice system for the treatment of substance abusing juvenile offenders. It, therefore, did not renew funding to this project. The ABA may apply for a grant under Youth Intervention Networks.
Development of Unified Family Courts to Assist Families with Substance Abuse Problems
American Bar Association Fund for Justice and Education (Washington, DC)
Gloria H. Danziger
Communities, Families, and Justice System Advisory Board
Jeffrey A. Kuhn (Chairperson)
New Jersey Courts Family Division
University of Baltimore School of Law
Children and Family Justice Center
Northwestern University School of Law
Hon. Katherine S. Hayden
United States District Court Judge
Archer & Greiner
Hon. Howard I. Lipsey
Family Court of the State of Rhode Island
Hon. Michael Town
Hawaii Circuit Court First Circuit
(Current as of date of this report; as provided by grantee organization; not verified by RWJF; items not available from RWJF.)
Kuhn J. "Unified Family Courts: An Update." In America's Children at Risk: An Update. Washington, D.C.: American Bar Association, forthcoming 2000.
American Bar Association Standing Committee on Substance Abuse & Steering Committee on the Unmet Legal Needs of Children. Unified Family Courts: A Progress Report. Washington, D.C.: American Bar Association, 1998. 400 copies disseminated.
Kuhn J, and Cribari S. A Design Concept for Family Justice in the Twenty-First Century. Washington, D.C.: American Bar Association, forthcoming 2000.
Unified Family Chronicle. Washington, D.C.: American Bar Association. Two issues in 1997, three issues in 1998, one issue in 1999. 800 copies mailed per issue.
"Symposium on Unified Family Courts," Special Issue, Family Law Quarterly, 32(1), Spring 1998.
"Symposium: Substance Abuse, Families and the Courts: Legal and Public Health Challenges" Special Issue: Journal of Health Care Law & Policy, 3 (1999).
Babb B. "Fashioning an Interdisciplinary Framework for Court Reform in Family Law: A Blueprint to Construct a Unified Family Court." Southern California Law Review, 71(469): 469545, 1998.
Babb B. "Where We Stand: An Analysis of America's Family Law Adjudicatory Systems and the Mandate to Establish Unified Family Courts." Family Law Quarterly, 32(31): 1998.
Cribari S. "Unified Family Courts: Therapeutic Power and Judicial Authority." Voir Dire, 3(2): 79, 1998.
Danziger G and Kuhn JA. "Drug Treatment Courts and Unified Family Courts: Evolution, Evaluation, and Future Directions." Journal of Health Care Law and Policy, 3(1): 1999. Abstract available online.
Kuhn J. "A Seven-Year Lesson on Unified Family Courts: What We Have Learned Since the 1990 National Family Court Symposium," Family Law Quarterly, 32(469): 1998.
Shea T. "Utah Family Court: An Idea Whose Time Has Come." Voir Dire, 3(2): 910, 1998.
"Communities, Families, and the Justice System Symposium," March 911, 1997, Princeton, N.J. Attended by 30 representatives of the 6 project sites.
Meeting, June 6, 1997, Baltimore, Md. Attended by 2530 court administrative staff and Baltimore County family court judges.
"The Roles of the State/Local Bar Association, and Family Law Practitioners in Developing and Maintaining a Family Court," Lee Hymerling, Baltimore, Md., June 9, 1997. Attended by approximately 30 Baltimore City Bar Association leaders and members.
"Unified Family Court for Fulton County," June 27, 1997, Atlanta, Ga. Attended by 100 community leaders, judges, legislators, lawyers, and social service providers in Fulton County.
"Unified Family Courts," July 17, 1997, Chicago, Ill. Attended by 100 judges, lawyers, social service providers, case managers, and community activists in the 6th Circuit.
"Foro Especiale de Asuntos de Familia y Menores" (Special Summit on Unified Family Courts), September 2526, 1997, San Juan, Puerto Rico. Attended by 150 judges, lawyers, social service providers, community leaders, and administrators from Puerto Rico.
"Unified Family Courts: A Symposium on Substance Abuse Issues Affecting the Family and the Community," March 2728, 1998, Landsdowne, Va. Attended by 40 judges, lawyers, social service providers, and administration from the 6 project sites.
"Family Courts: Judicial Training," a statewide seminar on judicial training for family courts, Baltimore, Md., May 11, 1998. Attended by judges from the 6 largest circuit courts in Maryland who had been mandated to develop a family court plan.
"The American Bar Association Summit on Unified Family Courts: Exploring Solutions for Families, Women and Children in Crisis," May 1416, 1998, Philadelphia, Pa. Attended by 200 individuals from 30 states representing teams of judges, lawyers, social service providers, and administrators.
"Substance Abuse, Families and the Courts: Legal and Public Health Challenges," May 14, 1999, Baltimore, Md. Attended by 150 judges, lawyers, social workers, treatment providers, psychologists, and others associated with family courts in the state of Maryland.
"Unified Family Court Leadership Symposium," July 2324, 1999, Washington, D.C. Attended by 50 people from 11 states representing teams of judges, lawyers, social service providers, and administrators.
Curtis Barrett, Donald Bersoff, Sheila Murphy, and Eric Drogin, "Addictions and Family Law," at the American Bar Association Annual Meeting, August 1997, San Francisco, Calif.
Lee Hymerling, "The roles of the State/Local Bar Association and Family Law Practitioners in Developing and Maintaining a Unified Family Court," American Bar Association, June 9, 1998, Baltimore, Md.
Jeff Kuhn, "Unified Family Courts and Children," at the Children's Law Institute Annual Conference, January 16, 1999, Albuquerque, N.M.
Hon. Michael Town and Jeff Kuhn, "Unified Family Courts and Children's Issues," at "Imagine A Brighter Future: Solutions for Children in Crisis," Children's Institute International, June 14, 1999, Los Angeles, Calif.
Barbara Babb, Hon. Michael Town, Judith Moran, and Jeff Kuhn, "Substance Abuse and Unified Family Courts," at "Family Courts and Communities: Collaboration for the 21st Century," Annual Meeting of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, June 15, 1999, Vancouver, Canada.
Jeffrey Kuhn and Chris Griffin, "Unified Family Courts," American Bar Association Coalition for Justice, October 1999, St. Petersburg, Fla.
www.abanet.org. "Communities, Families, and the Justice System" on the American Bar Association's Web site includes an overview article about unified family courts, publications, and a discussion group (UFC@abanet.org). Washington, D.C.: American Bar Association, January 1998.
A news release "Substance Abuse, Families, and the Courts Focus of ABA Program," sent as a media advisory to approximately 250 newspapers and periodicals and radio and television stations, May 5, 1999.
"It May Take a Village or a Specialized Court to Address Family Problems," in The ABA Journal, December 1996.
"Family Court: It Just Makes So Much Sense," in Atlanta Lawyer, August 1997.
"Will Try Project in 3 Tribunals on the Island," in The New Day, September 26, 1997.
"The Stretching of Judicial Reform," in The New Day, September 26, 1997.
"ABA Backs Unified Family Courts," in The ABA Journal, December 1997.
"Fulton in the Family Way," in The Atlanta Constitution, January 26, 1998.
"Community Based Crusade," in The ABA Journal, January 1998.
"Our Continuing Professional Odyssey," in The ABA Journal, August 1998.
Report prepared by: Lori De Milto
Reviewed by: Robert Crum
Reviewed by: Richard Camer
Program Officer: Elize M. Brown
Program Officer: Rush Russell
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