Cook County, which includes Chicago, is the largest county in Illinois and one of the largest in the nation. The county’s court includes over 400 judges. The project includes the court’s Domestic Violence Division (DVD), which has 14 judges hearing protection order and criminal domestic violence misdemeanor matters, so the sole focus was on child-related relief in protection orders. The major emphasis is on increasing support from the bench and other stakeholders for child-related relief in protection orders through facilitated conversations and training. As a result of these efforts, child-related relief is more readily available, safer, and better tailored to the needs and circumstances of the families. Also, the site increased support for litigants in easing the barriers to child-related relief by adding staff who can assist in both requesting such relief and in helping to create visitation arrangements that meet the families’ needs.
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Includes detailed information about the site and its challenges, activities, and experience of the project.
Domestic Violence Division
Circuit Court of Cook County
555 West Harrison St.
Chicago, IL 60607
Child-Related Relief in CPOs: Project Roadmap
- Using logic model method, identified challengesChallenges included (1) disagreement about the appropriateness range, and information required for child-related relief in Plenary (final 2-year duration) OP cases. (2) The information needed to make informed decisions about child-related relief was not available to decision-makers, practitioners, and litigants. regarding child-related relief in civil protection orders
- Conducted InterviewsThe Center for Urban Research and Learning (CURL) of Loyola University conducted interviews during the planning and early implementation phases regarding possible data sources and enhanced data collection for this FCEP effort. key stakeholders
- Conducted victim focus groupsParticipants included those that had obtained an OP who had children in common with the respondent (one English group, one Spanish) and participants who did not seek an OP who had children in common with the other party. Results were summarized and shared with the collaboration. Collected and analyzed Child-Relief Expediter (described below) case data (ongoing).
- Developed, executed, analyzed, summarized, and presented two Judicial SurveysOne was for the domestic relations judges (who decide long-term custody cases, including in parentage and divorce proceedings) and the other for the domestic violence judges (who decide OP cases). These surveys examined what information a judge had when faced with decision-making on child-related issues, asked judges what they would like to have, and asked what they view as challenges in their decision-making on these issues. Survey results were shared with the collaboration..
- Designed and conducted trainings for judicial officers in the Domestic Violence and Domestic Relations Divisions, as well as trainings for local domestic violence advocates and attorneys.
- Created three new grant-funded positionsA bilingual triage Help Desk position, a Supervised Visitation Court Liaison and a Child-Relief Expediter, to address the needs that were uncovered. The job responsibilities, protocols, forms, logistics, and physical space for these new services were developed under FCEP with significant input from the collaborative team and technical assistance providers. .
- Child-Relief Expediter positionThe Expediter is a court employee trained in domestic violence and conflict resolution who provides assistance in child custody and visitation disputes for parents (hereinafter referred to as litigants) seeking protective orders. When deemed appropriate and after thorough screening by the judge.
NOTE: The Expediter does not negotiate the underlying need for the OP or the judge’s finding that the legal standard for issuance of OP has been met.
- ReferralWhen deemed appropriate and after thorough screening by the judge.
- Uses shuttle negotiation between the litigants with the goal of helping them create safe, mutually-agreed upon parenting plans
- Helps the parents negotiate child-related issues such as custody, parenting time, communication, and limited financial issues
- The Expediter service:
- VoluntaryBoth parents must agree to participate and can choose to end the session at any time.
- Neutral(except with regards to safety) will not take sides or give legal advice, and will not make recommendations to the court about the case
- Confidentialwith exceptions if there is an imminent risk of substantial harm to someone inside or outside of the session.
- OpenMinor children do not participate in the session. If there are individuals assisting with the exchange or supervising visits, they may participate in the session (either in person or via phone). to include othersattorneys, advocates, family members, and other support people.
- Expediter referral and session protocols:
- The judge may offer the Expediter services to litigantsLitigants (and their attorneys) may also request the use of the Expediter. However, the judge makes the final determination as to whether the referral is appropriate.
- Prior to the referral to the Expediter, the judge conducts a risk assessment to determine if the process, and visitation, are appropriate.
