Allegheny County has launched a videoconferencing pilot program for proceedings in Children's Court.
The videoconferencing technology was secured through a unique public-private partnership among Child Watch of Pittsburgh, the Allegheny County Children's Court, the Allegheny County Department of Human Services (DHS), and other community organizations. The initiative is expected to both positively impact the welfare of children served and realize fiscal savings.
“This project will reduce the trauma children experience when testifying in abuse and custody cases, as well as reduce expenses and improve efficiency,” said Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato. “I want to thank the organizations involved for making this cutting-edge initiative a reality.”
The use of videoconferencing in child protection and custody matters will move Allegheny County and its child welfare system to the forefront of best practices by improving court experiences and permanency for children. Videoconferencing will enable the expansion of the scope of participation outside of the justice and corrections systems to include all cases where children will be impacted. Allegheny County's use of the technology in dependency cases will be unique because it will occur at non-county sites, such as Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.
“Our goal for this project is simple – to improve court proceedings and enhance participation in the court process, particularly for children who need to feel comfortable and safe,” said Family Court Administrative Judge Kim Berkeley Clark. “With this project, we hope to minimize the pain of these proceedings for children.”
The videoconferencing equipment is being piloted at the following eight sites: Children's Court Courtroom 5059; a mobile child-friendly testimony unit; Children's Court Regional Courtroom on Pittsburgh's South Side; Shuman Juvenile Detention Center; Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh; Allegheny County Jail; and DHS' Children, Youth & Families (CYF) Mon Valley and South Regional offices.
“The long-term plan is to expand the system to 36 total sites, including: 13 Children's Court Courtrooms; two Children's Court conference rooms; four Children's Court Regional Courtrooms; five regional CYF offices; the five Allegheny County Regional Community Intensive Supervision Program (CISP) Centers; three local hospitals; two mental health provider offices; and two jail/detention centers,” said Child Watch Executive Director Amy Raslevich.
Once the videoconferencing technology is fully implemented, it is expected to:
• Reduce the trauma experienced by children who must testify at dependency hearings in front of those who have allegedly abused or neglected them or their siblings;
• Increase the efficiency and improve the scheduling ability of the court through the use of this equipment;
• Provide additional, enhanced contact for families with children who have been placed in remote residential treatment facilities and who may not otherwise have the means to continue contact during the placement;
• Increase the frequency of testimony by expert witnesses in the health and mental health professions by removing barriers that exist in the current system;
• Reduce the wait and expenses of appearances borne by the county and its CYF caseworkers, under limited circumstances, thereby freeing up time that can be used more productively on behalf of children and their families;
• Improve the ability of incarcerated parents to participate in court proceedings;
• Protect the rights of children who enter the court system; and
• Improve access to the court by all citizens, litigants and law enforcement personnel.
The videoconferencing project represents another important innovation of the Children's Court, such as electronic filing, made possible by collaborating with DHS and other county partners.