Problem-solving courts began in Florida with a drug court program in Miami-Dade County in 1989, according to the Commission on Improving the Status of Children in Indiana. The programs have grown in number and approach.
A first-of-its-kind report completed in 2012 by the U.S. Department of Justice found more than 3,000 problem-solving courts focused on issues including drugs and alcohol, domestic violence and juveniles with substance abuse problems. Only about 9 percent of those were family courts, according to the Census of Problem-Solving Courts.
Implementation of family courts is a growing trend, and the National Drug Court Resource Center at American University in Washington, D.C., estimates 272 of about 3,450 problem-solving courts in the U.S. are family courts.
“(The) programs are widely recognized for reducing recidivism compared to traditional case processing,” Kim Ball, director of the Justice Programs Office for the American University School of Public Affairs, said in an email. “The most successful courts reduce recidivism by as much as 35 to 40 percent.”
The family courts, like other problem-solving courts, are voluntary and offer things like treatment and more frequent visits with court officials rather than punitive measures such as removal of children from their homes. Unlike some of the other programs, the family courts are civil processes, so there's no threat of jail time for participants.