Obama Signs Bill to Speed Up Transfer of Foster Youth School Records

The Uninterrupted Scholars Act was signed into law by President Barack Obama on Monday, paving the way for easier access to the education records of foster youths by their caseworkers.

“The records of foster youth could not be easily obtained by the agency with custody of them, and that made no sense whatsoever to us,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), one of the bill’s authors and co-chair of the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth.

The bill creates an exception for child welfare workers in regard to the protections included in the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA), which until this week required child welfare workers to either obtain parental consent for a transfer of education records, or receive a court order from a judge.

“These children get labeled, and then they get lost,” Landrieu said, speaking on a press call about the bill today. “This is one of many acts we’re working on to assist them.”

The Administration for Children Families (ACF) will issue a joint letter with the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education to alert state education and child welfare departments about the changes, said George Sheldon, who oversees ACF at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Foster youth are often forced to switch schools when they change foster or group homes. Many schools will not enroll a student until his records have arrived, particularly information related to immunizations received by the child.

When incomplete student records accompany foster youth to new schools, it often costs the student credits. R.J. Sloke, a former foster youth from South Carolina, said he made it to his eleventh school as a 17-year-old freshman before someone took interest in his academic history.

With the help of a faculty member, not his social worker, Sloke pieced together his whole record and was immediately reclassified as a rising high school junior.

The Uninterrupted Scholars Act eliminates the biological parent’s right to prevent the use of those records by child workers. The act amends FERPA to create an exception for “an agency caseworker or other representative of a State or local child welfare agency…when such agency or organization is legally responsible, in accordance with State or tribal law, for the care and protection of the student.”

Child welfare workers can only share or discuss those records with individuals or other entities “engaged in addressing the student’s education needs.

“It’s 100 percent cost effective because it doesn’t cost an extra penny and removes all the barriers social workers have,” said Sloke, who interned last summer for Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Kan.) and now works on Landrieu’s staff.

Early versions of the legislation included a similar exception for use of records for research on “federal and state education-related mandates governing child welfare agencies.” An early House version specifically referred to enrollment practices, attendance and school stability as three issues of interest.

According to Landrieu, that aspect of the act was killed by objections from “one or two” Senate Republicans, including Mike Enzi (Wyo.), the ranking minority member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

“We fought hard for that, but we ran into a brick wall,” a disappointed Landrieu said of the research exception. “The only promise we got was it would be considered when FERPA reauthorization” came up.

The act originated in the House as the Access to Papers Leads to Uninterrupted Scholars Act, co-authored by Reps. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Tom Marino (R-Penn.), Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Jim McDermott (D-Wash.).

The Senate version was submitted by Landrieu, with Republican support from Sens. Roy Blunt (Kan.) and Chuck Grassley (Iowa).

The bill addresses one challenge within a bigger problem: The fact that foster youth have to jump from school to school in the first place. The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, passed in 2008, requires child welfare agencies to keep children in their school of origin unless it is not in the child’s best interest to do so.

Sheldon, who led Florida’s Department of Children and Families before joining the administration, said that and other requirements of Fostering Connections were difficult to comply with because of FERPA.

“I recognize the importance of privacy,” Sheldon said on the press call today. But when a child is in foster care, “the state is a parent of that child and is responsible to know everything about a child’s advancement.”

John Kelly is the editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change

California’s Contribution to National Educational Opportunity for Foster Youth Movement

By. Daniel Heimpel

On January 1st, the House passed the Uninterrupted Scholars Act, a bill that marks another important step on the longer road to increased educational opportunity for students in foster care.

Beyond the immediate significance to the more than 50,000 children living in foster care in California, Uninterrupted Scholars builds on a larger, national movement towards educational opportunity for foster youth largely born in the Golden State.

The act, which had passed in the Senate unanimously on Dec. 17th, 2012, will amend the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to ease child welfare agencies’ access to foster children’s student records.

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), who as the most senior Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee was critical in getting the bill to the floor, explained the bill’s importance during a Dec. 30th session of the house.

