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Children’s Justice Initiative celebrates 20th anniversary

Posted: Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Nation-leading effort has improved outcomes for children in the child protection system

In December 2000, the Minnesota Judicial Branch and Minnesota Department of Human Services partnered together to launch the Children’s Justice Initiative (CJI), a nation-leading effort to produce better outcomes in the state’s child protection system. Through the CJI, these two state entities work closely with local stakeholders in each of Minnesota’s 87 counties to find safe, stable, and permanent homes for abused and neglected children in a timely manner. The goal of the CJI has been to operate "through the eyes of the child" and to ensure the child protection system is focused on child safety, permanency, and well-being.
 
At the December 2000 Annual Conference of Judges, then Chief Justice Kathleen A. Blatz, who spearheaded the establishment of the CJI for the Branch, said, “Let me tell you why I think this issue is so important.   The cases that come before us from the child protection system are not cases involving countless or nameless children.  Each case represents at least one child – and the disposition of that case will often have ramifications that transcend any notion of juvenile jurisdiction.”
 
The first several years of the CJI focused on developing teams in each county, bringing together teams consisting of judges, court administration, social services, Guardians ad Litem, attorneys for parents and children, county attorneys, and tribal representatives to improve oversight of child protection cases in each county.
 
“For the past 20 years, the Children’s Justice Initiative has brought together all sides of Minnesota’s child protection system to improve the lives of our state’s most vulnerable children," said current Chief Justice Lorie S. Gildea. "We are proud to celebrate everything we have achieved through the Children's Justice Initiative, and to mark this important anniversary."
 
In 2005, Minnesota hosted the first National Judicial Leadership Summit on the Protection of Children, which was attended by the chief justices and high-level child protection system representatives from across the country. The Summit provided an opportunity for Minnesota to showcase its CJI model. Following the Summit, nearly every state implemented a model similar to the one pioneered in Minnesota, with many states adopting the Children’s Justice Initiative moniker.
 
The CJI offers an array of training and resources to help judges and CJI teams better manage child protection cases. Since the beginning of the Initiative, these training opportunities have been received by thousands of judges, attorneys, social workers, Guardians ad Litem, tribal representatives, and law enforcement officers across the state.
 
“We are so thankful for the visionary leaders who came together to form the Children’s Justice Initiative 20 years ago, and for all of the judges, staff, and stakeholders who have been part of this incredible effort,” said Chief Justice Gildea.  “We share no greater responsibility than ensuring we have the best possible child protection system in place in our state. And there is no greater duty than the one we owe to vulnerable children; children who deserve nothing less than safety, security, permanency, and happiness.”
 
Through the CJI, Minnesota continues to pioneer collaborative and innovative strategies for managing child protection cases.
 
Key Milestones:
  • December 2000: The CJI commenced at the Minnesota Annual Conference of Judges with a meeting of its first 10 CJI judges to talk about the Initiative and its theme, “through the eyes of the child.”
  • September 2005:  Multidisciplinary CJI teams were implemented in all 87 counties, and Minnesota hosted the first National Summit on the Protection of Children. The goal of the Summit was to introduce the United States to the CJI and the concept of a “statewide model,” where there is a multidisciplinary team in every county led by a juvenile court judge.
  • 2014: Minnesota was asked by the federal Children’s Bureau to pilot-test the national Indian Child Welfare Act curriculum. In 2015, Minnesota customized the national curriculum, and over the last five years, has provided competency-based skills training to more than 1,000 judges, attorneys, social workers, Guardians ad Litem, tribal representatives, law enforcement representatives, and others. 
  • 2017: Minnesota implemented the Emergency Protective Care (EPC) Hearing Experiential Learning training. The purpose of this training is to provide child protection stakeholders with an opportunity to participate in experiential EPC hearing simulations, with the goal of improving the quality of EPC hearings throughout. The trainings are provided by Mitchell Hamline School of Law and supported by the CJI.
  • 2018: The CJI began overseeing a pilot in Minnesota’s Eighth Judicial District, through which two judges (Judge Jennifer Fischer and Judge Laurence Stratton) are presiding over all CHIPS proceedings across seven counties. This specialized approach has been well-received by stakeholders and partners in the Eighth District, and appears to be positively impacting how quickly children are being placed in permanent, safe living situations. The pilot concludes on December 31, 2020.