By Meegan Jayne Smith, CFCC Student Fellow (2018-2019)
After a class discussion about Unified Family Courts, CFCC’s Student Fellows took a trip to the Family Division of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. Sue German, the Family Division Associate Administrator, led our tour.
Ms. German began the tour by handing out a case flow chart and discussing step-by-step how a case typically progresses through the court system. Ms. German’s discussion of the classes offered by the Court to families with open cases was particularly interesting. Ms. German spoke about the Co-Parenting Education (COPE) and Shared Parenting Education (SHAPE) classes that are offered as single-sex classes in order to allow, among other things, male parents to bond with other male parents and female parents to do the same. Ms. German also provided evaluation summaries from the parenting seminars. She explained that, while typically only approximately 30% of the scheduled attendees actually show up, when they do, they are extremely satisfied with the classes.
In the past, when the Family Division received more funding, the Division offered parenting classes to other caregivers such as grandparents. Ms. German told us about a time when a woman approached her to ask whether she remembered who the woman was. When Ms. German explained that she did not remember her, the woman reminded Ms. German that she had taken one of the third-party parenting classes offered for grandparents and other non-parent caregivers, years ago. Ms. German was especially gratified to hear that the members of that class had kept in touch over the years and had formed their own support group. I found that story particularly moving because it demonstrates the incredible impact the classes can have on struggling families.
Ms. German continued to remind us that funding is a constant reality for all programs offered by the Family Division. For example, a class offered for children of families in conflict is offered on the same evening as the mother’s single-sex SHAPE class. Ms. German explained that, while the court can generally accommodate single fathers, the children’s class is typically offered only in conjunction with the parenting program for mothers. That led to a discussion about the way in which a practice can adversely affect fathers and how, as more same-sex couples begin to enter the court system, programs will need to be made equally accessible to both mothers and fathers. In our discussion, most of the CFCC Student Fellows felt that the positive impact of these classes outweighed the potential detriment of restricting the children’s class in combination with the parenting classes for mothers. Yet, I was left wondering about the impact this may have on a family dynamic.
I found the tour to be very informative and it further demonstrated the dramatic difference a Unified Family Court’s holistic approach can have on the families who are affected by it.