As Abuse And Neglect Cases Strain Vermont Courts, A New Commission Looks For Answers

Jan 17, 2018

Child abuse and neglect cases are overwhelming the Family Division of the Vermont Court system, a situation that Court Administrator Patricia Gabel says, “has stretched existing resources to the breaking point."

For that reason, the state’s Supreme Court has established a commission to find a way to better manage the cases.

Court officials attribute a 63 percent increase in abuse and neglect cases over a three-year period to the opioid crisis.

“It’s not just the number of the cases that is increasing, it’s also the complexity of cases,” says Gabel.

She says courts are often faced with determining whether children should remain with the family or whether it’s better to find a permanent home for them elsewhere. 

Addiction and substance abuse recovery is a process that often involves periods of relapse. 

Gabel says there’s a tension the courts face in weighing the process of a parent’s recovery against the need to provide a child with a stable home environment.

“The highest increase of children being handled by the Department for Children and Families is in the category of children ages 0-5 years,” she says. “For children of those ages, any delay in locating a permanent family environment can have big impacts.”

The newly established commission will look at how the courts can work with other agencies and interested parties to come up with approaches that support long-term recovery and protect children. 

The commission, which is chaired by Chief Justice Paul Reiber and includes representatives from state government and the private sector, will also review efforts taking place in other states to learn which approaches are showing results.

A final report with recommendations is due on Dec. 1.