Juvenile and Family Courts: How to Best Serve Military-Connected Families?


lady-justice-military-familyOn March 5, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) hosted nearly 100 judicial officers and military personnel, including NMFA’s Executive Director, Joyce Wessel-Raezer, at the National Infantry Museum and Solider Center in Columbus, Ga.

The goal of the National Summit on Courts and the Military was to bring officials together to discuss how to better serve military-connected families around the country, who find themselves involved in civilian court proceedings.

Topics discussed included mental health and substance abuse issues, specialty courts (like Veteran Treatment Courts), the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, and the disconnection between courts and the military.

Here’s what we know:

  • In 2013, over 40% of the total force was made up of families with minor children.
  • Many military families face long separations from one another as a result of deployments or training, while others experience multiple relocations.
  • Chronic pain, traumatic brain injury and mental health problems, like depression, anxiety and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder are common among military members who have served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
  • Many military members often cope with the challenges of combat and returning to civilian life by using drugs and alcohol.
  • The impact of war can also affect family violence. In 2013, 6,989 incidents met the criteria for child abuse and neglect and 7,935 incidents met the criteria for spousal abuse.

These factors, together or separately, disrupt family life and can result in families entering the court system. The NCJFCJ helps by training and educating judges on the unique challenges faced by military-connected families, as well as how to be sensitive to the traumas they may have experienced. Much of the conversation revolved around how the courts can help military families access resources available to them, like medical and non-medical counseling, child care services and child/youth programs, parenting classes, financial counseling, and protections from financial and legal distress.

Judges and military personnel were empowered by the information presented at the Summit, and our hope is that the people who read this blog will be too. Ideally, these conversations will lead to improving outcomes for military-connected families by changing practices at the local, statewide and national level.

Carlene-GonzalesPosted by Carlene Gonzalez, Ph.D., Site Manager for the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges

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