Pennsylvania’s Court Improvement Program is guided through a three-tiered structure known as the Children’s Roundtable Initiative. The three tiers include local Children’s Roundtables in each of the 60 judicial districts, seven statewide Leadership Roundtables (Leadership Roundtables 5 & 6 merged in 2012) and one State Roundtable. Pennsylvania uses the Roundtable model to guide the flow of dependency practice and the collaboration between the Dependency Courts, OCFC, The Department of Human Services Office of Children, Youth and Families (DHS/OCYF) and other relevant stakeholders.
Local Children’s Roundtable
At the foundational level, each judicial district in Pennsylvania convenes a Local Children’s Roundtable (LCR). The LCR is convened by the county dependency judge and is comprised of relevant stakeholders in the dependency system including but not limited to children and youth administrators, county commissioners, hearing masters, guardians ad litem, parent attorneys, agency solicitors, Court Appointed Special Advocates, school districts, drug and alcohol and mental health professionals, families, county children and youth staff, juvenile probation staff, police departments, service providers and other relevant stakeholders. The LCRs meet on a regular basis (usually monthly) to share best or promising practices, address areas of concern within the county’s dependency system and make plans to overcome barriers to timely permanency for children in their judicial district.
The flow of information and communication occurs form both the top down and the bottom up.
The second or intermediate level of roundtable infrastructure is known as the Leadership Roundtables (LR). There are seven (7) LRs dividing Pennsylvania’s 60 judicial districts into groups based on size. There are a minimum of five (4) judicial districts per LR. The number of judicial districts per LR varies slightly to keep like-size judicial districts together. The dependency judge, children and youth administrator and one additional designated stakeholder from the LCR join one of the seven LRs. At this level, counties are able to raise topical areas of interest or concerns from their own LCR and provide each other with support, problem solving techniques and practice awareness. The expectation is that like-size judicial districts will share similar concerns, solutions and resources. The LRs meet twice a year, (spring and fall) and are co-chaired by a dependency court judge from one judicial district and a children and youth administrator from another. In 2008, the concept of co-chairs was developed to establish the LR agenda, facilitate the semi-annual meetings and provide follow-up to meeting discussions. In 2009, the role of the co-chairs was enhanced to include outreach efforts to encourage more participation from dependency judges and children and youth administrators within their LR who have not yet participated or have minimal participation in a LR.
Issues are identified during LR meetings and common themes are brought to the highest roundtable level, the State Roundtable. The State Roundtable is tri-chaired by Kevin M. Dougherty, Supreme Court Justice, the Director of OCFC and the DHS/OCYF Deputy Secretary. The State Roundtable also consists of other pertinent state and national leaders having specific expertise in dependency matters. During this statewide meeting, accomplishments are shared, LR co-chairs report on themes from the seven LRs, updates on initiatives are presented and upcoming events are announced. It is at this annual roundtable that OCFC’s priorities for the following year are set and activities are established for the intended use of Court Improvement award dollars. From the State Roundtable membership, workgroups are established to research and address statewide areas of concern. Current workgroups include: Bench Book & Education, Pennsylvania Children’s Roundtable Summit, Educational Success and Truancy Prevention, Father Engagement, Parent & Sibling Visitation, Legal Representative Education, Psychotropic Medication, Transitional Youth, Hearing Officer, Dependent Children of Incarcerated Parents, and Drug and Alcohol. Finally, in addition to facilitating intrastate communication and topic specific work, the State Roundtable is involved in the dependency reform movement at the national level to keep Pennsylvania apprised of the evolving trends and best practices.
Such a structure enables Pennsylvania to be responsive to the common needs of the state, while at the same time allowing flexibility for each judicial district to function in a way that best meets its individual needs. The flow of information and communication occurs from both from the top down and the bottom up. This ensures that a mutual understanding and collaboration of permanency efforts exist for all Pennsylvania agencies and court-involved children. Overall, the system moves Pennsylvania forward in a consistent, uniform and informed manner as it endeavors to address permanence, safety and well-being for all children in the dependency system. This organizational structure contributes to a free flow of ideas, challenges and solutions, from Children’s Roundtables to Leadership Roundtables to the State Roundtable and back again.