C. What You Can Do About Disproportionality?

Many Texas judges want to know what they can do to combat disproportionality from the bench.

Texas' two highest courts, the Supreme Court of Texas and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, spearheaded the Beyond the Bench: Law, Justice, and Communities Summit on December 14, 2016 in Dallas. The Summit brought together Texas judges, law-enforcement officers, and national, state, and community leaders with the objective of strengthening trust and confidence in our justice system.

Public trust is the justice system’s principal asset but a recent study by the National Center for State Courts found there is widespread public perception that our courts do not provide justice for all. At the Summit, participants explored diverse viewpoints and engaged in candid conversations to listen and learn from one another.

The Beyond the Bench Toolkit was created to offer assistance in planning similar convenings and to inspire continued conversation about this important issue. The Toolkit includes video and details from the event and is now available for print on the pages that follow and at the links below.

•   Download the Complete Toolkit

•   Download the Complete Toolkit for Print

•   Visit the YouTube Playlist

In 2010, the Supreme Court Children’s Commission formed the Judicial Workgroup Addressing Disproportionality (JWD).

•   The JWD mission is to educate the judiciary & legal stakeholders on how to address cultural & institutional racism that contributes to the over-representation of African American, Native American and Hispanic youth and families in the child protection system.

•   Since 2011, there have been 16 different judicial trainings where judges learned how unconscious bias could be affecting their decision-making.

•   In 2016, the JWD hosted 70 participants in a Poverty Simulation Seminar. Six judges brought court teams to participate in a simulation where they assumed the roles of families facing poverty and experienced and how difficult it is to survive day-to-day, and navigate the court system in a child welfare case, when you have limited means. Contact the Children’s Commission if you are interested in hosting a Poverty Simulation in your region.

There are also many opportunities to partner with your community to contribute to this effort. Leaders in the African American community who speak out in support of these efforts are making powerful statements to children and families in the child welfare system and to their communities. Partnerships with the Alabama-Coushatta, Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, and Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas are ongoing.

The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) developed the Courts Catalyzing Change Preliminary Protective Hearing Benchcard, a practical and concrete judicial tool for use at the first hearing. This Benchcard reflects best practices for one of the most critical stages in a child abuse and neglect case.[16]

Health and human services agencies, the justice system, and other systems must partner with each other to make a difference in past patterns. The child welfare system plays a pivotal role in the solution, because it addresses the family as a whole and has the potential to decrease future disparate outcomes for African Americans. By working with local, regional, state, and national agencies in education, juvenile justice, health, and other stakeholders, the child welfare community seeks to identify common issues and barriers to equal access to community services for all Texans. While this is not an isolated issue in child welfare, child welfare leaders in Texas are committed to ongoing conversations and solutions that will contribute to the reduction of disproportionality and disparities and improve outcomes. Texas CPS is working in partnership with communities and stakeholders to ensure our children, youth and families remain at the heart of our work.



Courts Catalyzing Change Preliminary Protective Hearing Benchcard[17]

(Courtesy of the NCJFCJ; adapted with permission of NCJFCJ)

Reflections on the Decision-Making Process to Protect Against Institutional Bias

Ask yourself, as a judge:

•   Am I considering relatives as preferred placement options as long as they can protect the child and support the permanency plan?

•   What evidence has supported every conclusion I have drawn, and how have I challenged unsupported assumptions?

•   What assumptions have I made about the cultural identity, genders, and background of this family?

•   What is my understanding of this family’s unique culture and circumstances?

•   How is my decision specific to this child and this family?

•   How has the court’s past contact and involvement with this family influenced (or how might it influence) my decision-making process and findings?

•   Am I convinced that reasonable efforts (or active efforts in ICWA cases) have been made in an individualized way to match the needs of the family?


Persons who should be Present:

Courts can make sure that parties and key witnesses are present by:

Reviewing the Petition

Engage Parents

Due Process

◦   was the notice in a language and form understandable to parents and/or guardians?

Legal Threshold for Removal

Reasonable Efforts (to Prevent Removal)

◦   who was present?

◦   what was the outcome?

◦   have non-custodial parents, paternal and maternal relatives been identified and explored? What is the plan to do so?

What is Preventing the Child From Returning Home TODAY?

◦   what specifically prevents the parents from being able to provide the minimally adequate standard of care to protect the child?

◦   will the removal or addition of any person from or in the home allow the child to be safe and be placed back in the home?

Appropriateness of Placement

◦   from the family and child’s perspective, is the current placement culturally and linguistically appropriate?

◦   do the terms of family time match the safety concerns? Is it supervised? Specifically, why must it be supervised?

◦   is the time and location of family time logistically possible for the family, and supportive of the child’s needs?

Reasonable Efforts to Allow the Child to SAFELY Return Home

◦   does the family believe that these services, interventions, and supports will meet their current needs and build upon strengths?

◦   has the family been given the opportunity to ask for additional or alternate services?

◦   how do they build on family strengths?

◦   how is the agency determining that the services, interventions, and supports are culturally appropriate?

Closing Questions to Ask Parents, Children, and Family Members