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Dallas area families can get help in Judge Rhonda Hunter's Specialty Court designed to keep families strong, healthy and together.

Dallas Family “Specialty Court” Makes a Difference 

Children are awakened in the middle of the night and told to gather their belongings and go with a stranger who has appeared at their home. They may be questioned by this person before or after they are led away from their family.

They may have experienced trauma before they are removed from this home environment that they know. This scene has taken place across our state and is often how many children are introduced to the child welfare system.

As we acknowledge Child Abuse Prevention Month, what are we doing to help local children who end up in the court system? 

One exceptional solution is the Specialty Court created by Family Court Judge Rhonda Hunter. The Court assists children and individuals in child abuse and neglect cases involving Child Protective Services (The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS)). 

The Court focuses on families that are at high risk for permanent removal of children from their homes and seeks to connect these families with resources in the community that will allow families to reunite and stay together in a healthy and safe way. “I have worked for over 30 years with families involved in the child welfare system and that experience led me to develop this idea which as a judge, I had the ability to implement. I knew there were more innovative ways we could help our families who end up in the justice system,” says Judge Hunter. 

When is Specialty Court Referred? 

If a case in Judge Hunter’s court involves child abuse or neglect it may be referred to the Specialty Court if the child, parent, guardian, caregiver, or custodian is at high-risk for one of several issues. The court has worked to help children with severe educational deficiencies often viewed by institutions as having disruptive behavioral issues.

“Some parents have mental health challenges or physical medical issues that affect their ability to parent,”{ Judge Hunter says. “The court is designed to assist with frequent monitoring and resource referral in a trauma informed setting to reduce the risk.” Risk factors that the court considers in admission include juvenile delinquency court issues; illiteracy; homelessness; runaway history; substance abuse including alcohol and drug dependency; human trafficking victimization; chronic unemployment and physical health challenges.”

Two associate judges, Jean Lee and Delia Gonzales handle the day-to-day operations while Judge Hunter handles admission, monitoring, reporting and oversight. “I started this court docket last year shortly after I was appointed as a judge. We started the court with no financial resources, but that did not stop us from garnering successful outcomes,” said Judge Hunter. 

Hunter says that locating community resources from business, secular and religious communities is on-going and is a way citizens and groups can help in childcare prevention. Judge Hunter says, “There are so many resources in Dallas County, but the community does not always know about the resources available or how to access them. If we could connect resources with families, I truly believe that we can prevent families from finding themselves with a caseworker at their door. Until that happens, the Specialty Court docket for High-Risk Individuals and Children will be here to make those connections when we can.” 

 


Have a question for Judge Rhonda Hunter? judgerhondahunter@gmail.com

Court Staff:
Associate Judge: Jean Lee
Court Coordinator: Michele Morneault
email: mmorneault@dallascounty.org
Court Reporter:  Donna Kindle - (214) 653-7727
Chief Clerk: Lead Clerk - (214) 653-7611

Mailing Address:
303rd District Court
George L. Allen, Sr. Courts Building
600 Commerce Street
Dallas, TX 75202

 

Judy Porter, MBA write stories about local heroes and programs in the DFW area. contact her at: judy-poter@sbcglobal.net

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