Courts Can Help Keep Families Together

Research, analysis, and technical assistance to help court officials and legislators strengthen policies

A child holds the hands of two adults, one on either side, as the three stand outside in silhouette against a setting sun.
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Courts play a pivotal role in determining critical family matters, such as whether a nonparent can secure legal guardianship over a child or a young person found to have committed a legal offense will be sent to an out-of-home placement. And how the courts address these cases has significant implications for families, affecting children’s access to a stable home and to the resources and treatment that they need to thrive—and even their freedom to live at home.

When processing family and child cases, however, courts often must contend with outdated policies or a lack of data that limits their ability to fairly and promptly resolve these matters. For example, courts oversee the process of minor guardianship—a legal arrangement that grants nonparents the legal authority to care for a child—which directly affects where children live and who is responsible for their well-being. But because guardianship procedures were originally devised to address the death of parents, today’s cases, which often involve living parents who cannot or will not take responsibility for their children, frequently present considerable hurdles for families.

State policymakers can help improve when and how courts engage in the lives of families in need and ensure that young people have safe, stable care and living situations. 

The resources offered here can help court officials and other state leaders compile and analyze data on their dockets and develop evidence-based strategies to effectively and equitably meet children's and families' most critical needs. 

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