“Foster children are some of the most at-risk students,” Miller said. “Throughout their young lives they may change care placements multiple times…. Each move can put their educational success in jeopardy. That’s because the caseworkers who advocate for them as they move from one school to another often do so without critical information.”

As the law stands, child welfare agencies must have a court order to be granted access to student records. This legal hurdle not only slows down the transfer of records as students bounce from school to school, but also creates missed opportunities for social workers to intervene when a child struggles academically or celebrate academic success.

Jetaine Hart is a former foster youth who now works as an educational mentor for foster youth in Alameda County, Calif. California took a lead on the education of foster youth in 1981, launching Foster Youth Services, a statewide program that brought educational liaisons and mentors like Hart to county offices of education.

In California, educational mentors and liaisons are critical to making sure that records follow students in foster care, but there is no mirror program in non-county aligned school districts.

“A lot of time the social worker is the only person who keeps of track who knows the history,” Hart said.” Now social workers won’t have to wait to access this information – they will know what attendance looks like, know what’s going on with grades and disciplinary action in real time.”

Teri Kook, the child welfare director for the San Francisco-based Stuart Foundation and a national expert on education and foster care, concurs. “Ultimately, I believe this ability to share information, craft individualized academic plans and build upon the resiliency and strengths of students in foster care will improve high school graduation rates and college access and success for this vulnerable population,” Kook said.

In addition to the launch of Foster Youth Services in 1981, state legislators passed Assembly Bill 490 in 2004 to increase school stability for foster youth. The law gives students in foster care the right to stay in their school of origin even if a changed foster care placement forces them into a new school district, and ensures the rapid transfer of their records when a school move is deemed necessary.

In 2008, the federal government followed suit with strict provisions around the educational stability of foster youth in the landmark Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act. In 2011, the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) passed an amendment to the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) calling for the Department of Education to consider the educational stability and success of foster youth.

The bi-partisan, bi-cameral Uninterrupted Scholars Act bolsters the strength of this movement. This issue – that of leveling the educational playing field for our most vulnerable children – is one that ever more leaders are focused on solving. Their success in improving the educational achievement of foster youth could light the way for the broader education reforms this country so desperately needs.

Daniel Heimpel is the founder of Fostering Media Connections and the publisher of The Chronicle of Social Change. 

Congress Passes Key Foster Care Education Bill

By. Daniel Heimpel

2013 started with both houses of Congress passing a bill focused on improving the educational outcomes of foster youth.

The Uninterrupted Scholars Act (USA), submitted by the bi-partisan co-chairs of both the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth and the Senate  Foster Youth Caucus, was approved in the Senate by Unanimous Consent on Dec. 17th, and made it through the House on January 1st.

Among a handful of Members of Congress who took the floor to discuss the bill on Dec. 30 was Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), who introduced Uninterrupted Scholars alongside Caucus co-founders Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.), Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), and Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) in May. “We have a responsibility to foster youth and children who we removed from their parents’ care,” Bass said.  “Youth who we promised to keep safe and help to succeed. The Uninterrupted Scholars Act will help help us keep this promise.”

If signed by the President, Uninterrupted Scholars will amend the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to allow child welfare agencies access to foster student records. When FERPA was written in 1974, lawmakers’ intended to protect parents’ control over their children’s student records. But, the unintended consequence for children whose parent is the state — like those in foster care — were time-consuming legal hurdles social workers had to jump for access to foster student records.

Jetaine Hart, a former foster youth who now works as an educational mentor for foster youth in Alameda County, California, says that slowed access to student records for child welfare agencies means missed opportunities to celebrate a foster child’s academic success or to help overcome educational challenges. “Now social workers won’t have to wait to access this information – they will know what attendance looks like, know what’s going on with grades and disciplinary action in real time,” Hart said in an interview. “That will help them make better decisions about the educational needs of the kids.”

Further, lawmakers and advocates argue that the new law will help smooth the transition to new schools for foster youth who are used to bouncing from one school to the next as they move from foster home to foster home. Nearly two thirds of former foster youth surveyed by Casey Family Programs in a national alumni study experienced seven or more school moves from kindergarten to twelfth grade. Coupled with the existing barriers in FERPA, educational and child welfare agencies struggle to ensure student records rapidly follow foster youth through school moves. This often results in an unnecessary loss of school credits, which contributes to a dismal foster youth high graduation rate of roughly 50%, according to data compiled by the National Working Group on Foster Care and Education.

