Hampshire County family specialty court receives national honor 

  • Judge Linda Fidnick, left, talks with attorneys Noelle Stern, center, Leslie Brown and others involved in the Family Resolutions Specialty Court during a meeting in June 2017. The program last month received the Irwin Cantor Innovative Program Award in June from the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

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Published: 7/4/2018 10:33:10 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A specialty court in Northampton aimed at reducing the stress, anger and anxiety that children may face during parental separation has received national recognition.

The Family Resolutions Specialty Court in the Hampshire Probate and Family Court received the Irwin Cantor Innovative Program Award in June from the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts.

Touted as the first of its kind in the country when it started in May 2016, the Family Resolutions Specialty Court brings a team of people together to put children first in an effort to reduce the stress, anger and anxiety that can accompany a separation. The court is modeled after an Australian court and is used on a voluntary basis. Since its inception, the court has served 23 families.

The specialty court’s architects — Hampshire Probate and Family First Assistant Chief Probation Officer Ronald “RJ” Waskiewicz, First Justice Linda Fidnick, judicial case manager Noelle Stern, family consultant Deborah Roth-Howe, attorney Mary Ellen Niles Howard and Dr. Marsha Klien-Pruett — traveled to Washington, D.C. last month to accept the award.

“I think the work they put into developing a collaborative process, to engaging the entire community and to really focusing on effectively helping people with the most difficult family law issues was something that the committee took very seriously and appreciated,” said Peter Salem, executive director of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts.

Fidnick said the national recognition signifies to people in the Legislature and the court system that the benefit of the Family Resolutions Specialty Court is not something unique to Hampshire County, and should be adopted “throughout Massachusetts and beyond,” she said in a statement.

“This is something that people from all over the world thought was innovative and should be recognized,” Finick said.

This is the third time the Hampshire Probate and Family Court has received the Irwin Cantor Innovative Program Award, which recognizes innovation in court-connected or court-related programs and is named after the late Hon. Irwin Cantor, a former president of the association.

The court also won the award in 2015 for its Only One Childhood program, which is a communication skills program for separated and divorced parents who have previously completed a court-mandated parent education program, and in 2007 for its For the Children program, which is a supportive parent education program that focuses on the needs of children of never-married parents.

The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, founded 55 years ago, is designed to improve the functioning of family court. The award draws nominations from all over the world, according to Salem.

“AFCC aspires to make the court process a better experience for children and families,” Fidnick said in a statement. “To be recognized for an innovative court program by AFCC shows how FRSC furthers the goals of reducing family conflict and improving the lives of children and families.”

To function, the Family Resolutions Specialty Court relies exclusively on community and volunteer support. It would cost about $175,000 per year to fully fund the specialty court, according to Stern, the judicial case manager.

State Rep. John Scibak, D-South Hadley, sponsored an amendment to the House budget for funding for the court, but it was not approved. Other western Massachusetts senators joined in an amendment requesting funding for the court and were able to secure a $125,000 earmark, which is now in a conference committee.

Emily Cutts can be reached at ecutts@gazettenet.com.


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