DOI: 10.1177/10775595241231547 ISSN: 1077-5595

A Multimethod Exploration of the COVID-Era Transition to Virtual Hearings in Child Welfare Court Cases

Alicia Summers, Sophia I. Gatowski
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology and Child Health

To promote open and safe access to court hearings for families and professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic, juvenile and family courts across the United States shifted towards virtual hearings in child welfare cases. Drawing on findings from a four state court observation study conducted pre and post emergence of the pandemic, as well as from a national survey of court professionals and a survey of parents, we reflect on the experiences of courts and court participants with virtual hearings in child welfare cases and specific impacts on hearing quality. Findings indicate that despite stakeholder perceptions, there is little difference in the quality of hearings with respect to judicial engagement and discussion. Differences were found however, in the attendance of fathers and relatives at hearings, with less fathers and relatives attending virtual hearings. Parents had mixed experiences with the virtual hearing process. Professionals noted challenges, as well as strategies for overcoming challenges, to engage parents and ensure their access to virtual hearings.

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