Miller Floor debate

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) discusses the Uninterrupted Scholars Act on the House floor, Dec. 30, 2012.

“Foster Children are some of the most at risk students,” Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), and the senior democrat on the House Education and The Workforce Committee, said during the floor debate. “Throughout their young lives they may change care placements multiple times. Each placement means adjusting to a new family; often to a new community, new friends and a new school. Each move can put their educational success in jeapordy that’s because the caseworkers who advocate for them as they move from one school to another often do so without critical information. Though current law rightly requires foster care workers to move children’s educational records in their case plans, another federal law limits the ability of caseworkers to access those records in a timely manner.”

R.J. Sloke was a 2012 summer intern with Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) as part of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute‘s Foster Youth Internship Program. Sloke had bounced through a dozen schools in the five years before he aged out of foster care at age 18 and lost many school credits along the way. This caused him to be held back in ninth grade three times. On July 20th, Sloke sat down with Sen. Blunt and told him his story. Touched, the Republican Senator decided to sign on as a sponsor of the Senate Bill, which was soon after introduced by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.).

Upon hearing about Uninterrupted Scholar’s passage in both houses of Congress, Sloke felt encouraged and empowered.

“I feel like all the pain and suffering I went through transferring all those schools wasn’t for nothing,” he wrote in an email. “Now that USA is passed, foster youth have a much better shot at graduating high school, thus helping them to become more self sufficient in their lives.”

Daniel Heimpel is the founder of Fostering Media Connections and the Publisher of the Chronicle of Social Change.

News Series on Stressed Family Courts Wins duPont Award

Jessica London and Karen Foshay won a duPont Award for coverage of L.A.'s cash- and time-strapped family courts

Jessica London and Karen Foshay won a duPont Award for coverage of L.A.’s cash- and time-strapped family courts

By. John Kelly

A television production exploring how budget cuts to California’s court system have adversely affected Los Angeles Counties Juvenile Dependency Couts was awarded one of this year’s prestigious Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards.

SoCal Connected, a program of community television network KCET, was granted constrained access to a Los Angeles family courtroom and interviewed key players in the city’s dependency court process.

What producer Karen Foshay and correspondent Jennifer London found in the piece, “Courting Disaster,” was a court where judges were overextended by large dockets, attorneys were appointed to represent more than 200 people at a time

“It’s actually fairly accurate to say that…we’re dealing with these families in a much more superficial way than we really need to in order to achieve the best outcome for kids and families,” L.A. County Juvenile Court Presiding Judge Michael Nash told London in the piece. “And trust me, that’s a problem.”

At the same time, London and Foshay found, funding cuts to programs and services for parents and children have delayed and at times jeopardized the reunification of children with their birth parents.

“It was the worst feeling I’ve ever had to think that I might not get my little girl because I’m on some waiting list, and I have this time limit and I’m doing everything I can to try and get into somewhere,” parent Michelle Dodge told London, referring to court-ordered drug rehabilitation she managed to access at the last minute.

In a video for the DuPont Awards, Foshay and London recounted a drawn-out process to gain access that was nearly derailed.

“It took a year of me returning to that courtroom, meeting the judges, the attorneys, trying to gain access,” Foshay said.

The two were running out of time before the SoCal Connected season ended when Judge Nash notified them one day that, if they could file a petition by 5pm to cover Judge Amy Pellman, and she agreed, he would grant access.

Pellman signed off on the project, although on the day the team showed up to film, they ran into further resistance.

“We still ran up against a number of attorneys who on the day, said. ‘We don’t want you here, and we’re filing motion with the court to block you from coming in,” recalls London in the video segment.

Months after SoCal Connected spent a day with the court, but before the piece aired, Judge Nash made a  controversial decision to grant greater media access to reporters. A group that represents many of Los Angeles’ dependent children, Children’s Law Center of California, has expressed concern about the decision.

