Engaging parents in Family Court: Lessons from an observational study of child protection cases

Lens, Vicki A.

Summary: This study explores the courtroom interactions between judges, attorneys, and parents charged with child abuse or neglect. Drawing on ethnographic observations of court cases in a Family Court located in the northeastern United States, this study seeks to understand how judges encourage or inhibit parents’ participation and the strategies and tactics used to influence parental behaviors and obtain cooperation with court orders.

Findings: On one end of the spectrum are judges who engage little, or not at all with parents, preferring to speak only to the professional court actors. On the other end of the spectrum is a more participatory approach, with judges weaving parents into court room exchanges and engaging them in informational and decision-making dialogs. A similar divergence appears when soliciting cooperation from parents, with some judges relying on shaming rituals and others using a softer approach that incorporates praise and support.

Applications: Strategic interventions are identified that will increase parents’ cooperation and satisfaction with the Family Court system. These include vigorously engaging in both informational and decision-making dialogs with parents and using rituals of praise and support, rather than shaming.


Also Published In

Journal of Social Work

More About This Work

Academic Units
Social Work
Published Here
June 10, 2019