Judge Abinanti and Judge Hinrichs

As a response the the opioid epidemic in Humboldt County, the Yurok Tribal Court and the Superior Court of Humboldt are introducing the Family Wellness Court —aimed to assist parents struggling to care for their children due to substance abuse.

The service begins in July and will be overseen by Judges  Abby Abinanti, Chief Judge of the Yurok Tribal Court and Joyce D. Hinrichs, Presiding Judge of the Humboldt Superior Court.

Press release from the Yurok Tribe:

The Superior Court of Humboldt County and the Yurok Tribal Court are about to introduce an innovative alternative for parents who are struggling to care for their children as a result of substance abuse. 

Starting in July, families involved in juvenile dependency cases will have an option to enter into the new Family Wellness Court, a cutting-edge, dual jurisdictional court, which aims to assist families in breaking the cycle of addiction, the root cause of many, local child abuse and neglect cases.

Joyce D. Hinrichs, the Presiding Judge of the Humboldt Superior Court and Abby Abinanti, the Yurok Tribal Court’s Chief Justice, with input from more 50 stakeholders, have been working continuously since October of 2017 when they agreed on a shared vision of improving outcomes for children, families, and communities by administering justice in a safe and supportive environment that empowers families to create positive change.

Together, Judge Abinanti and Judge Hinrichs will preside over the cases, convene frequent family wellness team meetings and connect families to tribal and non-tribal services that are uniquely tailored for each family’s recovery and their children’s wellbeing. 

“What we are engaged in is nothing short of redesigning a new and better way of doing things when it comes to our families who are struggling with substance abuse and have children in the child welfare system,” said Judge Hinrichs.

“We believe this collaborative approach will address the root causes of substance abuse. We’re in a better position to empower our families and provide support and services to them, because we are doing it together,” said Judge Abinanti.

In response to the opioid epidemic in Humboldt County, where despite being less than 7% of the overall county population Native American children are disproportionately involved in the county’s child welfare system, this new collaborative court is a welcome and critical new resource for these families.

“We have held town hall meetings on the opioid crisis and have seen first-hand how well our communities come together over a serious health problem impacting all of us— this partnership is phenomenal. We are committed to supporting our judicial leaders, like Judge Abinanti and Judge Hinrichs, and all our county, tribal, and nonprofit leaders who came together to create this new innovative justice approach,” said Senator McGuire.

“Too many tribal and non-tribal families are suffering from substance abuse-related issues. It makes sense to direct our combined resources toward resolving the underlying causes of addiction in our shared community,” said Thomas P. O’Rourke Sr, the Chairman of the Yurok Tribe. “By creating a joint jurisdictional court, the Yurok Tribe and Humboldt County of California strategic partnership sets an excellent example for intergovernmental partnership that will serve as a model for courts in California and around the country

“The Family Wellness Court with its harm reduction and coordinated team approach will connect children and families to their cultures, create culturally competent services, and help our families, improving justice outcomes in our tribal nations and surrounding communities,” said Humboldt County Supervisor Virginia Bass.

How the Joint-jurisdictional Court Will Work

Two judges, Hon. Abby Abinanti, Chief Judge of the Yurok Tribal Court and Hon. Joyce D. Hinrichs, Presiding Judge of the Humboldt Superior Court, will oversee the Family Wellness Court. The judges will work collaboratively to identify solutions that best fit each specific family unit. Family Wellness Court participants will be assigned a team, which will ensure access to the most relevant resources in each jurisdiction.

How the Joint-jurisdictional Court Will Be Replicated

The Humboldt Superior Court obtained an innovation grant from the California Judicial Council to establish a joint jurisdictional Family Wellness Court with the Yurok Tribe and to explore options for extending this collaborative approach with all tribes in the region. The grant also supports a non-jurisdictional pilot for all families—tribal and nontribal—as an alternative to the juvenile dependency court process.

The Yurok Tribe and the Northern California Tribal Courts Coalition applied through a competitive process to receive training and technical assistance in extending the collaborative approach to Del Norte County and adapting it for member tribes (Hoopa Valley Tribe and Karuk Tribe) from the QIC-CCCT (Quality Improvement Center for Research-Based Infant-Toddler Court Teams (QIC).)  Project QIC is funded by the Children’s Bureau, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and is intended to help local jurisdictions provide services for families with infants, and specifically implementation by local counties/partnerships of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) of 2016, Title V, Section 503, “Infant Plan of Self Care”   For more about Project QIC, please visit the website:  http://qicct.org/sites/default/files/principles.pdf.

The Yurok Tribe/Humboldt County collaborative court will also serve as a model for other tribal and state court judges in California and nationally.