October 2020
Full Court Press is the newsletter of the University of Baltimore School of Law Sayra and Neil Meyerhoff Center for Families, Children and the Courts (CFCC).
A Holistic and Therapeutic Approach to Family Law:
CFCC Celebrates 20 Years of Advocacy
By Barbara A. Babb

For 20 years, the University of Baltimore School of Law Sayra and Neil Meyerhoff Center for Families, Children and the Courts (CFCC) has worked to improve the practice of family law and to reform the family justice system by advocating for and applying two key interdisciplinary theories to all of its initiatives: therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ) from the law and the ecology of human development from the social sciences. These approaches emphasize a goal of achieving positive outcomes for families and children, as well as a holistic focus to understand and resolve family legal matters.

I am very proud that the story of CFCC’s founding and work is featured in the Fall 2020 Baltimore Law Magazine. I hope you will make some time to download the PDF and read the article.
Since its founding, CFCC has embraced the concept of Unified Family Courts as a “best fit” with our commitment to the importance of taking a holistic view of family law issues. With comprehensive subject-matter jurisdiction over all family law matters, unified family courts equip the justice system to approach the full range of problems that bring families into court, including legal and related nonlegal issues. In the 1990s, I co-chaired the American Bar Association (ABA) Section of Family Law’s Committee on Unified Family Courts, and I later consulted on unified family court pilot programs in six cities, including Baltimore City. Those projects launched CFCC’s ongoing work with the Maryland Judiciary, which is a cornerstone of CFCC’s expertise, a true partnership and a real point of pride. From there, CFCC has advocated for and helped develop unified family courts across the U.S. and internationally, including our most recent work in Singapore.

It has been a privilege for me to advance these concepts and practices over the years. I am grateful to have been inspired and influenced by some great minds and selfless individuals. The late Dr. Urie Bronfenbrenner, a professor in developmental psychology at Cornell University, opened my eyes to the power that the social sciences have to influence public policy in ways that improve people’s lives. Professor David Wexler of the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law and University of Puerto Rico School Law and the late Professor Bruce Winick of the University of Miami School of Law defined and developed the concept of therapeutic jurisprudence, an approach to legal practice that addresses the impact of the law on outcomes for individuals involved in the legal process. Through the ABA projects, I began to work closely with Gloria Danziger, who later became CFCC’s Senior Fellow and worked side by side with me for 16 years until she retired in 2018.

We at CFCC have worked tirelessly for 20 years to improve family courts, but it is still a thrill to know our work makes a difference. Just last month, CFCC Student Fellow Jillianne Trotter Crescenzi brought a fresh voice to therapeutic jurisprudence in a class assignment. Her writing was published in the UB School of Law Updates; the International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence listserv, at the suggestion of Professor David Wexler; and on the American Judges Association blog, recommended by Judge Kevin S. Burke, District Judge of Hennepin County, Minnesota. Her perspective appears below.

by Jillianne Trotter Crescenzi
When people think about lawyers and the criminal justice system, they often think about catch phrases like “Law and Order” and “You must be good at arguing.” Our paternalistic society has been groomed to interpret law through a rightand “wrong” lens, with nothing in between, and “order” must be brought upon all those who disrupt it. But what happens when circumstances are more complex and cannot be reduced to a “right” or “wrong” dichotomy?

The Sayra and Neil Meyerhoff Center for Families, Children and the Courts (CFCC) approaches social and legal issues using a therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ) framework. TJ is a human-centered framework that analyzes the effect that laws actually have on people. TJ also evaluates the relationships between legal actors (e.g., the “accused,” judges, lawyers) and legal actions. When utilized, TJ helps to provide legal solutions that are more meaningful and result in greater efficiency. Importantly, in the criminal justice context, TJ does not adopt preconceived notions about the accused, but, rather, asks “why?” did this happen and how?" can it be fixed? TJ is the way in which our legal system can provide true justice because it seeks to understand and account for the underlying issue.

Do our legal decision-makers ask “why?” enough of the time? Further, do they ask “why?” with the intention to leave enough space to understand any explanation given? The question “why?” should be step one in the process of considering how to address legal issues, on both an individual basis and a systemic basis. Asking why questions, such as “Why did you make that choice?” or “Why is this law not effective? ultimately can result in better outcomes for children and families in court.

Some people don't believe that judges and attorneys should delve so fully into the underlying reasons children and families are in court. How can our justice system possibly serve everyone if it must stop and ask “why?” with each issue? Further, “the law’s the law” so what place does emotion and empathy have in it, if any? There is no single answer to these questions, but TJ provides a framework that allows our justice system to address complex issues with the goal of providing more therapeutic outcomes. TJ’s co-founder, Professor David Wexler, views law as having either therapeutic or anti-therapeutic qualities. Approaching legal solutions with that in mind, TJ starts with “why?” and then proceeds with “how?”

