Reality of Parent Participation Orders
April 19, 2019 by bmc85
by Rajan Bal
One reality that a parent of a child with an open District of Columbia Family Court proceeding faces is their enforced involvement throughout the process. When a child is arrested in DC, they are taken to the MPD Youth Processing Center at the Youth Services Center. If the case is not dismissed or diverted outright, the child would then be screened by Court Social Services. At this point, the child would be held overnight and taken to court the next day, or released home with the expectation that the child and their guardian would come to court the next day.
It is within this expectation that parents can find themselves trapped throughout their child’s proceedings. If the DC Office of the Attorney General elects to petition the child’s case, then a parent participation order will be issued during the child’s initial hearing. A participation order requires a parent or guardian to “participate in the rehabilitation process of a juvenile, including, but not limited to, mandatory attendance at a juvenile proceeding, parenting class, counseling, treatment, or an education program, unless the court determines that such an order is not in the best interests of the child.” D.C. Code Section 16-2325 further requires the court to issue an order that requires the child’s parent or guardian to “be present at any juvenile proceeding or court ordered program concerning the program.”
A parent or guardian that fails to comply with these participation orders without good cause can find themselves risking civil contempt. Some examples of good cause for failure to appear are listed, such as an employment obligation “that would result in the loss of employment if not complied with.” However, the stated intent of the statute is for parents to attend proceedings or programs “as often as is practicable.” While there are some situations that constitute good cause for failing to appear, the risk of civil contempt and the judge emphasizing how important the parent’s attendance is creates significant pressure to attend. Likewise, the child can face negative outcomes if the parent is not involved. For example, police officers are more likely to divert cases at initial contact when a parent is present than when a parent is not.
Unfortunately, attending court hearings and programs can be difficult for parents with other obligations, like work. The DC Superior Court is open from 8:30AM-5:00PM from Monday to Friday. This means that a court hearing would only get scheduled during typical work hours. Though a parent might try to only miss some of work to attend, a hearing being scheduled at 9:00AM does not mean it will be heard at 9:00AM, making it difficult to predict when they will be finished. While parents might be able to take some time off to attend an occasional hearing, some court proceedings, like the Juvenile Behavioral Diversion Program (“JBDP”), schedule hearings as often as every two weeks. On top of frequent court hearings, the judge can specifically order parents whose child is in JBDP to attend parenting classes or counseling.
These structural concerns attending court unduly disadvantage parents without large support networks, such as single parents or parents who rely heavily on each day’s pay. Parents of clients of mine have expressed these difficulties, explaining that they cannot take off work, have multiple or less structured jobs without a formal employer, cannot afford to take the day off, or need to pick up other children from school. Though under the statute some of these concerns could constitute good cause, there is no guarantee. Under these circumstances, struggling parents are forced to make concessions they cannot necessarily afford to for court proceedings they did not wish to be a part of.
However, parental participation within the court system is a good thing. Parental involvement helps children comply with their court-ordered conditions and allows parents to act as advocates for their children in the courtroom. Parents provide a unique perspective that cannot be accounted for by the judge, lawyers, and probation officers alone. They can explain how a child is doing and can describe what is and is not working. These insights are invaluable additions to a child’s case. It is understandable that the court would seek to incorporate parental involvement to the full extent possible.
To do this, the realities of parental participation need to be better addressed so that the parent can fully participate and so the child is not punished in the process. The current rigidity of scheduling hearings during the work day that do not necessarily begin at the time they are scheduled fails to serve well-intentioned parents who wish to be present at hearings. Instead, this rigidity reinforces negative outcomes for struggling parents and gives them yet another burden to bear. The court needs to increase its flexibility regarding parental participation, such as by encouraging parents to participate by phone or by extending its hours of operation, so parents can attend hearings after work. These changes might allow struggling parents to succeed within their child’s court proceedings, and not just parents with additional family support and more stable employment.
 Dep’t of Youth Rehab. Servs., DC’s Juvenile Justice System, https://dyrs.dc.gov/page/dcs-juvenile-justice-system (last visited Mar. 17, 2019).
 See D.C. Code § 16-2325.01 (2001).
 D.C. Code § 16-2325.01(a) (2001).
 D.C. Code § 16-2325.01(b) (2001).
 See D.C. Code §16-2325.01(c) (2001).
 D.C. Code § 16-2325.01(e)(1) (2001).
 D.C. Code § 16-2325.01(f) (2001).
 See Jeffrey D. Burke et al., The Challenge and Opportunity of Parental Involvement in Juvenile Justice Services, 39 Child. and Youth Serv. Rev. 39, 8 (2015).
 D.C. Courts, About the Superior Court, https://www.dccourts.gov/superior-court/about (last visited Mar. 17, 2019).
 The Pub. Def. Serv. for the D.C., Juvenile Behavioral Diversion Program Description, 8 https://www.pdsdc.org/docs/default-source/default-document-library/juvenile-behavioral-diversion-program-description.pdf?sfvrsn=681290d0_0 (last visited Mar. 17, 2019).
 See Nat’l Ctr. for Mental Health & Juvenile Justice, Family Involvement in the Juvenile Justice System 2–3 (2016), https://www.ncmhjj.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Family-Involvement-in-the-Juvenile-Justice-System-for-WEBSITE.pdf.
 See D.C. Code § 16-2325.01(f) (2001).