Cook County Juvenile Court Clinic
In 2003, the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County established the Juvenile Court Clinic as a non-judicial office to provide forensic evaluations for the Juvenile Justice and Child Protection Departments of the Cook County Juvenile Court (for more information see: (Clinic History). Since then, the Juvenile Court Clinic has operated under the management of Northwestern University in continued partnership with Cook County. The Juvenile Court Clinic is located in the Cook County Juvenile Center that contains the Juvenile Court’s Juvenile Justice and Child Protection courtrooms, the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC), the Department of Juvenile Probation and other entities affiliated with the Juvenile Court. This location permits the Juvenile Court Clinic staff to be well-integrated with and responsive to the needs of the Juvenile Court, its constituents and court-affiliated entities.
The Juvenile Court Clinic employs forensically trained mental health professionals from various disciplines who carry out a variety of court-ordered services to help judges, lawyers, probation officers, child welfare caseworkers, and JTDC staff make informed and relevant decisions concerning minors and families in Juvenile Justice and Child Protection legal proceedings. These services include:
- Court-ordered forensic evaluations, including:
- Fitness to stand trial
- Competence to waive Miranda rights
- Sentencing/risk assessments
- Transfer or waiver to adult court
- Criminal responsibility
- Parenting capacity assessments to inform visitation or permanency goals
- Evaluations for termination of parental rights due to a mental illness
- Capacity to voluntarily relinquish parental rights
- Expert testimony when requested
- Triage and consultation with judges and other Juvenile Court personnel concerning mental health issues, including:
- Assistance with establishing specific referral questions
- Documentation of referrals and communication about potential referral sources
- Follow-up with referral sources
- Provide court parties with service information as identified through the Illinois DCFS service provider database (SPIDER)
- Consultation and training for courtroom personnel (e.g., judges, assistant states attorneys, defense attorneys, guardian ad litem, probation officers) regarding our services and forensic or mental health issues
- Graduate level placement for students in psychiatry and psychology (click here to learn more about the Psychiatry and Law fellowship)
- Undergraduate internships for students in psychology and criminal justice
- Program evaluation to monitor and measure the quality, adequacy and utility of the Juvenile Court Clinic’s services to the court
- Dissemination of research using data from the Juvenile Court Clinic that can help to inform practice in similar clinics across the country
Our mission “to ensure the Juvenile Court’s timely access to relevant, accurate and culturally sensitive clinical information that promotes the best possible outcomes for children, families and communities” is facilitated by ongoing program evaluation, internal training, and research. Frequent trainings offered in our clinic help to ensure our work is in line with the criteria established in this mission statement while also reflecting best practice standards for forensic mental health evaluations. In addition, several staff are involved in research projects that explore assessment practices in parenting capacity and juvenile justice evaluations. To date, this research has provided the foundation for the following conference presentations:
- O’Donnell, P.C. & Smith, K.F. (March, 2020). Challenges and Recommendations for Conducting Pre-trial Risk Assessments in a Juvenile Court Setting. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychology-Law Society, New Orleans, Louisiana.
- Smith, K.F. (August, 2019). The challenge of communicating risk for violence. In S. Bader (Chair), Forensic Evaluation of Juveniles – Challenges and Strategies. Symposium paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, Chicago, Illinois.
- Garcia, J., Smith, K.F., O’Donnell, P.C., & Fiori, H. (March, 2019). How do protective factors influence court outcomes in child protection cases? An exploration of the impact of culture and economic status. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychology-Law Society, Portland, Oregon.
- Smith, K.F., O’Donnell, P.C., Rynczak, D., & Dalinis, R. (March, 2019). Exploring the use of a structured risk measure with mothers and fathers involved in child protection court. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American-Psychology Law Society, Portland, Oregon.
- Spinelli, T., O’Donnell, P.C., Smith, K.F., & Murphy, C. (March, 2019). Exploring the prejudicial impact of describing parents as “noncompliant” in forensic parenting capacity assessments. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American-Psychology Law Society, Portland, Oregon.
- O’Donnell, P. C., Rynczak, D., Smith, K. F., & Dastrup, K. R. H. (March, 2018). The need for a risk assessment tool for Parenting Capacity Assessments. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychology-Law Society, Memphis, Tennessee.
- Smith, K. F., O’Donnell, P. C., Garcia, J., Fiori, H., Murphy, C., & Young, K. (March, 2018). Predictive validity of a child maltreatment risk inventory in determining 5-year outcomes in child protection cases. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychology-Law Society, Memphis, Tennessee.
- Spinelli, T., Serafin, P., Smith, K. F., O’Donnell, P. C., Friday, T., & Boston, J. (March, 2018). The use of Parenting Capacity Evaluations in child protection courtrooms. Poster presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychology-Law Society, Memphis, Tennessee.
- Smith, K. F., Rynczak, D., O’Donnell, P. C., Serafin, P., & Devaud, A. M. (March, 2017). A critical review of the psychometric properties of tests used in child welfare parenting capacity assessments. Poster presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychology-Law Society, Seattle, Washington.
The Cook County Juvenile Court Clinic developed from a research and reform project completed as part of a collaboration between Northwestern University, the University of Chicago and the Office of the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County. The multi-year project, supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, established that clinical information is frequently valuable in assisting Juvenile Court judges with difficult and/or complex legal decisions. The project also determined that numerous obstacles hampered Juvenile Court judges’ ability to obtain timely, relevant and accurate clinical information. These obstacles included: inappropriate and/or vague referrals that yielded little or no useful information, a backlog of requests that produced lengthy delays to obtaining needed information and little or no communication between Juvenile Court and clinical providers. The research project proposed a model for a court clinic that incorporated a variety of services to minimize or eliminate those problems and enhance the use of clinical information for obtaining the best possible results for court-involved minors and families. The clinic’s operation is based on the research model and operates under Northwestern management in continued partnership with Cook County.
The following publications provide additional information about the development and implementation of the Juvenile Court Clinic’s model:
- Biehl, J.L. & Kahn, B.A. (2002). A Practice Model for Acquiring and Using Clinical Information in Juvenile Court. Youth Law News, 13(2):6-11.
- Scally, J.T., Kavanaugh, A.E., Budd, K.S., Baerger, D.R., & Kahn, B.A. (2001-2002). Problems in Acquisition and Use of Clinical Information in Juvenile Court: One Jurisdiction’s Response. Children’s Legal Rights Journal 21(4):15-24.
- Kavanaugh, A.E., Clark, J., Masson, T., &Kahn, B.A. (2006). Obtaining and Utilizing Comprehensive Forensic Evaluations: The Applicability of One Clinic’s Model. Nevada Law Journal 6(3):890-912.
- Kahn, B.A., O’Donnell, P., Wernsman, J., Bushell, L., & Kavanaugh, A. (July 2007). Making the Connection: Legal Advocacy and Mental Health Services. Family Court Review 45(3):486-500.
For more information, contact Philip C. O'Donnell, MJ, PhD, at 312-433-6666.
Clinical Coordinator Supervisor
Michael Clements, MSW
Nereasa Bello-Sykes, MA, MJ
Jennifer Boston, MA, LPC
Tamara Friday, LCSW
Karen Pitroda, LCSW
Sweety Agrawal, PsyD
Anne Devaud, PsyD
Michael Igaravidez, PsyD
Jokae Ingram, PhD
Ascher Levy, PsyD
Matara Wright, PsyD
Philicia Miller, program coordinator/clinic administrator
Rita Dalinis, MPPA, program evaluation & resource supervisor
Sierra Warfe, program evaluation assistant
Martin Nkansah, MsEd, records custodian
Abelina Ayala, receptionist