- Most sessions occur the same day as court
- Separate waiting areasParticipants are never required to be in the same room during the process.
- Participants fill out a confidential questionnaire
- Expediter conducts an individual and confidential screeningThis screening is intended to determine if the expediting process is safe and appropriate and what is safe and appropriate regarding visitation.
- Participants sign an Agreement to Expedite
- The Expediter conducts the sessions via shuttle negotiation.
- Completed agreements are reviewed by the judge with the litigants.
- Final agreements are incorporated into the order of protection.
- No agreement or termination The case is returned to the courtroom and the judge makes the decision on the remaining items.
- Expediter provides a status sheet and completes a data report.
- Referrals stages for the Expediter services:
- Stage One: The case is being set for a hearing on the plenary (long-term) order and the litigants are interested in establishing and implementing a plan while they await the hearing date.temporary visitation plan
- Stage Two: The respondent is in agreement to the plenary order and the litigants are interested in negotiating the child-related issues.Agreement to the plenary order
- Stage Three: After a hearing, the judge determines there will be a plenary order and the litigants are interested in negotiating the child-related issues.After a hearing, the judge grants a plenary order
- Stage Four: One of the litigants has filed a motion to modify the visitation portion of an already existing plenary order.motion to modify visitation
The biggest overarching challenge has been trying to implement something innovative in a system that is very resistant to change. We underestimated how long it would take for change to occur for full and consistent implementation of all aspects of FCEP while achieving a shared understanding among everyone who touches a case. Perhaps less expected was the initial resistance to change from various helpers, as well.
- ReluctanceEarly in the process, reluctance from some advocates, attorneys, and judges to consider that visitation may be something a victim wants was a stronger force than anticipated.
- Child-related relief An assumption that respondents in OP cases should never have access to shared children remains strong. Results of victim focus groups and feedback from those who have had the benefit of FCEP service components illustrate that in fact attention to child-related relief is often helpful and desirable for victims and can increase safety in both the short and long term for the petitioner and the children.and safety
- Culture shift Gaining a genuine, objective, and unfiltered measure of the desirability among victims for having child-related issues addressed in an OP remains a difficult challenge. However, through the implementation of FCEP, we have now experienced a significant culture shift around these issues in our courthouse.around these issues
- Confidentiality and DisclosuresThrough stakeholder input, the Expediter process was designed to be confidential. However, issues related to confidentiality of the Expediter process, and lack of disclosure of facts provided by the parties to the judge, were a concern raised repeatedly by the judiciary. Questions of when to disclose and what to disclose to a judge once a case was initiated with the Expediter were raised again with full force once judges began to experience these services
Challenges addressed by:
- Engaging The Expediter and the Court Administrator engaging the judiciary through individual meetings with the civil judges followed by a group meeting of all of those judges and both the presiding judge of the DVD and the DRD. Clarification resulted in better understanding by the judiciary of the benefits of confidentiality, as well as the exceptions to confidentiality.the judiciary
- General OrderTo allow for protection of both the judge and the Expediter, the DVD entered a General Order which “codified” the confidential nature and the exceptions to confidentiality. Those terms are outlined in the agreement that the litigants sign before initiation of the Expediter services
- Timing issueJudges initially wanted cases to be expedited very quickly which ran up against the goal of safe implementation of the Expediter service in the thoughtful way it was developed. Quick often is not safe.
Cases that were referred late in the morning court call created additional challenges because the court is required to shut down for one hour for lunch.
- Docket review processThe Expediter now reviews the daily case docket to identify which cases have children in common and then reads the pleadings on those cases to get a sense as to which cases may be referred. The Expediter is then present in the courtrooms, as often as possible, when these cases are heard by the judge so that the referral can happen quickly and the participants can begin the session immediately. This docket review process has also helped to identify cases for the Supervised Visitation Court Liaison and streamline access to those services.
Other potential solutions remain under consideration, such as calling child-related cases first, calling all attorney cases first, and offering 2:00 p.m. status calls on cases that are referred later in the morning.