Last month, Nash and law center Executive Director Leslie Starr Heimov were featured speakers at Fostering Media Connections’ forum on open courts. Click here to watch part one of the forum, and here to watch part two.

SoCal Connected re-aired the piece tonight on KCET at 5:30pm and 10:30pm. It is also available here on the program’s website.

Cockerton Wins Purpose Prize Award

liv fostercare.jpgJudy Cockerton, CEO and Founder of the Treehouse Community in Easthampton, Mass., was named one of five 2012 Purpose Prize winners and received a $100,000 award to be given to the organization.

“I want to be part of creating new norms in foster care that are so much more humane. It’s wonderful to think that I have a shot at that,” said Cockerton in a press release.

The Purpose Prize is given by Encore.org to individuals over age 60 who use passion and experience for social good.  Formerly called Civic Ventures, Encore.org is an organization that recognizes purposeful work later on in life.

The Treehouse Foundation is an intergenerational community that brings together foster and adopted families, and older individuals who want to live and be part of a young person’s support system.

Cockerton founded the organization in 2006 after having fostered and adopted two young girls, wanting to create a way for more people to get involved in the lives of youth in care. Now, over 100 people ages between ages four and 94 have lived together at Treehouse.

Cockerton was named a 2010 “Angel in Adoption” for her work at Treehouse Foundation by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

Purpose prize winners aren’t restricted to spend the money in certain ways, but Cockerton says all of the prize money will be invested into Treehouse and other foster care innovation ventures.

Fiscal Cliff Solution? It’s Anyone’s Guess

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by John Sciamanna

It has been a half century since the Cuban Missile Crisis when, according to many historians, the world came as close as it ever has to a full nuclear war.  At one point during that 13-day crisis the Soviet Union ships stopped short of the U.S. embargo line, delaying the first chance at military confrontation.  “We were eyeball to eyeball and the other guy just blinked,” Secretary of State Dean Rusk commented at the time.

One of the biggest challenges in the pending budget/tax negotiations is to come up with an agreement whereby neither side is able to claim that the other guy just blinked. As a result, there are probably as many reports in Washington claiming positive movement on a deal as there are negative reports that time is running out.

The terms of a spending agreement, or the failure to achieve one, affect federal funding for most aspects of youth and family services. Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and the IV-E entitlement program, both vital to state and county child welfare systems, are protected from across-the-board cuts.

The big worry isn’t that all the tax increases and automatic cuts and various other expirations will take place and remain in place forever.  The greater fear by some is that no deal by Dec. 31 will once again slow down the economy just as it appears to be gaining ground.  This would theoretically occur for a number of reasons: people not spending as usual during the key holiday shopping season, the IRS not disbursing refunds early next year to low- and middle-income families because they won’t be able to accurately produce tax forms; and loss of unemployment benefits.

Members on the Republican side have talked about increased revenue and breaking of old anti-tax pledges, there seems to be a strong resistance to raising the top tax rates back to the 39.6 percent rate that existed at the end of the Clinton Administration.

On the Democrat’s side, while there was an acknowledgement to accept cuts in programs including entitlement, there seemed to be a hard line in the sand against doing anything to the three biggest entitlements: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.  The Administration put on the table via the Secretary of Treasury Tim Geithner a proposal that increased tax revenue by $1.6 trillion with about $1 trillion coming from a restoration to a top rate of 39 percent with the rest coming from future tax reform, cuts of $400 billion in Medicare, a $50 billion stimulus,  and an extension of unemployment insurance and cuts in mandatory non-entitlement spending.  The Republican leadership through Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) rejected the proposal, basically saying it was not a new offer from the President.

By week’s end here is one possible scenario for compromise that some have discussed as possible:

Instead of the $1.6 trillion in tax revenue sought by the President or the $800 billion sought by Republicans, the difference is split at around $1.2 trillion.  The tax revenue is generated with an increase short of the 39.6 percent it was at the end of the Clinton Administration with the rest of the revenue generated by tax deduction eliminations as the Republicans have been promoting.

