Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date

2009

Abstract

Family Court reform efforts in recent years have expanded the court’s jurisdiction and supervisory authority while heralding the Family Court judge as the leader of a team of professionals who are solving the problems that bring families to court. This article challenges that reform paradigm by asking a series of questions about the way in which we talk about – rather than analyze – this court reform movement: What do we say about the reform work we do, and to what degree is what we say accurate? How does the way in which we talk about Family Court reform implicate our analysis of what we are achieving? How does our place or role within the system affect our perceptions of reform? What limits our willingness and ability to apply rigorous evaluative techniques to determine whether we are reaching our goals? And if we are failing, can we acknowledge failure and learn from it? These questions are answered by uncovering the predominant use of stories and conventional justifications to support current court reform efforts rather than erecting a vigorous accountability system grounded in systemic knowledge to substantiate the reform choices funded by federal agencies and encouraged by prominent judicial and bar organizations. The article concludes that these efforts have not yet been proven to be effective and thus worth adopting more broadly. Unless court reformers are willing to hold themselves accountable for their efforts and to analyze critically whether goals are being accomplished, we cannot determine whether the problem-solving paradigm is adding value to families’ lives or whether an improved due process paradigm continues to offer the best opportunity for fairness and justice when court intervention is necessary.

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