We have had great success with the cases that have utilized the Child-Relief Expediter. Some examples include:
- Very positive feedback from all participants—parents, attorneys, advocates, and family members.
- Litigants express that the expedited sessions have resulted in safe and effective agreements between the parents.
- Many respondents feel that they were treated fairly during the process and they had not felt that way in court, which enhances victim safety and overall procedural justice.
- Litigants have expressed that they felt heard and had a say in the outcome related to their shared children.
- Most expedited cases have resulted in an agreement between the parties that the petitioner believes is safe and appropriate.
- Judges have been pleased with the detail of the agreements.
- Certain cases have been terminated when negotiation and/or visitation is not deemed appropriate due to risk factors.
- Parents understood the order more clearly and felt relieved to have a structure around visitation and a plan for communication.
- Many litigants have been connected to advocates, legal services, and various other resources (DV services, individual counseling, counseling for children, substance abuse services).
- Even when agreements are not reached, litigants are able to better communicate their concerns to the judge in order for the judge to make informed decisions.
- The judges notice a positive change in the demeanor of the litigants when they return to court.
- Future plans regarding evaluationWe hope to evaluate over time our presumption that when addressing visitation issues in a structured and thoughtful way respondents are less likely to violate orders and petitioners can permit safe access without risking a subsequent diminishment in a claim of further abuse should a violation occur when the petitioner permitted respondent’s access to children in contradiction to the OP.
As we gain greater experience delivering these services, with particular attention to screening for impediments to the process and the nuances of shuttle negotiation, the Expediter will share information and lessons learned with the Mediation Services for the Cook County Domestic Relations Division, which does child custody mediation in divorce and parentage cases, thus increasing their already substantial expertise in this area. We also intend to share our lessons learned with domestic violence and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) practitioners on a national scale.
Our experience in implementing the Expediter program in Cook County, including the program challenges and successes, has taught us many things that are important for other jurisdictions to consider if establishing a similar program. Some of those considerations include the following:
- Stakeholder buy-inMust be established early in the process. This includes the DV advocacy community, legal service providers, the judiciary, court personnel, supervised visitation providers, etc.
- Ongoing training and dialogue are necessary throughout the stakeholder community to address issues as they arise, to share lessons learned, and to train new service providers.
- The expectation must be established that the ExpediterYou can’t do this work quickly and safely. To that end, we would not recommend using the title of Expediter, as that presumes a quick process process is not a fast process.
- Risk assessment tools and screening protocols must be put in place and implemented by both the referring judge and the Expediter.
- Safety assessment is an ongoing process.A case that may seem safe and appropriate at the beginning may no longer be safe and appropriate once certain information is uncovered.
- Consider the various stages that cases may be referred in your court systemWe have discovered that temporary agreements put in place while awaiting a hearing on the plenary order are very valuable and increase the safety of all parties.
- The Expediter is not neutral when it comes to safety. There must be protocols in place for terminating sessions and breaking confidentiality when necessary.
- Communication protocols between the Expediter and the courtroom staff are criticalWe have learned that communication with the judge is more common, and necessary, in this setting than in most other court-based ADR programs. The judge and Expediter must be very clear on the boundaries of confidentiality when communicating about cases.
- At the time of referral, it is helpful if the judge shares what remedies s/he is going to enter, current areas of agreement, the specific issues to be negotiated, and any determinations regarding the need for restrictions on visits.
- Consider how you will measure successSuccess should not be measure solely by resolution rates. Knowing when sessions must be terminated and/or when negotiation is inappropriate is also a measure of success. There are many other measures, such as procedural justice, informed decision-making, demeanor change, connection to resources, etc. If the Expediter is pressured to resolve cases, this can put families at greater risk. in this program.
- This position requires a highly trained professional that has a background in domestic violence The subtleties and nuances necessary to safely negotiate cases with domestic violence present should not be underestimated. Budgeting for the appropriate level of employee is critical. and meditation.
- There must be ample opportunity for the Expediter to debrief cases with other colleagues doing similar work.