A Year of Changes in Juvenile

A Year of Changes in Juvenile

The Juvenile bench has settled in after the move from Martinez to the Walnut Creek Courthouse. It has been a year since the move, and court operations in Walnut Creek seem to be running smoothly thanks to the patience of and assistance from our justice partners (e.g., Children and Family Services, Probation, the Public Defender’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office, and Contra Costa Juvenile Advocates).

I continue to serve as the Supervising Juvenile Judge, through 2018, and am joined by Judge Lois Haight and Judge Barbara Hinton in the Walnut Creek Courthouse. Judge Leslie Landau handles juvenile proceedings at Juvenile Hall. In 2019, Judge Hinton will take over as the Supervising Juvenile Judge. Judge Hinton has extensive experience in the juvenile assignment, having served two rotations as a juvenile judge. In addition, before her appointment to the bench, she worked as court-appointed counsel representing litigants in juvenile proceedings. Also in 2019, Judge Landau will move to Walnut Creek where she will be hearing both dependency and juvenile justice matters, and Judge John Cope will be assigned as the judge at Juvenile Hall.

In addition to juvenile dependency and juvenile justice matters, the juvenile bench handles truancy proceedings, including cases brought against parents by the District Attorney’s Office (“parent truancy court”) and teen truancy cases. Commissioner Terrye Davis and I currently handle the parent truancy court in the Walnut Creek Courthouse. In these hearings, service providers from C.O.P.E. Family Support Services, Lincoln Child Center, County Mental Health, and REACH are present in court to work directly with parents to remove barriers to getting their children to school every day, on time. These same service providers work in the teen truancy proceedings heard at Juvenile Hall. We have seen tremendous successes in truancy proceedings, particularly in the parent truancy Court where the focus is on changing attendance habits early in a child’s life and supporting a parent’s involvement in the academic success of his/her child(ren). The District Attorney’s Office, and in particular Deputy District Attorney Laura Delehunt, has been instrumental in the implementation and success of these proceedings and the garnering of support by the County Office of Education, most school districts in the county, and many community service providers.

The majority of juvenile cases remain dependency cases filed by County Counsel under Welfare and Institutions Code section 300. In contrast, the number of petitions filed by the District Attorney’s Office under Welfare and Institutions Code section 602 continues to trend downward—a trend consistent with statewide data collected from other counties. Newly-elected District Attorney Diana Becton is working with various justice partners to develop community-based programs to address the needs of at-risk youth with the hope that some may be diverted from the court process through a diversion/restorative justice program. This effort may further impact the number of cases filed with the Court by the District Attorney’s Office.

Children and Family Services (CFS) has faced a shortage of staffing resources, having many unfilled social worker positions. Under changes brought about by the Continuum of Care Reform, CFS has also faced challenges in placing children removed from abusive and/or neglectful parents. These placement challenges are due in large part to new licensing rules requiring relatives to undergo the same background check and training process as those seeking to become foster parents.

This process often results in delay of placement with relatives. Additionally, under these legislative changes, group homes must be replaced by short-term residential therapeutic programs (STRTPs) in order to provide intensive services to children placed in congregate care and to expedite transition to a lower level of care. Many group homes are unable to meet the licensing requirements to become STRTPs. The lack of placement options makes it difficult to place some children who may not meet the medical necessity criteria but whose needs exceed those that can be met safely in a family-based setting. Despite these internal and external challenges, Children and Family Services is working tirelessly to provide services to the families they serve.

Contra Costa County’s Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Program continues to grow and serve children placed in foster care. It has increased the number of children served by 10% over last year and have recruited three new groups scheduled for training in the next few months. Data confirms that children with CASAs are much more likely to succeed in their educational pursuits, and often these children develop life-long connections with their CASAs. The contributions of CASAs to children in foster care are immeasurable.

Our juvenile judges remain committed to serving our families and children in Contra Costa County, and look forward to working with all juvenile justice partners in the year to come.