Study of Virtual Child Welfare Hearings

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, child and family serving systems were required to adapt their operations to mitigate the spread of the virus while continuing to serve children and families. For family and juvenile courts, this meant launching virtual hearings and finding innovative ways for families, attorneys, advocates, and the court to convene safely while simultaneously ensuring safety, permanency, and well-being are being achieved.


The National Center for State Courts with funding from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Inc. and Casey Family Programs, is studying the experience of families and court professionals in virtual child welfare hearings to better understand the experience of parents, caregivers, youth, attorneys, and caseworkers, and to identify promising practices supportive of effective and efficient virtual hearings. The findings will inform child welfare stakeholders on potential barriers to quality and meaningful virtual hearings, elevate family voice, and identify opportunities for future research.

The Primary Goals of the Study

  • Identify and describe the experience of families and court professionals in virtual hearings in terms of perceptions of fairness, access to technology, and high-quality legal representation
  • Explore how key aspects of quality hearings can be implemented in the virtual environment

Brief Publications

Virtual Child Welfare Hearings Tip Sheet: This document describes considerations for future use of virtual child welfare hearings.

Study of Virtual Child Welfare Hearings Judicial Interviews Brief (June 2021): This document outlines judges’ experiences conducting virtual hearings, their opinions on the benefits and challenges of virtual hearings and their perceptions of how families and court professionals navigated the transition.

Study of Virtual Child Welfare Hearings Methodology Brief (March 2021): This document describes the study's methodology and briefly outlines the project's next steps.

Events

Virtual Child Welfare Hearings Virtual Summit

Over three Mondays in November, NCSC brought together examples from state and local jurisdictions and national experts to discuss what we know so far about virtual child welfare hearings, describe emerging best practices, and provide guidance for sustaining and evaluating virtual practices moving forward. There were also opportunities for networking and connecting with colleagues across the country to discuss their experiences. Below, is an overview of the Summit.

Day 1, November 1
What do we currently know about virtual child welfare hearings?

  • Learn about findings from two national studies of virtual child welfare hearings.
  • Hear about state level virtual hearing studies and how states are applying their lessons to improving virtual hearings.

Day 1 Recording:

Day 2, November 8
What are emerging best practices in virtual child welfare hearings?

  • Learn science-based tips for effective virtual communication.
  • Hear from panels of court users and court professionals describing the experience in virtual hearings.
  • Become aware of practices that support trauma-informed virtual hearings.

Day 2 Recording

Day 3, November 15
Sustaining and evaluating virtual child welfare hearings

  • Learn and see examples of how to formalize virtual hearing practices.
  • Receive strategies for evaluating the quality of virtual child welfare hearings.
  • Hear considerations for effective hybrid hearings.

Day 3 Recording

Other Resources

Briefing on Virtual Court Hearings During COVID-19 (March 2021)