This might all be tied to an agreement that future tax reform would have to accomplish as much revenue with rates and deductions set accordingly.  The entitlement cuts would start with savings mainly from Medicare with a small down payment now and future reductions spread out late into the ten-year budget cutting period, not unlike the way Congressman Paul Ryan spread out his Medicare cuts a long way off in his House budget proposal earlier this year.

That could be the broad outlines of a deal…and then again, it may not happen.

Legislation Still Waiting For the Big Deal: VAWA, Agriculture, Appropriations

Some of the big pending issues in the lame-duck congress are likely waiting on a deal on the cliff perhaps in the hope that it can all travel together legislatively or that a final deal on the budget allows Congress to focus on moving final unfinished business.  While cliff negotiations are pending, Congress has been using its time to sometimes pass lesser legislation such as naming various federal buildings, selecting committee leadership and addressing bills that are not controversial. The Senate has been working on a Defense Department reauthorization (which passes each year).  Earlier the Senate failed to pass a non-controversial hunting bill.

In regard to reauthorization bills one of the key bills waiting for action is the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).  There have been some behind the scenes discussions but no breakthrough yet.  The bill has been passed the Senate and House and is awaiting a conference committee. The two bills (HR 4970/S 1925) have three areas of significant difference: tribal authority to prosecute non-Indian men who abuse Indian women, the number of visas that are issued to undocumented immigrant women who are victims of domestic violence, and Senate language that formally extends the law to cover domestic violence when it involves issues of gender identity and sexual orientation. The Agriculture reauthorization (farm bill) yielded some progress when the Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack brought the key committee leaders together for a positive discussion.  In addition to farm programs the farm bill includes funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP/food stamps).  Finally there is still hope that a final deal on the cliff will allow appropriators to push through the rest of the FY 2013 appropriations which is currently funded at 2012 levels through the end of March but there has been no movement on this front either.

SSBG and Disaster Relief

As states on the East Coast hit by hurricane Sandy assess the damage and make their requests for emergency relief – states of New Jersey and New York are requesting and need tens of billions of dollars in new federal funds to help rebuild – the president and Congress may look to an old source of help: the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG).  SSBG, the entitlement block grant to states, which has been targeted by the House of Representatives for complete elimination.

The block grant has been a useful tool for emergency relief. In 2005, in the hurricane Katrina and Rita aftermaths funding of $550 million was appropriated through SSBG to help not just the states that were the biggest victims of the hurricanes (Louisiana and Mississippi), but the surrounding states that were taking in evacuees.

States were given additional flexibility to spend the funds as Congress would amend the law again to extend the states time frame to spend the dollars. In the case of these hurricanes all fifty states were eligible for some of the funding based on a formula that used Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) data to determine where hurricane victims had moved but the bulk of the funding went to the Gulf Coast states.

Louisiana received $221 million, Mississippi received $128 million and Texas, Florida and Alabama received $88 million, $54 million and $28 million respectively. SSBG was used again for 2008 disaster relief (passed as part of FY 2009 appropriations) when Congress again provided $600 million, some of this funding was to reinforce Katrina/Rita funding but the bulk of it, $450 million, was for all states hit by various natural disasters in 2008.

Numbers Set, Both Houses Settle on 2013 Schedule

The final numbers for the House of Representatives were set last week when a final race was called in the state of North Carolina.  As a result, the 2013 House will have 234 Republicans and 201 Democrats.  That is a net gain of eight seats for the Democrats.

There are two remaining seats to be settled, one in Louisiana where two Republicans are in a run-off and an open seat in Illinois with the resignation of Congressman Jessie Jackson Jr (D-Ill.).  Neither election will change party affiliation.  A second significant development last week was that the Senate and House released their calendars for next year and unlike last year, they have now gone back to matching schedules. Last year the House and Senate took different breaks and as a result, there were very few weeks throughout the year when both houses were in session.

