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Details | State of Illinois Office of the Illinois Courts

The important work of the AOIC Courts, Children and Families Division


Our court system often serves the people of this State in their most vulnerable moments, and that is particularly true in child abuse and neglect cases. In 2020, the Supreme Court established the Court, Children and Families Division of the Administrative Office of Illinois Courts. To explain the important work of that Division, I would like to introduce its Assistant Director, Heather Dorsey.

The Courts, Children and Families Division of the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts

By Heather Dorsey, Assistant Director

I am honored and thankful for the opportunity to share information on the important work of the Courts, Children and Families Division. With the support of the Supreme Court of Illinois, the Children and Families Division (CCFD) was established in May 2020 to expand its work to critical court matters related to children and families. The Division is a successor to the Courts, Children and Families Unit within the Court Services Division.

The role of the Courts, Children and Families Division is to provide support to the courts by delivering quality education, training, technical assistance and fostering collaborative relationships with court stakeholders. One of the primary responsibilities of the CCFD is the administration of the Illinois Court Improvement Program (CIP), a federally funded grant initiative administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children’s Bureau. The Division supports the mission, vision, and core values of that program, which include ensuring safety, well-being, and timely permanency for children and families involved in child abuse and neglect proceedings. The program continues to develop the foundation and infrastructure for improved court practice by concentrating on the five pillars: Quality Legal Representation; Judicial Training; Child Protection Court Data; Well-being; and Collaboration with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

The Illinois CIP provides grants to local jurisdictions to assist the courts in serving children and families involved in juvenile abuse and neglect cases, develops state-level projects and initiatives, delivers training in partnership with the Illinois Judicial College, and administers data collection projects. Local grants include:

  • University of Illinois College of Law Family Advocacy Clinic
  • Southern Illinois University Juvenile Justice Clinic
  • Dedicated Guardians ad Litem Projects
  • Family Treatment Court Planning Grant
  • National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges Child Abuse and Neglect Institute Judicial Scholarships
  • Local trainings and projects
  • For more information about Court Improvement Program grant opportunities, please visit: Courts, Children, and Families Division | Illinois Courts

The Illinois CIP has an established multi-disciplinary Court Improvement Program Advisory Committee that helps guide and contribute to program activities, creating opportunity to promote and enhance meaningful and on-going collaboration between the courts, the child welfare agency, and court stakeholders.

Examples of State-level Projects:

  • Child Protection Data Courts (CPDC) Project: The CPDC Project collects and analyzes court performance measures, demographic information and cases processing data in child abuse and neglect cases including achievement of child permanency, time to termination of parental rights, time to first permanency hearing and time to permanent placement. Eight CPDC sites are involved in court data collection activities and use data to enhance local practice and inform program activities.
  • Dually Involved Youth Project: The CCFD, in conjunction with the Robert F. Kennedy National Resource Center for Juvenile Justice Technical Assistance team, designed and launched a Dual Status Youth Initiative in Illinois with grant funds from the National Center for State Courts. The term “dual status” refers to children and youth who come into contact with both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. The purpose of the project is to create a system of early identification of dually involved youth and system coordination to best meet the needs of youth and families to prevent further involvement in the court system.
  • Quality Hearing Project: Holding high quality, meaningful hearings are critical to the child welfare process and can impact timely permanency. Studies have found that higher levels of parental engagement in hearings, rooted in procedural fairness principles, is related to more placements with parents and with relatives earlier in and throughout the case (Macgill & Summers, 2014) and with timely permanency for youth (Summers, 2017; Summers & Gatowski, 2018). The Quality Hearing Project is designed to effectively engage mothers, fathers, and youth during the early stages of a juvenile abuse and neglect court case (Shelter Care Hearing to Dispositional Hearing) through quality hearing practice in order to establish a vision, culture, and specific practices to increase the courts focus on timely permanency.
  • Human Trafficking Project: CCFD partnered with the Human Trafficking Institute Labs to conduct a Study of Online Sex Trafficking in Illinois to increase knowledge and understanding of the prevalence of the online commercial sex industry in Illinois through research methods for tracking sex trafficking patterns. Findings from this study are used as a data source for various projects and trainings.

The CCFD provides staff support to the Supreme Court Committee on Juvenile Courts, the Guardian ad Litem Education Committee of the Illinois Judicial College, and the new Supreme Court Committee on Domestic Violence and their various workgroups as well as the Gender Identity Policy Workgroup of the SCC on Equality. Additionally, CCFD staff members participate on several state and federal committees including the Racial Disparities in Child Welfare Task Force, Family First Prevention Services Act Steering Committee, Child Welfare Action Committee- Racial Equity Committee, and the federal Child and Family Services Review.

Recognizing the importance of input from justice partners, the Juvenile Courts Committee is currently expanding its membership. The committee consists of several workgroups exploring issues such as restorative justice, overrepresentation and disparate outcomes for youth of color in the juvenile court system, court forms, and enhanced judicial communication. The committee has developed a juvenile court judge listserv and a welcome packet for judges newly assigned to juvenile court which includes helpful resources.

The Domestic Violence Committee was created in November 2022 as a result of the Supreme Court's interest in studying ways that our state courts can better serve the needs of survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking. Changing technology, implementation of the SAFE-T Act, and continued legislative changes related to domestic violence necessitated the need for a committee dedicated to these issues.

I am most proud of the dedicated Division staff and the relationships the CCFD continues to build with the Illinois judiciary, federal partners, court stakeholders, other divisions of the Administrative Office and state agencies in an effort to be responsive to the needs of the court system and to Illinois children and families.