I’m a member of AFCC. Have been for about a quarter century. Can’t imagine doing my job well without it. I’m also Secretary of the parent organization. If you’re a family court bench officer you should also be a member. Here’s why:
1. It’s on a mission I think you’d like.
AFCC is an interdisciplinary, international association of professionals dedicated to improving the lives of children and families through the resolution of family conflict. AFCC promotes a collaborative approach to serving the needs of children among those who work in and with family law systems, encouraging education, research and innovation and identifying best practices.
2. You’ll get current information about children in context.
What is different about a 12 year old whose parents just separated from one whose parents have not? What’s the same? What is the range of “normal” behavior for 12 year old children and when is behavior of 12 year olds warning sign of a serious problem? These are questions for which you will get real, usable answers at AFCC.
3. You’ll get information about resources you need.
When all the evidence shows the need for therapy, where can that therapy be found? What kind of therapy? What’s the difference between different types of therapy? Might an unclear or non-specific order actually harm a family?
What about parenting classes or co-parenting classes? What’s the difference? Is an on-line class appropriate for a particular family or will only an in-person program do? Can this family afford it and can their schedules accommodate it? What is the curriculum for a parenting class?
Nuanced answers to the questions are available through AFCC.
4. No judge is an island.
Because of the ethical prohibition from discussing pending cases, judges may feel somewhat isolated when trying to determine the “best interests of children” in cases before us, a concept only vaguely defined in the law. AFCC offers programs exclusively for family court bench officers to allow them to meet and share ideas and concerns openly with each other.
5. Meet the movers and shakers.
AFCC offers the opportunity for researchers and court program innovators to meet, explain and develop their work. Have a question about attachment theory or how the MMPI-2 relates to parenting? Ask the national and international experts on those things. You’ll find them at AFCC meetings and in the membership directory.
6. Be the movers and shakers.
AFCC regularly develops task forces to come up with model standards and guidelines for best practices. These include models for conducting child custody evaluations, engaging in court-involved therapy and serving as a parenting plan coordinator. Those task forces include mental health professionals, family law attorneys and family court bench officers so that different perspectives are considered. You can be part of the creation of something important through your participation and contribution to the work of these task forces and similar committees.
AFCC members come from different disciplines all dealing with the parenting of children: lawyers, judges, researchers, therapists, evaluators, educators, mediators. Seeing the same issue from many perspectives will make you a better decision-maker.
8. Learn how to work with challenging personalities.
If you have not yet dealt with parents who have significant mental health issues you are very new to family court. Welcome! If you think people appearing before the court with important issues at stake will be on their best behavior you may be in for a surprise.
AFCC is a place where judges will learn to identify which behaviors do and do not indicate significant mental health issues, which behaviors have been identified to have little or great impact on parenting, and which judicial responses to such behaviors are effective or ineffective.
9. Travel to exotic locations.
It must be said: AFCC conferences are often fun. The California chapter’s meetings have been held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Sonoma, just to name a few. The parent organization’s conferences have recently taken place in New Orleans, Toronto, Orlando, Washington, D.C., and San Antonio. I have found that it’s easier to learn in a place I enjoy.
10. Love your job when you feel competent to do your job.
Child custody conflicts can be painful for all involved, even the decision-maker. Nobody wants to see children in pain or embroiled in conflict and there is great satisfaction in helping families get through the hard times and on to living their lives.
When you feel ill-equipt to make such high stakes decisions it can seem like a terrible job. When, however, you feel you have the tools you need to make these decisions it’s a job you can look forward to every day knowing that you can be instrumental in bringing some resolution to conflict in the lives of families. AFCC is a place you can find those tools.