UPCOMING CAPITOL HILL BRIEFINGS/EVENTS

  • National Foster Care Coalition, Quarterly Meeting, Thursday, December 13, 1:00 to 4:00 PM EST. Voices for America’s Children, 1000 Vermont Ave, NW Suite 700
  • National Child Abuse Coalition, semiannual in-person meeting, Tuesday, January 8, 2013—9:30 EST—4:00 EST, Location: Futures Without Violence, 1600 Connecticut Ave suite 501 (actual conference room suite 500, Human Rights Watch)
  • Presidential Inauguration, Monday, January 21, 2013 (private swearing-in Sunday, January 20)

In San Francisco, Dependency Court Trying to Roll with the Fiscal Punches

by Angela Penny

On a sunny Thursday morning earlier this month, San Francisco Judge Linda Colfax takes her place in Room 402 of the courthouse to hear four dependency cases, just her first series on the docket that day. Three of the proceedings end in continuances.

Colfax is in for plenty of days like this in the foreseeable future. Budget cuts have hit California’s juvenile dependency courts hard in 2012, and in San Francisco, the county’s court capacity to hear abuse and neglect cases was literally cut in half, leaving Colfax with the lion’s share of the county docket.

“It’s challenging to work with such a bare-bones budget,” said Judge Patrick J. Mahoney, presiding judge of San Francisco’s Unified Family Court. He oversees the dependency court as well as family law and juvenile delinquency courts. “We are constantly looking for creative solutions to make sure we meet the needs of the county’s children.”

The budget for the San Francisco Superior Courts is $74 million this year, down from $98 million five years ago. As a result, the county has reduced the number of dependency courtrooms from two to one.

The decline was one county’s portion of a sweeping cut made at the state level to court budgets in July of 2011, when Gov. Jerry Brown approved spending measures that slashed $350 million from the statewide court budget of $1.5 billion in 2010.

San Francisco’s courts had a $13.75 million deficit for the fiscal year that began in July 2011 because of these cuts. They were forced to lay off 200 employees, or 41 percent of their staff, and closed 25 out of 63 courtrooms, including one dependency court.

The dockets of both dependency courtrooms are now largely in the hands of Colfax, a former public defender who was elected to the bench in 2010 and rotated to the juvenile dependency court in January.

She and Mahoney must also hear the majority of the cases that used to go to a special family law-dependency hybrid court, which was eliminated by the budget cuts. The cutbacks have predictably squeezed court functions. Settlement conferences, previously scheduled for 45 minutes, were reduced to 30 minutes.

That has had a taxing effect on the family members in the process, who often must wait longer times for hearings to start, said Patti Fitzsimmons, director of the University of San Francisco Child Advocacy Clinic, who represents low-income children and families as a member of the Association of San Francisco’s Juvenile Dependency Panel.

There are some additional stress factors on the horizon for the court. The juvenile dependency panel Fitzsimmons serves on is administered by the San Francisco Bar Association and is funded by the governing body of the California courts, the Judicial Council. It is also in financial crosshairs after taking a cut from $5.1 million in 2010 down to $3.9 million for this year.

This year’s cuts have been absorbed without a dip in productivity because of concessions by the panel lawyers. The lawyers have accepted more than doubling their administration fees to the bar association, Fitzsimmons said, and agreed to dropping the billing system from a per-minute to a per-half-minute system.

More significantly to the bottom line, says fellow panel lawyer Jill McInerney, the panel has been accepting of the city’s need to limit the amount of time they can pay for. “We have agreed, case by case, to just not get paid for everything we do,” she said.

Adding yet another layer to the time management challenges of the dependency court is Assembly Bill 12, which extends the age that youth can stay in foster care up to 21, creating another time burden on the dependency court because the progress of these young adults needs to be reviewed by the judge. The bill took effect in January of 2012.

Mahoney has begun to convene court stakeholders to discuss how to best function in crisis mode.

“I’ve just asked Judge Colfax to start a task force on how we are going to deal with this increased responsibility,” Mahoney said. “We have an informal task force including lawyers, judges, and representatives from the agency to discuss how we can streamline court functions. We meet about once a month.”

Fitzsimmons and McInerney both commended Colfax’s adjustment to the current situation.

“Judge Colfax does an amazing job of coping with these pressures,” said Fitzsimmons. Even with sped-up timelines on hearings, Colfax still “makes a personal connection with the youth, asking how they’re doing in school, or how their basketball game went.”