As the family court project of the Indiana Supreme Court’s Division of State Court Administration enters a new year, courts that participate in the program have learned they will continue to operate with about the same amount of funding they have had in recent years.
More than $200,000 was distributed among 13 programs serving 17 counties for 2011, according to Loretta Oleksy, Family Court Project Manager.
The other seven counties that participate in the program will also continue to operate at levels similar to recent years, but they did not submit requests for grants for 2011 because they have been able to secure other funding sources or had funds left over from last year. (See map of all counties with family court projects.)
Existing programs that received grants for 2011 include:
• Allen County’s project received $15,000 and served 141 new families in the first three quarters of 2010, the latest numbers available from the statewide Family Court Project. That program includes a facilitation program for paternity cases. The project also plans to expand its ADR program to include post-decree cases.
• A four-county program, which comprises Bartholomew, Brown, Jackson, and Lawrence counties, received $15,000 and served 325 new families in the first three quarters of 2010. This program also offers ADR and facilitates CHINS cases.
The Clark County Family Court Project received $25,000, and served 340 new families in the first three quarters of 2010. That project has proposed programming to include a Family Drug Treatment Court and CHINS mediation.
Other existing programs include a project in Henry County, which received $10,000 and served at least eight new families; a project in Lake County received $12,000, and served at least 43 new families; the LaPorte County project received $15,000, and served at least 312 new families; Marion County received $20,000 with the possibility of an additional $10,000 based on the recommendations of a report by the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, and served at least 985 new families; Owen County’s project received $2,000 and served at least 21 new families; the St. Joseph County project received $15,000 and served at least 224 new families; Tippecanoe County’s project received $15,000 and served at least 194 new families; and Vanderburgh County’s family court project received $10,000 and served at least 66 new families. The number of new families served for each county includes those served during the first three quarters of 2010.
The three newest programs are in Madison and Parke counties, which both started in 2010. Madison County’s project received $20,000 and plans to assist up to 20 families based on who has the most need. Parke County’s project received $4,000, and is piloting the “family jacket” capability within Odyssey to coordinate a family’s multiple cases.
Jefferson County’s family court project is the latest, starting this year with a $40,000 grant. That county’s program includes a truancy prevention program.
According to a description of the program provided by Oleksy, the existing out-of-school suspension program, Court Assisted Resolution of School Suspensions, will implement a Saturday school component and provide “additional staff to supervise students who are removed from the CARSS classroom for bad behavior. In the past, these students have been sent home.”
All of the family court projects have tailored their grant requests, whether from the Division of State Court Administration, their individual counties, or other funding sources, to their specific needs. Each project has some flexibility in what it chooses to do or not do based on its needs, Oleksy said.
For instance, because Marion County’s project is among the largest in the state, that program uses a combination of one judge-one family and information sharing models. It also offers a Family Resource Center, service referral and coordination, alternative dispute resolution options for domestic relations cases, and assistance for self-represented litigants.
It is also helpful to pro se litigants in Marion County who don’t want to wait up to six months to be placed with a pro bono attorney through Heartland Pro Bono Council, which serves Indiana Pro Bono District 8, which includes Marion and surrounding counties.
“We hear from clients who don’t want to wait up to six months to be assigned to an attorney for family law cases,” said Heartland’s executive director, Laurie Boyd. She added that the majority of the cases she and other pro bono districts receive are family law cases, and that these projects offer another option.
The existence of the family law projects has also been helpful to the Volunteer Lawyer Program of Southwestern Indiana, in Pro Bono District 13, which includes Vanderburgh County. That program includes a Pro Se Assistance Clinic, which has a part-time social work intern who can help with case management, social service referrals, and coordination of mediation services, when applicable. That clinic also focuses on family law matters involving children, and gives special attention to families with multiple cases.
Scott Wylie, co-plan administrator for District 13, said he has noticed how the clinic has been helpful to all the legal aid providers in the area.
“Volunteer attorneys assist clients to complete a pro se form, then help pro se parties complete the forms and file them there … and that’s a solution. It allows us to focus attorney referrals to those most needing legal counsel. But just because someone is getting a divorce and doesn’t have children, it doesn’t mean they deserve counsel any less than anyone else,” he said.
He said the project has also helped because it offers access to mediation, counseling, and parenting coordination. That access has also cut the number of continuances, he said, because parties who go through that clinic have the right forms in the first place and have some guidance when they fill them out and file them.
“A pro se litigant without help can be a mess, but with basic guidance on demeanor in court and which forms to fill out, they can have a better chance of getting through the system. It’s still not as good as having an attorney,” he said, but it has helped.
Because the statewide project started in 2000, Oleksy said the judicial officers and staff have been reflecting on the last decade and recently completed a survey.
She said the results were very positive. Of the 65 people who received surveys, 34 began the surveys and 30 completed them. At least one person from each county involved in the project completed a survey.
Among the results, Oleksy and others in the Division of State Court Administration learned that the family court project has: improved responding courts’ ability to avoid conflicting and/or redundant orders for families with multiple cases (87 percent); avoided re-litigating the same issue in multiple courts (90 percent); made informed and coordinated decisions for families with multiple cases (87 percent); and avoided unnecessary delays in the judicial process (87 percent).
The survey also showed that the projects have: improved access to affordable alternative dispute resolution, assessment, and treatment for families (90 percent); improved families’ understanding of court orders and compliance with court-ordered services (83 percent); improved legal accuracy and sufficiency of self-represented litigant family law filings (83 percent); and decreased the amount of time judicial officers spend on non-judicial activities (i.e., calculating child support, reviewing pleadings, etc.) in cases involving self-represented litigants (83 percent).
“I forget sometimes how helpful these projects are,” Oleksy said, “but then I visit them and I see the work they do with individual families. They never cease to amaze me. The potential impact on pro se litigants is tremendous.”•