As you may have heard by now, Hennepin County has proposed cutting 3-6 positions from Hennepin County Family Court Services. AFCC discussed this at our last board meeting, and we resolved to join with other professional organizations to strongly oppose any cuts in staffing. On September 22, 2020, AFCC signed a Position Statement, along with AAML, and the family law sections of the Minnesota State Bar Association and the Hennepin County Bar Association. You can view the entire statement here.
Hennepin County Family Court Services (“HCFCS”) helps families resolve custody and parenting time issues in Minnesota’s most populous, and most diverse county. Nearly 25% of all people who live in Minnesota live in Hennepin County. Of those families in Hennepin County, approximately one in four speak a language other than English at home, and approximately one in ten live in poverty. In addition, the vast majority of cases in family court (80-90%) involve a parent who is representing himself or herself. These families rely on HCFCS to help them through mediation, early neutral evaluations, brief focused assessments, custody evaluations, and facilitated settlement conferences, among other services. Any reduction in staffing at HCFCS will limit access to these services. The most vulnerable families, families of color, families living in poverty, and families who speak languages other than English, are the least likely to have access to private services, and are the most likely to suffer harm as a result.
As an organization, AFCC adamantly opposes these proposed cuts. As an individual, you can help! What can you do? I thought you’d never ask!
Attend Hennepin County Board Meetings to monitor activity on this issue, and when possible, to voice your support Hennepin County Family Court Services, as well as your opposition to the proposed staffing cuts. There is a budget committee meeting on October 2, 2020, which is an open meeting, but is not set up to accept public comment. Opportunities to voice your opinions are likely to occur at the meetings on Monday, November 16, Wednesday, December 2, and Thursday, December 3 (if needed), all 1:00 to 4:00 pm. The County Commissioners intend to finalize the 2021 budget at the meeting on Tuesday, December 15, 2020. Use this website to track meetings and agendas: https://www.hennepin.us/your-government/leadership/county-board-meetings (Note, AFCC will be tracking these meetings and alerting members of opportunities to attend, but no reason you can’t play along at home.)
Record a message for the County Board by calling 612-348-3100
Contact the County Administrator and the Asst. County Administrator in charge of public safety (the department where Family Court Services resides, for some reason):
David J. Hough, County Administrator firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: 612-348-7574
Mark S. Thompson, Assistant County Administrator – Public Safety email@example.com Phone: 612-348-9050
Contact other members of the County Administration. Contact information is here: https://www.hennepin.us/your-government/leadership/county-administrator
Here are some other tips from Carlo Faccini, the co-chair of our Legislation and Policy Committee: I would encourage everyone to read the Position Statement issued on behalf of the AFCC and our sibling organizations, as it provides some very helpful statistics that members should certainly feel free to use in any discussions or correspondence with these individuals. However, I cannot stress enough the importance of STORY!!! We are all family law professionals who are living and breathing this subject matter pretty much every day. For those of us who often find ourselves in Hennepin County, especially on the regular, we know and love HCFCS. As a product of this we undoubtedly have thousands of stories between us of how HCFCS helped usher a difficult case into a tenable, or even amicable, resolution. Whether it was the time you used HCFCS when you had a pro se on the other side who was being extremely difficult but HCFCS was able to get that pro se some much needed perspective or perhaps the time that a HCFCS service provided some much needed perspective for the case, your own client, or maybe how you were thinking of approaching the matter. On that note, I would also encourage you all to think about reaching out to those past clients of yours that were aided by HCFCS and approaching them to see if they would be willing to attend the hearing and possibly speak, telling some portion of their own story. It is our understanding that there will first be a meeting on October 2nd of the committee that deals with budgets, at this time we do not have the information on how to join that virtual meeting but we will provide it once it is released. At that point, this measure may then move forward to a final vote on December 15th. In the event that it does move forward, we will continue to update membership on the progress of this measure, ways to engage and advocate, and additional talking points that may be useful if you engage with the commissioners and their respective staffs. I am reminded of what we were told by Justice Thiesen when he presented at last year’s half day conference, which was something to the extent of it is stories that change the minds of policy makers and legislators, there is power in story.
This is a great opportunity for AFCC members to get involved, and make a difference. In this incomprehensively awful year (I have started referring to 2020 as a “s**t-buffet“) so much of what is happening feels out of control or beyond our reach. I appreciate the opportunity to actually do something that can have a positive impact close to home. I hope our members find that to be the case as well.