By asking “Why?” therapeutic jurisprudence leads to more informed decision-making on how best to achieve favorable results that can lead to fewer repeat offenses. More importantly, TJ seeks to provide outcomes that are empowering and have a long-lasting effect.
Jillianne Trotter Crescenzi is a 2020 CFCC Student Fellow and a member of the School of Law Class of 2022. This is a shortened version of the original article, published on CFCC's blog. For more detail and insights, please visit the CFCC blog.
Updates on CFCC’s Work
CFCC’s Truancy Court Program is Underway Remotely
CFCC's Truancy Court Program (TCP) successfully launched our Fall Session in six Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS) in mid-September, operating in an elearning environment.
School partners, volunteer judges (in bold below), students and their families have made a tremendous effort to be flexible and to adapt to scheduling and technology differences.

CFCC and its school partners are working closely each week to keep students engaged in distance learning, according to Rebecca Stahl, CFCC's deputy director. "TCP students are opening up with the judges," she said. "The restorative circles also are working well remotely. The circles teach students new skills and provide an opportunity to connect with classmates. The October 23 circle was very lively, and students left with an assignment that they were excited about. That's a good sign that we are making an impact."

Thanks to Volunteer Judges, School Staff, Students, and Families!

Judge Miriam Hutchins, Academy of Career and College Exploration and Baltimore Design School
Judge Cynthia Jones, Belair-Edison Middle
Nicole Shaw, Esq., Franklin Square Elementary/Middle
Mark Friedenthal, Esq., Furley Elementary
Judge Charles Peters, Mount Royal Elementary/Middle
While Baltimore City Public School (BCPS) students are distance learning, their individual experiences may vary widely depending on many factors.

Parents and guardians play a critical role in distance learning by obtaining access to devices, an internet connection, and a suitable learning environment, as well as supervising homework.

Aligned with Baltimore City Public Schools’ Equity Policy, BCPS has taken steps and measures to implement distance learning in ways that bring an educational and racial equity lens to policies, plans, and activities. One example of this is not requiring students to use a webcam during synchronous classes to prove attendance. This protects the students' privacy at home.
Have You Seen the Latest UFC Connection?
Here's a second chance to download the PDF of the Fall 2020 issue of CFCC's Unified Family Court Connection.

As Covid-19 cases continue to rise in many parts of the U.S., our authors' views on how family court procedures have changed due to the coronavirus are very relevant.

As Wisconsin circuit judge and immediate past president of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges Romana A. Gonzalez says the questions still are: "Where do the victimized go, and what are the options for judicial officers making the decisions to ensure the safety, well-being and permanency of children and families?"

Presentations, Collaborations and Events
April 2021Virtual 20th Anniversary Celebration of CFCC and 15th Anniversary Celebration of CFCC’s Truancy Court Program. Details coming soon! For more information, contact cfcc@ubalt.edu.

Spring 2021 and July 2021 — The University of Baltimore Law Review will publish a symposium issue (Spring 2021) devoted to therapeutic jurisprudence scholarship, and Family Court Review, published by the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, will feature a special issue (July 2021) consisting of articles focused on family law/therapeutic jurisprudence topics. For more information, contact cfcc@ubalt.edu.

POSTPONED to 2021 — CFCC will cohost the prestigious Therapeutic Jurisprudence Scholars' Convening with the International Society for Jurisprudence (ISTJ). The convening allows experts in the field of therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ) to present and collaborate on works in progress. Practitioners new to TJ are also welcome to participate. Contact cfcc@ubalt.edu for more information.
Resources for You
Authors Barbara A. Babb and Judith D. Moran envision the family court as a "care center" and make a compelling case that reforms to the family justice system are necessary to achieve positive, long-lasting outcomes for families and children.

CFCC's Truancy Court Program Toolkit, Second Edition provides a step-by-step guide on how to start and maintain an effective truancy reduction program. The Toolkit can be adapted to suit individual schools or entire jurisdictions.

About CFCC
The Sayra and Neil Meyerhoff Center for Families, Children and the Courts (CFCC) promotes policies and practices that unite families, communities and the justice system to improve the lives of children and families and the health of communities. CFCC advocates the use of therapeutic jurisprudence, the understanding that the legal system has an effect on behavior, emotions and mental health.

CFCC is led by Barbara A. Babb, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Baltimore School of Law; Founder and Director of the Sayra and Neil Meyerhoff Center for Families, Children and the Courts (CFCC); Director of the Post-J.D. Certificate in Family Law program at the University of Baltimore School of Law; and Editor-in-Chief of Family Court Review, published by Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC).

CFCC Staff and Contributors
Rebecca Stahl, CFCC Deputy Director; Michele Hong, CFCC Program Manager; Arion Alston, Truancy Court Program Mentor; Spencer Hall, Truancy Court Program Coordinator; Katrice Williams, CFCC Program Administrative Specialist.

Connect with us!

410.837-5750 or cfcc@ubalt.edu