Collecting data on New York State family treatment courts

Muyang Li, Project 2Gen research assistant

Muyang Li, Project 2Gen research assistant

I was first introduced to the Tompkins County Family Treatment Court when I started volunteering at Cornell Cooperative Extension in spring 2017. Although I only helped with cooking, it was inspirational to learn about the court’s efforts to reunite high-risk families, especially through the Strengthening Families Program. My volunteer experience gave me insight into the importance of building the capacity of programs that focus on family strengths.

This semester I had the opportunity to research family treatment courts across New York State counties. I was surprised that there was no reliable documentation of operational family treatment courts across the state. Even for counties that indicated the existence of a family treatment court, there was often little or no information about the court, including the year of establishment, total number of parents served, and whether or not the program was voluntary.

My main task in the project was calling county offices to ask whether they had an existing family treatment court and gather information about the year of implementation or discontinuation, if applicable. Among New York State’s 61 counties, 18 reported an active family treatment court, 13 reported a discontinued family treatment court, and 18 reported that they never had a family treatment court. Eleven of the counties could not be reached. I mapped this information below using CartoDB.

NYS FTC Implementation Map.png

My observations based on talking to court personnel:

  • Most office personnel were supportive and cooperative in disclosing relevant information.

  • Information was not well documented within the court. Due to high personnel turnover, it was difficult to connect with staff who were knowledgeable about family treatment court.

  • There are a number of challenges (e.g. financial and operational) that prevent the sustainable implementation of programs. For example, many family treatment court programs were discontinued due to budgetary reasons.

Further research should be conducted to gather information about the different court models and programs implemented across counties. In particular, interviewing key court personnel could serve as a way to gather information about reasons for program discontinuation and barriers faced by the staff. Additionally, interviews could allow us to identify effective program models that could be replicated in other communities. 

PolicyMuyang Li