Speeches

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor
Ohio Association of Juvenile Court Judges Winter Conference
Dec. 5, 2019

(Remarks prepared for delivery on Dec. 5, 2019, at the Hilton Polaris in Columbus, OH.)

Good afternoon.

Thank you Judge Moulton for that introduction and for the invitation to participate in the association’s winter meetings.

Thanks, as well, to the leadership and hard work of Ohio’s juvenile court judges over the last year.  

It’s nice to see the Ohio Department of Youth Services represented here today

Before we administer the oaths, I want to brief you on some items going on right now at the Court and also at the legislature that will directly affect you.

How children grow up – often determines whether they will end in up in the criminal justice system.

It also can determine whether they will cope with stress through drug abuse. 

That makes drug education a key – avoiding drug use in the first place.

On the adult side of this problem, I’m supporting House Bill 1, which would seek less prison time for non-violent drug offenders.

That would be such a big step forward for offenders.

At the same time, taxpayers would get a break.

Ohio’s prisons are overcrowded and represent one of the biggest expenditures in the state budget.

For all of you sitting on juvenile courts, or dealing with juvenile problems as staff at Youth Services, I want to now apprise you of new rules that will be taking effect that will directly affect you.

New mediation rules go into effect in January, less than a month from now.

The new rules will increase the consistency and quality of court-connected mediation throughout the state.

Under the new rules, courts will continue to have discretion about whether to refer cases to mediation.

But courts that elect to refer cases to mediation will be required to have a local rule.

Speaking of mediation, we are excited to host the second statewide dispute resolution conference next year.

We are still working out the exact day.

It was a huge success last year, and we are looking forward to host exciting speakers and presentations once again.

So, stay tuned.

The Dispute Resolution Section recently completed a pilot mediation training in Henry County for child protection mediation that incorporates the program resources of drug treatment courts.

Juvenile courts that are interested in using mediation in abuse, neglect and dependency cases can contact the Dispute Resolution Section for more information.

The use of child protection mediation or CPM, as it’s known, is widely recognized as an invaluable service.

A recent study reveals that CPM is:

Ashtabula and Lucas County Juvenile Courts are using this type of mediation right now.

Now I’d like to give some shout-outs to the incredible work that juvenile and probate judges are doing.

We are excited to announce that five counties across Ohio (Greene, Stark, Delaware, Marion, and Erie) are preparing to launch a new truancy prevention resource.

This truancy app was started as a pilot project in Greene County, led by the Ohio Supreme Court’s Commission on Dispute Resolution.

In January 2018, nearly 50 students tested the app to log attendance, absences, and find resources to help students who were missing school due to illness, lack of transportation, conflicts at school, or other reasons.

Usually, truancy is the first indicator that something may be wrong in the family, such as dealing with substance abuse by parents or siblings.

We’re excited to report that the Ohio Supreme Court secured a second year of funding for Greene County from the JAMS Foundation and the Association for Conflict Resolution. 

Speaking of truancy, we are getting some help from the Cleveland Browns.

In August, the Cleveland Browns Foundation and the Ohio Department of Education launched “Get to School, Stay in the Game Network.”

“Get to School, Stay in the Game Network” is a statewide initiative to promote students showing up for school and putting an end to chronic absenteeism.

The philosophy is simple: the more students attend school, the more prepared they are for success beyond school.

We have some late-breaking news on this program.

We just learned that the Browns Foundation is so excited about this, they are coming forward with new ideas for this app.

We are really excited to participate in that, and I’m convinced students are going to love it.

Now I’d like to give a few shout-outs!

The first goes to Marion County Family Court.

Judge Robert Fragale and Deborah Alspach are turning their juvenile detention center into a resource for families.

I’d also like to recognize Judge David Hejmanowski of Delaware County Probate and Juvenile Court.

Judge Hejmanowski was elected to the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges Board of Directors in July.

I want to congratulate Knox County and Clark County Juvenile Courts.

The courts of Judge Jay Nixon from Knox County and Judge Katrine Lancaster from Clark County were selected to work with the Robert F. Kennedy National Resource Center on the Dual Status Youth Project. 

Trumbull, Fairfield, and Coshocton counties are three of fifteen national demonstration sites that are working with the National Quality Improvement Center for Community Court Teams.

They will address the needs of infants, young children, and families affected by substance use disorders.

Two Ohio juvenile courts are making huge strides.

I want to congratulate the Summit County and Franklin County Juvenile Courts for all your hard work.

I know the courts in both counties, as well as Cuyahoga, deal with a high number of children in peril.

There are a lot of demands, and thank you for your continued dedication to quality.

I especially want to thank the Summit and Franklin county Juvenile Courts for your timeliness in meeting deadlines.

Specifically, I’m talking about:

Case mapping with our case management section to ensure efficiencies in the process

Participating in Abuse, Neglect, Dependency, and Mediation Training sponsored by the Dispute Resolution Section and hosted by Henry County Family Court

And Hearing Quality reviews by Dr. Alicia Sommers supported by the Court Improvement Program grant funds coordinated by the Children and Family Section.

In fact, speaking of Dr. Sommers, there are many counties that participated in the Hearing Quality Study, in addition to Franklin and Summit.

They include:

There is also exciting news in the future. 

We don’t have an exact date yet, but we are planning to hold a Children’s Summit.

Governor Mike DeWine has established the federal Family First Act and Child Welfare Transformation Initiative.

It’s a new vision of the role of a child welfare system that looks further upstream, shows empathy and compassion for families, and that looks for solutions that will allow a family in need of services to remain intact.

It’s been ten years since we had a summit like this in Ohio, but we are bringing it back.

We are thinking 20-21 or 20-22.

We will keep you posted.  

As I conclude, please know that your service is valued.

I am fully aware that you face tough decisions every day.

This is an awesome responsibility to help take care of children and families in Ohio’s 88 counties.

The experience you carry with you on the bench, coupled with fair-minded decision making will benefit not just the litigants, but the justice system overall.

Thank you for listening and God Bless.