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OJJDP News @ a Glance

This issue highlights the National Missing Children’s Day commemoration, the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the annual symposium for AMBER Alert coordinators, and a Tribal community of practice.
Message From the Administrator: When a Child Goes Missing
Action Plan - Administrator Liz Ryan

Tribal Family Treatment Courts Form a Community While Exchanging Best Practices

Stock photo of a young Native American girl

A monthly Zoom call for Tribal communities with family treatment courts has become “a space for connecting, sharing lessons, and mutual learning,” according to Will Blakeley, program associate for Center for Children and Family Futures. Called the Tribal community of practice, the virtual gathering fosters open discussion about the range of diverse challenges these courts encounter—from data collection and evaluation to protecting children in cases involving family violence.

“Each time I enter the Zoom [call], I come with the intent I am going to learn something from my peers closest to the ‘pain,’” said Anthony Trombetti, coordinator of the Joint Jurisdiction Family Wellness Court of Del Norte and Humboldt Counties, in northern California. “In return, I find space to share a ‘gift’ that I’d received from a parent, provider, peer . . . I come in with the mindset that the only thing missing from the meeting is what I don’t bring.” A Yurok Tribal citizen, Mr. Trombetti attends the gathering “as frequently as possible.”

Originally intended for OJJDP grantees, the calls are now open to any Tribe that has a family treatment court—also called family healing to wellness courts—or plans to create one. While every Tribe has a unique history and culture, one Tribe’s best practices and solutions often apply to others in the group, attendees find.

Alaska Native Tania Vega, an enrolled member of the Tlingit Tribe, joined the community of practice soon after she became coordinator of the Lummi Nation’s Family Wellness Court in Bellingham, WA, last July. She was looking for ways to enhance the Lummi program and particularly appreciated a session addressing enrollment and retention challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was helpful and reassuring to know that other Tribal programs were significantly impacted as well,” Ms. Vega said. Discussion during the call emphasized Tribal culture and its power to unite. Family treatment courts that espouse Tribal values are more likely to engage and retain Native families, attendees agreed. The Lummi and Tulalip Tribes presented case plan templates they designed with culturally relevant elements.

“We discussed how strong case plans are essential tools for goal planning towards [family] reunification,” Ms. Vega said. A case plan should do more than note whether family members comply with court-ordered services, she said. It should be a living document that emphasizes a family’s unique history, cultural practices, and interpersonal dynamics.

Two OJJDP training and technical assistance providers—the Center for Children and Family Futures and the Tribal Law and Policy Institute—host the Tribal community of practice calls, but attendees determine topics and lead the gatherings. In one session, Ms. Vega and her Lummi colleagues discussed family violence and the challenges of engaging parents with histories of domestic violence. In another, attendees discussed the importance of engaging fathers—a topic particularly meaningful to Randy Doucet, chief judge of the Lummi Tribal Court and judge of the Lummi Family Wellness Court. A recent reunification between a Lummi father and his children “very likely would not have occurred had it not been for Family Wellness Court,” he said.

The Tribal community of practice began as a forum for discussing best practices and exchanging solutions to challenges encountered by family treatment courts. It also demonstrates how technology can be used to overcome physical distance and cultivate solidarity.

“The community of practice has developed into a true community,” Mr. Blakeley said. Attendees troubleshoot together, “showcasing innovations that help each [family treatment court] grow and improve the way they serve families and their communities.”


For more information about the Tribal community of practice or to join, email [email protected].

OJJDP’s In Focus Fact Sheet: Tribal Youth Initiatives describes features of OJJDP programs designed to address the needs of youth in American Indian and Alaska Native communities.

Date Created: June 13, 2023